A Dream Deferred






(Pittsburgh, August, 2011, POV/Brian)

I tried reaching Danny one more time before leaving for the airport. I wanted to make sure we didn’t have any missed signals now that we were finally making our long-delayed move to Europe.  Danny was finally pursuing his acting career in earnest while his niece Briana studied dance with a real master. Gus was going to stay with us also, studying art along with a general curriculum. We’d discussed it long enough — it just took a lot longer to put our plans in motion that we’d initially thought.

But, the day had finally come. Danny had flown over ahead of me, two weeks ago in fact, taking Emmett and the kids with him to get them set up in a renovated hotel, of which we were leasing the top two floors. He’d finally narrowed down the ballet schools Briana was going to back to for a second look to five, all in Paris, and while Emmett worked on outfitting what was going to be our home for the next two years, he and his princess had gone from school to school.

Thus far, our nightly Skype sessions had not been encouraging. While Briana was winning accolades, as expected, and Danny was often invited to participate at the top schools they were checking out, as either an instructor or a guest choreographer, whichever he wished, he had not been impressed by what he’d seen. The best of England, Belgium and France and it hadn’t been good enough, though he did finally settle on the Parisian schools…grudgingly.

“She’s ten, Danny,” I’d objected. “Surely one of these places must be good enough for her. Didn’t you say that some of these instructors are among the best in Paris?”

A stubborn look was all I’d gotten in response. Never one to quit that easily, I’d tried again. “What about your friends from the old days, don’t you have any leads on any brilliant dance masters?”

“I actually do have a new lead. I’ll tell you about it if it works out.” Danny had relaxed and so I did too, not even suspecting that disaster might be hovering on the horizon. “There is someone new in the area. He’s not as well-known as some of the others we’ve seen but very well respected and a true master. Which is fine with me. I’m not concerned with how much marketing these supposed master dancers do, I want someone who can really teach the dance. And I know what you think, Bri, but I am not being unreasonable. None of the people we’ve looked at are as good as I am. If I wanted her to be taught by someone on my level, I’d be teaching her.”

That actually wasn’t true. Danny had other very good reasons for not continuing as Briana’s dance instructor. He was her parental figure, and as such had to be the disciplinarian for the precocious brat in their home life, he often explained to the well-meaning family when they asked why Danny didn’t take over her dance instruction; he didn’t want to become her ogre of a dance master as well. He wanted dancing to always be something joyful between the two of them.

I could understand that. I loved playing soccer with Gus and would not want to take over being his coach, my buddy Joey had been doing just fine for him. It was very likely that Gus, who was a gifted player, could be a college player, but I would not want to be the one to take his playing to that competitive level. I was lucky that I was friends with talented soccer coaches who would be able to guide him through that tricky area.  During our time in France, there would be no one better than my own All American soccer player lover to ensure that he didn’t lose ground with his soccer playing while he studied art and explored that talent.

With my call going right into voicemail for the third time, and the time when I’d have to leave for my flight quickly approaching, I decided to try Lanier. Maybe the Frenchman would have an idea of where Danny might have gone and when his appointment was scheduled for.  I hit speed dial for the director.

“Brian! Shouldn’t you be relaxing in first class by now, wending your way to your beautiful man?” Lanier’s rich tones were amused — as usual.

I rolled my eyes. “Yes, I should…and will be. Getting in the limo in about five minutes, but Danny hasn’t called, as he usually does before I make a trans-Atlantic flight, so I tried calling him. Wasn’t able to reach him. You didn’t keep him late in Ireland on the set, did you?”

“No, my friend. We finished location filming two days ago, at least the filming we needed to do in Ireland. I might do some more in the countryside outside Loudon, but if….”

“Yeah, sure, sounds great.  But enough about that. Where is my man right now?”

Lanier laughed. I had to smile as I glanced out the window to see if my limo had arrived yet — you had to give the man credit for one thing — he had an almost inexhaustible supply of good humor. Danny insisted that was not really true but I’d not seen much evidence of the bad temper Danny insisted he still had.

“Pardon, my friend. You of course have a one track mind. Danny is in Paris, but close to the edge of the city. He is visiting yet another school, this one recommended by the wise Giselle. He and Briana left around ten this morning and had to travel about an hour….” I swore I could hear the wheels turning in Lanier’s head, making the rapid calculations for the time difference. “You are up very early, Brian! It is only two o’clock in France!”

I felt sick to my stomach but I tried to tell myself that I was jumping to the wrong conclusion. Lanier’s sisters changed schools all the time. It had been almost a year and a half, surely they were no longer in Nikolai Petrovic’s school.  And wouldn’t Lanier know if they were? I clicked my tongue impatiently to interrupt Lanier’s banter.

“Yes, it is five am but when I am trying to reach someone in another time zone, unlike a certain person I know, I try to call them when they are likely to be wide awake. I find it a courteous habit. You should cultivate it.”

It was useless, I’ve found, to try to get one up on Lanier. He just laughs, and even when he is chagrinned, he apologizes too quickly to make it all that satisfying to ream him out. In this case, he did a combination of both.

“You are so very right! I am far too apt to forget that the other person is likely not to be on the same schedule that I am — it is so thoughtless of me! Though you must admit, in Daniel’s case, he never follows any regular schedule so one is as likely to find him awake at three in the morning as three in the afternoon; the same is true for you, mais oui?”

I saw the limo pull up. So much for finding out how to reach Danny and I found I didn’t want to discuss Nikolai Petrovic with Lanier. I preferred to have a nervous breakdown on my own. “I’ve got to go. Do you know when he is likely to be available? He isn’t answering his phone so I am guessing his meeting is taking place sometime around now.”

Oui. I think that he had his appointment, as I said, about eleven, and I would expect it to last a couple of hours if Daniel scheduled an audition of Briana’s skill, which would be customary, so that….”

I interrupted him again. “So, he’s likely still there, is what you’re getting to, in your own way. And won’t be ready to talk before I’m on the plane, damn. Thanks, anyway.”

Before disconnecting, I happened to ask Lanier what the name was of the place where Danny had gone. He said he didn’t know but if I wanted, he would call Giselle and ask. I asked him if he would if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, and text me the name and contact info, just in case I couldn’t reach Danny on his cell phone.  As much as I kept telling myself it wasn’t the same place — God wouldn’t do that to me, and Danny was supposed to be sticking to places in Paris, not little places outside of the city — I wouldn’t be able to relax until I was sure it wasn’t the place where his son and daughter were.

I grabbed my bags and headed out, locking the door. Hunter used the loft occasionally these days when he was in town but he had his own set of keys. He stayed here for the same reason I did; when our partners were away, neither of us liked staying in our usual place without them. In Hunter’s case, it was Brandon’s very posh apartment near his law firm. In mine, it was Danny’s townhouse, which was very much our home — when he was there. And that was the problem, when he wasn’t there, it felt like the heart was missing from it.  Gus usually went back over to muncher central and stayed with his mother Mel and Mary Pat O’Keefe, which is where his half-sister stayed most of the time, Mikey only opting for the occasional weekend of visitation. When Danny was away, Briana either went to the O’Keefe homestead too or she stayed with her Uncle John and Aunt Mickey, and their brood, where she received more spoiling, and since they lived right next door, she could still sneak meals with Emmett.

Of course, this time, Emmett, Briana and Gus were all with Danny; I was the only one left behind. I decamped to the loft and take-out meals as soon as they left, figuring the sooner I got my work done, the sooner I could join them. Of course, life never works out the way you plan. My departure to Paris was delayed twice by new clients, once by Cynthia’s emergency appendectomy, and then by Debbie’s small medical crisis, which led to a major mental crisis on Mikey’s part.

It got to the point where I’d begun to doubt I’d ever be able to leave.  It took John and Ben, as well as Daphne, sitting me down and assuring me that while important, I was not indispensable — at least not on this side of the Atlantic.

“Danny needs you, Brian. And even more because he won’t ever tell you,” John bluntly told me over a blue plate special at the Liberty Diner two days ago.

“Danny is tough,” I objected, running over my mind the last couple of conversations I’d had with him, worrying that John knew something I didn’t.

“Of course he is, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need you. And here’s a news flash — Michael has other people who can look out for him, not that Ben and Carl, and most of all Debbie, aren’t very grateful that you stayed when she was taken ill. I know they were, but she’s better now and you need to….” Daphne paused and looked at Zen Ben, clearly worried that she’d overstepped her boundaries. He smiled at her.

“To quote Voltaire, ‘tend your own garden.’”  Ben grinned at me — he never fails to rise to the occasion, and he knows that I appreciate that he never underestimates me either. He’s probably the only one of the gang who assumes I have read Voltaire and will understand a reference to his writings. I lifted my glass — even if it was just tap water — to him.

“I get it — and all of you. It’s past time for me to leave Pittsburgh and head to Paris to rejoin my incredibly hot, sexy, talented, loving man. Such a burden.”

They rolled their eyes in unison. 

I’d booked my flight as soon as I’d left the diner.

I wished I’d had the chance to tell Danny that I’d moved up my flight. Still, he’d be pleasantly surprised when I showed up. It wasn’t like the four times I’d had to surprise him with the news that I was postponing my flight. But he really did not like surprises. He preferred to make plans and know they would be kept. Between one thing and another, I’d had to work late last night and missed our usual Skype session so my arrival was going to be a surprise, albeit an unintentional one.

Still, his only reason for being anything less than thrilled would be if I didn’t get word to him in time to meet me at the airport.

And that type of upset was easily loved away. I leaned back in the limo and whiled away the ride to the airport imagining our reunion — in detail.



(Paris, POV/Danny O’OKeefe)

“Giselle, I really appreciate your going with us to this studio,” I smiled at Etienne’s lovely stepmother.

She was barely older than Eti and Brian, and now that her husband, Eti’s father, was in good health, the stress and worry was gone from her face and her true beauty shone. She was more than just another empty-headed high society wife — she truly loved her family and she had a good heart that extended not only to her husband’s first born, but to all of his friends too. Since it included me, this was working out just fine for me.

She gave me her gentle smile as she reached out her hand and squeezed mine. “I am so happy that I can help you in your search to find your beautiful Briana a suitable dance instructor. There are the most wonderful reports about this school and indeed, Melisande and Melaine did very well there, although they never were the prodigies that Briana is.”

“They are gifted in so many areas that one cannot expect them to settle down in just one perhaps,” I suggested.  It was difficult to know quite what to say about Eti’s youngest sisters but I made a try — the truth was, they were like two amazingly beautiful sphinxes. They were as alike as two people could be, more so than any of the twins in my own twin filled family, but they were impossible to figure out as individuals. Yes, they were talented, in dance, in acting, in other of the performing arts, but there was no real passion in them. They were like empty vessels that could be filled for the length of time that a performance took and then they seemed empty again.

Not that I would ever say that to their loving mother.  They were very graceful and from what I’d seen of a video of them dancing, whoever filled them for their performance had been a gifted teacher so I was interested to meet the person who’d elicited a convincing portrayal of passion from the two Mellies, as Eli called then.

“Nikolai is a brilliant man,” Giselle assured me.

I frowned. Surely it was just a coincidence, but somehow I didn’t recall her telling me the dance instructor’s first name before, and I must have heard it and I would have noticed that name.

“Giselle, what is the full name of the school’s owner again?”

“Nikolai Petrovic. A wonderful man. A widower, with two beautiful children of his own, twins. We’ve had some lovely talks,” she laughed lightly. “The usual boring parent chats one gets into with another parent, especially parents of ‘twos.’ I’m sure you hear your sisters and sister-in-laws having them, those who have the twins. We can’t help comparing notes.”

I murmured something noncommittal. Nikolai.  The man I’d known had a different last name, but I’d also always known that the name he used back then wasn’t his real name. He had fled the Soviet Union and used a different name during the years he danced with obscure companies, never again performing at the same level he’d been at when in his homeland. He’d been injured when he fought some men sent to retrieve him. Once his incredible ability had been destroyed, he was allowed to live his life in peace, with the woman he loved — who just happened to be my Judith.

What were the chances of the two men being the same? Of course, the fact that this Nikolai was a widower sent cold chills through my entire body. It hadn’t been that long since Judith had died. But I didn’t recall that they’d ever had children. Eti had heard a rumor of Nikolai losing children in the accident that killed Judith but I would have heard from Aida if Judith and Nicolai had ever had kids — she’d been so against them. But people change, I reminded myself. I knew that, and yet, that wasn’t the reason it would have been a big deal. The beating that ended Nikolai’s dance career also ended his chances of fathering children, Judith had once told me in an indiscreet moment. Her odd idea of pillow talk.

So…this man couldn’t be Judith’s Nicolai. Not if he had twins. I found myself pulling my hands away from Giselle’s just so I could clench my thighs. I kept up a pleasant chatter with her, but my mind was in the past. My past. Luckily, Gus and Briana were content to talk to each other about what they’d done and seen so far.

I spent much of my sixteenth year with Judith. She broke my heart when she told me she was pregnant with my children — twins — and she let me make all sorts of foolish romantic plans for a life together before informing me that she’d already scheduled the abortion. At thirty-four, she still had several years of her prime left and she didn’t intend to waste them wiping noses, nor did she want to risk her figure carrying twins who were likely to be as large as O’Keefes, though she did spend a few minutes contemplating how talented and beautiful our children were likely to be.

I don’t think I ever hated anyone as much as I hated Judith when she laughed at me and also was so casual about killing my…our…children. I am totally in favor of choice, but ever since that day, what became real for me is that it is very much the woman’s decision and no man with a brain should ever let himself get in the situation where that decision is being made without his input because he got the wrong woman pregnant.

 But what if….

I shook my head. No. That would be crazy. I noticed Giselle staring at me, concerned, and I smiled at her…and murmured something about clearing my head. Then….

“Giselle, when you made the appointment, did you make it under your name, as I asked?”

“Of course, Daniel.  I did just as you asked. I explained that I wished to bring to his attention a very gifted potential student. He was most gracious.”

I guess when one is the wife of a Marquis, the head of even an elite dance school is going to be gracious. It worried me a little bit to surprise Nikolai if it were him; he could have adopted twins, after all; but my ostensible reason for keeping my name secret was to allow Briana to be judged on her own merits, without the weight of David Luke’s fame getting in the way. I’d considered using her real name but that carried its own burden, given that her real father, Peter Linton, would be an Earl, had he not given up his title when he “died” and went into hiding.

When did my life become so complicated? Really, all I needed to do was keep the focus on Briana’s dance audition today, assuming that this school turned out to be as good as reputed to be. If the owner of the school was Judith’s Nikolai, well, I would deal with that when and if it came to pass. I trusted that he would recognize me as easily as I knew I would recognize him. The years had not changed my looks significantly and his were set at forty, his age when I met him. I suspected that he would only have grown more distinguished with time.

Giselle’s driver brought us to a large sprawling building on the outskirts of the city. It was fenced in, what we’d call “gated” back in the States, but in a way that fit into the architecture. You could glimpse beautiful gardens behind the building. The security gate opened for the Lanier town car, and we drove up the short drive to the main door.

A middle-aged woman, obviously a dancer at one time but I suspected more involved in the administrative side of the school now, stood at the entrance, ready to greet us. Her eyes went to Giselle at first, but her greeting almost froze on her lips as her sweeping glance took in my presence.  She quickly recovered, but the obvious shock at seeing me made my sense of…would foreboding be too strong a word, I wondered, trying to tamp down my own reaction as well as this unknown woman did…concern, yes, concern, I decided, my sense of concern was definitely kicking into high gear.

There were times when I had flashes of, you name it, intuition, premonition, sixth sense—the family liked to call it my “Mt. Sinai moments.” Colleen called it Uncle Danny from the Mount.  Call it what you will, I knew when I saw that woman look at me that my life was going to change when I went on with this meeting. And for a cowardly moment, I almost turned around, grabbed Briana and Gus and got back into the car to head back to the hotel where Emmett was. Hell, I almost was ready to head straight to the airport and fly back to Brian. Forget Paris, forget the movie I was shooting with Etienne, forget the production of Les Miz I was committed to performing in — all wonderful dreams coming true.

Because I had this sudden certainty that a dream from when I was seventeen was about to be revealed on the other side of the doorway, and it was not going to be my dream anymore.

It was like that moment when I was very small, and I’d been taken to the Fourth of July fireworks display for the first time. Everything was fine with the one at a time displays, but then there was this hush over the crowd and everyone else knew what was coming, and I didn’t, not really, but I knew…knew…that something was coming that was unavoidable but I wasn’t going to like it. And I didn’t. It was too loud and too much, with smoke and screaming and for a little kid with really sensitive hearing, and admittedly high-strung, it was overwhelming in a bad way. I curled up in a ball with my head covered as much as possible, trying to shield my eyes and ears. Thankfully, Luke found me and carried me away from the noise. I was probably only about three at the time. I’ve never liked fireworks ever since.

I had the same sense of dread now that I had then, as I waited for this scene to play out.  

“Marquise! It is such an honor to have you visit with us, and bring to us friends of yours,” the woman was speaking to Giselle, I really had to pay attention. She spoke in French, which was not a problem, of course, Briana and Gus being almost as fluent in it as I am, but Giselle, ever courteous, requested that Anna, the headmistress, speak in English, for the comfort of the young people. We had discussed not revealing my fluency, as I liked to be able to know the candid comments that are often made when people think you cannot understand them. Rude, perhaps, but so is discussing someone, in my opinion, when you think they cannot understand you. At one of the places, which I had really leaned in favor of, I was shocked to hear some of the comments being made about my sexual abilities and whether I would be available if I joined the staff. That put that school definitely out of the running. I doubted that anything like that would take place here but I might well hear something else useful — unless Nikolai joined us right away, in which case, he already knew I was fluent in French. As well as quite a bit else about me.

“This is my good friend, Daniel, and his niece, Briana, as well as their young friend, Gus. As I discussed on the phone with you,

 I shook hands with Anna and then watched critically while she greeted Briana and Gus. Briana was answering her questions about her training and the type of dance she was interested in.  I smiled to hear Briana ask the same questions she’d heard me ask at the prior schools. I could have skipped coming, she was so very bright. Of course, then I would have missed out on finding out whatever secrets this school held for me.

Gus walked by my side as we followed the women, taking the usual tour of the school — they all looked the same, though at Briana’s age I would have killed to have been able to go to a school like this and focus on dance full-time. I couldn’t help thinking again of my own very different youth, fitting in dance during the early hours before school, with soccer and music taking up the after school hours. Gus touched my arm.  

“Are you okay, Danny?” he asked in a low voice. His expression of concern looked so much like his father’s that my throat tightened and it took me a moment to answer. I squeezed his arm in reply and smiled.

“Yeah, I’m good,” I lied. Just then, a life-size poster on the wall outside one of the main dance studios, of a male dancer in mid-leap, caught our eyes. Giselle gasped and turned to look at me.

“Oh my, that looks remarkably like you,” she said.

“It does, doesn’t it,” I said blandly. “Goes to show, you put a man in tights and make-up and you can’t tell them apart.”

Which was true, to a certain degree, but not in this case: it was a promotional photo of me as Prince Charming from sixteen years ago, blown up to poster size. My attention was more taken with the twin poster, of Judith, as Cinderella.  Again, amazing what costume and makeup can do. In this case, we appeared to be of an age, and well-matched. She sparkled as Cinderella and I…I was a devoted prince.

If I’d had any remaining doubt whose school of dance this was, the posters removed it, though why Nikolai would have mine up was a mystery. The woman Anna shed some light.

“That is from a production our academy’s co-founder — not that she was ever at this location mind you but at our previous site — but I digress, as I was saying, she was in that production of Cinderella many years ago, and she was always very fond of those particular publicity stills. She always said it brought her good luck and indeed, it did bring a blessing to her and Monsieur Nikolai.”

“In what way?” I had to ask even though I knew the answer. Judith became pregnant during that production.

Before Anna could answer, we were joined by the very man I was waiting for — and dreading.

“Good morning, Giselle. I will take over the tour from here, Anna. Perhaps we should adjourn to my office for the rest of this discussion, Daniel, or do you still go by Danny? And is this charming young lady your daughter? Did she come to audition as we were led to believe or was that a subterfuge to gain entrance into my school?”

I was right. The intervening years had not changed Nikolai’s looks, other than to make him more distinguished and imposing looking. He was still very fit, with a dancer’s body, his curly hair a little grayer, but his blue eyes as sharp as ever.  We might have had it out right then and there, let the big fireworks demonstration begin without fanfare, certainly there was a lot of animosity between us, thanks to Judith, for us to explode without anything more needed to set us off, but he did not know my little princess. She was not one to be pushed out of the limelight — ever.

“Of course I am here to audition! Uncle Danny, I was ready to like this school! Why wouldn’t this man want to audition me before we go to his office and listen to him talk. We always do the audition first!”

Gus, God bless him, tried to whisper to her and calm her down but she was heading into a full diva rant. I rather enjoyed seeing Nikolai nonplussed, but Giselle, poor dear, also looked totally distressed, which made me realize that the best way to handle this scene was head on. After all, sixth sense aside, I really hadn’t known what I was going to find here before seeing those posters, though the name gave me a clue, and we had come for an audition honestly. I wouldn’t want Giselle to think I’d used her. Though a small voice inside me told me I was simply stalling, and no doubt I was, there was nothing wrong with stalling when you really didn’t know how to cope.

I held out my hand.

“Nikolai, it’s been a very long time. This is my niece, Briana. I think you will find her quite an amazing dancer. This is Gus Kinney, the son of a close friend. I want to assure you that I had no idea this was your school, I didn’t know you had a school, though I guess I should have. Last I heard from Aida, you had packed up and left after…well,” I stuttered slightly. My eyes met his fully. “I am very sorry for your loss.”

My hand was still out during this whole speech. His gaze held mine and on those last words, he finally reached out and took my hand, then pulled me into a big Russian bear hug.

“We need to talk, Daniel. But first, let me see your beautiful niece dance. If you say she is amazing, and I know that you were taught to be critical by that one who was always critical, then she must indeed be something. After she dances, we will then go to my office, as Miss Briana has reminded me, that is indeed the proper order of things. Giselle, I apologize. I am emotional, and it is not an accustomed feeling for me. I made a foolish accusation and I find I must retract it.”

Giselle nodded — poor woman, I think she didn’t know what to say but was simply waiting to find out what happened next.

Briana was escorted to the studio’s dressing room by Anna. Nikolai walked Giselle, Gus and me to a viewing area where we’d have a good view of her dancing. Giselle tried making conversation; poor woman, she was totally at a loss to understanding the tension between Nikolai and me. How does one explain, oh, I was the boy toy that the love of his life fooled around with for the better part of a year, during one of their many tempestuous break-ups? In all fairness to me, I did not know about Nikolai, and he did know about me. I believe I was a bit of a joke to him. In fact, I know I was. He visited once when she was with me. He was touring with a dance troupe as their choreographer. She’d enjoyed introducing me as her lover — he’d feigned indifference but later they’d had a loud and passionate argument over it. I’d interrupted them, concerned that he would hurt her. At the time, I’d thought that I was being the big hero, protecting Judith. Looking back, through the disillusioned eyes of a man who’d seen more of life, I suspect that it was Nikolai who needed protecting in that scene. Judith had been enjoying it far too much, and even my coming to her “rescue” had been planned down to the second.

He’d left, telling her to come home when she was done playing games with her boy toy. I hadn’t felt like the hero that I’d thought I would. I’d felt cheap. Someone else in our troupe told me that he wasn’t her husband, but that he’d been with her for over fifteen years at that point, and that I was just one of several flings. Nikolai was her one true love.

But he couldn’t give her children. I watched his profile as we waited for Briana to reappear in the dance area. Had Judith used me to give her lover what he had wanted? I couldn’t see her being that unselfish. Surely he wouldn’t have allowed it, would he? I had to know and started to ask, but that is when Briana’s music started and he leaned forward, his concentration completely on her.

Saved by Tchaikovsky. I tried to relax and enjoy the sight of my girl dancing.

Briana was truly a dance prodigy. There was a part of me, perhaps a petty part of me, that still remembered the slights I’d received in the real dance world, Judith and Nikolai’s world, over being the “football player in tights” and that part of me felt a great deal of satisfaction in watching my girl kick ass in this audition. She danced wonderfully, no doubt even more so than usually because she had been slightly pissed off. My little diva.

After she danced her first couple dances, and was taking a brief pause before switching to a different style, which required Anna to find a different spot on the CD, Nikolai turned to me.

“There is no need for me to tell you that she is brilliant — you are dancer enough to realize that. You have taught her?”

“Some,” I conceded.

“She needs more now,” he said. I felt miffed. He smiled slightly.

“Do not get annoyed. You have done well, but you are a dancer, not a teacher. She is a once in a lifetime dancer, and as such, will need careful instruction. I was prepared to send you both on your way, but find I cannot resist the opportunity to teach such a one. She is better than Judith was. Small, which is a shame, but the strength is there. And perhaps she might grow. You have done very well. She has nothing to unlearn, no bad habits, so you chose her other instructors wisely. There will be some difficulties, which we must handle delicately. I am not sure….”

Before Nikolai could finish his thought, Giselle gasped. Gus reached out and grabbed my arm as he leaned forward. It was just as well he did, he gave me something to hold onto. Otherwise, I might have jumped through the viewing glass.

A young man had joined Briana, and was dancing with her, entering into her dance as smoothly as though they’d planned it together. She took it in stride — she was that way when she danced. She stayed totally focused and she was used to me joining her in just this type of fashion. Indeed, this young man no doubt seemed very much like me joining her. He was young, but then, I didn’t look my age either and hadn’t when I was his age.  He looked like he could be anywhere from late teens to mid-twenties, but I suspected he might be younger — funny thing about O’Keefe looks, we look older when younger and then younger once we hit twenty-one. For there wasn’t a doubt in my mind; despite the slight golden streaks in the wavy auburn hair, the green-eyed young man dancing with Briana who looked like me at sixteen was my son. He was one of the twins that Nikolai had talked about with Giselle, which meant that my twins Judith was pregnant with seventeen years ago hadn’t been aborted.

“Danny, Danny, you okay?”

I felt my head being pushed between my knees, which, as stupid as that position is, was needed, as I was about two seconds from passing out. Gus was one hell of a smart kid — and that thought made me realize how much I wanted his father with me. 

I whispered to him, “Gus, can you call your Dad for me? As soon as you get the chance? See if he can get a flight over here as soon as possible?”

“Yeah, sure,” Gus said, his voice worried.  I tried to sit up but still felt ridiculously light-headed.

“Daniel, are you feeling unwell?” Giselle’s concerned voice made me realize I had to pull myself together. I forced myself to speak normally.

“Yes, fine, thank you. I just neglected to eat anything before we drove out this morning. A foolish lapse on my part. My blood sugar has dropped a bit I suspect. I’ll be fine once I get some juice or something.” I was babbling. I forced myself to shut up.

Nikolai was watching me closely. “I will request that a light lunch be brought to my office. I did not realize that David would choose to join the audition. He must have been watching from downstairs. He can be…spontaneous…like that.”


“My son,” Nikolai said firmly, if not challengingly. “David Nicholas. He is sixteen.”

“He is quite the dancer,” I said dryly. “You must be very proud.”

“Nikolai has twins, as I believe I mentioned,” Giselle added, looking between the two of us, sensing that something was up but not sure what. “His daughter is Brigit Rose, a lovely girl, though she is not as interested in dance, is she, Nikolai?”

“No, my Brigit is not a dancer,” he answered, his attention focused on the two dancers finishing up below. He used the intercom to request Anna to bring Briana to his office. He did not give any instruction for his son.

Brigit Rose. Named for my grandmother and my mother. Why in the world would Judith do such a thing? I felt ill. To find out that I had two children whom I’d never met — and who’d been raised by another man all the years of their lives. Did they even know he wasn’t their father?

I needed to talk to Nikolai now. Before I exploded like a fucking firework. The kind that took off body parts.

“Giselle, would you mind very much if I spoke with Nikolai privately? I have something important I need to discuss with him before we join the rest of you in his office. Perhaps you and Gus can ….”

I don’t know, go run around the building a few times, I felt on the edge of hysteria and it must have shown. Giselle stood up and smiled; always the consummate society hostess, but more than that, the perfect friend.

“It is no problem at all, Daniel. Gus and I will find our way to Briana, and Anna will undoubtedly be able to take us around the gardens for a bit while you and Nikolai go to his office for your private talk. Why don’t we meet you there in about thirty minutes, will that be enough time?”

“I think an hour might be better. I will send someone with refreshments to the garden, dear lady.” Nikolai bent over her hand and kissed it, revealing the old world charm that used to win over women and men right and left back in the day. Obviously it still did. I felt unmoved. Still, it was useful, as it got Giselle and Gus moving on, the latter not until he hugged me and reassured me that he’d be calling his Dad as soon as possible, great kid, and also letting Briana know that she nailed the audition, another good thing, to stave off more fireworks.

I was busy trying to stave off my own explosion. 

We faced off in his office, after he poured us each a glass of vodka. Very Russian. It was not one of my favorite drinks but needs must. I downed it in one gulp. He did the same with his and poured us each another.

“Before I get totally smashed, which straight vodka will do to me, not having the head for drinking that I used to, can you tell me….” I paused. Which question to ask first.

“No, I didn’t know that the twins were yours, not at first,” he answered the question that was, after all, the question that I did need answered first. Because that was what made the biggest difference. When Judith first pulled this stunt, had he known what she did to me? That she lied to me about my children? I had to make it clear to him how much she had wronged me. I put down the glass and stared at him, trying with difficulty to control my emotions.

“She told me she was pregnant, you know, but that she was going to abort the babies.” I looked at him with every bit of pain that caused me in my eyes. He looked back at me, and drank down his second glass of vodka.

“I know. Now, I know. But I didn’t then. She came back to me, she said she was done with chasing after boys, and we made love like we always had, with passion.” He saw my face and laughed bitterly. “Did you think you were the only one? You were not. You were special to her, yes, but you were not the only young man she spent time with, chasing her fading youth. I put up with it because such affairs, they never meant anything in the long term. You were the only one she chose to have children with, so in that sense, you were special. In her twisted way, she thought she was giving a special gift to both of us. She was a strange and wonderful creature. I loved her and I understood her…most of the time. But I did not always like her.”

“Why did she tell me she was ending the pregnancy?” I could barely speak. The remembered pain felt as fresh and raw as when it happened. Nikolai laughed harshly, but for once, I didn’t think he was laughing at me. I had the sense that he was laughing at himself. Or maybe Judith.

“Is it not obvious? She did not want to raise the children with you, to share them with you and your large family. She did not really think it through well. She wanted to have children with me but I could not father them. She loved the way that you and she danced together and it occurred to her that if she had children with you, such children would be blessed with good genetics. You and I are of a similar height, though you are taller by a few inches, and we both had dark curly hair back then, though mine has long since gone to gray. She thought she could pass a child of yours off as mine. She did not realize that you were undersized due to being premature — when she later learned that most of your family is far larger than you, she was very dismayed. And the red hair!” Nikolai chuckled as he poured himself more vodka.

“Judith had red hair,” I pointed out, sipping at my own drink, feeling that this conversation was more than a little surreal.

“Judith’s hair was classically auburn she would tell you,” Nikolai corrected me. “O’Keefe red is fiery. Trust me, I know this now. My, our, daughter has very red hair…and is built on Junoesque lines. I love her dearly, but her looks were quite dismaying to Judith.”

I smiled. A redhead, like my Aunt and Grandmother.

“She told you that they were yours?”  He nodded.

“Soon after she returned from the States, and we reconciled, she told me the miraculous news. It was always a possibility. Not likely, but possible, the doctors had said. We rejoiced. I did not doubt her, not at first. She named the children and even then, David was not a name known to me to be associated with you until years later, when you started performing in France, so I did not think much of it. The children’s green eyes gave me pause, but again, I did not think of it…much. I was an ecstatically happy man and they were small children. Babies’ eyes, they are not that noticeable when it comes to color. Indeed, as David got older, his eye color seemed more blue than green, and I relaxed. And red hair has been known to appear in my family as well.”

“When did you know for sure?”

“When I found that she had taken David to get contact lenses and instructed him to keep it from me — that is when I knew. But it was not something I was going to tell my son and daughter. I love them as much as it is possible to love. I simply told David that there was no need for him to wear lenses if he did not need to, that Judith was silly sometimes.”

“You mean she had him fitted for lenses simply to change his eye color — he didn’t even need them for corrective lenses?” I don’t know why I was shocked — I knew how crazy Judith could be. She’d used me as a stud after all, what was a little cosmetic lens wear in the grand scheme?

“She thought it would make me happier if my son’s eyes matched mine,” Nikolai said simply. “She never understood that I loved the children just because of who they were. Later, as she became more unstable, she put up that poster of you and was open about the fact that you were the birth father. We had a few difficult years then. She’d even spoken to Aida about having you come to work at our old school.”

I felt gut punched. It was a wonder I wasn’t puking by this point. “Aida knew about the children?”

“She did, but I have to confess that I am guilty of misleading her…and your friend, Giselle’s stepson, Lane. I led both of them to believe that my ‘children’ were killed in the car accident that killed Judith. In truth, two young people who were almost like family to us did die in that accident. Two interns who’d been living with us for some time were lost in that crash — it was quite tragic. The local paper mistakenly printed that they were my family. I took advantage of the story to mislead Aida and Lane.”

“Why did you do such a thing?”

He sighed heavily. “Because I knew that Aida had only kept silent about the children because of a promise extracted by Judith — she was forced to choose between ever seeing her niece and nephew again or telling you of their existence. With Judith gone, I knew I could not hold that same threat over her head, and I feared losing my family. I’d already lost my wife — we’d married finally two years before she’d died — I knew that if it came down to a wealthy biological father with connections suing for custody versus myself, a struggling dance school owner who could barely keep his children fed with his star instructor gone — it was no contest. I did what I felt I had to do.”

“So that is when you closed the school you’d had before, with Judith, and disappeared. Aida told me she was unable to see you after Judith died to even offer her condolences.”

He nodded. “We went to Germany for a year.  I was afraid I would lose my children, you must understand. We came back to France a while later but I encouraged the children, especially David, to use the small...disguises that Judith had encouraged when they were smaller. It was not all that necessary with Brigit but David, he looked more and more like you the older he grew. So he resumed the contacts and I allowed him to dye his hair, which both of them were fond of doing anyway, all sorts of crazy colors. After I had the chance to secure this opportunity, and was reassured that there was no chance that you would ever seek them….”

I interrupted him. “What do you mean, were encouraged that I would never seek them? I did not know about them, but if I had, I would have sought you out at once.”

Nikolai looked at me with that superior look he’d always given me when I was young. It made me grit my teeth. I forced myself to calm down. No fireworks, I told myself.

“Nikolai, there is something you know still that I do not. Can you get to the point?”

“I’ve assumed for some time now that you knew about David and Brigit,” he said, spreading his hands in a placating fashion. “After your partner came to see the children, I waited anxiously, sure that the next ones on my doorstep would be you and your lawyers, prepared with the paperwork to take custody of the children from me. Your partner came, spoke with David, and afterward…nothing. Eventually, I ….”

I felt gut-punched, for the third, or was it the fourth, time that day.  I was losing track. I jumped up and started pacing the room. It was a very nice room for pacing. I could practice jumps in this room, as long and narrow that it was.

“You don’t know my partner,” I said finally, my voice deep and low, my back to Nikolai. I was looking out the window. Giselle and the children were with Anna and the tall young man who was…whose son? Mine? Not really. Nikolai’s? Certainly.

I heard his voice at my shoulder. “The man didn’t identify himself as such, no, but I do have access to the Internet, and I confess that I’ve kept track of you over the years. It didn’t take me more than a moment to see through his subterfuge of being a journalist looking for some local points of interest for a magazine article. I’d seen many pictures of the two of you over the years — and his son bears a remarkable resemblance to him, doesn’t he? You have that in common.”

There was only a trace of bitterness in his voice at that last comment; it was more wistful than anything else. I leaned my head against the glass pane. Brian. Brian knew the truth about the children that I’ve spent half my life mourning and for some reason he didn’t tell me? Why?

Even as I formed the question in my mind, I knew the answer. He no doubt made the decision that it was for the best that I not know — ever. He must have spoken to my son David, maybe even my daughter Brigit, and made the decision for me that it would be for the best if I never knew that they lived, that they would be better off, I would be better off, if they stayed with Nikolai, never knowing me.

It was so much like the situation with Luke, only far, far worse, because there were no lives at risk here, no terrorists threatening to kidnap anyone if the secret got out. Yes, it was a messy situation, but did he have the right to side with Nikolai, a man he’d never met, over me?

I punched the window, causing the glass to spiderweb but it didn’t break. I thought my hand might have though.

Nikolai pulled me away — he was strong but I didn’t resist… much. I felt numb. I didn’t even do more than register somewhere that Nikolai wasn’t yelling at me as he had every right to do for smashing his very nice, very large window — would have to send a check for that — and instead was showing concern for me. Wasn’t that a kick in the ass? I really was pathetic.

“I’m sorry, Daniel. I never wished this for you, but I did not ever see any solution once I learned what Judith had done. No easy way for either of us. Let me see your hand.”

He led me to a chair and I sat. The pain was good as it gave me something to think about other than the pain whipping through my chest. Brian had lied to me, by omission if not directly. We had an agreement after the last time; he was never to keep secrets again, never to make decisions about what was best for me without discussing it with me. Hell, he knew how angry it made me when my brothers treated me like a child — how dared he do the same? I let Nikolai put ice on my hand. I wondered if that was his method — vodka to numb my emotions, ice to numb my hand. I hoped he had plenty of both.

“I am sorry about your window,” I began, feeling more than a little stupid, when he was being so civilized, but I was always one for keeping to tried and true patterns even when they were decades old. Nikolai always made me feel, and act, like a dumb jock, around him. I was ready to continue but before I could, the door to the office burst open.

“Papa! Are you safe! Has he harmed you?” The tall young man who looked so much like me came running in, speaking French rapidly as he pushed himself between Nikolai and me. His expressive eyes flew from the cobwebbed window to the two of us.

What has this madman done? Shall I call the police? Throw him out for you?”

“You and what army?” Briana scoffed, her French impeccable. I’ve always said, with French it is more the tone and the attitude than the words that makes for true fluency. I didn’t know which made me prouder — her accent or her attitude but I was so glad to see her, and Gus, two people who were clearly on my side. They didn’t need to know what was going on, they knew that whatever it was, they were squarely on Team Uncle Danny. God love them, as I knew I did.

Trouble was, I was pretty damn sure I was going to love this other kid, no matter that he was looking daggers at me. Nikolai had switched to Russian and was talking to him a mile a minute. I knew a smattering of that language too, actually, but not enough to follow this conversation. Luke was fluent in most Russian dialects; I wondered if he would tutor me.

A sudden thought hit me — surely Luke didn’t know about these secret children of mine? He had the access, certainly, to be able to uncover this type of secret, but he would have told me. I had to believe that. He’d really disliked Judith, never trusted her. If he’d known that she had borne my children, there is no way he’d have let her get away with passing them off as Nikolai’s. If he’d also known this and kept it a secret, I’d really have trouble forgiving him. Brian was going to be hard enough.

In fact, I was not sure where I was going to come out on the Brian forgiveness question. I was pushing that issue to the side as I split my attention between reassuring Briana and Gus, and drinking in my first close up view of my son. I wondered if I could ask Nikolai to call for Brigit.

I pulled both Briana and Gus into a crushing hug, ignoring my bruised (not broken, I told myself, totally not broken) hand, and assured them that everything was okay. Speaking in a low voice, I reassured them that I wasn’t insane. More or less. I was conscious of Giselle hovering nearby, but I wasn’t sure what team she was on so decided reassuring her could wait.

“It’s okay, guys.  I just have a few personal things to work out with Mr. Petrovic. You know how I get, sometimes I lose my cool but he and I are old friends and….”


I looked up. Angry green eyes were glaring at me.  Now that I was looking for it, the tinted hair only made him look like one of my red-haired cousins who were always dying their hair to make it less fiery looking. 

I shook my head – that proves I was certifiable. I discover that the children I thought long lost to me are alive and what am I doing? Evaluating his hair. I could hear Emmett as clearly as if he were by my side, saying, that’s not proof you’re certifiable, sweetie, that’s just proof you’re gay. Thinking of my best friend and the head cheerleader for Team Danny, I sat up, and squared my shoulders, though I kept hold of Briana and Gus for moral support.

It is time we met, I believe. My name is….”

“I know who you are, David Luke. Or perhaps you prefer I call you Danny O’Keefe? You have another name you use, do you not? Me, I prefer to call you the sperm donor.”

Nikolai’s slap was loud and it made Giselle and Anna wince. I had grown up with Pat O’Keefe — he didn’t slap in such a loud, showy fashion — a fireworks kind of slap. His fist would knock an erring son to the ground — more like a clap of thunder. Nikolai’s slap was intended to shame, not pain. Still, I was not a fan of raising a hand to a child — even when the child was as big as I was, or in Nikolai’s case, a few inches taller.

“You will apologize to Monsieur O’Keefe, David, and to the ladies, and indeed, to young Briana and Gus. Your behavior is an embarrassment to me and to our family.” Nikolai’s tone left no room for dispute, although David looked ready to make a good try. He reached up and rubbed his cheek and there was a pause while we waited to see what he would do. Quite frankly, at his age, I wouldn’t have backed down. But then, I hadn’t been the brightest sixteen year old in the world — witness Exhibit A.

Never one to give up the spotlight for long, Briana commented, “I don’t want to come here to dance if Mr. Nikolai punishes the dancers by hitting them, Uncle Danny.”    

Gus whispered, a bit too loudly, “I think he wouldn’t do it to everyone, just this guy, Briana.”

David Petrovic’s mouth twitched.  I stared, fascinated. Briana, always quick, gasped. She looked from him to me and back at him.

“Uncle Danny? Is he…he’s related to us, isn’t he? He called you….” She stopped.  She was not quite ten but she was very smart and she understood the implications of her new-found cousin’s outburst.

I hugged her again. Giselle walked over to me. “Perhaps it would be a good idea if I took Briana and Gus for a short drive to visit some of the countryside. We can lunch at a café I know of nearby, Daniel. I think it would be best if you have a little more time for private talk.”

“I don’t want to leave!” Briana announced at the same time that David exclaimed, “I have no need for private conversation with this man.”

“That is an excellent suggestion, Giselle, thank you. David, you will apologize before anyone goes anywhere. Miss Briana, I would like to give you the time that your dancing deserves, to discuss my ideas for your training, but I do feel that there are some things that your uncle and I need to talk about first and we would accomplish it more efficiently if we could do so without stopping to explain everything until we have our own issues resolved.”

Nikolai had stepped over and kneeled down before Briana. She always liked it when an adult took the time to explain things to her — even if all he was saying was that she wouldn’t be getting an explanation until later. It was the acknowledgment of her that mattered. Nikolai was a master at understanding divas — that should have been a no brainer, he’d kept Judith reasonably content for decades.

I was kidding myself. He’d been the love of her life.  Once I’d realized the true nature of their relationship, I was sickened by my own involvement with Judith. Yet, she never saw what we had as impinging on what she had with Nikolai. She was a free spirit and her body was hers to do with as she wanted.

“Uncle Daddy,” Briana whispered in my ear. “Do you want Gus and me to stay with you or go with Madame Giselle?”

It was a sign of uncertainty, and love, that Briana resorted to the Uncle Daddy nickname. Holding this child I’d raised and who loved me as much as I loved her gave me such comfort and strength, especially in the face of the hostility I felt coming in waves from the young man who was, at least biologically, my son. God, even the thought hurt. I wasn’t sure if I could deal with this now but I sensed that leaving until I was better able to cope would be a major mistake. I forced a smile.

“I would very much appreciate your going for a little while longer with Giselle and Gus, Briana — and I appreciate what a trouper you’re being. Yes, David, whom you’ve met, is related, in a way rhar we will explain when you come back. I need to talk to him, and his sister, along with his father first. I need you to be on your best behavior right now, okay?”

She nodded, but gave David a narrow-eyed look — and then, to everyone’s amazement, did the same to Nikolai. “I expect there to be no more hitting and nothing that will make my Uncle Daddy want to punch windows — he only does things like that when people make him very upset.”

Nikolai nodded at her gravely. “I understand and we will endeavor to keep everyone calm. Thank you for your patience. Gus, I thank you also. Giselle, you have my gratitude, as always, for your understanding.”

To my surprise, Giselle gave Nikolai and David, her own version of a stern look. It wasn’t as intimidating as Briana’s, but then, she didn’t have the advantage of that Linton chin coupled with O’Keefe eyebrows. Still, she was nobility also and she was used to dealing with difficult men.

“I echo Briana’s words, Nikolai. I expect my dear friend to be treated well in my absence.  I do not wish to leave him alone with you if he is not going to be treated with courtesy and kindness in your home.” She gave David a meaningful look.  I was further surprised to see him look down, abashed.

I apologize, Marquise, I behaved rudely.” I watched as, seeming like a different young man than the one who had spit venom at me, he proceeded to apologize charmingly to everyone in the room — except me.

In what seemed like no time at all, we were alone, Nikolai, David and me.

“You are not yet finished, my son,” Nikolai spoke gently but firmly.

I wanted to tell him to let it drop; any apology forced out of the boy would be meaningless even if he managed to make it sound sincere, which I had no doubt he could if he wished. In fact, I suspected he did such a good job apologizing to the others just to show me that he could be charming. I would have been like that. Amazing, really, how much a role genetics played in personality, I mused. I reached for my glass and held it out for more vodka. I might as well get hammered. Plus, my hand was hurting quite a bit. I might have broken a bone after all, which would be inconvenient.  I tried flexing my hand.

“We should probably take you to the hospital to have that looked at,” Nikolai commented, his dark blue eyes not missing anything.  He poured me a generous measure of vodka, and then to my surprise poured a glass for David.  The boy accepted it with a relieved look. I hoped he wasn’t in the habit of drinking vodka neat, but then mentally kicked myself. He wouldn’t be able to dance as he did if he drank to excess, and if ever an occasion called for a drink, meeting your biological father for the first time when you were almost seventeen undoubtedly did.

We made plans to get together for lunch the following day. Brigit would be back from a visit out of the area with a friend, Nikolai said, and I could meet her then. I was invited to bring Briana and Gus back, and when I mentioned Emmett, Nikolai graciously invited him as well. I also mentioned that I was hoping that my partner would be able to make it to Paris by then, and if so, I’d like him to join us, and Nikolai once more agreed. The afternoon might have turned out almost pleasant if David hadn’t decided at that point to show me the picture of him posing with Brian, taken well over a year earlier.

There would be fireworks, I decided, grimly.



The Hotel manager gave me a set of keys and then escorted me upstairs personally, assuring me that the staff would bring the rest of my luggage upstairs later.

“Monsieur O’Keefe requested that you be permitted privacy on your first night,” the gentleman, who looked like the character played by Hector Elizondo in  Pretty Woman told me. I didn’t know whether to tip him or applaud. Then I wondered if I was the hooker or the rich guy. When he very politely turned down what I thought was an extremely generous tip, telling me that Monsieur O’Keefe had taken care of everything, I knew — I was definitely not playing the role of the rich guy in this scene.

The rooms on this level, which was intended to be the living area while the other floor was the work and play area, were stunningly decorated. I didn’t see Danny at first. I set down my overnight bag and laptop and headed toward what looked to be a fully stocked bar.

“I already poured you a drink — come see the view,” the deep voice of my lover came from across the room.

The hair on the back of my neck rose. Something was definitely wrong about this scene, and yet….

“Is this any way to greet me?” I complained lightly, walking toward the direction of his voice. I caught my breath when I saw him. Danny was dressed in perfectly cut black slacks and a crisp white dress shirt, which he wore open at the neck. His hair flowed over his shoulders and his green eyes glittered like the emerald cufflinks he wore at his wrists as he smiled at me from wide doors that opened onto a balcony. I would never get used to his beauty. Before I could pull him close for the kiss that I wanted so badly, he stopped me.

“Do you like what you see, Brian?”

That type of question was not unusual; he often said something on that order in a teasing way. I did the same thing, when the occasion called for it. But something was wrong, though I couldn’t quite tell what. I just knew it was. It was like looking at a beautiful stranger portraying my lover.
Someone I didn’t know.

I felt sick. And yet, at the same time, part of me, the part of me that was always analyzing, admired what he was doing. He was letting me know how he felt. What it felt like when the man you felt you knew better than anyone in the world suddenly seemed like a stranger. He really was a fucking amazing actor. I wasn’t sick; I was angry. This wasn’t the time for fucking games.

“Can you stop playing acting games and let me explain? I take it you found out.” I reached for the glass of Beam that was on the table on the balcony. It was nice, tables, chairs, a gorgeous river view. A fireworks display was just starting. Perfect. Lanier couldn’t have set the scene any better.

The glass eluded my grasp and went sailing past me, crashing against the glass wall of the doors I’d just stepped through. Luckily, only the beverage glass broke, not the door. I felt the spray of the Beam hit my leg and arm and moved away from the mess.

“Found out what, Brian? That you are still lying to me? Still treating me like a child? My life like a game that you control? Yes, I found out.” He spoke in a completely controlled voice and it was worse than if he had yelled. A particularly large firework broke overhead, illuminating his features with a blue glow. In the added light, I could see what the shadows of the balcony had hidden. He was paler than usual, especially for August, and his cheekbones were standing out even more than normal; he probably hadn’t eaten all day.

“Danny, you’re upset, you should eat something and….”

He threw one of the chairs this time.

“No!” He stood there and took a couple of deep breaths to calm himself. “No. No more throwing things. You will not provoke me to act like the child you believe me to be, Brian. I am done. Done with losing my temper. Done with finding out that you have made decisions about my life and forgiving the unforgivable. You don’t get a pass this time, Brian.”

The damn fireworks display was building to a crescendo as my world was crashing. I wished he still was yelling and throwing things — I knew how to deal with that Danny. A calm Danny was frightening. The only other time he’d been anything like this calm was when his mother died, and then he’d been in shock. This setting, with the glow of the fireworks providing the only light made it impossible to look into his eyes well enough to see if that was the problem now. But it wouldn’t be any wonder if he was. He must have had a shock today. Seeing….

I swallowed hard. I wished I’d had a chance to get some of that Beam into me.

“Danny, I’m sure that it was a shock today, learning….” I paused. How much did he learn? I didn’t want to give anything away that I didn’t need to, at the risk of upsetting him more.

He laughed, but it was totally without amusement. I was forgetting how well he read me.

“Trying to figure out how much you could still keep from me? So predictable,” he scoffed. “A picture worth a thousand words?” He pulled something from his pocket and tossed it at me. I managed to catch it. It was a picture of me, wearing a hat low over my eyes, and sunglasses to boot, but unmistakably me, posing next to a Porsche, with a grinning David Petrovic hanging over me.

The fireworks were at that point where they continue non-stop, a barrage of noise and light. But they weren’t enough to drown out Danny’s words, the terrible look on his face as he softly said,

“We’re through, Brian. For now. Forever. For always.”

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