December 5, 2018

I can’t believe we’re actually here! Thank you so much for taking this journey with me. My goal with splitting Mad World into three parts was to redo this panic room storyline and have it make more impact than it did on the actual show. Each book is designed to be a self-contained story, so I hope you feel like when I leave you here after Chapter 19, that there’s satisfactory closure.

I don’t yet have a date for Book 2, and a lot of that depends on how the next two months of my life goes. I’m finally writing Damaged, Season 3 (which is about two years overdue), and if I finish that by the beginning of February, I’ll be writing Book 2 in Febuary and March. I already have seven of the thirty planned chapters written, so believe me, I’m working on it.

Let me know what you think of this story as a whole — what are you looking forward to in the next book? What did you like about this book? Make sure to read my author’s note at the end for some clues 😉

Thanks for following me on this journey. This book is probably one of my favorite writing experiences. I had written Chapters 1-4 about a year ago, but then, in the space of three weeks, I wrote more than 70,000 words. I can’t really remember another time a story came together quite like this.

Chapter Nineteen

This entry is part 19 of 19 in the series Break Me Down

Like a small boat
On the ocean
Sending big waves
Into motion
Like how a single word
Can make a heart open
I might only have one match
But I can make an explosion
Fight Song, Rachel Platten


Thursday, July 3, 2003

General Hospital: Kevin Collins’ Office

Carly twisted her fingers in her lap and looked longingly at the door to Kevin Collins’ office through which her son and his nanny had just exited.

She wanted to be with them and done with her therapy. Done with the horrors of the panic room and her kidnapping. She wanted to start the next step of her life—to put this away for good and never think about it again.

But there was no denying that the flurry of sessions she’d scheduled with Kevin had helped—she’d learned how to deal with the panic attacks that seemed to strike without warning, how to recognize potential triggers for anxiety and nightmares, and even how to deal with her young son’s terror over watching her kidnapping.

The first time she’d seen Michael after her rescue, she’d gone into a daze. Just the sight of his face, his tears, had sent her careening back to that horrible night—she’d been struggling to escape Ric, trying to fight off the drug he used to knock her out—seeing Michael’s sobbing face—his screams as the world had gone dark—

“I think that went well,” Kevin said as Carly stared down at her hands, turning the gold wedding band she wore. Around and around. Around and around. “How was your first night home?”

“Good,” Carly murmured. When Kevin just raised his brows, she sighed and lifted her chin. “Hard,” she admitted. “Sonny’s hovering. He can’t help it. When we found out about the baby—” She pressed her hands to the mound of her belly. “He went into nutrition Nazi mode, you know? He threw out all my junk food—and it’s just in his nature. But he wouldn’t leave me alone.”

She turned her head to look out the window where Kevin’s office overlooked Port Charles Park. “You’ve lived in Port Charles a long time, so you know about his first wife—about Lily.”

“I do. I was there that night at Luke’s,” Kevin said. “They had been celebrating her pregnancy.”

“Yeah, well, he couldn’t protect her. And our first little boy—um, Sonny had to choose me. I mean, there was no saving our son anyway. If I died, the doctors—our son wasn’t old enough.” Her chest was tight as she continued. “We both…we both feel a huge responsibility to take care of this baby. I’m not surprised he hasn’t left me alone. I don’t blame him.”

“But it’s not easy for you,” Kevin said.

“No. I…I was alone all week, but it didn’t feel like it. Not really. I knew Ric could come in at any point, and there were cameras—I worried maybe Ric was watching me somehow from where he was—” The hairs on her arms stood up at the memory and she shivered. “But…I slept okay last night. I did what you said. I set the alarm every two hours a—and it seemed to work. I’m still a little tired but I didn’t have nightmares.”

“Good.” He nodded, scribbled something. “This is going to be an adjustment, Carly, and there’s no right way or correct length of time. Acute stress disorder usually fades after about a month—especially when you’ve faced it head on. But you might still have some panic attacks, some anxiety—”

“I want it to be over, but it’s not—he’s in jail. There will be a trial—I’ll have to testify, and—” Carly swallowed. “Baldwin said something about maybe testifying when Elizabeth’s temporary restraining order expires in a few weeks—”

“What do you think about that?”

“About testifying? In the trial, I mean, I have to. I was there. And—and I’m sure Ric would try to blame it on Elizabeth, but I was there, and I know what he said to me. Um…I guess that means I have to testify for her, too. I saw it—I know what he did to her.” Carly shifted. “I just want it to go away. The more I want that, the more it seems to stay in my head. I want to go back to work, I want to get ready for my baby, think about my husband and son.” Her voice trembled. “I want it to be over, but it’s never going to be over.”

“No?”

“Even when he goes to jail,” Carly said slowly, “that’s not going to stop that…I can just close my eyes and I’m back there. I’m locked away, convinced that no matter how hard he tries, Jason is never going to find me. I just know I’m going to die behind those walls, and just because I didn’t—I can’t seem to stop…I don’t know how to convince myself it’s over.”

“You may not be able to do that in the first week,” Kevin told her bluntly. “Or the second. I know this is not the answer you want to hear, Carly, but the only thing that’s going to make this better is time.”

“Yeah…” She exhaled slowly. “Yeah. I know that. Here—” She touched her index finger to her temple. “Up here, I get it. That every day is a step forward. And that testifying against Ric and being part of the process is going to help make it stop. But it’s hard—” She bit her lip to hold in the sob that bubbled in her throat. “It’s hard here—” Carly pressed her hand against her chest, “Here, I can’t seem to hold on to that. When the sight of my little boy reminds me of terror, when the thought of my husband constantly at my side makes me want to scream—it’s hard to remember that.”

Kevin merely nodded. “There’s no answer for that, Carly. No magical thing I can do for you or tell you. I wish there was.”

She sighed. “Well, I guess that would have been too easy.”

District Attorney Wing, Municipal Building: Kelsey Joyce’s Office

 Kelsey frowned down at her open case report—and then looked back at the reports that had been emailed to her that morning.

“Lazy bastards,” she muttered as she brought up her email screen and started an email to Vincent Esposito. “Catch a case and then don’t put it on the report? No wonder your closure rate is in the toilet—”

“You gotta minute, Kelsey?”

She glanced up to find her boss at her doorstep, folders in his hand. Kelsey winced— “That’s not more cases for me, is it?” She already had twenty open cases from the PCPD along with thirty-five on their way to the court in the next few weeks.

The ink on her law license was barely dry, and already Kelsey was going to drown in work. She’d thought being given her own division would be a boon to her career—a great first step to one day becoming District Attorney.

But now she understood why this division couldn’t hold an attorney for long. Lazy cops, too many cases, too few hours—Two weeks in, and Kelsey was ready to throw in the towel.

“No, no…” Scott eyed the boxes littering every surface of the small office. “I wanted to talk to you about giving you some ADAs…two or three.”

She squinted at him as he carefully lifted a pile of folders from her lone chair and set them precariously on the floor. “Who do I have to kill?”

“It’s part of an overall—” He coughed. “Restructuring of our priorities. I told you when you started that Port Charles had issues—and I’m sure you saw the Sunday edition of the Herald—the DA’s office didn’t come out of this whole thing with a shining reputation.”

“No, but we fared better than the PCPD. A nice anonymous source who made sure the paper knew that the DA had, in fact, forbid the leaking of anything about the case.” Kelsey lifted her brows. “And your arrest for contempt wasn’t bad either.”

“We do what we can here.” Scott shifted. “The only catch is that—they’re not much younger than you. In fact…they’re about your age. We’re not attracting the best and brightest in Port Charles…not for long.” He grimaced. “We have a talent drain to Buffalo and Rochester.”

“I’ve heard.” Kelsey twirled her pen between her fingers. “Three ADAs would bring this office to four total attorneys. We have thirty-five cases ready for court, and twenty more that the PCPD is…investigating. It’s still a heavy case load, Scott. But yeah, thirteen cases is better than fifty four. And then when that ADA comes back from maternity leave—” She sighed when she saw Scott’s expression. “She’s not coming back, is she?”

He cleared his throat. “We’re going to do better, Kelsey—”

“You can do everything you want, Scott, but how are you going to solve the problem at the PCPD?” Kelsey gestured at her screen. “I got cops who can’t follow simple instructions. There was a sexual assault last night that Vinnie Esposito picked up and it’s not on the open case report.”

“Last night?” Scott checked his watch. “It’s noon. Those case reports are updated every morning.” He scowled, circled the desk. “Tell me about it.”

“Port Charles Park,” she said, tugging the police report towards her. “Twenty-three-year-old Wendy Morris, on her way home from the movie theater. Grabbed near the Martin Memorial, beaten, raped, and left unconscious. She was found around eleven p.m.” Kelsey hesitated. “It’s…the third rape in the park this year.”

“Third—” Scott hissed. “Tell me the rest.”

“February 14 at the fountain in the north part of the park, Dana Watson, aged twenty-one, and May 30, sixteen-year-old Renee Norton at the Angel Fountain.” Kelsey chewed her bottom lips, twisting it between her teeth. “These are all Vinnie’s cases. And none of them have made any progress. I asked him about it but—”

“Wait, wait—the new case is Vinnie’s?” Scott interrupted. He waved his hand in the air. “He’s not supposed to be handling any more sex crimes.” He huffed. “I’ll talk to Mac. You’re right. I can’t keep people here if the cops aren’t going to turn over the paperwork when we need it.”

“Scott—” She stopped him as he started for the door. “I know that in other offices, I’d be starting at the bottom, and that you only took the interview with me because of my dad.  I’m grateful…but I feel like I’m swimming upstream—”

“I know.” Scott sighed. “I’ll try to get the new ADAs reassigned here by Monday. And I’ll talk to Mac. Three rapes in the park in six months—that’s not something we should letting slip through the cracks. We’re going to do better, Kelsey.”

“Okay.” She watched him go, then returned to her work. He might want to do better, but he wasn’t a miracle worker.

General Hospital: Elizabeth’s Room

Elizabeth smiled as Nikolas wheeled her back into her room. “It was nice to get out of the room a little bit—thanks for taking me outside.”

“I thought you might want some fresh air after being cooped up in ICU.” Nikolas set the brakes on the chair and then braced Elizabeth by holding her elbow as she stood and gingerly inched towards the sofa. “Careful there. Are you sure you’ll be ready to leave the hospital next week?”

“Yeah.” Elizabeth grimaced as she adjusted herself. “It’s easier to move around, and Monica wants me to start doing laps around the ward.” She reached for his wrist and looked at the watch. “An orderly or a nurse is coming to get me in a half hour for my first round.”

“Okay. Well, I brought the lease for you to sign,” Nikolas told her. “Are you sure you didn’t want more pictures?”

She waved her hand. “No, no. It’s fine. I don’t need a lot. Just somewhere to catch my breath. Did you have any trouble at the bank with the release I gave you?”

Nikolas lifted his brows. “I never have trouble with banks. Everyone wants the Cassadine money.”

Elizabeth laughed. “Well, that’s a relief, I guess. I really appreciate what you’ve done for me. And Emily said she was grabbing a few things—I told her I just needed a bed, maybe a sofa and some chairs, but…I’m not going to argue with her.”

“Well, Emily feels guilty she went back to California. I’m sure it was the right thing to do at the time, but it doesn’t change the fact she feels like she abandoned you.” Nikolas lifted a shoulder. “And she’ll be flying back there tomorrow—”

“It’s important to me that she finishes this program,” Elizabeth told him, firmly. “And Jason agrees with me. Emily wants to be a doctor. Her internship at GH is contingent—”

I have the controlling interest in this hospital,” Nikolas said patiently, “and her parents—”

“She doesn’t want special favors. She’ll do this on her own. I’ll call her.” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “And I’ll do better about that. I won’t ignore her calls. I’ll make my own. I promise.”

“Good, then when you’re finished calling her, you can pick up the phone and call me.” Nikolas squeezed her hand. “That’s one of the reasons I came by today.”

“You’re going back to London,” she murmured. “I wondered when…”

“I came back to find Carly and help you. We’ve done that. Lulu is going to come with me, but we’ll both be back in August sometime. I talked to Lesley, and she says Mom is starting to chafe at being away from everyone.”

“Oh, do you think she can get the rest of her treatment here?” Elizabeth asked. “It would be so nice to see her around again.”

“I’m looking into the possibility, but her recovery comes first. That’s one of the reasons I have to go back. Lesley and Luke aren’t always firm with her.” Nikolas paused. “But I’m just across the ocean, and I’m always here if you need me. I need you to know that. Everything that happened before—it’s done now. I think I’m a better person, and I just—I miss you.”

“I miss you, too.” She leaned forward and hugged him lightly. “You’re not getting rid of me that easily.”

“Damn straight.”

Corinthos & Morgan Warehouse: Office

Sonny scrawled his signature on another contract and handed it back to Bernie. “Is that the last of it?”

“Should be.” Bernie put the paperwork away. “We’re back on schedule to open the coffee house at the end of the month, but—the architect said that Mrs. Corinthos was going to be in charge of interior design. Did you—want to hold off?”

“Um, I guess, I’ll talk to her about it at home. She might want a project to distract herself.” Sonny hoped she did. He looked at Jason as his partner sat on the sofa in the office, skimming contracts of his own. “Thanks, Bernie. For everything.”

“I’ll check in when they’re filed.”

Their new business manager left the office, and Sonny stroked his chin thoughtfully. “I guess we’re going to have to talk to Justus. He said he’d only be available to us for a little while, but that he wasn’t interested in leaving his practice in Philadelphia.”

“He’s married with a kid down there,” Jason murmured. “Emily mentioned it last year.” He paused. “He might relocate if you made it worth his while.”

“I’ll try it out, but we’ll have to look for other representation if he’s not interested. I doubt Alexis is going to want to come back now that she has her license back.” Sonny leaned back his chair. “Bobbie thinks I’m crazy.”

Jason looked at him, his attention focused now. “She said that?”

“Not in so many words, but she thinks that I should talk to someone.” Sonny grimaced. “Talk to someone. She’s watching too much fucking television.”

When his best friend hesitated, Sonny frowned at him. “What, do you agree?”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Sonny. We had a plan to deal with Carly—” Jason got to his feet. “You were supposed to keep the PCPD out of my hair and the business running, and I’d find Carly. Except that within two days, I was doing everything. I’m not angry about it, but the fact was…”

“I was useless.” Sonny sighed, turned his attention to his office window—unlike Jason who had preferred to look out over the lake, Sonny preferred the docks. “I’ve always had these dark moods, Jason. Since…I don’t know. Not when I was kid. But maybe the last twenty years. Maybe since…” He hesitated. “I had a girl once. A sweet girl. Elizabeth reminds me of her sometimes. Connie Falconieri.”

“Falconieri—” Jason squinted. “There’s a cop by that name at the PCPD.”

“Might be related. I don’t know. She broke up with me because she was going to college, and I was going to stay in the neighborhood. Trying like hell to make my bones for Joe Scully.” He looked back at Jason. “It was the only way I was gonna get revenge for my mother after Deke killed her.”

“Sonny—”

“After Connie got on the train for Princeton, I had my first—I guess…my first whatever. I locked myself in a room for three days, didn’t want to come out. Got drunk. Got stupid. And my mother was there.” Sonny exhaled slowly. “Lily’s not the first hallucination I’ve ever had. My mother was.”

“I don’t know if talking to someone helps, but…” Jason joined him at the window. “I do know that Elizabeth mentioned something Gail Baldwin told her. She’s…been talking to her.” He cast his eyes away, uncomfortable. “And Elizabeth said that Gail could only report future crimes. So…”

“I could probably be honest to a point,” Sonny murmured. He stared out over the bustling docks—for the last decade, he had busted his ass to make sure he owned those docks. No one could take the power from him.

“It kills me that when my wife needed me to be strong, I couldn’t do it,” he continued. “That she wasn’t expecting me to save her—you hear her talking about it. She knew you’d come, Jase. She knew you’d save her.”

“She saw me on the cameras, Sonny—”

Sonny shook his head quickly. “It’s more than that. She still thinks of you as the man who’s going to fix everything, and that—it kills me that she was right. I could break down, Jason, because I knew you would be there. That you would find her.”

“But you found her, Sonny. You saw the footage, you called me—”

“I saw footage on cameras you installed,” Sonny corrected. “And Elizabeth pushed that button. I was barely involved. I don’t know, Jason. I just…I want more. I want to be the guy who can fix things. It shouldn’t fall on you.” He looked at Jason. “So…maybe I’m thinking about it.”

General Hospital: Elizabeth’s Room

 Restless, Elizabeth tossed aside another boring celebrity gossip magazine and amused herself with some of the Sun issues from that week—between Carly’s kidnapping and the court battle over Elizabeth’s medical care, the newspaper had outdone itself with sensational versions of the story.

“I like the one where my baby is actually Jason’s, and Ric was stealing it for you because you’re obsessed with Jason.”

Elizabeth glanced up to find Carly standing at the threshold of her open hospital door, a half smile on her face.

She hadn’t seen Carly since…before the kidnapping, Elizabeth realized now. She may have pressed the button that freed Carly, but she hadn’t actually seen her—she’d only heard her voice.

“Carly…” Elizabeth struggled to sit up straight, wincing as her lungs protested. “I thought you were released.”

“I was.” Carly made her way gingerly across the room, dressed in a shapeless blue paisley sheath dress, a pair of light blue sandals wrapped around her feet. She lowered herself onto the sofa where Elizabeth found herself. “I had a session with Kevin Collins today. Mama suggested…I do something.”

Elizabeth smiled wryly. “Yeah, she must be on staff with the Psych department—she pretty much guilt-tripped me into seeing Gail Baldwin.”

“Well, that’s my mother for you.” Carly bit her lip. “I…realized today that we hadn’t…had a chance to…I don’t even know…talk. I mean, it’s insane, but I know I owe you my life—”

“No, no—I just pressed the button. I was there. Sonny and Jason were on their way—they had the same information—”

“Elizabeth…” Carly leaned forward. “You forget that there were cameras in that panic room. I saw you let Jason in every day to look for me. I saw you help him. And the only reason you knew where the buttons were because of the cameras you let Jason put into the house.”

“He probably would have done all of that without me. I just…”

“Made it so he could do it legally and not face charges. I’m not nice that often, Elizabeth, so don’t argue with me.” She bit her lip. “Do…do you know why Ric did what he did?”

“I don’t know for sure, but based on…I don’t know…everything, I imagine he intended for us to raise your child through a private adoption he’d arrange.” Elizabeth waited a moment. “I want to say I’m sorry, and part of me feels like I should tell you I never hinted that was something I wanted but…” She lifted a shoulder. “It’s not…it’s not my fault. Losing the baby—” Her voice faltered. “I didn’t do it. And I couldn’t change what he did. I just wanted it to stop.”

“Kevin has diagnosed me with acute stress disorder,” Carly told her. “It’s um, kind of like PTSD, only it’s usually shorter in—”

“I know what it is,” Elizabeth said softly. “I…had it last year.” When Carly widened her eyes. “After I was trapped in the crypt, I, um, had a lot of trouble with the dark, and I got scared so easily. I kept thinking they were going to take me again. I kept…ignoring it and trying to forget.”

“Jason never—”

“I’ve never told him. He already blamed himself for what was going on, and by the time I knew what it was…” Elizabeth shrugged. “I went to the hospital after the warehouse exploded last year. I’d been grazed by a bullet. When I went back for a follow up, I—I don’t even remember what it was, but something triggered a panic attack. My grandmother—” She closed her eyes. “She knew the signs. And she talked to some friends. I didn’t want therapy. I just wanted it to go away, so she got me some…tips and tricks. I skipped the therapy.”

“And that worked?” Carly asked skeptically.

“Mostly, I guess. I don’t know. I didn’t end up with PTSD which is always the risk. And, um, it was kind of relief to understand what was going on. I had…done and said a few things during some of the panic attacks that…were hard for me to understand. I didn’t…I tried to—” Elizabeth shrugged. “Anyway. They say, for the most part, time takes care of things.”

“So that part is true. It really does go away.”

Elizabeth hesitated. “I still don’t like the dark,” she offered. “But I haven’t…had a panic attack in about—” She dipped her head. “Maybe nine months.”

Carly tilted her head. “You had panic attacks when you were in the penthouse?”

“A few times. Um, it’s not a big deal, and it’s over. I just—I just didn’t need you to explain it to me—”

“Why didn’t you tell Jason?” Carly demanded. Elizabeth stared at her, and Carly pursed her lips. “You were dating him back then. You had no trouble telling me you thought he was with another woman. Why wouldn’t you admit you were…”

“Because it made me feel weak, Carly.” Elizabeth squared her shoulders, lifted her chin. “And actually, the last panic attack I had was the night I found out Sonny was alive and that everyone had lied to me. It never seemed like a good time.”

Carly squinted, studying her. “There were cameras,” she reminded her. “I know you and Jason—I know something is going on.”

“Is that why you came here?” Elizabeth huffed. And here she was, trapped on the sofa. She couldn’t even easily get away. “If you want any explanations, you can ask Jason.”

“He’d just stare at me,” Carly muttered. “And then not answer the question. No, what I—Courtney asked me if I had seen anything. And I just wanted you to know that I didn’t tell her anything. I don’t plan on telling her, either.”

“Oh.” Elizabeth pressed her lips together. “Thanks…I guess—”

“It was a private moment that I was never meant to see,” Carly told her. “Which means it’s none of Courtney’s business. She told me Jason broke up with her before then, and—” She huffed. “I was planning to stop the wedding anyway.”

Elizabeth lifted her brows. “I thought you were their biggest fan.”

“Yeah, well…” Carly threw up her hands. “Even I’ve been known to be wrong from time to time. Look, if you’re…seeing Jason or dating him or whatever we’ll call it, it’s fine with me. I know—I know he killed himself trying to find me. I know you were with him every step of the way. And he was so scared for you, I didn’t even see him until the day after I was rescued.”

Elizabeth exhaled slowly. “Okay. I appreciate that.”

“I came here to thank you for saving my life. For…believing Sonny and Jason and helping them.” Carly rubbed her belly. “It’s just…this isn’t over yet, you know? The…panic room…the kidnapping—yeah, that’s over. We’re both…I guess…in recovery. But there’s so much crap in front of us.”

“The trial,” Elizabeth murmured, dragging her fingers through her hair. “Yeah. And I have the divorce, the restraining order…”

“Ric isn’t out of our lives yet, so I guess I just wanted you to know that if you…if you need my help during the divorce or the protection hearing…” Carly took a deep breath. “I’m ready. I’ll testify.”

“Thank you, Carly. That means a lot to me.”

“And…” Carly hauled herself to her feet. “You should tell Jason about last year. Every time I keep secrets from Sonny and Jason, it just seems to piss them off.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“Take care, Elizabeth. I’ll see you around.”

Tuesday, July 8, 2003

General Hospital: Elizabeth’s Hospital Room

It felt really good to be on her feet, dressed in her own clothes, showered, and packing her things to leave this room. While Elizabeth was grateful to everyone who had worked on her case, she was eager to leave this all behind her.

As much as she could anyway. Her pulmonary embolism would follow her the rest of her life, according to Monica. She would always have an increased risk of blood clots, and most types of hormonal birth control were out of the question from now on.

But she wasn’t going to let that bother her. She had slowly regained her stamina even if she got tired more quickly than it had been. Monica and the other doctors assured her that as the weeks passed, her natural health would reassert itself. She had been healthy until the last year, and her immune system had been strong.

She turned at the knock at her door and managed a smile. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Jason slid his thumbs into the pockets of his jeans. His gaze swept over her and she could tell he was fighting the urge to ask her to sit down, to let him finish putting her things into the tote bag. He said nothing, and she was grateful for it.

She wasn’t weak, and it mattered that he knew it.

“Nikolas left the keys with me before he left for the airport last night.” Elizabeth took the set of gold keys from her pocket. “He said you dealt with security.”

“Ric’s not out on bail, but he’s got his hearing soon,” Jason said after a long moment. “I just want to make sure he can’t get to you there.”

She lifted her tote bag from the bed, and Jason held out his hand for it. Without arguing, she handed it to him. He slung it over his shoulder, then reached for her hand, lacing their fingers together.

It was the first time she’d left the room with Jason, and as they walked down the hall towards the elevators together, Elizabeth knew people were watching her, maybe even whispering. The Sun had continued to print gossip about her and Jason, about the entire scandal.

There would always be people who believed the worst about her. Elizabeth just didn’t have to accept it as truth. Not anymore.

“Hey,” she said as Jason pressed the button for the elevator.

He glanced down at her with worry. “Are you okay? Are you having trouble breathing—”

“No.” She rolled her eyes but smiled as she did it. “I’m fine. I just—with everything that’s happened, and I know how much we still have to worry about—I’m just happy. Right now, in this moment—I’m happy to be with you.”

The elevator door opened, and he pulled her inside. When the doors closed, Jason tugged her closer to him, sliding his hand up to frame her cheek. “I love you,” he told her. “For all the times I wish I had said it before—”

“I love you, too. And as long as you’re standing next to me, I know I can deal with whatever comes next.” She pressed her lips to his, lingering, savoring every minute.

 

 

Author’s Note

So that’s the end of Book 1. As you can see, I’ve laid some bread crumbs for the next part. The PCPD and DA’s office are falling apart, the teens are on the fringes and will play a large role in the next book.

Book 2 is going to be a bigger ensemble piece, but it’s going to have Jason and Liz at the center of it. A few years ago, one of my friends almost died from a pulmonary embolism so when I started to plan this draft, I wanted to take her PE seriously in a way the show never did.

I did a lot of research into the recovery and learned a lot that can fuel some really good conflict and I think what’s going to happen in Book 2 is going to be even better than Book 1.

I don’t have a release date for Book 2 just yet, but I’m already about 20% finished it. I’m hoping to have it posted by April at the latest, but stay tuned to my website and my Twitter feed.

Thanks for reading this! I hope you enjoyed it!

December 3, 2018

Here we are at the last week of Mad World, Book 1, which is incredible to me. This was such a labor of love for me — this book went through so many revisions and drafts that I almost can’t believe we’re posting it.

In this particular chapter, I’m using some terminology and ideas I read in an amazing book called Rising Strong by Brené Brown. I’m not usually one for self-help books, but I read that one as part of a podcast called Big Strong Yes. It really helped me kind of reset my own world view so when it came time to write Elizabeth’s therapy session with Gail, it seemed like a natural fit.

Here is Chapter Eighteen. I hope you like it!

This entry is part 18 of 19 in the series Break Me Down

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
This is Me, Keala Settle


Tuesday, July 1, 2003

General Hospital: ICU

 Elizabeth fumbled with the bed controls, wincing as she raised herself up until she was sitting at a higher angle. Seated beside her sat Gail Baldwin, one of her grandmother’s closest friends—and a woman who had helped her through the most traumatic experience of her life.

The only reason Elizabeth had acquiesced to talking to anyone was that Bobbie promised her that Gail was available. At least with Gail, there wouldn’t have to be a lot of painful background, a lot of family exploration—she’d done so much of that the first time around.

“Thanks for coming here,” Elizabeth said. “Monica isn’t letting me move around until tomorrow when they move me to my own room.”

“You’re only a few floors away from my office.” Gail still looked as she had the last time Elizabeth had come for a session—her grandmother had encouraged to see Gail a few times after Tom Baker had been caught, but she didn’t feel like she still needed regular therapy and hadn’t seen her in nearly four years.

Gail’s hair was still worn short with soft curls, though streaks of gray intermingled more freely than they had before. She wore a cream-colored jacket with a matching skirt, gold jewelry at her ears and around her wrist.

“So where do we start?” Elizabeth asked dully. She met Gail’s eyes. “Do I tell you what’s been going on?”

“We can do that,” Gail said. “You agreed to see me because Bobbie asked you.”

“It was important to her.” Elizabeth picked at her fingers; the nails had been bitten almost to the quick and were painful as they grew back.

“If you’re just humoring her, my dear—”

“She doesn’t…she’s worried about me. I guess…” Elizabeth hesitated. “I guess I get that. I know it seems crazy—um…that I stayed with Ric. That I married him in the first place.”

“Okay.”

“I don’t really…” Elizabeth’s eyes met Gail’s briefly then she looked away. “He was drugging me. Did Bobbie mention it?”

“I’m aware of it. Valium and birth control—”

“Since January,” Elizabeth cut in. “I don’t know why. I don’t—” She huffed. “I don’t even know what I’m doing. Why this—why this is so hard.”

“Okay.” Gail was quiet for a moment, but Elizabeth could feel her gaze on her. “If you’re not ready talk about the past, let’s talk about tomorrow.”

“What? Oh. Okay. Um…well, tomorrow I get my own room, and Monica says I can be released in five days. A friend—Nikolas—is arranging an apartment—I’m paying for everything—he’s just getting it ready for when I move in.”

“Is it important for you that I know you’re paying your own way?” Gail said. “Do you think I assumed you weren’t?”

“I—” Elizabeth blinked at her. Realized Gail was right—and that it was the fourth or fifth time she’d explained it that way. She’d told Bobbie…and Monica…and Jason—even Emily—she’d immediately reassured all of them that she’d be using her own funds to pay for the apartment, to furnish it—that Nikolas was just helping with the details. He’d always been good at details.

“I guess I did. I don’t know why,” she murmured. “I guess…I think people see me as weak—or the papers—I saw the gossip columns in the Sun—I had one of my doctors get the last few issues for me because no one else would—”

“Okay.” Gail waited a moment. “Do you often assume people are thinking the worst of you?”

“I—” Elizabeth licked her lips. “Aren’t they?”

“I don’t know. Do you think anyone would have thought less of you for asking for financial assistance?” Gail asked. “You’re recovering from a serious illness, going through what I imagine will be a difficult divorce. You left your job when you got married. Do you think anyone who cares about you would have thought you weak for asking for help?”

Elizabeth chewed on her bottom lip, considering that. Nikolas had offered to help her financially—and Jason already was, wasn’t he? Justus had done so much paperwork on her behalf and she’d never even thought about paying him. And there was the divorce lawyer that Justus had recommended—had she thought about how much someone like Diane Miller cost?

“When…when this started…when, I mean…Carly was kidnapped, and I—Jason, Sonny, Emily, Bobbie—they all came to the house. And they kept trying to convince me to leave. Because they didn’t think I could help. They kept trying to make me leave. Jason wanted to send me away.”

“Because he thought you were weak,” Gail said.

“I—yes,” but Elizabeth suddenly felt less sure. “I mean…maybe weak isn’t the right word. Um.”

“Is it possible, Elizabeth, that they thought you were in danger and any help you could offer might come at the cost of your life?” the older woman asked, her tone soft and gentle.

“I—” Tears burned behind her eyes. “That was part of it. But it wasn’t all of it. Sonny and Jason think I’m not strong enough. I know that. They think I can’t do it. That’s why…that’s why Jason left me.” Her chest felt sore, and Elizabeth rubbed it absently, wincing as the IV in her wrist stretched.

“Is that what he said?”

“No, but it’s—” Elizabeth hesitated. “I don’t know what you’re getting at. Of course they think I’m weak. Look where I ended up.” She gestured with her free hand at the hospital room. “Almost dead. They were right.”

Gail hesitated. “Do you often assume people are thinking the worst of you?” she repeated. “Without asking them?”

“I—” Elizabeth considered the question more than she had the first time. “I guess I kind of do. Is…is that bad?”

“No, it’s human. We’re storytellers. It’s how we function,” Gail said with another one of those smiles. “We tell ourselves stories all day long. And a lot of time, we make ourselves the star of them because it’s just how we are. But sometimes…we also make ourselves the villain. We create stories that make us look bad because it reinforces how we feel about ourselves.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “No, that’s—I like—” but she couldn’t finish that sentence. She didn’t like herself. She couldn’t remember the last time she had. “So, because I don’t like who I am…I tell myself other people don’t either?” she asked skeptically.

“It’s more that…and this is just a possibility we can explore,” Gail told her. “It’s perhaps that you have conditioned yourself to disappointment, to unhappy endings. So, you create a story in your head that fulfills that. You said Jason left you because you were weak.”

“Y-yes,” Elizabeth bit her lip. “Um…what’s the confidentiality thing again? How does that work?”

“I am only required to report any future crimes,” Gail said with a knowing smile. “Everything in the past—I’m bound to keep it to myself. This is a safe space, Elizabeth.”

“He lied to me last fall—when Sonny faked his death. He didn’t tell me. We were kind of dating—and he let me think for weeks that Sonny was dead. He didn’t think I could handle it. I wasn’t strong enough,” Elizabeth told her.

“And then he left you,” Gail stated, though her eyes were puzzled now. “Because you…couldn’t handle it.”

“I—” And now Elizabeth could see how that didn’t quite fit. “I left him,” she murmured. “He said that to me a few days ago. I left him. But—but he—he lied.”

“And you were hurt, so you left. That seems perfectly understandable.”

“It—it does.” She paused. “Why…why did I say he left me?”

“I don’t know. Does it feel like he did?” Gail asked. “Were you surprised he lied to you about Sonny?”

Yes.” And that Elizabeth felt to the core of her entire being. “Yes. Because he’d never—I never ever thought he’d put me through that. I liked Sonny. I cared about him. We were close once and I was so upset. For Jason and for Carly, because of who they lost, but because I would miss him—” The tears she’d swallowed earlier slid down her cheeks. “I had to leave him. I couldn’t stand it. How could he care about me and do that?”

“Did you ask him?”

“I—I tried. But he just looked at me—and he said it wasn’t about me. I didn’t get it. I was living with him partly because I had been in danger. I had helped him with Zander, a-and I had been shot and kidnapped because of him. I thought I had earned the right to—” The words spilled from her lips, and she pressed her hands to her mouth.

“Did you tell him that?”

“No. He said it wasn’t about me, and I just shut down. I couldn’t breathe, I was so devastated. It wasn’t about me. I didn’t matter. I can—he didn’t say it, but I could almost hear it in his voice. I didn’t matter. Carly turned Sonny into the feds and regularly almost got both of them arrested, but she got to know. I had never ever let Jason down. I had always kept his—” She turned away. “I couldn’t tell him that then. And he came to see me the next day, looking so hurt—like I had hurt him. He couldn’t see it.”

“It sounds…to me…that you had a reasonable reaction to what had happened. You felt you had earned his trust, and he hadn’t trusted you.”

Elizabeth closed her eyes. “It must have been something I did—I—we weren’t together, so I guess it wasn’t technically cheating, but I slept with someone else over the summer—and I don’t think he ever forgave me.”

“Is last week the first time you’d really had to see him since this happened?” Gail asked.

“Yeah. It was—it was hard because it was like it used to be sometimes. He was just—he was there. And I called him. Jason made me check in constantly—he said it was the only way he’d let me go back. I called him every night before I tried to sleep—” She exhaled slowly. “It was…it was a lot of emotions running high, adrenaline. He kissed me, but it didn’t mean anything. I don’t—” She stopped. Looked at Gail. “But that’s me doing it again, isn’t it?”

“Doing what?”

“Creating a story that makes me unhappy. That assumes the worst. Maybe I’m just anticipating what’s probably going to happen and just trying to get myself ready.”

“What’s probably going to happen?”

“This will all…fade,” Elizabeth said after a long moment. “I’ll go back to my life, and Jason will go back to his. I know he said he and Courtney argued, but he must love her. He was going to marry her—and he tried so hard with her—and she’s Sonny sister. So, I can’t let myself think last week meant anything…” she trailed off. “Can I?”

“I think we should leave it here for today,” Gail told her. “I have some homework for you to do before we meet again.”

Elizabeth eyed her. “We’re meeting again?”

“I think it might be a good idea, but of course, that’s up to you. Whether you make another appointment or not,” Gail said, “my homework assignment remains the same.”

“Okay,” Elizabeth said hesitantly.

“I want you to do two things,” Gail said, holding up two fingers. “One, I want you to create a story about last week that gives you a happy ending. And two, I want you to ask Jason what it meant.”

“I—” Elizabeth shook her head. “No, I—I can try the first, but I can’t—”

“Why can’t you ask him?”

“What if he says it didn’t mean anything? What if I’m right? Because I’m right,” Elizabeth insisted. “Jason and I are doomed. It’s just a fantasy—”

“If you’re right, then you’ve already written that story. But I think Jason might have earned himself the right to be the one writing the ending for a change.” Gail got to her feet. “You’ve been through so much, Elizabeth. Just in the last six months. I think it would help to talk through it.”

“I don’t know. I guess we’ll see how I feel after I do my homework,” Elizabeth muttered, closing her eyes, letting her head fall back against the pillows. “I don’t want to be unhappy.”

“We’ve set our first goal,” Gail said with a smile as she squeezed Elizabeth’s hand. “It’s a bit more abstract than I like, but I’ll settle for it. Turn it around. Make it positive, Elizabeth. You don’t want to be unhappy.”

“I feel like I’m supposed to say I want to be happy—but I feel like that’s…” Impossible. “Am I allowed to say I just want to be okay?”

“You’re allowed to say whatever you want. Call me when to schedule another appointment when you’ve moved into your own room.”

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

Bobbie smiled at Max as he let her inside the penthouse just after one. Inside, she found Sonny finishing up lunch with Michael. Her grandson lit up when she saw her and flew across the room.

“Grandma!” Michael wrapped his arms around her. “Daddy says Mommy can come home tomorrow!”

“That’s the word on the street.” Bobbie pressed a kiss to his bright blonde hair and then smiled at Sonny. “It’ll be good to have her back—and hopefully she’ll be able to get back into the swing of things.”

“You were right to encourage us to get Kevin to talk to her so quickly.” Sonny stacked the plates and handed them to his son. “Put these on the counter so Graziella can take care of them while we’re at the hospital, and then go upstairs to get ready to see Mommy.”

“Yep!” Michael sang out. He zoomed into the kitchen, and Sonny tried not to wince at the sound of the clatter of the dishes being dumped into the sink. Michael then flew past them up the stairs.

“He’s bouncing back pretty well,” Bobbie murmured, following him. “He might be the only one who is.”

“It’ll just take some time.” Sonny sighed, rubbed his forehead. “Last night was probably the first full night of sleep I’d had since this started.”

“Same here. I’d gone without sleep for so long I couldn’t quite let myself sleep much on Sunday night.” Bobbie hesitated. “I know that you and I have not been…close…but I like to think we’ve got a decent relationship.”

“Of course, Bobbie. We couldn’t have gotten through this without you.” He grimaced. “I was…mostly useless. And I know you were there for Michael, for Jason—for everyone.”

“I was here when…Jason gave you the sedative.” Bobbie folded her arms. “It led me to believe that it’s not the first time you’ve needed one.”

“I, ah…” Sonny looked away. “It’s never been that bad, but no…it’s not,” he admitted in a low voice. “You must be worried about Carly and Michael—”

“I’m worried about you,” Bobbie said. “I’m worried about all of us. If nothing else, this experience told me that no one in this family—and I’m including Jason and Elizabeth—does well with trauma. None of us know how to ask for help, how to reach out.”

“We managed to get through it,” Sonny said, and she could see he was ready to dismiss the entire experience to the heap of memory.

“Have you ever talked to anyone?” Bobbie asked. Her son-in-law flashed her a fond, if irritated smile.

“Do you get commissions from the Psych department, Bobbie? Michael, Carly—I hear you talked Elizabeth into seeing someone—”

“I’m a nurse, so I see the signs faster. Michael just needed someone to help him process—and we needed to get a handle on what to do for him. Carly is going to be okay because she’s treating the symptoms quickly. It’s not going to fester. But yes, I wanted Elizabeth to talk to someone who isn’t one of us. Who doesn’t have a vested interest in hating Ric or worrying about her. And that’s why I want you to do talk to someone.”

“It’s not possible.” Sonny turned away from her.

“You live a…difficult life,” Bobbie said. “And, yes, I worry about my daughter and my grandson. Because if you hallucinated Lily once, what could you conjure the next time?”

“Bobbie—”

“And what if someone who does not like you learns you have…a problem?” she pressed. “Am I wrong to think they’d exploit it?”

Sonny dipped his head. “I’m not Tony Soprano, Bobbie—”

“I’m just—I don’t want it to happen again. And maybe I’m thinking about Jason who had to shoulder all of the weight last week because you couldn’t be relied upon. It’s not your fault, but it happened. And Elizabeth saw that pressure he was under, and she felt the same pressure to find Carly. You couldn’t shoulder your responsibilities.”

His eyes were burning now. “Is this supposed to be concern?” he demanded, stepping towards her. “Or—”

“This is the God’s honest truth, Sonny. I worry about you, but Carly, Michael, and the baby come first for me. If you’re fine with the occasional psychotic break, then fine. It’s your life. But you have no right to put my grandchildren in danger.”

Michael came down the steps then, so excited he was practically vibrating. “Are you coming with us, Grandma?”

“I wish I could, Baby, but I have to get to work. I took a lot of time off last week. I’ll try to stop in on my shift.” She kissed his head again, ruffled his hair, and then left.

PCPD: Squad Room

Taggert frowned down at the stack of police reports and reached for the next one, unsure if there would ever be an end to the administrative crap he had to do now.

He’d split the work in the unit the way he’d told Mac he would—but neither Vinnie nor Beaudry had been thrilled with the new division. Vinnie had been more than happy to hand over future sex crimes, but balked at giving Taggert his open investigations. Beaudry liked not having any cases of his own but didn’t appreciate the fact that Taggert planned to come along on some of the patrols.

He’d hoped by transferring, by being in a new environment and people around him that he would be happier—that he would recover the satisfaction he’d once felt in his job.

Maybe that would come in time.

He glanced up when he saw Lucky Spencer come through the door with Dante Falconieri. The latter broke off to head down to the garage where he was supposed to report to Beaudry for patrol and Lucky came over to Taggert.

He saw the younger man glance at the empty desk where Vinnie usually sat before planting himself in front of Taggert’s desk.

He still couldn’t believe the little smart-ass punk he’d rousted more than once for trespassing had become a cop, but so far Taggert was pleasantly surprised by how well he seemed to take to the role.

Lucky didn’t look that happy right now and Taggert gestured for him to talk. “What’s on your mind, Spencer? Take a seat.”

Lucky sat in Taggert’s witness chair but shifted uncomfortably. “I know I haven’t been here long, and maybe it’s not right to think I know what’s best…”

“Spit it out.”

“Last weekend, I went on a follow up interview with Detective Esposito. A rape and assault case from the end of May.” Lucky hesitated. “He…was rough with the vic in a way…I didn’t think was okay.”

Taggert lifted his brows. “Can you be more specific?”

“He just…he asked her what she was wearing, and why she’d been in the park after dark.” Lucky bit his lip. “And when she tried to push back on it, he…just…he didn’t say it was her fault, Taggert, but—”

“He was less sensitive than he should have been, you mean,” Taggert interrupted. He sighed, pressing his index fingers against his temples. “Okay. I get it. I’m sure you’re even right.”

“But you can’t do anything.”

“It’s not against the law to be a dick. I wish it was, but that’s the world we live in. I think, personally, Vinnie is burnt out on sex crimes. He did Vice for a while in his first go around, and I know he spent a full two years in Sex Crimes in Buffalo. It’s a tough beat, and it’s easy to—” He shook his head. “I don’t have to tell you how hard it can be with rape victims.”

Lucky blinked at him, and then slowly said, “You mean because of Elizabeth. Because I—I helped her.”

He said it haltingly, which made Taggert frown, but he nodded. “Yeah. You gotta be sensitive. But the horrors of the job—it takes something out of you. If you’re not especially empathetic to begin with—” He stopped. “You think I’m making excuses for him.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. That’s why I’m here.”

“He’s not working any more sexual assault cases going forward,” Taggert told him. “He has the ones he’s already picked up, but going forward, that’s my beat. I know you’re frustrated, Spencer. I know Rodriguez and Falconieri are, too. It kills me to think we got a crop of rookies ready to throw in the towel after a week—”

“It’s not like that—”

“That’s not a gripe at you, kid. That’s at this place. I know the problems here. I don’t know if we can fix them overnight. I’m asking you guys to give me a chance to see if we can. You already know that I put Rodriguez on the fast-track to promotion. I’d like all three of you to take the detective’s exam within the next two years. I think—I hope we’ll have some spots opening soon.”

Lucky hesitated, then nodded. “Okay. Thanks for hearing me out.” He got to his feet and left.

Wednesday, July 2, 2003

General Hospital: Elizabeth’s Room

One of her other doctors had braced her arms and helped her from the bed to cross the three feet to the small sofa under windows. Elizabeth felt that she had exhausted all the energy she’d had to offer that day, between her three-foot journey to the sofa and the trip three flights down to a regular hospital room.

She was relieved to be out of the ICU with its clear and open rooms—to be taken off display. She knew from the newspapers she’d asked the staff for that her face continued to be plastered all over the tabloids, and more than a few patients and visitors had paused just too long by her room for her comfort.

Here—there were real walls and a door that would keep people out—Jason had offered someone to stand there, but Elizabeth wasn’t comfortable with that either. Not yet. Ric was still in jail—his initial request to be let out on bail had been denied though apparently, he’d appealed it.

He’d be out soon, but until then, Elizabeth didn’t want to feel any more confined.

Once her doctor—the name on his jacket read Patrick Drake—had settled her, he arched a thick dark brow. “You sure you’re okay if I leave you?”

“Yeah, I have…someone is coming in a little while. He’ll help me get back into bed.” Jason had promised to stop by once she’d been moved to her new room, but she knew he was busy getting things sorted out. She imagined in his business it was like transitioning between peacetime and war for a government.

“All right, well…” He set the remote next to her. “I’ll leave your call button.” He hesitated. “You know, I just started my fellowship here and you were my first case.”

“I hope it was an interesting learning experience,” she said dryly.

Patrick laughed, a small, almost embarrassed sound. “It was, actually, but um, I—I had to be the one to tell your…people that your chances weren’t great. Fifteen percent when you went up to the cath lab.”

She exhaled slowly. “I know—”

“I just wanted to say I’m glad we—that you pulled through. It’s good to see you on your feet.” He shoved his hands in the pocket of his lab coat. “But don’t go doing too much too soon and ruining all our hard work.”

And now Elizabeth laughed. “Don’t worry. Once I’m out of this hospital, I don’t want to be back. I’ll follow the directions Monica gives me to the letter.”

Behind them, the door to the room opened and Jason stepped in, hesitantly. “Am I—is this a good time?”

“It’s fine. Patrick is one of the doctors on your mother’s team. Or at least he was when I came in.”

“Patrick Drake. Fellowship in neurology—I’m specializing in blood clots, so Monica called me in when the paramedics called dispatch.” He said this to Jason, who nodded but clearly wasn’t interested.

“So, you don’t have to worry about me when I leave the hospital,” Elizabeth told her doctor. “I imagine Jason is going to make sure I follow all the instructions.”

“Great. Well, I better check on my other patients.” Patrick tipped his head to the both of them and then left. Jason eyed him as he left, then looked at Elizabeth.

“He was hitting on you,” Jason said, almost amused.

“Until you showed up and he remembered who I know.” But Elizabeth smiled. “Yeah, he was putting on some charm. Mild. It’s nice because I’m in sweats and I look…” She ran her hands through her hair. “Dry shampoo isn’t really great, but it’s all I can do for now.”

He nodded to the flower arrangement on the table next to her bed—a cream colored vase with an explosion of tulips, daisies, and carnations in various colors. “I—you got the flowers.”

“I did…thank you. I wasn’t…” She bit her lip as he sat down next to her. She winced as she turned towards him, curling her leg under her body. “I wasn’t expecting it, but it was nice to see color.”

“Emily suggested it,” he admitted. “She said your new room was even more depressing than the last one.” He hesitated. “How…are you feeling?”

That old awkward feeling was starting to creep in—that sensation of not knowing what to say, not wanting to say too much—wanting to hide underneath a rock—she could feel it sitting between them as it had for much of the last three or four months. After the anger had passed—they didn’t know what to say to each other—and now that the adrenaline of the past week had faded—

Elizabeth stared down at her hands for a moment, then took a deep breath. “Bobbie convinced me to see Gail Baldwin.”

Jason squinted. “That’s…Baldwin’s mother, right?”

“Stepmother, but yeah. Essentially. I, um, saw her for a while when I was raped. And a little bit after the guy was caught, but I didn’t go when—after the fire. Gram wanted me to, but I wasn’t…I don’t know. I guess it would have helped, but then I wouldn’t have been angry enough that night to go to Jake’s.” She offered him a half-smile which he returned. “That would have sucked.”

“Yeah, it would have. So…am I—” Jason hesitated, looking uncertain. “Should—can I ask?”

“Well, the reason I brought it up is that Gail always ends our sessions with a homework assignment. Something I’m supposed to do that uses what we talked about.” Elizabeth pressed her lips together, trying to figure out the best way to do this. “I—her assignments back then were always useful, you know? She’d tell me to do small things, but they always helped. The first thing she asked me to do was to look in a mirror and tell myself it wasn’t my fault, and—” On a shaky sigh, she continued, “It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, and I cried, but then I did it again. And I did it every day until I believed it.”

“I’m glad she could be there for you,” Jason said, his voice was rough, his eyes soft.

“What she wanted me to do this time kind of involves—I mean, it actually is about you, so I just…I guess I should explain it. Um…we didn’t really get into Ric or…what happened. I started to, but I guess she could see I wasn’t really ready.” Elizabeth traced the seam of her sweat pants. “So, she asked me what I was going to do when I left, and somehow—she’s always good at doing this—we started talking about what happened last year. When I—I left.”

Jason exhaled slowly. Nodded. “Yeah…I guess we should talk about that.”

“Um, she kind of got me to see that I tend to, like…make up stories is the wrong way to say it, but—” Elizabeth stopped. “I don’t know how to explain it except…I guess I expect the worst, you know? I—I assume I’m going to be disappointed or unhappy, so I just…tell myself a story to understand it, and—” She saw his expression, and sighed. “It’s hard to explain.”

“Elizabeth—”

“When I left—that night—” Her chest felt tight, but this time, Elizabeth knew it had nothing to do with her illness. God, she didn’t want to do this, but maybe this was the only way. “I told myself that you—you didn’t tell me about Sonny because you didn’t trust me—because you thought I was too weak—”

And at the alarm in Jason’s eyes, the violent shake of his head as he opened his mouth, that pressure released. “And I can see now that’s not true.”

No,” Jason said, forcefully. “Elizabeth—”

“Three hours passed between watching it on the news and when I started to pack,” she said softly. “I knew—I knew you couldn’t call me right away.  But I thought…they said you’d been released. And I thought you might…even a five second call. But you didn’t.” And now was not the time to tell him everything about those three hours and the panic attack she’d experienced waiting for him.

“Elizabeth—”

“Let me finish. This isn’t—this isn’t about you feeling bad. And I promise I will listen to every word you have to say. I’m not even saying how I felt was right. But it’s part of the reason, I think, that we ended up…where we did. Because you didn’t call. And I kept waiting. And finally, around midnight, I started to pack. I kept telling myself that it was just that I had broken your trust that summer and you didn’t have…you didn’t want to just tell me that. And then I remembered you kept pushing me away, so I thought it was about not thinking I was strong enough—”

“Elizabeth…” Jason shook his head. “I’m sorry. Go ahead.”

“And when you did come home—” She stopped, the tears clinging to her lashes. “When you did come back,” she corrected softly, “I still…I wanted to be wrong. But you…you told me it wasn’t about me, and I guess objectively that was true. But what I heard…what I felt…was that I didn’t matter.”

The anguish she could see now— “I—that’s not—I messed it up.”

“But that’s what I do, Jason. I make up stories to explain what’s going on, and those stories are always the worst versions. Because I don’t know how to assume the best. I can only assume the worst.” She sighed.

“I wanted to tell you,” Jason said after a moment. She looked at him. “When Sonny and I planned it, we talked about how to minimize the damage. Michael went to the island so that no one could tell him. Carly—Sonny said Carly had to know. And so, I thought—I wanted to tell you. But Sonny said no.”

She bit her lip. “Okay.”

“I argued with him, but maybe not as much as I should have,” Jason admitted. “It wasn’t supposed to last so long, and I—Sonny and I had been having some issues. When you were kidnapped, he didn’t approve of what I had to do to find you.”

“I never did ask how you were able…” Elizabeth tilted her head. “What did you have to do that Sonny…”

“I asked Edward,” Jason said after a moment. “And Taggert.”

“Taggert. As in…” She gestured out the window as if the PCPD was across the street. Her eyes were wide. “You asked Taggert for help.”

“I’m glad I did, because I was able to find you, and I’d do it again,” Jason told her fervently. “Because we might not have made it if I’d handled it Sonny’s way. But he…was already irritated because of that. And all that stuff with Alcazar…I told you he gets into these dark spaces. And it was…I couldn’t chance that happening. Not when we had so much at stake.”

“Okay—”

“It wasn’t supposed to take a month,” Jason repeated, leaning in. “It was…a week, max.  But it kept going on. And then there was Brenda—we didn’t figure on her. Every time I saw you, I knew I was lying to you, and I knew you’d be angry. I didn’t call you that night. I thought about it, but I…didn’t know what to say. And that’s why I said something so unbelievably stupid—” He broke off. “You mattered, Elizabeth. Of course you did. And of course what happened with Alcazar concerned you.”

She nodded. “Okay,” Elizabeth murmured. “Okay, I get it—” She cleared her throat. “Um, that actually wasn’t the homework that…Gail gave me, but I guess…I needed to give you an example of a time I told myself a story that…assumed the worst.”

“Okay—” Jason reached for her hand. “So, what did Gail want you to do?”

“She wanted me to do two things. About last week…um, I guess we can say that…stuff happened.” Her cheeks flushed, and she dipped her head. “We…”

“I kissed you. And you kissed me,” Jason said matter of factly.

“Right. Um…she wanted me to tell myself a story that didn’t automatically…have a bad ending. And then second to…actually ask you what…that was all about.” She looked down at his hand as his thumb moved in slow circles on her palm. “Because I told her that it was adrenaline—and now that it was over, things would go back to the way they’d been.”

She looked up, but now she saw he was waiting for her to finish. “So the story I…the better version of that is that…” No way to go but forward. “The better version,” she began again, “is that I love you. When I’d call you at night…I didn’t just do it to check in. I could have sent texts. I needed your voice to be the last one I heard before I went to sleep.” Her heart pounding, she continued, not taking her eyes from his. “That’s the truth for me. That’s how I feel. The part where I tell the better story is what it was for you…and the best version of that truth is that…you felt the same for me.”

He was quiet for a long moment, just looking at her with those eyes—oh, God…she wasn’t crazy.

“I didn’t really sleep a lot last week,” he said finally. “I spent the nights watching surveillance—and every time I saw you on the monitor, I could breathe easier. When you sent texts or called first thing in the morning to let me know you were okay—that’s how I got through it.”

He paused for a moment. “Because I love you. I put it away. I had to, and I tried…I tried something else. I tried to move on. But walking out of that house that first night—leaving you behind—every time I had to let you go back because I knew you were right. I knew that the house was important, and I had to let you stay.”

Jason stopped, as if trying to find the right words. “It was almost impossible, and there were times I would find myself halfway to the house just to argue with you again. Not because I thought you were too weak to do it, but I knew you would stay until the bitter end if it meant we could have a find a chance to find Carly. Because that’s how strong you are.”

A single sob burst from her throat. “Jason—”

“I went with you in the ambulance,” he told her. “And they—you went into cardiac arrest. Your heart stopped for thirty seconds. You were dead. They got you back, but they looked at me—and I knew they were thinking how to tell me—they wanted me to prepare myself because you might make it to the hospital, but that you probably wouldn’t survive—” He stopped, shook his head and looked away.

“Jason…” She murmured. Elizabeth released his hand and turned his face back towards her, framing it with her hands. His eyes were bright and glittering with unshed tears. “I don’t even…I don’t know what to say.”

“It’s…” He hesitated. “What was the second part of your homework?”

“To ask you what last week meant to you, but you already—” She slid closer to him, only wincing slightly. “You already answered that.” She hesitated. “What…what happens next—no, wait let me rephrase that. What do you want to happen next?”

“What do I want…” Jason drew in a deep breath as if he hadn’t considered that. “I just want you.”

“Well, lucky me…because that’s what I want, too.” She closed the short distance between them, and kissed him, lingering, savoring every minute. For a moment, it remained light, but she could feel the tension in in his body, the bunching of his muscles, and then his fingers slid up to cradle her face and shift the angle of her head. As if a dam had burst, he deepened the kiss, pulling her more tightly against him.

She broke away, gasping for breath, her chest heaving. He had tugged her forward until she sat partially in his lap.

“Are you okay?” Jason asked, his breath shallow, and she was stunned to see his fingers trembling slightly as he tucked her hair behind her ears. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think.”

“I guess I’m not quite as ready for this part as I thought,” Elizabeth said wryly, then winced and pressed a hand to her chest. “I think I’m supposed to avoid activities that require breathing hard.”

Jason laughed, the rumble in his chest spreading through her as well. “Yeah, I guess that would be a good idea.”

“I also think I just aced my homework.”