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.”
“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?”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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.”