Flame Turns Blue
"So how is work going?" Elizabeth asked, as Zander sat down at the counter. She poured him a cup of coffee without him asking.
"It's good." Zander smiled. "Nikolas is a pain, but he's a good boss."
Elizabeth chuckled. "It's so weird to think of the two of you as friends. I mean...you're going to be an usher at his wedding."
Zander nodded. "I know, tell me about it. I still can't believe he and Gia are actually getting married."
"Well…they haven't done it yet," Elizabeth reminded him. "And they keep changing the date."
"Cold feet." Zander thanked Elizabeth for the coffee and took a sip. "It'll happen though. They really do love each other. Kinda like you and Lucky." Zander smiled at Elizabeth, his eyes glinting. "So when are you and the big guy going to set a date?"
Elizabeth made a face. "We've talked about it…but I'm in no hurry. I like the way things are between us right now. I'm content."
Zander smiled at her, he was glad she was so happy. "Yeah…you've got time," he said softly. Something he wouldn't have believed a few months ago. But in the six months since he had come home, Zander's life had changed for the better. He had a better focus on his life and he was finding more and more reasons to keep on living. It wasn't always easy, and there were rough patches, but he had friends to help him through. And family. Zander thought about his father. They weren't exactly friends, but they were working on it.
"I hear you have a date," Elizabeth countered, a bit teasingly. "Sam McCall?"
"Yeah." Zander felt his cheeks redden. "I wouldn't call it a date. We've been hanging out for a few weeks."
Elizabeth leaned her elbows on the counter and locked her eyes on Zander's face. "Do you like her?"
Zander shrugged. "Yeah. She's…interesting. And she likes pool and drinking beer. We have alot in common."
"I'm happy for you," Elizabeth replied. "And it's about time you went out on a date. You do know that both of the new waitresses here keep asking me for your phone number. They know we live in the same building, so beware of stalkers. Maybe once you show off the *girlfriend* they'll back off."
"You're a dink," Zander shot back, laughing. And it felt good to laugh.
Elizabeth poured Zander a refill. "You drink too much coffee."
He made a face at her. "Your point being?"
"You drink too much coffee." Elizabeth laughed. "You have a session today?" she guessed.
"Yeah." Zander was out of the facility, but one of the conditions was continued counseling sessions with Gail Baldwin for at least one year. Zander didn't mind them so much anymore. Sometimes they really helped him to deal with things. But they were still a reminder of the fact that his life wasn't exactly back on track yet. Zander knew he still hadn't really let go of Emily. He couldn't. But Dr. Baldwin kept telling him that if he didn't say goodbye to Emily, he would never truly be able to move on with his life. A part of Zander felt determined to prove Dr. Baldwin wrong. He could have a life but still hold on to Emily. Zander glanced at his watch. "Gotta go or I'll be late. Hey...maybe I could bring Sam around for coffee and you can meet her."
Elizabeth nodded. "Sounds like a plan. See you later, Zander."
He waved as he headed for the door. "Later."
* * * * *
Zander watched Sam as she finished off her ice cream cone. They had gone to a movie then gotten ice cream as a treat. Now they were sitting on the docks, looking at the stars. All things he had done with Emily. To Zander's surprise, even though he felt a twinge of sadness, he didn't feel pain. "It was fun tonight," he said softly.
"It was fun," Sam agreed. "I like spending time with you, Zander. You like the simple things in life, just like I do."
"I like them because that's all I've got," Zander replied with a laugh. "But no complaints. I have friends, a place to play pool and beer will never go out of style."
Sam chuckled, then reached for his hand. She intertwined their fingers. "What do you want out of life, Zander?" she asked.
Zander shrugged then shook his head. He looked at his hand joined with Sam's then he knew the answer. "To be happy."
"Are you happy now?"
"Well...I guess I'm close." Zander smiled. "I think there are different levels of happy. Just like there are different types of love...different degrees of love. Different degrees of happiness."
Sam smiled back. "That's very profound." She rose from the bench and tugged Zander with her. "Want to go shoot some pool at Jake’s?"
Zander nodded. "Sounds like a good time to me." He was still smiling as they walked off, hand in hand.
* * * * *
The next day Zander was back on the docks after work. He had managed to avoid a *goodnight* kiss with Sam last night, but it had him thinking about his feelings for her. So he walked the docks, staring at the water, his thoughts and emotions in chaos.
He turned to see Carly smiling at him. A sad smile. "Hey, Carly. What are you doing here?"
She shrugged. "Just came out here to think. You look like you had the same idea."
"Yeah…" Zander moved to where Carly was standing then gestured for them to sit on the bench. It felt like old times. "We did alot of...thinking...out here."
"You helped me to not be a crazy person all the time," Carly stated. "Did I ever thank you for that?" She raised a hand to stop his reply and said, "Yeah...I thanked you by dumping you to the curb when Jason came back. I remember now." Carly's tone was filled with self disgust. "In my defense, I did warn you that if you became my friend, I would trash you somehow in the end. And I did just that."
Zander sighed, remembering that painful time in his life. "Yeah...well…that was a long time ago, Carly. Both of us were different people then. I'd like to think we've moved past that."
Carly smiled sadly. "I'd like to think that too. So...you forgive me?"
"Yeah. You're forgiven." Zander reached out to squeeze her hand. He knew how important it was to say the actual words. "I want to thank you, by the way. For protecting me back when I was being stupid and trying to trash myself. Again. And for being willing to help me when I was in trouble. That meant alot to me, Carly. More than you'll ever know."
"You're welcome." Carly squeezed his hand. "So...moving on now. What's going on in your life?"
Zander puffed out a breath and ran a hand through his hair. "Wow...alot is going on. Alot has changed. I'm working for Nikolas Cassadine now...can you believe it? Not only that but...we're friends."
Carly looked appropriately stunned. "Never would have bet on that ever happening. But I guess you just never know how things are going to go in life."
"Yeah...I guess you kinda have to go with the flow," Zander replied. "Or drown."
"Any women in your life?" Carly queried. "I bet all the single chicks in town are fighting for your attention. And drooling over you. I remember when I was drooling over you," Carly teased. "And you’re even more gorgeous and sexy today. And you still have a great ass."
Zander flushed then made a face at Carly. "I swear...you are the only woman who can embarrass me," he complained.
Carly chuckled. "And that's a bad thing…why? But seriously...anyone in your life?"
"Maybe," Zander allowed. "Her name is Sam McCall. We've kinda been hanging out and last night we went on a. ..sort of...date."
"Do you like her?"
Zander nodded. "Yeah. Yeah I do."
Carly reached out to caress Zander's cheek. "I'm glad. You deserve to be happy."
"So do you," Zander replied. "So...you and Sonny?"
"Pretty much over. It's just hard to let go of something you thought would last forever."
Zander felt his eyes tear up and he nodded. "Yeah...I know," he whispered.
Carly shook her head and sighed. "I'm so sorry, Zander. I'm an idiot. Of course you know."
"It's okay. I'm cool." Zander smiled then he pulled Carly into a hug. And it felt good when she hugged him back.
* * * * *
"Anyone want more ice cream?" Alexis asked, as she stood in the doorway to the kitchen.
Zander was holding Kristina and he shook his head. "I'm full."
Alexis looked at Cameron, who had his nose buried in the paper. "What about you?"
"I'm good," he grunted.
"Fine…I'm putting it away." Alexis ducked back into the kitchen.
Zander chuckled to himself. He was enjoying the evening. They were at his place. Once a week his father, Alexis and Kristina would bring over take out and dessert and they would spend the evening together. Sometimes they watched movies. Sometimes they talked about world events. Sometimes Zander teased his father and Alexis about their growing relationship. He was happy for them.
Alexis came out of the kitchen and sat down on the floor across from Zander and her daughter. "Hi sweet pea," she cooed to Kristina. "You're so good with her. You're going to be a wonderful father someday, Zander."
"Hey…don't rush things," Cameron piped up. "I'm not ready to be a grandfather."
"Ignore him," Alexis whispered, but loud enough for Cameron to hear. "So…Zander…tell us how your date with Sam McCall went?"
Zander shrugged. "It went like a date. It was fun."
Alexis nodded. "You like her."
"Yeah…" Zander shook his head and laughed. "I do like her...but don't get any ideas, okay? We're still in the early stages of things."
"That's good. No need to rush things." Alexis picked up a stuffed animal and stroked it absently. "Have you been to visit Emily's grave yet?"
Zander closed his eyes. He had known the question was coming. Alexis or his father asked it every week. "Not yet."
Cameron put down his paper. "I was talking to Monica at the hospital. She told me that she asked you about joining the family at the cemetery on the anniversary of Emily's death."
"Yeah...I told her I'd think about it," Zander stated. He handed Kristina over to Alexis and rose to his feet. He needed to change the subject. Emily had been in his thoughts alot lately and he felt troubled in a way he couldn't explain. "So...what movie did you guys bring tonight?"
"Some Jackie Chan thing," Alexis replied. "Rush Hour?"
Zander laughed. "Good choice." He grabbed the video bag and was relieved when everyone let him off the hook. He wanted this to be a pleasant evening for them all. "So...who wants to make the popcorn?" Zander, and Alexis, were both surprised when Cameron offered.
Ten minutes later, Alexis made a new batch.
They watched the movie. Kristina fell asleep on Zander's chest and he dozed off as well. The movie ended and Alexis headed off with Kristina, stating that she needed to change her before they left and gather their things together.
Zander knew she was giving him some *alone time* with his dad.
"So how are things going…really, Alexander?" Cameron queried.
"Good. Really," Zander replied. Then he smiled. "You look happy."
Cameron nodded. "I am. Alexis and I are doing well. Kristina is a happy and healthy child, and my son is getting his life back on track and finding reasons to make that life worth living. It's all good." Cameron smirked as he made the last remark.
Zander chuckled, knowing that his father was throwing his own words back at him. "It's hard though sometimes," he admitted. "I still have these dreams and I wake up and I look over and I really believe Emily is going to be there. And then I don't feel much like getting out of bed, but...I figure I've come too far to fall back now. It would hurt too many people."
"Don't worry about everyone else, Alex...just focus on yourself." Cameron smiled. "I'm very proud of you."
"Thanks." Zander heard the rasp of tears in his voice and when his father opened his arms, Zander went into them willingly.
* * * * *
Zander laughed as he watched Sam botch a shot. They were at Jake’s for their weekly pool game. Zander looked forward to it each week. On this one night, when he was with Sam, it didn't feel like a date. It was just two friends hanging out and having a good time. Like when he and Lucky and Nikolas would come here to play. No pressure. "You are so gonna lose," Zander teased.
"Must be your lucky day then," Sam shot back, a twinkle in her eye.
"Hey…I beat you most of the time," Zander protested. "Except when you distract me." Unbidden an image came to mind. Of a time when he and Carly had hung out at Jake’s and played a few games of pool. It seemed like a lifetime ago.
Sam sauntered over to Zander then poked a finger in his chest. "Okay, bud. How about we make a real bet this time?"
Zander smiled. "You're on. What's the bet?"
"If you win, I buy you dinner at the PC Grille," Sam stated.
"And if you win?"
Sam considered then grinned. "If I win...you sing Karaoke this Friday…here at Jake’s."
Zander didn't even hesitate. "You're on." He shook her hand when she held it out. It was a win win situation for him. Dinner if he won, and even if he lost, no one in this town knew it, but Zander could actually sing. His mother had made him sing with the church choir until he was eleven. Then church, and the whole *God* thing had kind of flown out the window for him. "Rack ‘em up, babe," Zander beseeched Sam. Then he grabbed his beer, leaned against the bar, and enjoyed the view as Sam bent over the table.
* * * * *
Ever since Zander came home, he and Nikolas, Gia, Elizabeth and Lucky had made it a point to get together, at Kelly's, every two weeks. Everyone was leading separate lives, so this was a good way for them to keep in touch and focus on what each other was doing. Zander enjoyed the time spent with his friends, but never stopped marveling over the fact that they were his friends.
Tonight they were teasing Nikolas and Gia about their upcoming nuptials and were laughing over Nikolas' reaction to Gia's choice of colors, when Sam entered Kelly's and made a beeline for their table. Zander was happy to see her and stood up to greet her with a hug. "Come join us," he invited.
"Are you sure?" Sam asked. "You guys look pretty cozy."
"The more the merrier," Elizabeth replied, moving her chair over to make room.
Sam chose to push Zander back down into his chair then sit on his lap. "Thanks for the invite, guys," she said. "And since you invited me to join you here, why don't you all come to Jake's on Friday. It's Karaoke night and maybe I can get Zander to sing again."
Zander winced. He had lost the bet the other night and had to sing. Never in a million years had he expected Sam to mention it. "Um…they don't want to go to Jake’s," he interjected.
"Whoa…wait a minute." Lucky waved his hand at Zander. "You sing?"
Sam smacked Zander on the shoulder. "Yes you do." She smiled at the others. "He's terrific."
Zander moaned. "I'm not. She was drunk at the time and she's tone deaf." That earned him another smack.
"How come you never told us you can sing, Zander?" Gia persisted.
"Because I can't. It was just a stupid bet." Zander made a face. "Forget Sam said anything." But he knew they wouldn't forget.
Sam laughed then ruffled Zander's hair. "Looks like I started something. Sorry."
Zander tickled her. "Sure you are." But in truth, he didn't mind. He even told them how his mother made him sing in the church choir when he was a kid.
"I'd really like to hear you sing some time," Elizabeth stated.
"Maybe someday I will," Zander replied. "But for now...I want to talk about the wedding." Zander glared at Gia. "Keep in mind, I am NOT wearing a pink shirt."
Lucky pounded the table. "Yeah…me either."
Nikolas voted the same.
Zander heaved a little sigh as attention was diverted off him. And he was content to watch and listen and sometimes join in the conversation. But a part of him was thinking about what might have been. And what a beautiful bride Emily would have made.
* * * * *
Zander was leaving his session with Dr. Baldwin, when he ran into Nikolas at the elevator. "Hospital business?" he guessed.
Nikolas nodded. "Fundraiser. How was the session?"
Zander sighed. "I'm just...confused. This is my *confused* look."
Nikolas laughed. "Okay...confused with a touch of…bummed. What's wrong?"
"I don't know." Zander ran a hand through his hair. "I'm just...confused."
"I got that." Nikolas hit the elevator button. "Want to talk about it?"
Zander watched the doors open then he stepped inside and Nikolas followed. Zander hit the down button. "I have a question for you...and I need a completely honest answer."
Nikolas smiled. "You know I'll be honest, Zander. So…what's the question?"
"Do you think Emily would mind me dating Sam?" Zander blurted it out before he could change his mind. Then he locked his eyes on Nikolas' face, needing to see the truth as well as hear it.
"I think Emily would want you to be happy," Nikolas replied. "And you look happy with Sam."
Zander nodded then ran a hand over his face. "I have fun with her...and I like her…alot. It's just that the more time I spend with Sam...the more I think about Emily."
Nikolas patted Zander on the shoulder. "This is going to be a transition period for you, Zander. It's not going to be easy. If you move on to Sam...then you finally have to let go of Emily."
"I was afraid you were going to say that," Zander whispered. His voice was wobbly and he swiped tears from his eyes with his shirtsleeve.
"Want to get a beer at Jake’s?"
Zander gave a water chuckle. "You hate beer."
Nikolas grinned. "Okay....you drink the beer, I'll drink whatever passes for Vodka."
"Deal," Zander replied. The elevator doors opened and he followed Nikolas out.
* * * * *
A week later, Zander went on his third date with Sam. For the first two he had somehow managed to avoid a goodnight kiss. But tonight they were watching a movie at his place, and they were curled up on the couch. And when Sam shifted towards him and curled her fingers in his hair, it was the most natural thing in the world for them to kiss. But soon after their lips touched, Zander was shifting Sam off him and he was up on his feet and pacing. "I'm sorry.." Zander pressed one hand to his lips.
Sam stood up and blocked his path. "Zander...it's okay. I understand. You aren't ready."
"I really am sorry." Zander had told her about Emily and he was glad that she wasn't upset with him about this. She really did seem to understand.
"I'm gonna go." Sam smiled as she collected her things. "Call me tomorrow?"
Zander nodded. "I will. Thank you...for not being mad."
Sam touched Zander's face with her fingertips, then she turned towards the door. "I talk to you tomorrow," She said. Then she was gone.
"I'm sorry, Emily," Zander whispered, as he leaned against the closed door. He closed his eyes against the sting of hot tears, but they slid down his face anyway, as Zander crumpled to the floor. He felt as if he had somehow betrayed his love for her tonight. As if he had made the first step towards letting go of Emily. And that terrified Zander. He couldn't let her go. He wouldn't let her go. He rocked himself and whispered, "I love you, Emily. I love you….."
* * * * *
Zander didn't call Sam the next day. Nor did he go into work. He had however fended off a visit from Nikolas, who had pounded on his door after Ned had called, asking if he knew where Zander was. Zander had let the answering machine handle all the calls, on silent mode.
After Sam left, he hadn't been able to sleep. He had gone for a run, then for a drive, then he had dozed, fitfully, dreaming about Emily. So tonight he ended up on the docks, staring out at the water, and wishing for peace. He heard footsteps approaching and looked up to see Carly. "Hey," he offered in greeting.
"Hey, Zander." Carly moved to stand beside him. "You look sad."
"I'm kind of fucked up tonight," he confessed. Then, without meaning to, he told her about the kiss with Sam. Zander ran a hand over his face. "It shouldn't be such a big deal. It was just a kiss." Saying that reminded Zander of the first time he had kissed Carly. But he shook off the memory. He had enough to deal with right now. "I wanted to kiss Sam," Zander continued. "But the moment I did...it felt wrong. And I'm not sure why."
Carly reached out and straightened the collar on Zander's jacket. "I think I know why," she said softly.
Zander was surprised, but willing to hear her out. "Tell me," he begged.
"You need to talk to Emily," Carly stated. "You know I'm right."
"Yeah...I know." Zander sighed. He knew it in his heart. "Will you come with me?"
Carly nodded. Then she took his hand and they left the docks.
* * * * *
Zander found Emily's grave as if by instinct. He knelt down beside the headstone and brushed his fingers over her name. Tears filled his eyes and he wiped them away as he sat down. "Hey, Em," Zander whispered. "I'm sorry it took so long for me to come here. I've been pretty messed up since you've been gone. I fucked up alot. But that's typical Zander...right?" A watery chuckle escaped him, then he sobered. "I miss you so much, Em. It doesn't hurt the same way as it did. It's just like this…almost comforting...ache in my heart. It's how I know you're still with me. You always will be, Emily. I will never…ever…forget you. You were the reason life was worth living...but a strange thing happened. I found other reasons to live. Thanks to Nikolas, and Alexis and Elizabeth and Gia...and you get the picture. And even my father....we're kind of learning how to be...friends." Zander broke off and sighed.
"I had all this stuff in my head that I was going to say to you...all these stories I was going to tell you...but I think you already know why I'm here. You know about Sam…and the kiss." A tear slid down Zander's face and he wiped it away. "I have to say goodbye to you, Em. I have to let you go. Not in my heart...I can never let you go in my heart. But I have to let go of the past. I have to remember the love we had but not live because of it. I have to let myself love again, just like you wanted me to do...in your journal."
More tears fell and Zander had to stop to wipe them away. They caught in his throat and he had to swallow hard to continue. "I was so afraid to come here. I thought...I thought it would mean losing my connection to you. But I can still feel you." Zander tapped his chest with one hand. "In here. So I don't have to be afraid anymore. I can say goodbye to you and maybe we can both rest in peace." Zander rose to his feet as he spoke and then he smiled. He stroked his hand over the headstone and whispered, "Goodbye, Emily." Then he bent down to kiss her name as he breathed, "I love you." Only then did Zander turn from her grave and headed back towards the gate.
Carly was waiting for him just inside and she opened her arms to Zander.
He let himself fall into her embrace. Let himself hold her for a long moment, then he pulled back.
Carly smiled at him as she smoothed a lock of dark hair off his forehead. "You okay?"
Zander nodded. "I am now."