“She hates me.”
Johnny’s jaw dropped open at the three little words that thoughtfully came from Sonny’s mouth. Stunned, he rose from his chair.
“She’ll never let me help her now. She doesn’t trust me…and she hates.”
Sonny’s eyes were dead inside and Johnny’s heart sank for him. “You told her?”
Sonny nodded almost imperceptibly. His head was buzzing and his body felt like lead. He wanted to run but it would all follow him anywhere he went. “Go away” would stick to him forever. Tony surprised himself and placed a comforting hand on Sonny’s tense shoulder. Sonny didn’t move.
“You know that Alexis is in shock right now. She’s been through a physical and emotional gauntlet and she’s run it like the best of them, but what she’s just had thrown in her path would make anyone stumble.” He paused, waiting for some indication that he wasn’t talking to a wall. Sonny just couldn’t hear it.
“Sonny – she doesn’t hate you. She couldn’t.” Johnny innocently denied all possibility that Alexis could really be lost to Sonny for good. He denied it for Sony’s sake.
“You stay here Johnny. Watch out for her.” Sonny’s feet began to carry him down the hall.
“Where the hell are you going?” Tony demanded.
Sonny halted, but kept his back turned. “Away. I’m going away, like Alexis asked me to.”
“Sonny, she needs you!”
Sonny spun around, his eyes alive with rage. “She doesn’t need me, she needs a FIX!”
The enormity of what he’d hurled at Tony made Sonny flinch inside. He’d stunned himself. Through force of habit he looked to Johnny for grounding, but found the man’s head bowed, his eyes closed tight. Sonny swallowed, his face filled with resolve.
“She was right to tell me to leave her, because all I bring to her is harm. I…I won't allow it anymore.” Sonny felt close to breaking. “Take good care of her Tony.”
The two men watched as he quickly disappeared into the stairwell. Tony was rendered speechless at Sonny’s abandonment of this woman for whom he would clearly crawl through glass. But Johnny wasn’t all that worried. He knew Sonny well.
“He’ll be back.”
Alexis stared into the fluorescent lights that shone above her bed.
Her heart pounded in a furious rhythm and she pressed her palm flat against her chest to hold it down, to keep it from bursting out of her body. The room was so still and empty, the sound of her own raspy breathing the only thing to break the unnerving silence that surrounded her. She resisted her burning pupils’ demand that she tear her eyes from the mesmerizing glare. She wanted them to burn – she wanted the brightness to lay waste to all the thoughts and images in her head and wash the slate clean. But her body won out and she finally closed her lids against the harshness. A chorus of twinkling stars began to dance behind her them - it was a storm of fireworks in the sudden darkness.
She’d seen them before, in that room, in the drugged and drowsy wake of Sorel sticking a needle into her body and the hot flood that followed. She could hear Thomas’s voice in the air, could see his blue eyes looking down at her as he moved his body in front of her, blocking the gaze she’d fixed onto the naked bulb that hung from the ceiling. He hadn’t wanted her to hurt eyes…and now it was Tony protecting her from herself.
A shiver caught her by surprise and her eyes shot open once more. Now she knew what all the chills and shivers really meant – the cramps, the itch, the nausea, the restlessness that she’d thought had all been the discourse of fever. She’d felt it for days and it had grown steadily worse…and now she remembered how it had all gone away with each visit by Sorel and the thing that he kept in his pocket. Alexis felt her mouth go dry, as all her rational mind’s attempts to deny it were slowly torn to shreds. It was true. All that they’d told her was true.
Her breathing sped to a panting pace as her eyes darted around the quiet, empty room.
The word echoed over and over again in her head, conjuring unspeakable images. The white walls began to shrink. They were quickly closing in on her as she was slammed back into that cold, dark, concrete prison with her senses obliterated. As her muscles clenched, it sent her stomach into a sharp spasm and she cried out, her body jerking and rolling to one side as he curled up into herself. She felt something pulling at her arm, her eyes lowering to a piece of tape torn loose – the tape that Tony had firmly wrapped to keep her IV in place. She stared at it as the spasm dissipated, fighting the thing inside her that told her to rip it out one last time…and run.
Johnny cocked his head.
He glanced up and down the hallway, but knew full well that the sound had come from inside her room. He stood and tentatively placed his hand on the knob, wary of how she’d respond to just his presence alone. But Johnny was all that she had right then. He slowly pushed the door inward and Alexis lifted her head toward the movement of it, her eyes holding Johnny in vague regard. Johnny took a step inside, his own eyes shifting from her, to the floor, and back to her again. Alexis continued to look at him, her face uncertain and betraying an edge of fear.
“It’s me. It’s Johnny.”
He could see from the doorway how thoroughly her body was trembling and it frightened him. But no more so than the feeling that she didn’t know who he was. He knew he had to be careful with her – he couldn’t make another clumsy mistake like he had with the flowers before. Johnny took another step toward her and smiled, not wanting Alexis to see his fear. She had enough of her own. Her eyelids slowly dropped a bit, the grogginess of the Demerol still lingering within her exhausted brain.
“I know who you are.” She glanced at the open door behind him. “I…I just forgot you were here.”
Johnny breathed a sigh of relief that she was clear and seemingly alright. “I’ve been here the whole time, and I’m not going anywhere. So don’t worry - you’re safe.”
She tilted her head and looked away from him. Johnny noticed that her breathing had calmed down some from when he had come into the room, and he hoped that meant she did feel safe with him. As Alexis bit her lip, she suddenly looked up at him with something new in her eyes and it moved him even closer to the bed. She looked as if she wanted to speak, but she was silent. He tried to help her along.
“I heard you call out. What do you need? Anything – what can I do?” He smiled again, wanting to reassure her.
“Sonny left.” She said it as an acknowledgement to herself, not a question to him.
“He took a walk. He’ll be back.”
She showed no emotion as she took in his words, but then her eyes fell down upon her arm and the strip of adhesive tape she’d ripped away from her skin. “I…I turned and…it tore.”
Johnny saw her chin start to quiver as she tried to reach for the loosened tape, her unsteady hand moving in a slow motion. He wasn’t going to let her struggle.
“It’s okay, I’ll fix it.”
He quickly moved to her side and she lowered her arm down to the bed. He hesitated before touching her, remembering how raw she’d been to physical contact in her nightmare state, but she was accepting of his hands on her. He carefully checked the IV, making sure it was still in its proper place before pressing firmly on the errant piece of tape. He could feel the tremble still living inside her, underneath his hands.
“Don’t tell them.”
Alexis opened her pleading eyes up to him. Johnny didn’t understand. She looked at the open door once more, then glanced quickly, briefly at the Velcro hanging at the side of the bed. It was right in front of him and Johnny’s hand instinctively moved out to touch it. Alexis suddenly pulled her arms up, crossing them against her chest with her hands clasped together. She tucked her chin down over her hands and stared at the blanket that covered her.
“I wasn’t trying…I wasn’t going to hurt myself.”
Johnny was horrified. They’d tied her down before, and now she was afraid that Johnny would make it happen again.
“Of course not! I know that.” He was as reassuring as he could be, wanting desperately to coax the look of mistrust from her face.
“I don’t expect it’s easy, moving around with that thing. Did I fix it okay?”
Alexis nodded, her head still bowed. He didn’t know what else to say to her and he felt awkward standing there in silence. But his gut told him that she didn’t want to be left alone just yet…if at all.
“It’s not too tight?”
She shook her head, the corners of her mouth turning up just so. She looked to be on the verge of either laughter or tears, the fine line that her expression bore was a hard call. He watched her face carefully, trying to anticipate her need as her tired eyes finally lifted up to his.
“Could you close the door please?”
She did want to be alone. Johnny smiled and began to back up toward the door. “Sure”
As he wrapped his fingers around the edge of the door and stepped across the threshold, Alexis called out to him.
“No…just close it.”
Johnny stopped. He frowned, trying to decipher her words. She read his confusion.
“I wasn’t asking you to leave. Unless you want to.''
He took a step back and pushed the door closed in front of him. He turned to her with a smile, but her eyes had wandered to the wall as she pulled the covers up higher. He saw her hand slide down to her leg and watched as her fingernails began to drag up and down her thigh. Alexis was deep in thought, unaware of her hand’s actions. He waited, and finally she formulated the question she needed to ask him.
“You’ve been here the whole time?”
Johnny nodded. “Yeah.”
“So you were here when I was…” Alexis hesitated, unsure if she really wanted the answer to her question. Johnny’s shoulders tightened. He was sure he knew what she wanted to know, and he hated the thought of making her embarrassed – no more that what she clearly was already.
“Y-you saw me…when I was on the…the floor?”
Her words came haltingly and a pang of guilt rose up in Johnny as he remembered the sight of Alexis crouched and whimpering in the corner, the ill effects of his gardenias freshly wrought. He simply nodded his answer.
Johnny’s lack of voice made her feel so exposed, but she pressed on. “Johnny? How awful was I?”
Johnny was stunned at her lack of guile.
“Tony and Sonny don’t want me to know anything. They’re evasive and they give each other these secretive looks and I don’t want that. Do you understand?”
She looked at him with such purpose that he almost lost sight of the awful bruises decorating her face and throat. She seemed almost like her real self for just that moment – strong and clear minded.
“Yeah, I do. You want the truth.”
Alexis watched Johnny’s face as he considered his answer to her. She nervously kicked at the twisted covers that her restless legs had tangled around themselves. As she pulled the blanket back over her body and curled up on her side to face him, Johnny smiled down on her with pure understanding.
“No, you weren’t awful at all. You were just scared.” Johnny looked her intently in the eye. “You were really scared. Why shouldn’t you be?”
His voice was so warm, his face so open to her. There was compassion in his eyes, not pity, and she was so grateful for that. He did understand. He understood a lot. Alexis locked her eyes with his and begged just one more truth from him.
“Johnny…you know, don’t you?”
Johnny flashed back to the image of Sonny’s horrified face as his fingertips pulled the plastic syringe from Sorel’s plain, brown envelope. “Yeah. I know.”
A fierce shiver shook her in response and it moved him closer to her side. Alexis held her breath as her eyes darted back and forth in a panic.
“Are you cold?”
Her body succumbed to a tandem wave and she bit her lip to stifle the sound forming in the back of her throat. Her breathing started to quicken and Johnny was getting nervous. He took a ready step back.
“Should I get Dr. Jones?
“No! Don’t. I’m alright. I’m just…”
Alexis released a light, nervous laugh and shook her head. “I’m just terrified. And I HATE that. I’m not supposed to be afraid…I’m not allowed to be, but I am…and…”
She suddenly stopped her breathless flow of unburdening and looked up at Johnny’s solemn, puppy dog expression. She felt her face begin to flush with humiliation at what she was unleashing on this man she’d known long, but not well at all. He’d clearly been subjected to enough of her already, and his patient kindness was suddenly making her want to disappear.
“I’m sorry. I have no right inflicting this on you.” She closed her eyes and covered her face with her hands. “I’m alright, really. You don’t have to stick around and…”
Alexis hesitated, then slowly pulled her hand from her eyes and peered up at him questioningly. “Why…what?”
Johnny moved right up alongside the bed, his demeanor decidedly shifted. His usual formal bearing was now relaxed, and he regarded her with a serious sincerity.
“Why aren’t you allowed to be afraid?”
The pointed simplicity of his question caught Alexis off guard. She didn’t know how to respond, as there was no simple answer. Her dark eyes took in his face in a way they never had before, and Johnny could see her confusion. He reached behind him and slid the chair up so he could sit beside her, leaning forward on his elbows so his face was level with hers.
“Really…I want to know.” He knew he was pushing the bounds, but he also knew that she was allowing it.
She frowned and smiled nervously. “I guess you’d have to ask my brother. It’s what he always told me. I suppose it’s the only way he thought either one of us would survive our family.”
Johnny nodded thoughtfully, knowing full well the reputation of the Cassadines. He’d seen the intensity and fortitude of her brother up close and personal just that morning, and could only imagine how he would have tried to dominate a younger female sibling.
“Do you have family, Johnny?”
“Some. We’re scattered here and there. You know how it is.”
“I don’t know very much about you. You don’t talk much.”
Johnny was about to respond, but instead watched helplessly as Alexis’s face registered another pain hitting her. She held her breath, her body trembling as she rode it out. It seemed an eternity to Johnny as he sat, powerless to ease her suffering. Finally, she relaxed back into the bed and slowly blinked her eyes back open. She avoided his face, embarrassed at her inability to suppress the things laying claim to her body. Johnny had seen withdrawal before and it tore him up to know what was in store for her. They had to talk her into that detox…Sonny had to.
Alexis sensed the tension in Johnny and she sought to distract the both of them. “I think this is the most that you’re ever said to me at one time.”
Johnny smiled and looked down at his folded hands. “I guess.”
“I always thought I made you a little nervous. If I’d have known it would take such drastic circumstances to get you to let down your guard with me – pun definitely intended – I’d have thrown myself at Sorel’s feet a lot sooner.”
Johnny’s eyes glazed over and his tone changed, his response close to brusque. “Don’t even joke about that.”
“I’m sorry.” Alexis’s voice caught in her throat as she realized what a horrible thing she’d just said. Her instinct to make light when feeling out of control was in full swing, but Johnny didn’t deserve it. Her hand moved back up to her face.
“I just never seem to learn when to shut the hell up, do I?” Her nervous laughter broke out again. “I don’t know HOW I’m supposed to feel…or act, even. But I think I should probably just lock that door and ride this thing out by myself so that when it’s all over, there might be a few people left in town who’re still speaking to me.”
Johnny’s heart was breaking for her. This woman he held in such high regard was afraid to show her need, afraid it would leave her standing alone. She couldn’t be more wrong, and he needed to tell her so.
“You’re right, Alexis. I don’t talk much. But that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking things.”
She closed her eyes wearily. “I know. I can see thoughts in your eyes all the time.”
He smiled. “Would it be okay if I told you something that I’m thinking right now?”
A faint smile crept across her face as she sighed and clasped her fingers together under her chin. “If you have a truth to tell, please do.”
“With all due respect, your brother was wrong. I mean sure, you can’t go around being afraid of every little thing…but this isn’t such a little thing. Being afraid doesn’t mean that you’re not strong or brave, because you are – more that you even know, I think.”
Alexis opened her eyes and gazed up at him. Johnny quickly interpreted the look on her face, not wanting to overstep the bounds too much, but he found her open and accepting. She shifted her body, turning her head even further toward him as she waited for him to give her more of his truth. Johnny shifted as well, struggling to find the eloquence that had always eluded him and kept him silent all too often.
“As strange as this might sound to you right now, I think you’re pretty lucky. You’ll be okay, because there are a whole lot of people who’re going to the mat for you and who’re going a little crazy trying to do right by you…and right FOR you. And we’re all kind of afraid too, you know? Especially Sonny.”
Johnny glanced at the door, his heart racing at the flood now pouring from his mouth. He turned back to see Alexis fighting back another groan, her forearms locked together against her chest. As she bit her lip, in that way she had of keeping herself steady, Johnny ached all over again. She couldn’t do this alone and he began to push her.
“You’re really important to him, and not just because you’re his lawyer. So I need to ask you a favor, okay?”
Alexis opened her eyes once more and raised them as high as Johnny’s folded hands. The dampness creeping back across her face had begun to trap thin wisps of her hair against it. As she pushed them away with the edge of her hand, Johnny thought he saw her nod.
“Be angry, be afraid…you’re entitled. But please, don’t stay mad at Sonny too long.”
Johnny’s head tilted as he watched her eyes slowly drift upward to connect with his. His raspy voice grew soft as he whispered.
“I don’t think he could take it if you did.”
The sadness in his eyes sent a twinge of something indefinable through her. Alexis lowered her head, tucking it further down into the pillow with her arms still crossed against her chest. So many emotions were weaving through her, like a tapestry with no particular pattern. She felt anger and fear, betrayal and guilt…but she felt need most of all, and that was the hardest thing for her to own.
Johnny carefully pushed his chair back. She looked quite exhausted and he’d said quite enough – much more than he’d really anticipated.
“I hope I didn’t speak too much out of turn. I care, is all.”
He watched her brow furrow slightly, her downcast eyes shifting in thought. As he rose from his chair, he saw the dimples start to etch into her cheek as she smiled.
Johnny felt redeemed. He’d finally been able to give her something that she could hold onto within this small and unexpected connection they had made.
“If Sonny does come back…”
“When.” Johnny corrected.
“When he comes back, it’s okay if he wants to…I mean….” She stopped, her face suddenly looking as if she wanted something that she didn’t think she deserved.
“Sure. I’ll tell him.”
Johnny turned and reached for the door, hearing the rustling of the bedclothes behind him. He hesitated, then turned his head one more time to see the anxiety spreading across in her face. She still didn’t want to be alone.
“Um…would you mind if I waited for Sonny in here? It’s kind of drafty out in that hallway.”
Alexis nodded with a small smile, the anxiety quickly melting away. She sank further down under the blanket as Johnny pulled the chair in front of the door. He heard her make a slight sound of pain, but he respected her privacy and didn’t turn around. Johnny hoped that Sonny wouldn’t stay away too long.
He didn’t think she could take it if he did.