August 1, 2019

This entry is part 1 of 23 in the series All of Me

As the smoke clears, I awaken
And untangle you from me
Would it make you, feel better
To watch me while I bleed?
All my windows still are broken
But I’m standing on my feet
Skyscraper, Demi Lovato


Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Lansing House: Driveway

Jason put the SUV into park and switched off the ignition. Neither he nor Elizabeth reached for their door handles.

“I can have someone come in and get your things,” Jason said after a moment. He looked at her, but her eyes were still staring straight ahead at the garage door. “Monica would do it for you—Bobbie—”

“I can do this,” she murmured. She closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the seat. “It’s just…I don’t know. I just got out of the hospital yesterday.”

“We could wait,” Jason told her. “But—”

“But Scott told me Ric has another bail hearing tomorrow and he might be released this time. Yeah, I know. I just want this part of my life over with.” She exhaled slowly. “Okay. Let’s go ahead.”

She reached for her handle and heard Jason get out of the car on his own side. She was unsurprised when he quickly strode around the front of the car and pulled her door open before she could do it for herself. She had worked hard to get her strength and stamina back during the last week, but she still tired easily and Jason had been very worried about her doing too much too soon.

“Jason—” She started to say but then just sighed and let him help her out of the SUV. It was a step down and she was occasionally still a bit dizzy when she stood up. “If you don’t let me do things for myself, I’m never going to get my energy back.” But she softened her words with a smile—she knew how very close she’d come to losing her life and how hard it had been for him to watch it.

“I know,” he admitted. He stepped back and she closed the car door. “I’m working on it.”

It was a warm day but cool in the shadows, and Elizabeth felt the goosebumps rise as she stepped onto the porch out of the sun. Mail had been shoved into the box hanging next to the door until it no longer fit, then had started to pile up on the mat in front of the door. She stared down at it, then raised her eyes to the door.

She really didn’t want to open it.

Jason picked up the mail that had been on the ground and held it in his hands. “I could call Monica,” he offered again.

“I never saw it—the panic room, I mean,” she murmured. She reached into her purse and took out the silver key she had already removed from the key chain. She slid it into the lock and pushed the door open.

The panic room had always been there, opposite of the door, though Elizabeth had not known it. Every time she had walked through this door, Carly had been locked just behind the wall in front of her.

The panic room had been dismantled—the entrance now a gaping dark hole in front of them with the sliding door removed. “I barely remember pressing the button,” Elizabeth said softly. She set the key down on the table and watched as Jason set the mail down next to it. He returned to the mailbox and retrieved the rest.

“I didn’t see it either,” he told her. Their eyes met. “I knew something was wrong—I came in—and you were on the floor.”

She touched him, sliding her fingers down the soft skin of his forearm, then pressed her forehead against his shoulder. “It seems like a dream now—that day. How much happened in just…a few hours.”

They both looked at the panic room, and without discussing it, walked across the room. Elizabeth stayed behind while Jason went inside.

The dual rows of small television screens were on the far side—across from a cot where the remains of a chain were still attached to the wall. A small refrigerator was tucked under the table in front of the screens. On the opposite side of the cot stood a set of sturdy metal shelves, all of which were empty now. Their contents probably taken in as evidence.

Elizabeth knew from her conversations with Scott and Taggert that Ric had kept a lock box there with unlabeled bottles of pills. Not just Valium and birth control, but stronger sedatives. She didn’t know if Ric had ever used them.

She didn’t want to know.

Jason stared down for a long time at the cot, a thin mattress laid over a metal structure. At the chain that had been clasped around Carly’s ankle.

“Let’s get your things and get out of here,” Jason said after a long moment. He walked past her and headed for the stairs.

Everything Elizabeth had brought to the house could be packed into a single suitcase and small cardboard box. When Jason saw the small pile of possessions and frowned at it, she merely sighed. “I kept telling myself I’d bring the rest of it from my studio or get the things from my grandmother’s house out of storage. I put it off. And then obviously, after last week…”

He wouldn’t let her carry anything down the stairs, but Elizabeth counted herself lucky he’d allowed her to walk up them at all. He watched her, though, warily, as she slowly descended.

“Can you take that to the car? I just want to go through this stack and make sure nothing is mine.” She gestured to the mail on the table. “Ric put in a change of address for me when we moved. I already canceled it, but things might have come through.”

Jason hesitated. “I’ll wait until you’re done. We’ll go together.” He scanned the room. “I know he’s in jail, but I just—” He paused. “I don’t want you alone in this house. I know that sounds—”

“It doesn’t,” she interrupted. She started to flick through the letters—most of it was junk mail and advertisements from local stores. A battered envelope with her name scrawled—and misspelled—across the front looked as though it had been sent on from her grandmother’s address, then to her studio before finally arriving here.

“This is the only thing that’s mine,” Elizabeth said. She intended to tuck it in the box—maybe open it later back at her new condo—but the return address caught her attention. Pentonville State Prison. She bit her lip. “It’s from the prison.”

“Yeah?” Jason set her suitcase down and joined her, looking at the envelope over her shoulder. “Do you know anyone—”

Elizabeth had already opened the envelope and unfolded the letter before she remembered who exactly she knew in Pentonville. She released the paper violently, flinging it away—it floated in the air for a second before falling to the ground at her feet.

She’d already seen the signature.

Jason reached for it. “Elizabeth—”

“I don’t want to see it,” she snapped. She tore the paper out of his hands, crumpled it up and flung it away—turning before she could see it land just beside the box of her things. “It’s from Tom Baker.”

“Tom Baker—the photographer who—” Jason snapped his mouth closed. “Why would he write you?”

“I forgot—” Elizabeth sighed. “Emily got a postcard from the parole board that he was—he’s up for parole in December, and she told me about it. He probably wants to make sure I don’t show up at his hearing.”

“Okay.”

“I don’t want to read it. I don’t—I can’t have him in my head right now—” Of course he already was, but Elizabeth shoved it aside, ruthlessly ripping the envelope into small pieces and dumping them in the wastebasket next to the desk.

“Okay,” Jason said again. “Is there anything else you need?” he asked her, and she appreciated him for not pushing the subject. Not even commenting on it.

She started to say no, then saw the wooden handle of her bat sticking out of the umbrella stand. “Just this,” Elizabeth said. She pulled it out and showed it to him. “I don’t want to leave this behind.” She looked around the room—at the house where she’d nearly died—and shook her head. “There’s nothing else. Let’s get out of here. I never want to see this place again.”

Her bat in hand, Elizabeth left—leaving her key behind on the table. Jason picked up her suitcase and with his other hand, started to reach for the edge of the cardboard box when he saw the letter crumpled up next to it.

Without examining why he did it, Jason picked up the crumbled ball, shoved it into the pocket of his jeans, picked up the box and followed her out.

PCPD: Commissioner’s Office

Scott flipped through some paperwork and handed a copy to the mayor. “Mac already has this, but you should be happy to know that not only are arrests up fifty percent in the last seven days, but Major Crimes at the DA’s office has obtained pleas in about half of the open cases on the dockets.”

Floyd studied Scott’s report with a murmur. “Did your office put together a press release with these numbers? The Herald is still chewing out the PCPD, and in the last editorial, I was name dropped.”

“Can’t have that,” Mac said dryly. “The media liaison sent this over to the Herald, but they said they’ve already got their story for tomorrow.”

Scott got to his feet and shrugged. “Can’t do anything but what we’re doing now. I have a meeting, so…” He left them, closing the office door behind him.

Floyd stared after the district attorney with barely veiled malevolence. “Did you know his popularity numbers are through the roof? What if he tries to run for mayor? The deadline isn’t until the end of the month—”

“Do you ever think about anything other than elections?” Mac demanded as he sorted through paperwork on his desk and considered the rest of his afternoon. He really wanted to get out of here and have dinner with the girls.

“Watch the tone, Scorpio. I may not be able to fire Baldwin but I sure as hell can fire you,” Floyd reminded him, standing up, folding Scott’s report and tucking it inside his blazer.

“Oh, you wouldn’t want to do that.” Mac also rose with a quirk of his eyebrow. “Do you really want to fire me right now when Elizabeth Webber is probably being counseled to file charges against this department and the city?”

Floyd scowled. “Do you think anyone is going to care about what happened to a rape case five years ago?” He snorted. “We both made that choice, Scorpio. Don’t pretend that you didn’t agree.”

“Situation’s different now. She’s not just some minor victim who may or may not matter to the Quartermaines.” Mac tilted his head. “Does Edward Quartermaine know just who you sacrificed to make sure Tom Baker pay?”

“He didn’t know the specifics, but we all got what we needed. Baker went to jail.” Floyd shrugged. “We made a strategic decision—”

“If and when Elizabeth sues this department for slander and reckless endangerment, the first thing any lawyer is going to do is subpoena any files with her involvement,” Mac told him. “If Justus remains her lawyer, do you think he’s not going to notice we didn’t follow protocol?”

“Then I guess Elizabeth Webber better not sue us.” Floyd went for the door, then turned back. “Your contract expired in May, didn’t it? You’re working at will for the department.”

Mac hesitated. “What about it?”

“The best thing for everyone is if certain truths never came out. It won’t give Elizabeth Webber any peace to know what happened in her case.” Floyd opened the door. “I’ll look over these numbers.”

The mayor left and Mac sat back at his desk, exhaling slowly. He’d always been ashamed of succumbing to political pressure when Elizabeth’s rape case had had an actual suspect to investigate, but he’d told himself that Baker had gone to jail more quickly, and Elizabeth needed the closure.

He wasn’t so sure anymore that he’d done the right thing.

Kelly’s: Dining Room

Dillon sipped his iced tea and sent his girlfriend of exactly one month a bright smile. She just glared at him, whipped the towel from her apron and bent over to clean a recently vacated table.

“You’re still frosty. Okay, I get it.”

“Why do the Quartermaines always have to be our problem?” Georgie demanded. Her brown eyes crackled with irritation. “Why can’t they just stay on Harborview Road and wallow in their drama away from the rest of us normal people?”

“First, I’m a Quartermaine, so hey. Second, I think you’re overreacting—”

“Overreacting?” Georgie sucked in a breath. “Overreacting? First Maxie, now you. What the hell?”

Oh, that explains how chilly Georgie had been even before Dillon had arrived. Nothing pissed Georgiana Jones off like her elder—by two years—sister, Maxie.

“What did Maxie do now?” Dillon asked, and winced because even he could hear how annoyed he was.

“She’s still dating that idiot Kyle, and every time Kyle comes within ten feet of Lucas, Lucas threatens to kick his ass and it’s just so—” Georgie grumbled. “It’s annoying. I don’t know what Maxie sees in Kyle.”

“I don’t know. He was a complete asshole, but he did apologize—”

“And that makes what he did right?” she demanded, planting her hands on her hips. Her raised voice brought the attention of the diner’s few indoor patrons, but she just glared right back at them.

“No, it just makes it Maxie’s decision,” Dillon said as Georgie went back around the counter. “If you and Lucas left her alone, she’d probably lose interest faster.” He offered her another smile—this one with the dimples—but nothing was working.

“So, they had a huge fight on the way here, and of course, Lucas decided to skip out on his shift which he gets to do since he’s the owner’s kid and now I’m covering for him—”

“At least it’s not that busy.”

Stop trying to cheer me up!” Georgie said with an actual stamp of her foot. “You’re part of the problem. You get here and tell me that Tammy has agreed to hire Satan’s baby—”

“C’mon, Brooke isn’t that bad.” At Georgie’s disbelieving look, he hurried to correct himself. “I mean, yes, there have been some temper tantrums, but she’s been trying lately.”

“So, the bitchiness comes naturally—”

“Hey. Georgie. C’mon. She feels like her mother dumped her here because she got tired of her, and her father was barely ever around growing up.” He raised his brows. “Does she sound like anyone else you know?”

Georgie sighed, but her pretty chocolate eyes had softened, and he knew he had her. “I don’t need someone else here who isn’t pulling their weight. After Elizabeth and Courtney quit, Penny is like the most experienced waitress and she’s an idiot. It’s basically me, and I’m twelve.”

“Seventeen.”

“Whatever.” Georgie poured him a refill of iced tea. “Okay. I’ll give her a chance because I know what it’s like to have parental drama. But she makes fun of my hair once and she and I are going to have a fight.”

“You’re the best girlfriend,” Dillon declared. “Because if Brooke is happy, then Ned is happy, and then he leaves me alone. That makes me happy. So, you’re really doing this for me.”

“Mm…” Georgie sent him a suspicious glare but returned to her work.

General Hospital: Gail’s Office

“It was weird,” Elizabeth admitted as she accepted the herbal tea that Gail constantly pressed on her during their sessions. “To be back in that house after everything that happened. To see the panic room.” She shook her head. “Sometimes, it’s hard to believe it happened at all.”

“It does seem rather fantastical,” Gail admitted. “How is your new condo?”

“Good. I like it. It’s one bedroom, but it has a great view and gets good light, so if I ever feel like painting again, I’ll be ready. Emily furnished the entire thing as a divorce gift.” Elizabeth managed a half smile. “I decided not to argue with her.”

“Is it getting easier accepting help?” Gail asked.

“Sometimes. I guess.” Elizabeth hesitated. “I was having some nightmares in the hospital. Are you…did my grandmother tell you that I had some issues last year?”

“She came and she asked me what I would recommend for someone having anxiety issues and panic attacks after being trapped in the dark.” Gail pursed her lips. “I gave her some ideas, but I encouraged her to bring that someone in.”

“Yeah, well, I wasn’t ready, I guess. I had some nightmares—like I did after the crypt. Just…being trapped in the panic room.”

“That’s natural, I would think. Are you still having them?”

“Oh. No, I did the breathing exercises and stuff you told Gram about last year. But, I, um, told Carly. Because she’s dealing with the same thing. I never really told anyone.” She looked away. “I haven’t had a panic attack since last October, so I’m probably in the clear.”

“You’ve been through a great deal of trauma lately, Elizabeth. I wouldn’t rule anything out, but if you’re taking the right steps, I wouldn’t put it high on your list of worries.” Gail waited a moment. “Have you told Jason?”

“No.” She shook her head. “There really isn’t a need to tell him, Gail. I mean, it’s over. I did it. And I don’t want him to have another reason to worry about me—”

“I only suggest it because some of the symptoms—as you might remember—aren’t always detectable by the person experiencing them.”

“Like that day in the hospital,” Elizabeth murmured, remembering. “I’d had a follow-up to remove my stitches. And something—I don’t know—I got trapped in the elevator. It was in the middle of that horrible storm and the power went out. It was so dark, and I was panicking. I kept—I was looking at my phone…” She stared down at her hands. “I wanted to call Jason.”

“But you didn’t.”

“No. He’d…made it clear that we needed to be away from each other, and I just—I didn’t want him to see me being weak. When I got out the elevator—I don’t remember what happened next. Gram said she found me wandering all glassy-eyed—” She closed her eyes. “She could have used the ASD to berate Jason and make it about her being right. But she didn’t. She was just worried.”

“She loved you very much, Elizabeth.”

“Yeah, I know that. I loved her, too. I miss her so much. I don’t know if all of this would have happened if—if she was still here.” Elizabeth struggled to take a deep breath. Her chest felt so heavy and it was still hard to fully expand her lungs. “If she’d been here, I could have—I think I would have told her when I got pregnant. I wouldn’t have felt so scared and alone.” She closed her eyes. “I wasn’t alone. But I couldn’t feel that. Couldn’t see it.

“I, um, guess I should tell Jason what happened, but it’s—” Elizabeth chewed on her bottom lip, scraping it almost raw. “He’s so…worried right now. It’s hard for him to let me out of his sight. He’s in the lobby waiting for me. I get it. I almost died, and he couldn’t do anything about it. He hates hospitals, and he really hates feeling powerless.” She closed her eyes. “And maybe it should bother me the way he’s hovering. But I don’t…it doesn’t feel like he doesn’t think I can do anything. It’s not like before.”

“No?”

“No. It’s…it’s like he knows I’m going to try to do much. That I won’t stop when I should. Because I’m too stubborn.” She managed a smile. “And he’s really worried after what happened this morning at the house. I got a letter…from Tom Baker.”

Gail drew in a sharp breath. “Tom Baker.”

“Yeah, um, Emily told me last winter she got a letter warning her that he was up for parole in December. I guess he’s thinking about that—maybe he thinks I’ll come to the hearing and try to derail it. “

“You guess?”

“I didn’t read it. I couldn’t.  I can’t have him in my head. Though I guess he’s already there.” Elizabeth shifted in her seat. “It’s just something else I don’t really have the energy for, you know? I know what I can handle, and bringing the worst thing that happened to me—outside of this—”

“That’s fair, Elizabeth.” Gail pursed her lips. “So, it’s time to talk about your homework. How have your assignments been going?”

“Well, I did what you told me, and I unpacked my art supplies first. It was nice—Nikolas bought me a new set of brushes—a really nice set—he said it was a divorce gift. I feel like he and Emily are conspiring against me. And Jason is going to stretch a bunch of canvases for me.” She smiled, a genuine one that she felt down to her toes. “He’s good at that. I don’t know if I’ll be ready to paint, but when I am, I’m set up.”

“Good. I’m glad to hear it. And it’s lovely that your friends are helping you find your inspiration again. Now for this week, I want you to think about telling Jason about what happened last summer.”

“Because of the symptoms?” Elizabeth asked.

“Because you didn’t want him to think you were weak and that’s why you didn’t tell him. Because part of you still thinks that’s true,” Gail said softly. “I can see it, Elizabeth, I can hear it. You know he doesn’t think you’re weak now. But I’m not sure you convinced he didn’t think that last year.”

She exhaled slowly. “And…what does that do for me? I mean, I know I wasn’t weak. That should be enough.”

“Is it?”

Elizabeth managed half a scowl but sighed. “I’ll think about it. It’s just that Jason and I have done nothing but think about the past and I just…I want to be done with it. I want to think about the future.”

“Then be done with the past, Elizabeth,” Gail told her. She closed her notebook and set it aside. “I didn’t tell you to do it. I just want you to think about why you won’t tell him and to consider doing so. Whatever decision you reach will be right for you.”

 

 

General Hospital: Lobby

Elizabeth stepped off the elevator, and Jason immediately got to his feet. Her eyes weren’t rimmed with red and he couldn’t detect any tear stains on her cheeks, so it looked as it had been a less intense session. He knew they were helping but hated that she often looked drained and exhausted afterward.

“Hey.” He slid his arm around her shoulder and tugged her close as he kissed her, long and slow—he couldn’t believe he could do this now—that she was back in his life.

“Mmm…what was that for?” Elizabeth asked as she drew back, her voice a bit husky. “It was only an hour.” She wrapped her arms around his waist, linking her fingers at the small of his back. “What do I get if I’m gone longer?”

He managed half a smile. “Is that a dig at me not letting you out of my sight for more than an hour at a time?”

“I would never.” But she smiled and kissed him again. “C’mon, I want to get out of this place.”

As they walked towards the parking garage entrance, his phone rang. He pulled it out of his back pocket, careful not to dislodge the crumpled-up paper in his pocket. “It’s Sonny.”

He answered his partner’s call and grimaced after a moment. “Okay, yeah, I’ll be in. I just have to drop Elizabeth off at her place.” He put the phone back in his pocket. “I’m sorry, I gotta put in a few hours at the warehouse.”

“Considering you’ve barely been to work since Carly went missing, I can’t really argue.” They stepped on the elevator. “Hey, Monica caught me on my way down. She said I’m clear to drive again.” She slid him a look from beneath her eyelashes. “You want to go somewhere after work?”

“I don’t think Monica meant you were cleared to drive a motorcycle,” Jason said dryly. They had exchanged the SUV for Jason’s bike after unpacking things at her condo. He handed her a helmet. “But yeah. I’ll call you if I’m going to be too long.”

Luke’s: Bar

Lucky set a shot in front of one of his regular patrons and smirked when he saw a familiar brunette slide into the stool at the quieter side of the bar. He’d met the new Assistant District Attorney Kelsey Joyce at work a few weeks ago, but for the last week she’d shown up at Luke’s nearly every time he was scheduled to work the bar.

“Back again?” he asked, setting a napkin in front of her. “You like jazz?” he asked over his shoulder as he turned to grab the bottle of gin she favored.

“You know, I’ve never really understood it,” Kelsey said with a shrug. “I get that a lot of people like it, but it just sounds like noise to me.” She wrinkled her nose. “Isn’t this more of a blues club?”

“Nominally.” Lucky set her drink in front of her. “That was my dad’s vision when he opened it. B.B. King played opening night. But it’s a night club in upstate New York. We’ll let anyone in who wants to play.”

“This is exactly what I need after a day like today,” she said after a long sip of her drink. She closed her eyes. “Did you have to work today?”

“Yeah, mostly finishing up paperwork for Lansing.” Lucky leaned against the bar back, folding his arms. “Taggert and Mac are determined not to screw this up. Which would be nice, all things considered.”

“Scott feels the same way. He feels bad about what happened—” Kelsey frowned. “Why do you do that?”

“What?”

“You grimace when I mention Scott. This isn’t the first time you’ve done that—” She hesitated. “Is—is it about your mom?”

“How—” Lucky scowled. “How do you know about that case?”

“I looked over all the open cases when I took over Major Crimes. Rick Webber’s murder is still an open file.” Kelsey hesitated. “I mean, until your mother is released from the hospital in London and it gets officially discharged.”

“I—” He stared at her. Swallowed. “I thought that was done.”

“Your mother was found not competent to stand trial,” Kelsey said, tilting her head slightly. “Once she is, I’ll revisit the case and see if it’s worth filing charges—”

“Wait—” Lucky shook his head. “She had a psychotic break—”

She bit her lip, glanced around her as if to see if anyone was paying attention to them. “I shouldn’t tell you this, but honestly? I don’t plan to do anything with the case. The scene got screwed up, your mother didn’t confess on record. And I know Scott’s behavior during all of it was awful. He thought your dad did it and went after your mother for protecting him.”

“So, if you know all of that, why do you ask why I make a face when you talk about him?” Lucky went to the other end of the bar to fill an order.

When he returned, he continued, “Look, you want to come in here when I’m working, sit at my bar, talk—that’s all fine.” He folded his arms and leaned over the bar. Leaned in close until their faces were a few inches apart. She smirked. Lifted a brow. “But Baldwin is not something I want to talk about—”

“We work together. All of us. How are we supposed to…” Her smile deepened. “Talk—if we can’t talk about our day?”

“Oh, talking is what you’re interested in doing?”  When Kelsey only continued to smile at him, Lucky’s stomach clenched. It had been…a long time since he’d felt even mildly interested in a woman.

“We should probably start there.” Kelsey’s eyes dropped to his mouth for a moment before meeting his gaze again. “But I don’t want to pretend I do something else for a living.”

“Fair enough.” Lucky straightened and pulled back. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dante walk through the front door, a younger brunette following him, talking animatedly. Her eyes were heavily lined, her lips painted with a deep slash of red, and she wore a lot of chunky jewelry.

Kelsey followed his gaze and frowned. “Isn’t she underage?” she asked. “I’ve seen her at Kelly’s.”

“Yo, Falconieri, you trying to get my license pulled?” Lucky called as his friend sat down next to Kelsey, the girl sliding onto the stool on his other side.

“Just don’t serve her,” Dante offered with a shrug. “This is Brooke Lynn Ashton, my god sister from Bensonhurst.”

“God sister?” Kelsey repeated. “Is that even a thing?”

“We take it very seriously back in the neighborhood,” Brooke offered. She jerked a thumb in Dante’s direction. “Plus, this guy got a call from my ma asking why he hasn’t checked up on me like he promised.”

“They always know,” Dante said, shaking his head. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear Ma has a GPS on my ass. Anyway.” He looked at Brooke. “You come in here, you don’t mess around. Lucky’s a friend of mine. You take that underage drinking to the other dives around town, got it?”

Brooke rolled her eyes. “Like he never bought me any forties back home,” she muttered. “Anyway. I only got caught once—”

“Do you want something to drink?” Lucky asked, raising his voice slightly as the night’s featured jazz band began their first song. “Water? Lemonade?”

“God, this town is boring,” Brooke sighed. “Can I get a soda? Dr. Pepper if you have it.”

“Sure.” Lucky turned around to fill the drink.

“This is Kelsey Joyce, the new ADA in Major Crimes.” Dante leaned back so Kelsey could shake Brooke’s hand. “She’s going to clean up the filthy streets of Port Charles.”

Kelsey snorted. “Sure. Because that’s a thing someone fresh out of law school can do. What does it say about this town that five minutes after I pass the bar, the DA puts me in charge of the entire Major Crimes division?”

“Yeah, but good news—” Lucky folded his arms and grinned at her. “You can’t possibly be worse than what’s come before.”

Kelsey arched a brow and sipped her drink, before turning back to Brooke. “What brings two Bensonhurst kids to Port Charles anyway?”

“My ma married a guy from here,” Brooke offered. “She lived here for a little while before they got divorced. She got irritated with me, shipped me up here so my dad can deal with me.” She peered at Dante. “I’m less clear on how you ended up here. Why aren’t you making time in the NYPD?”

“You work in a large department like New York, you gotta be in uniform for five years before you can take the detective exam. But I heard that Port Charles only makes you do uniform for two.” Dante shrugged. “Plus, you know my cousin Vinnie? He came up here in ‘95 for the same reasons. Your ma recommended it.”

“Two years?” Kelsey repeated. She blinked and looked at Lucky who just shrugged. “You only have to do two years on the street before you qualify for detective? That explains a lot.”

“How’s Port Charles treating you?” Lucky asked Brooke. “You’re staying with your dad, so I guess you’ve been hanging out with Dillon and my sister.”

“Dillon, yes, Lu, no. She went to London before I decided to give Dillon a chance. I’m actually starting at Kelly’s this week,” she told Dante. “Dad thinks it’ll be good for me and I can earn my phone and car privileges back.” She shrugged. “We’ll see. But I’m glad you called, Dante.” She bumped a shoulder against him. “It’s good to see a friendly face.”

“Grab your drink,” Dante told her. “We’ll go get a table closer to the band. Brooke’s an incredible singer. You should get her to do a set here.”

“Dante,” Brooke hissed, smacking him as the duo left the bar and worked their way to the front of the club.

“You know, if the rest of the PCPD were like the two of you,” Kelsey told Lucky once they had gone, “this job might not suck so much.” She picked up the second gin and tonic he put in front of her. “Back to the subject of our illustrious DA—”

“Kelsey—”

“I read the file, Lucky. I know he bungled the case.” She shook her head. “What’s more—he knows it, too. He’s trying to do better. I mean, you guys got along on the Lansing case. And he did good work—don’t roll your eyes. He did. He got his ass handed to him in court over Elizabeth’s medical care.”

“Look—”

“Do you really think that Scott is one hundred percent to blame for what happened to your mother?” Kelsey asked. She raised her eyebrows. “What about the stepfather who lied to her? Or the ex-husband who took her on the run rather than getting her help—”

Lucky grimaced, looked away. “Okay, fine. Nikolas said that my mother’s breakdown was about a lifetime of trauma. And maybe Baldwin isn’t the only bad guy in all of that. But—” he shrugged and moved to refill the mug of another customer. “He’s here. And the rest of people who hurt her aren’t.”

“Fair enough.” Kelsey waited a long moment. “But we can still be friends, right?”

“Yeah.” Lucky smiled at her. “Yeah, we can still be friends.”

Corinthos-Morgan Warehouse: Sonny’s Office

Sonny was scowling at Johnny O’Brien when Jason came into the office later that night. “That’s not the answer I was looking for.” He nodded at Jason, then jerked a thumb at the other man. “He’s telling me that security is still tight at the county jail.”

Jason grimaced as he sat down in front of Sonny’s desk, stretched out his legs and cracked his neck. They’d been trying to find a way to get to Ric Lansing since he’d been arrested and held without bail a week earlier, but the cops had kept him in protective custody.

Why the hell they were protecting such a scumbag, Jason couldn’t understand. He thought Elizabeth and Carly would sleep easier once they were able to take care of him. “He’s got a bail hearing coming up. They’ll have to move him—”

“We can try to get someone to get him in transport,” Johnny suggested. “But there’s a lot of eyes on this case, Boss.”

“Scott Baldwin probably wants the good press of nailing him in court,” Sonny muttered. He sighed. “Carly hasn’t talked much about the bail hearing. Has Elizabeth? Does she know the chances he might be released?”

“She’s hoping he won’t be,” Jason admitted. “Baldwin told her it was a fifty-fifty thing. It’s not a murder case but it’s still a felony. Depends on the judge. It’d be easier to get him if he was out on bail, but—”

“PCPD would have jurisdiction, not the county police, if he dies on the outside.” Sonny looked at Johnny. “Keep trying to find someone—”

“Got it,” Johnny said. He left then, and Sonny turned his attention to Jason.

“Elizabeth get settled in the condo all right?” Sonny asked. “The security upgrade was done in time?”

“Yeah.” Jason leaned to one side to tug his phone from his back pocket, a ball of paper falling to the floor as he did so. He stared at it for a moment, remembering where he’d found it.

“I also wanted to let you know that you, ah, might want to avoid my place for a few weeks. Courtney wasn’t able to get back into her lease at the loft—” Sonny frowned. “Jase?”

“I—” Jason leaned over to grab the paper from the floor. He left it in the palm of his hand. “I forgot. Tom Baker sent a letter to Elizabeth. She threw it away, but—” He shook his head. “I picked it up. Kept it.”

“Tom Baker,” Sonny repeated. He squinted. “That was before I moved back, right? The asshole who went after your sister?”

“Yeah.” Jason cleared his throat. “Emily was being blackmailed by a photographer. Emily and her friends—including Elizabeth—tracked him down and he was supposed to have confessed to—” He paused, forcing the words out, “—raping Elizabeth earlier that year.”

“Jesus Christ,” Sonny murmured, sitting back in his chair, looking a bit shell shocked. “I knew what had happened to her—but I didn’t realize they’d caught the guy—”

“They didn’t. I mean, Baker denied making the confession, and the cops told Elizabeth there wasn’t enough evidence to go forward. They just prosecuted him for the blackmail, and then I guess Elizabeth had…she had a break down in court. Accused him—the DA’s office made him a deal to get at least some jail time. I don’t—I don’t know a lot of the specifics.” Jason exhaled slowly.

He looked at the crumbled ball in his hands. “Elizabeth didn’t want to read it. I guess I thought she might change her mind—”

“Did you read it—?”

“No.” Jason looked at his friend. “No. If there was something in there—I don’t know. She didn’t want to read it. It’s not mine to read.” He clenched his fist, the paper rustling as it was compressed. “She’s been through so much. I just didn’t want anything to come out and surprise her. Hurt her.” He shook his head. “He’s up for parole in a few months. I went to see him before I left town that first time—to remind him to stay away from Emily…and Elizabeth.”

“Maybe it’s time pay him another visit,” Sonny suggested. “Remind him who might be waiting on the outside if he comes anywhere near her.” He shook his head. “Don’t tell Elizabeth if you go.”

“What?” Jason frowned. “Why not—”

“Hey. Look, she didn’t even want to read the damn letter which is probably nothing more than asking her not to show up at his parole hearing. She doesn’t want this in her head. I know you can’t sit back and ignore this letter, but there’s no reason she needs to know.”

“Yeah.” Jason shoved the letter back in his pocket, then scrubbed his hands over his face. “Yeah. You’re right. She doesn’t need this. I’ll keep him away from her, and we’ll just…we’ll focus on finding a way to get rid of Lansing. For good.”

August 5, 2019

This entry is part 2 of 23 in the series All of Me

There has to be a change I’m sure
Today was just a day fading into another
And that can’t be what a life is for
And anything she said well she feels a lot better
And that’s all that really matters to me
Amy Hit the Atmosphere, Counting Crows


Friday, July 11, 2003

Kelly’s: Courtyard

Elizabeth winced as she heard another crash behind the counter. She looked at Bobbie who just shook her head. “Really brings back memories, doesn’t it?” she murmured as she lifted her cup of tea to her lips.

“You weren’t the worst waitress we ever had.” Bobbie flinched as another crash came. She twisted in her seat to see Brooke Lynn Ashton pop up from behind the counter, her face flushed, and several pieces of broken dishes in her hands.

Nearby, Penny Ramirez only sighed and grabbed a plastic tub.

Elizabeth watched the scene wistfully. “A few years ago, that was me. And last summer, I was training the new waitresses.” She pursed her lips. “You looking to hire? I could use a job.”

“I think we can find something better for you.” Bobbie stirred some sugar into her coffee. “I thought you were taking some time off. Trying to relax. Are you even cleared to go back to work?”

“In a few weeks. Monica wanted me to wait a full month.” Elizabeth sighed. “It’s not like Gram and Gramps didn’t leave enough to support me for a while. And I just got the check with my portion from the sale of their house, so I’m okay. I just…I need something to do.”

“Well, Kelly’s will be here if you need it.” Bobbie tilted her head. “Did I ever tell you why Ruby didn’t fire you?”

“Oh, God. She must have wanted to a thousand times that first six months. I was the absolute worst waitress.” Elizabeth tucked her hair behind her ears. “But Ruby never gave up on me.”

“She said you reminded her of me at that age. Running wild, never listening to anyone, doing everything you could to get yourself in trouble.” Bobbie hesitated. “But you showed up to do the job and she saw you trying. She wanted to keep an eye on you. To give you something to hold on to.”

“I miss her so much. I mean, I know Don tries with the chili, but it won’t ever be the same.” Elizabeth propped her hand on her chin. “How’s Carly doing? I haven’t seen her since I got home.”

“She’s doing okay, I guess. I’m glad she went to see Kevin, but there are still some…rough moments. She’ll do better when the trial is over.”

Elizabeth looked at her watch. “The bail hearing is probably wrapping up. Do you think he’s going to get released?”

“I don’t know. I wish I could predict what the courts will do.” Bobbie paused. “Are you worried?”

“About my safety? Not really. Um, the condo building Nikolas found is relatively secure. And Jason doesn’t know I know this, but I think he either bought the building or put some of his guys in there, because I recognize some of the security guards in the lobby.” She chewed her bottom lip. “And it’s not like I’m sharing a house with him, so I don’t know. I guess I just…I’m with Carly. I want it over with.”

“You have the restraining order for a few more weeks, and I’m guessing this is probably the longest Jason has left you alone since you came home on Wednesday.” Bobbie lifted her brows. “He’s not smothering you, is he?”

“No.” Elizabeth’s lips curved. “Not yet. Today, I convinced him that I could handle being out with just Cody—” She gave a wave to her bodyguard who was drinking a coffee at the counter. “And that he needed to get back to work. To his regular life so we could figure out a new normal.”

“Carly told Sonny the same thing.” Bobbie smiled now. “They’ll relax eventually. It was just—I don’t have to tell you how terrified we all were while Carly was missing, but when you were in that coma—” She shook her head. “I can’t begin to tell you what was going on. Everything seemed to shift. To change. I saw Jason working with Nikolas to get that power of attorney back, Lucky and Scott were getting along—Scott gave Jason a character reference in court.”

“Scott Baldwin?” Elizabeth asked with a raise of her brows. “The PCPD really doesn’t want me to sue the city, do they?”

“I know Justus suggested you consider it,” Bobbie said. “The department really didn’t—”

“He suggested it, yeah, but he said we probably wouldn’t win. At best, I might get a settlement with an apology.” Elizabeth sighed. “I don’t know. I mean, a jury is going to wonder why I stayed—”

“And then you explain it to them.” Bobbie leaned forward. “But you’re thinking of what they’ll ask about Jason.”

“Yeah, Diane Miller—she’s the one handling my divorce and restraining order—she said that Ric’s best bet is character assassination. Carly and I can testify about the panic room, but the order is about—” Elizabeth shook her head. “I don’t know. We weren’t…we weren’t sleeping together, but that doesn’t change—” She bit her lip. “I don’t know how to explain that week—”

“An emotional affair,” Bobbie said with a slow exhale and a half smile. “I’ve had one or two of those myself. A close friendship that strays over the line just a few times. Where the intimacy and emotions are not platonic.” She paused. “Alan and I nearly…”

“Alan Quartermaine?’ Elizabeth repeated. “As in—”

“Monica had breast cancer, and she handled that the best way she knew how. But Alan was shut out, and I was struggling after BJ—so we just…drifted towards one another. We stopped ourselves before—I mean, we didn’t go full out, but it didn’t mean we hadn’t thought about it.” Bobbie shook her head. “I’m not proud, but I understand how a situation can…escalate.”

“Yeah, well, that’s probably the best way to describe it. The fact that Jason and I are now…I guess dating is what we’re doing, but that just sounds weird…Diane thinks that’s going to come up at the hearing and in our divorce.”

“It doesn’t change the fact the Ric put his hands on you. That he nearly killed you.”

“You and I both know the world doesn’t always—” Elizabeth trailed off when she saw Lucky come through the doors, followed by another officer.

“Lucky.” Bobbie stood to kiss her nephew’s cheek. “And this is Dante, right? Dante…”

“Falconieri, ma’am.” He held out a hand for Bobbie to shake. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Have you met Elizabeth, yet?” Bobbie asked, gesturing to Elizabeth who had also stood.

“Not in, um, person,” Dante said with a half-smile. “I was one of the officers who parked outside your place. And I was at the hospital a few times.”

“Right. I kind of remember you. Thank you. I felt a lot safer knowing you were out there.” She looked at Lucky who hadn’t met her eyes yet. “Look at you, in your uniform,” she said with a half-forced smile. “Who would have believed it?”

“No one,” Bobbie said with a laugh as she wrapped her hand around Lucky’s upper arm. “But I think it’s a good fit.”

“We just came by for coffee,” Lucky said, “but we got a call while we were in the courtyard.” He met Elizabeth’s eyes now. “Ric posted bail.”

Elizabeth closed her eyes. Nodded. “Okay.” She looked at Cody who joined them. “Ric made bail,” she repeated to him.

“Brooke, why don’t you get these officers some coffee?” Bobbie called. “Uh…Penny, can you help her?”

Lucky kissed Bobbie’s cheek and then went to the counter with Dante. The other cop smiled at Brooke, said something to her—but Elizabeth didn’t hear it.

“You okay?” Cody asked, his voice low. She looked back at him.  “Should I—”

“Yeah, you should call Jason because he and Sonny should both know. They need to tell Carly. But I’m okay.” She touched the sleeve of Cody’s suit jacket. “Really. I promise.”

“Okay.” Cody waited until Lucky and Dante had received their coffees and left before moving back to his seat and pulling out his phone.

Bobbie and Elizabeth sat back down, the air a bit more tense than it had been before. “Elizabeth…”

“Lucky seemed weird, didn’t he?” Elizabeth asked. “We haven’t really talked in months—not since October when I helped break Luke out of jail. But he just…I don’t know. He didn’t seem like himself.”

“I’ve noticed that he seems a bit…uncomfortable sometimes,” Bobbie admitted. “It’s hard to say. Lucky has been through so much in the last few years—and I wonder about that last brainwashing—before the wedding.”

“If maybe it was more than just taking away his love for me,” Elizabeth murmured with a tip of her head. “He seemed different after that, yeah. I can’t really explain it.  I guess…it’s time to accept that part of Lucky never came back.”

“I know. Every time it seems like he’s finding his feet, he gets them pulled out again. But I have high hopes for this job. He’s made new friends—ones that didn’t know him before and I think that will help with the pressure.” Bobbie offered her a smile. “You’re both moving on. I’m so glad to see you both doing better.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” Elizabeth said with a half-smile. “I’m okay. That’s the goal right now. To just wake up and be okay. Better…that comes later.”

Kelly’s: Dining Room

“Well, that’s the lunch rush,” Penny told Brooke with a bright smile. “Georgie is going to take over for me.” She hung her apron up on the hook and headed out the back door.

“Couldn’t wait to leave me,” Brooke muttered as Dillon’s girlfriend sighed, tying her apron.

“Don’t mind Penny. Her mind is always somewhere else.” Georgie glanced out in the dining room. “Just the one coffee drinker?”

“Yeah.” Brooke’s feet were killing her, but she’d promised Tammy that she’d work until six that evening. “Who’s working the closing?”

“Me and Maxie, even though Mac had to practically force her into it.” Georgie grimaced. “After Courtney quit, things were okay for a while because Liz was still here. She was here for years—but then she quit and that was two experienced waitresses in like five minutes. They’re still trying to replace them.”

“Yeah, I guess I’m not much of an improvement.” Brooke bit her lip. “And you don’t even like me.”

“I don’t know you, as Dillon reminded me.” Georgie hesitated. “And he reminded me that parents are universally awful so…”

“Yeah, what’s wrong with yours?” Brooke asked as she followed the blonde out to the counter where Georgie started to fill the coffee grinder with beans.

“Well, Dad works for the WSB and hasn’t really been around. I see him maybe once a year. Mom’s okay, but she has crappy priorities. She got married a few years ago to Mac, and then I don’t know what happened, but she ruined that. She’s in Texas with my great-grandmother, Mariah. Maxie and I are staying with Mac. He’s not our stepdad anymore, but he’s basically the only real dad we know.” She flicked her dark brown gaze at Brooke. “What’s your story?”

“Same thing with my dad, but he doesn’t have the excuse that he’s off saving the world,” Brooke said as she wrapped utensils in napkins. “He was just a few hours away and too busy to be my dad. And my mom is a real hard ass. Nothing is ever good enough for her. She forced me to go to college and then got pissed because I failed.” She wrinkled her nose. “And then sent me here because it was too hard to deal with me anymore, I guess.”

“It sucks when your parents aren’t together,” Georgie offered with a sigh. “I mean, look at Dillon. His dad is never around either and his mother is Tracy. I mean, she’s your grandmother. You can feel his pain.” She flashed a half smile. “We actually all have that in common—really shitty parents.”

“Yeah? No normal ones in the bunch at all?”

“Nope.” Georgie hit the button for the grinder and waited for it to finish before she spoke again. “Lucas comes close. He was adopted in a black-market baby ring, lived with Bobbie for a while before going back to his real mother, who then died and gave him back to Bobbie and Tony. Then Bobbie and Tony exploded, and they fought over him in court. His dad ended up having an affair with his stepdaughter, but no one knew Carly was related to Bobbie yet.”

She expertly set the filters into the pot and filled each pot with coffee grounds. “Maxie has my story, only she fights with Mac all the time. Lu’s mom had a nervous breakdown and went crazy, and her dad is a functioning alcoholic. There’s Kyle, but I’m not sure we’re really adopting him into the circle yet.”

Brooke raised her brows. “Maybe there’s something in the water here.”

“Seriously,” Georgie snorted. “Kyle’s actually normal because his parents are just divorced, still live in Port Charles, and then dragged him into court every year until last year when he turned eighteen. But he’s an asshole, so he doesn’t count.”

She took a deep breath and looked at Brooke. “I’m sorry your mom shoved you up here, but if you give us a chance, maybe it won’t suck so much.”

“Yeah, that’s what Dillon said. He said you and Lucas were okay, Maxie was a pain, and he’s not convinced what sort Kyle is yet.” She laughed. “And apparently, Lulu is crazy.”

“That sums it up. C’mon, let me show you how to fill out the tickets because Penny’s way isn’t right.”

Morgan Penthouse: Living Room

Justus slid his finger over the amount at the bottom of the retainer agreement Sonny had handed him. “This is…a lot of money.”

“I know you said you weren’t interested in leaving Philadelphia, and I get that you’ve got a new baby. A wife.” Perched on Jason’s green sofa, Sonny leaned forward. “And there’s no hard feelings if you decline. I just wanted to make sure you knew how much we valued you. How much you saved our asses.”

Justus waited a long moment. “I’d have to talk this over with Tia. I appreciate it, Sonny. I’m not saying no because of the work. Her family is in Philly. Some of mine is—you know both my sisters are there, Keesha and Faith.”

“And Port Charles has the Quartermaines, so believe me, I get the purpose of distance.” Sonny leaned back. “Go home, be with your family. Consider it. Thank you for these last few weeks. I know it was hard to be away from your family.”

“It was.” Justus flashed a smile and dug into his pocket. “Have you seen my girls? They’re everything.” He flipped open his wallet and held it out. Jason looked over Sonny’s shoulder at a beautiful smiling woman holding an infant in her arms.

“She’s beautiful. What’s her name?” Sonny asked, handing it back.

“Kimani,” he replied. “We call her Kimi for short.” Justus got to his feet, slipping his wallet back into his back pocket. “I’ll be in touch. I’m glad I could help out. Take care of yourself.” He shook Sonny’s hand, then Jason’s, and left.

“I wouldn’t blame him if he kept his life in Philly,” Sonny said with a murmur after Jason closed the door. “You know how Edward gets when he thinks there’s a kid to latch on to.”

Jason grimaced at the thought of it, then his phone vibrated in his back pocket. He pulled it out. “Cody, hey. Everything okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. Spencer and Falconieri just came to Kelly’s and ran into Miss Webber. The bail hearing is over—Ric got bail and he already posted it.”

Jason grimaced, but nodded. “So, he’s already gone?”

“Yeah. I called our guy at the courthouse. Lansing got permission to relocate to Crimson Point to stay with his dad

“Thanks, Cody. I’ll see you later.” Jason closed his phone and tossed it on the pool table behind him. “Ric’s out, and he’s gonna be going down to Crimson Point.”

“Going after him now might still be risky,” Sonny admitted, “but if he’s down with the Zaccharas, it’s another suspect. We should look into it, see how easy it might be to arrange an accident.”  He moved over to the desk where they were sorting through some trucking schedules. “Speaking of the Zaccharas, I got a call from Anthony.”

“Yeah? It didn’t go through Enzo?” Jason said with a frown. “Usually Enzo calls Benny—or now Bernie, I guess. Zacchara doesn’t usually get involved.”

“He seemed to think the arrest of his lawyer’s son for crimes against my wife warranted it.” Sonny’s smile was thin and sour. “Wanted to make sure he knew that this was all Ric’s vendetta.”

“You buy that?”

“I buy that maybe Zacchara and Lansing had some hopes. When Faith pulled Ric in, they tried to capitalize on it. But now? With all eyes on us and shipments basically at a halt, if Zacchara makes it worse—he won’t just have me to deal with. He’ll have the others breathing down his neck. Money talks.”

Sonny took in the penthouse and grimaced. “God, my sister has bad taste in decorating. You should let Carly deal with this crap.”

Jason shrugged. “I got rid of the cabinet that made it hard to play pool,” he said. “I don’t care other than that.” He hesitated. “Unless you think it would help Carly.”

“She’s…doing okay, I guess. I was driving her nuts the first few days, I think. But I’m trying to let her out of my sight.” Sonny shook his head. “It’s hard. But Max goes with her everywhere, and I try to let that be enough. She’s going back to work at the Cellar tonight.”

“I’m glad.” Jason looked away. “I made some calls. I’m seeing Baker next week.”

“I’ve been thinking about it, Jase. I know it was my idea, but maybe this isn’t the best thing. For you to go, I mean. We could send one of our guys in or bribe a guard to pass a message.”

“And if that didn’t work? What if he sends her another letter?” Jason demanded. He shook his head. “No. It has to be me.” When Sonny remained unconvinced, he scowled. “What if it were Carly, Sonny?”

“It’s not—”

“If it was, would you let someone else deal with it?”

Sonny looked away, rubbing his hand against his chest. What would he do if he learned that a man who had violated the woman he loved was trying to get in touch with her? What if Carly didn’t want to know? Had told him not to do anything? Would he be content in sending someone else with a warning?

“I’d probably do the same thing you’re doing. But that doesn’t mean either of us would be right. Look at me, Jase. You and Elizabeth—you’re just putting things back together. Why do you want to do something that might mess that up?”

Jason shook his head. “It won’t—”

“Because it’s one thing to send someone with a warning. You can tell her that, she’d probably be grateful. But I don’t know, if you go see the guy—you can’t tell her. That feels different. I don’t know why.”

“So, you’re wrong about not telling her—”

“You want to take the risk that you put that asshole back in her head?” Sonny asked. “No, man, I’m telling you. You put yourself in that room with him, and tell her you’re doing it, it just feels like you’d be crossing a line. She didn’t want to do anything. Are you even going to tell her you still have that damn letter?” He arched his brow.

“I—” Jason sighed. “No.”

“You’re already lying to her. You tell her you have the letter, you go see him—I’m telling you, Jase. She doesn’t want to know anything about him or this letter. You can probably skate by with the warning, but don’t do this yourself.”

“I won’t tell her—”

“Jase…” Sonny moved towards him. “I get it. You can’t make Ric go away right now. Neither of us can. So here you’ve got someone else who hurt her, and you think this is a thing you can fix. I know you.”

“I—” Jason closed his eyes. “I know you’re right. I know that. I wish like hell I’d thrown that letter out and just forgotten about it. But I didn’t. And what if he gets out in a couple of months and tries to see her?”

“Then we make a few calls and make it clear to him that he stays the hell away from Port Charles. Don’t go to see him. Jason, I just—” Sonny shook his head. “Take it from me. I’ve destroyed more than a few relationships by doing what I thought was right and not listening to the other person.”

“I’m going to see him,” Jason said again. “I’ll need to make sure he knows to leave Elizabeth—and Emily—alone.” He hesitated. “I can’t do nothing. Elizabeth—” He rubbed his chest. “She’ll understand. I won’t—I won’t say anything to her right away. I’ll wait until she’s stronger.”

“Sure.” Sonny eyed him with skepticism before shrugging. “You know her better than me.”

“Okay.” Jason shook his head, as if to clear it. “Let’s finish this paperwork. I want to check with the security at her building.”

Luke’s: Bar

Lucky was unsurprised to find Kelsey sliding onto a bar stool that night, but some of her usual animation had faded. Her dark brown eyes were shadowed with purple circles.

He glanced down the rest of the bar, but it was still early enough in the evening that it wasn’t packed and that night’s featured music group hadn’t taken the stage yet.  He poured a glass of water and set it down in front of her. “Long day?”

“Yeah.” Kelsey sighed, rested an elbow on the bar, then propped her chin on her hand. “You can probably guess why.”

“I know Ric Lansing bailed himself out,” Lucky offered. “You want your usual?” When she nodded, he took down the bottle of gin. “Didn’t you expect him to?”

“I guess. And I get it. I’ve read all the studies that defendants are better able to assist their attorneys outside of jail. They’re able to advocate for themselves more effectively.” She scowled. “We want a fair justice system, but I don’t know…this guy—”

She reached for the bowl of peanuts Lucky kept on the bar and shelled a few of them. “I wasn’t really on the case. Scott kept control of it, but I’ve been helping on some of the legwork. There’s a lot of paperwork, and Scott wants to get it right.”

“Yeah, Taggert and Mac are checking everything with a fine-tooth.” Lucky set her drink down. “I was surprised the judge agreed to let him go to Crimson Point.”

“Yeah, that didn’t make Scott that happy. He’s out of our jurisdiction, so keeping an eye on him is going to be harder. He has one of those ankle monitors.” Kelsey grimaced. “Now I know why my dad went into tax law. This—” She hesitated. “This feels so important. Like, the weight of what he did to those women—” She wrinkled her nose. “I forgot. You know them—”

“Yeah, more or less.” Lucky scratched his temple, a bit discomforted. “Carly’s my cousin though we’ve never been close. Elizabeth—we—” He lifted a shoulder. “We were engaged.”

“Oh.” Kelsey lifted her brows. She didn’t look irritated, merely interested. “You didn’t make it to the altar?”

“Ha. Yeah, well, we did. Except that’s as far as we got. It’s—” Lucky paused, trying to decide just how much crazy he wanted to throw at her. He liked the pretty ADA, with her quick smiles, sharp wit, and gorgeous eyes. What would he have to offer someone like her? He couldn’t even tell the story of his life without simply repeating facts he didn’t entirely remember living through.

“It’s a long story,” he said. “But I guess the best way to sum it up is this — my family had a lot of issues with another family—the Cassadines. Blood feud, if you can believe it. Elizabeth and I were teenagers. Crazy in love.” Sometimes, when he saw her, he could almost remember that.

“Wait, the Cassadines?” Kelsey tapped her chin. “I think I remember something about this. Dad knew your mother a little bit. He said she’d been kidnapped by some crazy Greeks. Held hostage for years.” She wrinkled her nose. “Oh, sorry. I guess—”

“Yeah, part of that lifetime of trauma thing. Well, when Mom escaped, Dad ended up killing the man who had held her hostage. We thought so anyway. Helena Cassadine—the guy’s mother—she had it out for my Mom and Dad already, but this just made it worse. When I was a teenager, Helena faked my death and then…” He waited a moment. “Brainwashed me into hating my family and basically forgetting Elizabeth.”

“Oh, God.” Her eyes were as round as saucers. “Lucky, I’m so sorry.”

“It—yeah, it messed up my life for a long time.” He rolled his shoulders. “I was gonna marry Elizabeth anyway. I didn’t remember her. I didn’t remember loving her. But I knew she loved me. I thought I owed her that.”

“Charming,” Kelsey said, with an arched brow. “But I guess understandable.”

Lucky frowned at her. “You…believe me? About—”

“I mean, it sounds pretty insane,” she admitted. “But considering that I just lived through a case where a guy held a woman hostage in a panic room in his own house under the nose of the entire PCPD and his wife—” Kelsey sipped her gin and tonic. “Not a stretch. Besides, brainwashing is a legitimate thing. Think of the Manson killers, right? And cult followers? I’m glad you got through it.”

He exhaled slowly. “Yeah. Well, I’m still working through a lot of it. Anyway, Elizabeth and I haven’t really been close since it happened.” And now was probably not the time to tell Kelsey that Lucky had slept with Elizabeth’s sister, partially because he thought it might make her finally give up any hope of them getting back together.

There really wasn’t a way to make that sound okay.

“All of that is to say that I’m glad that you and the DA’s office feel the weight of what Lansing did. I may not like Baldwin—” He chuckled when her eyes narrowed, “but you’re right. He’s done good by Carly and Elizabeth.”

“Yeah, well, my Dad used to say Scott was one of the most ethical guys he knew, but I guess anyone can change when life disappoints him. The last time my dad even saw Scott was at his wife’s funeral.”

“Yeah.” Lucky nodded. “I wasn’t living here then, but my mom used to get the news from Port Charles, and we read about it in Canada. It was pretty sad.” He hesitated. “I guess that means your dad isn’t around anymore.”

“Nope. Died in…” Kelsey sighed. “1994. Car accident. Single car, rural road. He’d been on his way home from a client meeting and the cops thought he fell asleep behind the wheel.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well…he’d be proud of me, you know? And I had him for the first thirteen years of my life. That matters.” She shook her head. “How did we get so maudlin? I came in here to flirt with you.” Kelsey grinned up at him, but the sly light he’d come to look for in her eyes was absent.

“We can flirt tomorrow. I have the night shift again.” He folded his arms on the bar and leaned in just a bit towards her. “And you can stop slipping Claude tens to find out my schedule. I’ll give it to you for free.”

“I guess we’re flirting tonight, after all.” And this time, her smile reached her eyes. “Maybe, if you ever get a night off, we could try something else.”

“Let me talk to Claude and work something out.” Lucky slid the back of his fingers down her cheek. “There it is. How do you manage to smirk with only your eyes?”

“It’s one of my many skills.” She paused. “Maybe someday you’ll get to see the rest of them.”

Vista Point: Summit

Elizabeth let the summer night air wash over her as she stood at the guard rail that looked out over Lake Ontario. In the distance, she could see the hulking mass of Wyndemere rise out over the mists of Spoon Island.

“You okay?” Jason asked, resting his elbows on the rail. “You want to drive back?”

Elizabeth laughed. “You must be worried if you’re thinking about letting me drive. I’m going to take a rain check, but…I’m okay. I thought I’d be more worried about Ric, but thanks to you and Cody—and the army of security guards in my lobby—” She arched a brow. “Did you buy my new apartment building?”

Jason shrugged a shoulder. “Real estate is always a good investment. And I wanted to make sure the security was upgraded.” He straightened and then turned, leaning back against the railing. “So, if you’re not worried about Ric making bail…”

“I’m thinking about the homework assignment Gail gave me the other day,” Elizabeth confessed. “She asked me to think about the reasons I wouldn’t tell you something that happened last summer.”

Jason squinted. “What happened—”

“After you rescued me—after I got out of that crypt, you remember that I was…” Elizabeth chewed on her bottom lip. She pushed away from the railing and went down the stairs to sit on the bench. How did she put this into words so he could understand?

“You were scared,” Jason said softly, joining her on the bench. “I remember.”

“Not just scared.” Elizabeth looked at her hands in her lap, twisting her fingers together. “It was more that I was…terrified. I had panic attacks. Anxiety attacks. The night of the blackout, I was having a panic attack when Zander showed up.”

She saw his face tighten and he looked away at that name. “Elizabeth—”

“It was dark, just like the crypt,” Elizabeth murmured. “And I kept thinking someone was going to come get me. That I would open my eyes and be back in that tiny little room—I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. And Zander was there, and I just wanted that to go away.”

“We don’t have to talk about this—”

“We do, because I need you to understand what happened next.” Elizabeth turned her body to face his slightly. “When you came over the next morning, I was still trying to process what I’d done. I couldn’t—I couldn’t understand it. And then you looked at me like I was nothing.”

“I—” Jason exhaled slowly, but his shoulders were still tense. “I was hurt,” he admitted. “I know we hadn’t—”

“We hadn’t said what we both knew was true. But then I knew that I’d ruined it. And I was still having the panic attacks. I didn’t know that’s what they were. I was just scared all the time, and I—I didn’t want to be alone. So, I thought if I had ruined things with you, then I should make it count. So, I thought…I thought maybe I could find something with Zander.”

Jason hesitated. “You were having panic attacks a lot?” he asked, almost forcing the words out. “When—did they stop?”

“After the warehouse exploded, after I was shot, I stopped lying to myself and to Zander. Because I started to think I hadn’t…that maybe I hadn’t ruined everything.” She licked her lips. “I went back to the hospital for a follow up a few days after the funeral to get my stitches taken out. And I got stuck in the elevator. There was another black out. I was trapped in that little space with no light, and it was like all my nightmares coming back.”

“You—why didn’t you—” Jason closed his eyes. “You didn’t tell me because I wasn’t there to tell. I pushed you away.”

“I guess. I mean, I was trying to get you to give me a chance. And maybe if you had been there, I would have told you. I don’t know. I can’t answer that. When the power came back, Gram was there when I got out. I don’t remember what happened after that. She told me that I—I had this glazed look in my eye. Like I wasn’t even there. She took me home, and after a while, I was myself again. She brought me home a pamphlet—”

Elizabeth pulled out her small purse and took out a piece of paper that had been folded so many times it was weak at the edges and nearly in pieces. “She said she’d talked to Gail Baldwin about what I’d told her. She wanted me to go see her.”

Jason carefully unfolded the paper and his jaw clenched. “Acute stress disorder. Like…Carly.”

“Left untreated, it often develops into full-fledged Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. You know that already.”

“I—I do.” Jason looked at her. “You said you hadn’t seen Gail since before the fire—”

“I refused to go. I thought I was making headway with you.” She offered him a half smile. “It was after that night I tricked you into meeting here. When you kissed me, I thought I was—I thought if I just fixed what was wrong with me, then I wouldn’t be scared all the time. If I went into therapy because of what happened at the crypt, I knew you’d feel like you’d been right.”

“And that I would push you away again.” Jason carefully folded the pamphlet up and returned it to her. “How long—how long—”

“Gram got me through it. She got some things from Gail that I could do on my own. She talked me through panic attacks, taught me how to get myself through them. And then Zander got hurt, and I brought him to you—Gram wanted me to leave. To focus on me, but I was doing so much better by then. I was distracting myself by worrying about you.” She managed a smile, but it was a sad one. “The last panic attack I had was the night I found out the truth.”

“The night you left.”

“Yeah. That three hours I told you I waited for you to come home?” she reminded him. “I don’t really remember most of it. I—Zander and I saw it on the news, and he was pissed off. He was gone in the first hour. And then I was alone. And I—I don’t know. I guess I was scared. Or whatever. I don’t know what triggered it. But when I came out of it, I saw it had been three hours.”

“Elizabeth—” Jason clenched his hands into fists. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.”

“I don’t expect you to say anything. I just—a lot of what I said and did during my panic and anxiety attacks—I honestly don’t remember. I know I said some awful things to you; I remember parts of it. But I was just trying to breathe, and I wanted you—” She closed her eyes. “No. That’s not important—”

“Yes, it is,” Jason insisted. He took her hands in his. “Tell me what you wanted me to do that night. For months, I’ve played that conversation over and over again in my head, trying to figure out what I could have done differently.”

“I thought you didn’t look back,” she whispered, her eyes burning, the chill of tears sliding down her cheeks. “I wanted you to come in, take me in your arms, and make me feel safe. But you didn’t. You came in and you looked at me like I was…like you already knew it was over. And then you said I didn’t matter—that’s what I heard you say anyway.” She exhaled on a shaky sigh. “I kept myself busy after that. I threw myself into helping Lucky. I did the exercises Gail gave me. And…I just tried not to think about it.”

Jason cupped her cheeks in his hand—almost the way he’d done eleven months earlier when they’d been here before. “And you were afraid to tell me because you already thought I saw you as weak.”

“I wanted to be strong enough to keep you,” she managed to force out. “And I was terrified I wasn’t. And when you didn’t tell me—I thought that was proof.” She closed her eyes, leaned her face into one of his hands, while his other tucked her hair behind her ears. “But I need to tell you everything that happened last year because I don’t want it between us anymore. I just want to move on with my life. With you.”

“That’s all I want, too.” He leaned forward, brushed his lips against hers. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

August 8, 2019

This entry is part 3 of 23 in the series All of Me

Struggling between the facts and fiction
I’m alone but I’m alive
Everyone around me is trying to make a statement
Then there’s me
I’m just trying to survive

Disarray, Lifehouse


Monday, July 14, 2003

PCPD: Squad Room

Taggert sat down in the chair next to Vinnie and set some files on the desk. “We need to talk, Vinnie.”

“This better not be about my closure rate,” the younger man grumbled as he threw down his pencil. “I closed two cases last week—”

“This is about the open sexual assault cases—including the one you picked up a few weeks ago.” Taggert put a finger on the files. “You haven’t given me any updated reports.’

“No updates to give.” Vinnie reached for his own notepad. “I got Dana Watson, aged 21. Attacked and raped on February 14. No witnesses, Watson can’t give me anything useful, and with no suspect, I can’t put her kit in for testing. May 30, I got Renee Norton, aged 16. Raped near the Angel fountain. My only suspect is her ex-boyfriend, but he’s got an alibi I can’t shake, so Mac shut me down to process the rape kit. And Wendy Morris, July 2. Age 23. Raped and attacked near Martin memorial. No suspects, no kit.”

Taggert grimaced. “And you don’t think these are linked?”

“No, I think the Herald ran a bunch of articles because Watson was attacked, and it gave some people ideas. She’s an intern there.” Vinnie shrugged and stuck a lollipop in his mouth. “What do you want me to do? I got no witnesses, no forensics because of budget cuts, and until Mac lets me do anything with them, I can’t even say they’re linked or not. Welcome to Major Crimes, Tag. This is the shit I live with.”

Taggert wanted to find some fault with Vinnie’s logic but simply couldn’t. “I get it. Look, these cases are dragging down your closure rate. Let me take them off your hands so Mac can come at me. It won’t be the first time we’ve argued about rape kits and budgets.” He pushed himself to his feet. “Leave your case notes on my desk.”

“We talked about this, Tag. I don’t wanna dump my cases on you—I wanna see them through—”

“And you will. But if I’m primary on them, it makes them my problem. And like I said…” He offered a sour smile. “After the bullshit with the Corinthos kidnapping, I got some cards I can play. You don’t want the Herald sniffing out the like crimes and telling us we got a serial rapist on our hands.”

“Yeah, I guess. They are fucking with my closure rate.” Vinnie leaned forward, flipped through some files. He handed three manila folders over. “The kits are down in Evidence, still waiting for someone to give a damn.” He hesitated. “Keep me in the loop, though. I wanna know if we can get these bastards.”

“Thanks, Vinnie.” Taggert took the files and returned to his desk where he began to sort through them and make notes of his own.

GH: Gail Baldwin’s Office

“Let’s talk about homework,” Gail said as she brought the session to a close. “Have you thought about why you didn’t tell Jason about your stress disorder last year?”

“Yeah. I mean, I kind of always knew why I didn’t tell him then. I—” Elizabeth chewed on her bottom lip. “I think back then, I was afraid if I told Jason that I had slept with Zander during an anxiety attack, it would have made the tensions so much worse. He already hated Zander, and I just—I didn’t want to make it worse. Zander didn’t know.”

“You never told him either.”

“No, but it wouldn’t have occurred to me. It was a moment of madness and what came after was just…my desperate attempt to salvage something.” She sighed and leaned back against the sofa. “But I told Jason the other night.”

“Oh? How did it go?”

“Okay, I think. I don’t know. He was upset because I know he blames himself for not seeing something was wrong. And it doesn’t help that it was going on at the same time he was pushing me away, then lying to me about Sonny—he’s been quiet since.”

Gail tilted her head. “Quiet?”

“I can’t…” Elizabeth squinted, trying to articulate the words. “I don’t really know if I can explain it, you know? It’s not like we’re not talking to each other. Until Monica clears me health-wise, we can’t really do anything else. But there’s just this…tension that I don’t understand. I don’t know—he’s been staying at his penthouse again since Courtney moved out, but she’s only across the hall.”

“Are you worried about that?”

“No.” Elizabeth quickly shook her head. “No. It’s not like last year. I see Jason every day. We have breakfast at Kelly’s a lot—just to touch base. And then we go for a drive on the bike after he’s done work. We drive for hours…it’s been great.”

Gail nodded. “But you think something is bothering him?”

“Yes. I guess so. I mean, I don’t know if I can just make it because of me. I know there’s a lot going on. Sonny and Carly went through absolute hell—”

“Have you asked?”

Elizabeth pressed her lips together, then shook her head. “No. Should I?”

“I don’t know. You know Jason better than anyone.” Gail paused. “But I imagine we should talk about why you’re not asking him. I’m not saying you need to—”

“But there’s something bothering the man I love and I’m holding myself back from asking about it. So that’s probably me expecting the worst, right? Like maybe I think he’s having regrets. He’s—things are back to normal for the most part, and maybe I don’t fit.”

Gail was silent, and Elizabeth sighed. “Yeah. I guess this is me not wanting to rock the boat. I just told him about the crap from last year when I knew he already felt guilty for how I took everything. I guess…maybe I just wanted to coast a little bit. And plus, like I said earlier, Ric got out on bail, so maybe that’s it.”

Her therapist just raised her brows, and Elizabeth bit her lip. “But I should ask him. Or at least really think about why I’m afraid to. Does that mean I don’t believe him when he says he loves me?”

“That’s something we can talk about in a few days.” Gail rose to her feet. “But that’s your homework for this session. Why are you so afraid of change?”

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

 Carly scowled down at a furniture catalog and threw it aside. It landed on top of three other catalogs, and the fourth was too slick and heavy. It slid off the sofa and hit the floor, its pages fanning open. She stared down at it, trying to gather the energy to sit up and get it.

She could leave it there. Sonny, the neat freak, wasn’t home to complain about it.

“Here, I’ll get that,” her sister-in-law offered as she came back from the kitchen. Courtney handed Carly the bowl of ice cream she’d gone to fetch and picked up the Wyndham’s catalog. She set it on the coffee table, then reached for the others to set on top. Maybe to avoid a similar avalanche.

Courtney had been relentlessly chipper and helpful since she’d moved in officially the week before, lugging all of her things from Jason’s penthouse and the few odds and ends she’d tucked away in storage after moving out of her loft.

Carly had a dark feeling that this syrupy twit might be closer to the real Courtney than the one that had tried to toughen herself up to be with a mob enforcer. And every time her sister-in-law opened her mouth, Carly wanted to shove her fist down it.

But that wasn’t Courtney’s fault, Carly reminded herself. And the other woman was handling everything better than almost anyone else. Probably because she’d been the least involved. Damn it. It was thoughts like that chipped away at the fledgling friendship they were trying to build.

“I’ve been thinking of finding somewhere else to stay,” Courtney offered as she settled on the other sofa, her own bowl of ice cream perched in one hand. She dug into the mint chocolate chip with the other hand. “I can’t believe Sonny’s a morning person, so I figure he’s been leaving for the warehouse at the crack of dawn to avoid me.”

Carly frowned, both irritated at Courtney’s presumption that Sonny would change his schedule for her, and also because…well, she was probably right. And Carly was frustrated that she couldn’t avoid Courtney until the late afternoon. She’d promised her mother and the doctors she wouldn’t go back to her old work schedule just yet, but man, she couldn’t wait to go back to The Cellar full-time. “A lot of stuff probably got backed up while I was gone,” she reminded Courtney. “Don’t make it about you.”

Courtney pressed her lips together. “Yeah, it’s never about me. That’s been made very clear.” She moved her spoon around the bowl, the metal clanking against the ceramic. “So, Sonny’s always this moody, and you guys always fight this much? It’s not because I’m here?”

Carly furrowed her brow. “We’re not fighting.” Were they? “It’s—it’s been hard. Sonny feels guilty for not being the one that found me. For how much pressure Jason put on himself—” She shook her head and sat up, wincing as her back twinged. She felt about a hundred years more pregnant than she had the night she’d been kidnapped. “I know you’re unhappy, Courtney—”

“Unhappy,” Courtney repeated, her mouth pinched as she set her half-eaten bowl on the coffee table. “Look, I get it. I’m selfish. I’m thinking about me after you and Elizabeth were traumatized by Ric. I know that being pissed at her when she literally didn’t do a damn thing to me makes no sense. But it doesn’t change the fact that a month ago, I was planning my wedding.”

Carly exhaled slowly, admitting silently that Courtney maybe had some good reason to be as hurt and put out as she was trying not to act. If Carly was in her position, if she’d been basically jilted at the altar and Sonny had returned to an ex—God, forbid, if Sonny had left her and taken up with Brenda—she probably wouldn’t be handling it well.

“Courtney, I’m sorry if you feel like—”

“I had a brother,” Courtney continued. “And a best friend who seemed liked they cared about me. I had a wonderful man who was planning to share his life with me. Were we perfect? No. Did I know things weren’t all that great—I guess I can see it now. Even admit it. I ignored all the red flags because I thought if we could get married, he would remember how happy I made him when we started.”

“I know Sonny and I—” Carly hesitated. “I know we haven’t been maybe as supportive as I should have been—”

“It’s not even that. I don’t expect you and Sonny to hold my hand. Not after what happened to both of you. I mean, damn it, Carly, you were in the hospital, and I asked you if you’d noticed Jason having an affair while you were being held hostage.” She rolled her eyes. “It was like I was outside of my body, listening to myself ask those questions, and I wanted to hit myself.”

“Well, yeah, that did piss me off,” Carly admitted. “But I can’t say I wouldn’t have had the same thought.”

“The thing is—the thing that I know drives me crazy—maybe Jason and I could have salvaged things if I could have meant it when I said I was sorry I called the PCPD. I know they screwed up the investigation, but—” She shook her head. “I’m not sure I want to live in a world where calling the police makes me the villain.”

Carly dragged herself to her feet, bracing a hand at the small of her back as her muscles protested. “I get it,” she murmured. “To be part of this world, you have to take certain things for granted. It’s one thing to say you get it. It’s another to live it.”

“If Jason and I had stayed together, it just would have been prolonging the inevitable.” Courtney drew her legs up, tucked them under her chin. “I know why Sonny is the way he is. And I know why Jason is loyal to him. I really thought—I thought I got it. I went to Sonny when I was being stalked. Not the police.”

“So, what changed?” Carly asked. “What made you call the PCPD that night? You knew better—”

“I truly believed I thought I was helping. I still think that. But why did I do it myself and not try to talk to Sonny and Jason? Why didn’t I even give them a chance to go to Ric’s—” She met Carly’s gaze, tears shimmering in her blue eyes. “I was so angry at Jason when he was yelling at me. He kept telling me if the police hadn’t shown up, he could have gotten Elizabeth out of there. She’d been drugged. Ric nearly killed her that next day with the drugs—I read about it in the paper. And Sonny could have dragged Ric out of there, forced him to give you up that first night—”

“Courtney…” Carly bit her lip. “You couldn’t have known—”

“But I knew the rules. Maybe I was sabotaging myself. Maybe I knew that they rushed out of there for you, but that Jason was probably already thinking about Elizabeth. She was always there, Carly. I have eyes, I’m not stupid. He didn’t want to marry me. I was willing to keep trying, but do I think we actually would have made it? No. We would have lasted maybe six months. If that. Because Jason is a good man.”

She squeezed her eyes shut. “But she was always there, and he was just waiting for any sign he still had a chance. How do I ignore that he took the first opportunity to put himself back in Elizabeth’s orbit?”

“You made it easier for him by calling the cops and letting them search without a warrant.”

“Not on purpose. I didn’t—I didn’t see it until I heard him—” Courtney bit her lip. “He came home to grab clothes a few times, and one of those times—he was talking to Elizabeth. I could hear how worried he was. And then Sonny had his breakdown…and I just—I couldn’t do it anymore. He broke up with me, and I went to the island. But when I came back, when you were found…”

Courtney laughed through her tears, but the self-loathing was evident.  “I decided to try one last time to guilt him back to me. I tried to shame him into loving me. God, how desperate am I, right? I was a rebound. I can say that now. I just wanted to belong somewhere. No one had the time of day for me before I started dating Jason.”

Carly pressed her lips together, nodded. Admitted the truth of that to herself. “I pushed you two together. I did that because I don’t like Elizabeth, and I wanted him away from her.” She hesitated. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done anything.”

“Yeah, well, it doesn’t matter. Because things are back the way they should be. He’s with her, and I’m…nowhere. I need to do something, try something else. I just—” Courtney shrugged. “I just don’t know what.”

PCPD: Commissioner’s Office

Mac scrubbed his hands over his face. “This…I do not need today, Taggert. We just…” He shook his head, looked down at the report the lieutenant had prepared for him. The irrefutable evidence that something terrible was lurking in Port Charles Park. “We just started digging ourselves out of the media sink hole, and you’re telling me that there’s a serial rapist and we missed it for months.”

“I don’t know if I can say Vinnie missed it on purpose. He’s not great at details,” Taggert admitted as he paced the length of the office. “But there’s enough time between the Watson and Norton attacks that maybe I could buy not seeing it then. And I looked at the case file. He’s right — the Norton case had a suspect, but there was an alibi. I’m not sure anyone would have made the link for sure until Morris on July 2.”

Mac rubbed the back of his neck. “Okay. Well, we’ve made the link. And I can see you’ve taken over all three cases. What do you need from me?”

“I want to send all three out to forensics, to see if I can get an official link. I also want to release a statement to the public, warning them to be careful in the park after dark. It’s just lucky the Herald hasn’t printed the story yet. I asked them to hold it until I could get all the details. They agreed, but I’ve got maybe a week.”

“The time between attacks is getting shorter,” Mac pointed out as he took another look at the timeline. “Watson on February 14, Norton three and a half months later. Then Morris five weeks later. You’re not getting much of a cooling off time.”

Something rolled in the pit of his stomach. Park. Fountain. He opened the folder and looked at the trio of photographs of the victims. Brunettes. Teens. Early twenties.

Just a coincidence, he told himself. He forced away the thought. He was just thinking about the Webber case because of the threat of a lawsuit against the city and his argument with Floyd a few days ago about it. Baker was guilty, he’d confessed. Mac had done what he’d done to make sure he’d gone to prison. End of story.

“Yeah, but I don’t want the papers to have it first,” Taggert told him. “If you can get the mayor to sign off a press release, and the city council to approve some overtime—we can get the story in the papers in a few days.”

“You want the mayor to approve a press release about a serial rapist in an election year?” Mac raised his brows. “Yeah, well, that’s probably not going to happen. Who else knows about the case in the squad room? Who do you have working it?”

“All of my division,” Taggert told him. “I have Rodriguez and Falconieri running down security footage and possible witnesses from around the park. I haven’t pulled Spencer in officially yet, but I’m sure he’s aware of it. Vinnie—these were his cases. And probably Beaudry. He was the responding patrol officer to Watson and Norton.”

“Okay.” Mac shook his head. “I can submit a budget request, Taggert, but I’ll be honest. The city council isn’t all that happy with the PCPD, not after the Lansing case. Some of them are probably going to be running on criminal justice reform. I’ll try to use that as leverage, but you know how they are when we ask for money.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I get it. Well, we’ll do what we can. I know the mayor might say no, Mac, but we need to ask. If nothing else,” Taggert said as he took back his files. “We need to cover our own asses. Because if this blows up in our faces—”

“Floyd will make sure it blows back on us. Yeah, I’m familiar. I’ll ask for both, but we’ll have to come up with a Plan B if we don’t get one or both.”

Condo: Living Room

After eating takeout from Eli’s, Elizabeth rose to take the dishes to the kitchen while Jason discarded the trash into the garbage can underneath one of her counters.

After her session with Gail earlier that day, she’d returned to her place to sort through her art materials—to play with some colored pencils and sketching, trying to get her groove back. A few hours later, Jason had come by with dinner—and they’d talked about their days.

But she still hadn’t asked him what was bothering him. And she couldn’t really figure out why she was holding back.

She walked over to the windows overlooking the harbor and wrapped her arms around her torso. Jason came up behind her, and she leaned back into his embrace, his arms encircling her shoulders. “You okay?”

“I think that’s supposed to be my question.” She turned around in his arms and peered up at him. “You don’t talk to me.”

Jason’s brow furrowed and he stepped back, his hands falling to his sides. “Elizabeth—”

“I mean, you talk to me, but you don’t—” She bit her lip. “It’s always me starting the conversation. You don’t tell me what’s going on.”

“I tell you—” He shook his head. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Something has been bothering you for a few days, but I haven’t asked you. And you know why? Because I know you won’t tell me.” Her eyes burned. Because, God, now she knew. “It’s fine for me to pour my heart out to you, to open up—but you don’t do the same. Unless I make you. Do you have any idea how exhausting that is?”

Jason pressed his lips together. “You know there are things—”

“No.” She sliced a hand through the air. “No. You don’t get to say that. You don’t get to ever use that again. Because that’s not the kind of thing that bothers you. You don’t bring that home with you. Whatever is going on is personal.”

He hesitated—for just a second—before shaking his head. “I don’t know what you want me to say—”

“I just—” She bowed her head. “I guess there’s nothing to say. You say you love me. You make me think it’s true. But this can’t work unless you talk to me. I know something is going on—”

“And I’m supposed to tell you every single thought I have?” Jason asked with some skepticism. “I’m not allowed to keep anything to myself?”

Everything inside her sunk because she’d seen this coming. “Last year—”

“I don’t want to talk about last year anymore,” Jason cut in with a flash in his eyes. “We both messed up. We both made mistakes. Stop bringing that into this—”

Elizabeth sucked in a sharp breath. “Fine. Never mind. Forget I asked.” She skirted around him and sat down in her armchair, picked the sketchpad and a pencil up from the small table next to it and tried to pick up on the sketch she’d begun before his arrival.

“Elizabeth, don’t—”

Don’t tell me another thing I can’t do.” She squeezed the pencil hard. “Don’t ask what’s wrong. Don’t talk about last year. Don’t do this. What do you want me to do, Jason? I know something is bothering you, but I guess I’ll just ignore it.  That’s what you want me to do, isn’t it? So, fine. The door’s over there. You know the way out.”

Jason exhaled slowly and then sat on the edge of the coffee table in front of her. “I’m sorry. You’re right.”

“Just once,” she murmured. “I’d like you to come to me without having to feel like I’ve forced you to say anything.” She met his eyes. “I’m tired of always being open. Always taking the first step. Because now, even if you tell me, it’ll be because I’m angry. Because you don’t want me to walk away again. Not because you genuinely want to tell me.”

He dipped his head. “I’ve gotten used to keeping things to myself. Not even telling Sonny. Even before everything—in the last few months with Robin, everything I said or did made her angry. Made her sad. I couldn’t say anything right, so I stopped saying anything at all. And with Carly, it never mattered what I felt. What I said. She did what she wanted.”

“I’m not Robin, and I’m sure as hell not Carly.” Elizabeth drew her knees up to her chest. “I know we both have issues—baggage. We not only hurt each other, but we’ve been hurt by other people. We’ve hurt them. I don’t expect to fix everything that’s wrong with me in a few weeks. And maybe it’s not fair to expect more from you than I do myself—”

“But you do open up,” he cut in with a heavy sigh. He rubbed his eyes. “And I don’t. If I had been more honest with you last year, if I had told you how much I loved you, how much better you made my life—I never said it. I know that. If I had—”

“You never used to think about ifs.”

“I never used to lie either,” he muttered. “Look, something is…bothering me. And I can’t tell you. It’s just—it’s not about the business. I just—I can’t tell you.”

“Okay,” Elizabeth said slowly. “Will you tell me when you can?”

“Yeah, I will.” Jason rubbed the back of his neck. “We’re going to have to skip the ride tonight. I have somewhere to be—that I can’t tell you about.”

“Fair enough. I love you, Jason. I don’t mind if we have to work at this,” she murmured. “Just…I don’t want to do it by myself.”

“You won’t.” He rose, and then drew her to her feet so he could cradle her face in his hands. “I love you, Elizabeth. I’m not always good at showing it or even telling you, but I promise you that it’s true.”

“I know it is.” She pressed her lips to his in a soft kiss. “I love you. I’ll see you tomorrow for breakfast.”

Kelly’s: Dining Room

Brooke grumbled and leaned over a table, scrubbing at a milkshake stain. “God, I hate kids,” she muttered. She glanced over to find Lucas Jones with their last table of customers, a group of college kids from PCU. She could tell that Lucas knew them from the way they were talking and laughing.

Lucas had the easy job tonight—she was on bus duty to learn the value of the dishes she kept breaking, Bobbie had told her.

She hated this job even if it did keep her busy. She just wanted to be in her room, writing her music but there was no money in that. Not yet. And she’d promised her father she’d try.

She glanced back over at the group and squinted when she saw one of the guys touch Lucas’s arm.

Well, well. She was a woman of the world, and she knew that look. She smiled but returned to her cleaning. One more table and then they could close. Man, she really wanted to get out of here and get off her feet.

When the college kids had left, Lucas joined her behind the counter as they started cleaning up and preparing for closing.

Brooke slid a look at him from under her eyelashes before returning to her receipts. “You know the worst thing about my Ma grounding me the entire month before she shipped me up here?”

Lucas snorted, as if expecting some sort of spoiled rich girl anecdote. “No. What’s the worst thing? They take away your Porsche?”

Brooke rolled her eyes. “No, I couldn’t hang out with my friends at Pride Week. You know that Brooklyn does the best parade.”

Lucas froze, staring straight ahead. “You…go to Pride Week.”

“Yeah, I’m not really sure when I figured it out,” Brooke said with a shrug. “I think it was the Spice Girls, you know? They were just really pretty, and I couldn’t get into the boy bands the way my friends did. But then I met this one chick at a club—that I wasn’t supposed to be in, but hey, when in Brooklyn—and we got drunk.” Brooke shot him a wicked grin. “Girls know what girls want better, you know?”

“Brooke.” Lucas exhaled slowly. “Listen. Are you—”

“You’re not out to your family yet, are you?” Brooke asked. “Me either. I think my dad would probably be all right, and Ma—maybe. But man, the rest of the Cerullos are die-hard Catholics.” She shrugged. “So not interested in being told I’m going to hell.”

Lucas bit his lip. “No, I’m not out. I’ve been seeing that—one of those guys—for a few weeks. We’ve been fighting about—” He looked at her. “His name is Felix.”

“I know, I saw. He’s cute.” Brooke leaned against the counter. “You worried about not only telling your ma you like boys, but that you also like black boys?”

No,” Lucas said forcefully. “No, she’s not like that. It’s not—” He grimaced. “I’m not sure I really understand. I know my family would be supportive. I know Maxie and Georgie would be great. And God, Lu would probably invite Felix over for dinner. And Mom would be good.”

“And yet…”

“And yet.” Lucas smiled weakly at her. “You get it. The world sucks. Just because I think the people I love would be okay…it doesn’t mean…it doesn’t mean that they will be.” He squeezed his eyes shut. “I’m not sure I’m ready to know for sure.”

“Me either,” Brooke said with a nod. “I can’t ever take it back once I go public. But ignorance is bliss, ya know? What’s the community like here? Is there one?”

“A small one, but not much for anyone under twenty-one.” Lucas put the money into the deposit bag and slid it into the safe in the kitchen. “You were such a bitch when you got here.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not a nice person,” Brooke said with a careless shrug. “And I didn’t like feeling like I didn’t have a choice. Plus, I was seeing this one girl, Rosa, and she’s not into long-distance so…” She pursed her lips. “I could have crashed with friends in Brooklyn, you know. But I thought my ma didn’t want me around anymore.”

“Do you still think that?”

“I don’t know. I think being a parent is probably more complicated than that. Like my parents love me and all, but maybe I’m just a reminder of a time in their life they’d rather forget.” Brooke sighed. “Anyway. You want to dish about boys, you come to me. And when I want to talk about girls—” Her eyes brightened. “Oh, hey, you can be my beard.”

“Can guys be beards?” Lucas asked as they moved through the kitchen towards the back door. He flipped out the kitchen light. “Is that even a thing?”

“Hey, the rules are what we make them.” She flashed him a smile before they separated at their cars in the parking lot.

“Hey, Brooke—Dillon’s dragging us to this movie festival tomorrow—” He called from his car as he opened the door. “You can be my date.”

“Wouldn’t miss it.”

Pentonville Prison

The room was windowless and austere with cement walls, a plain rickety wooden table, and a single light bulb swinging from the ceiling.

When Jason’s contact escorted the man inside the room, he wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The man who entered was thin and nearly bald. He wore a blue shirt, his pants in a much darker shade of the same color. Tom Baker seemed to have aged thirty years in the five years since Jason had last visited him.

His dark, beady eyes were terrified as the guard shoved him down in the chair opposite of Jason’s, so Jason assumed the man remembered the last time he had been there.

“I don’t want no trouble!” Baker threw up his hands, the handcuffs binding his wrists shining in the dull light.

“That’s why I’m here,” Jason said simply. He set the letter in front of him, still crumbled into a ball. “You sent a letter to Elizabeth Webber. What did I say the last time we spoke?”

“I didn’t go near her,” Baker sputtered. “I just…I wanted to make it clear that I—” He looked back around, but the guard has closed the door. They were alone. What little color had filled his cheeks drained. “You gonna kill me for a letter?”

“You tell me the truth,” Jason said evenly, “and I’m not laying a hand on you. Elizabeth…” He hated saying her name to this asshole, but some things were necessary. He leaned forward slightly. “You put yourself back in her head. You swear you’ll stay away from her and make me believe it…just maybe you make it back to your cell. Maybe you even get parole.”

Baker swallowed. “I’m up for parole and this time I’ll get it. My sentence is almost done, they’re overcrowded. But I get out, I’m not stupid. You’re waiting for me. I read the papers. You’re in Port Charles. I saw…I saw what happened last month. You and her are together again so I figure it’s in your head. And your sister—I mean, I just…I didn’t do it. I lied,” Baker said, his voice still shaking. “I just…I lied. She said something, and I ran with it to keep control.”

Jason knew his face didn’t change, that he didn’t move a single muscle, but this…this he hadn’t seen coming. Hadn’t even expected something like this.

And shit, he almost believed that this little piss ant didn’t have the courage or balls to rape anyone. He had committed his crimes in secret—blackmail was a passive crime, and when Baker had been confronted—he’d panicked instead of running.

“But I didn’t. That’s not me. I—” Baker closed his mouth. “It’s not important what happened. You just need to know it wasn’t me. So, we can just leave it all alone. Elizabeth was such a nice girl—”

“You don’t get to say her name,” Jason cut in. “Just shut up, Baker. The only reason you even made it to trial is because my sister wanted to be strong. And the only reason you’re walking away today is because you’re not worth the trouble. Not now.” He put the letter back in his pocket, then stood. “No more letters. She’s not going to go after your parole, and neither is anyone else involved. You’ll walk out of here and you’ll walk away. You come near her, I’m not going to be so nice.”

“But you believe me, right?” Baker demanded. “I didn’t do it.”

Jason said nothing as he exited the door to find the guard leaning against the adjacent wall. “Thanks,” he murmured as he passed him a handful of cash.

It disappeared into the guard’s pocket and he flashed a grin. “Anytime. I appreciate you not killing him. That shit is hell on the paperwork.”

Jason just shrugged and melted down the hallway towards the exit and his bike. Sonny had been right. He should have sent someone else to send this message. Should have known Baker would pretend it wasn’t him. But now the son of a bitch was in his head now, and he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to keep this visit from Elizabeth after all.

August 12, 2019

This entry is part 4 of 23 in the series All of Me

Please note that the final scene has a trigger warning. See Content Notes for more information.


And all the people say
You can’t wake up, this is not a dream
You’re part of a machine, you are not a human being
With your face all made up, living on a screen
Low on self-esteem, so you run on gasoline
Gasoline, Halsey


Tuesday, July 15, 2003

 Corinthos-Morgan Warehouse: Sonny’s Office

Sonny grimaced at the bright morning light filtering through his windows. He was a night owl and preferred working late into the evening, but…

His sister was a morning person so if Sonny remained in the penthouse, he had to deal with Courtney, and there was not enough coffee in the world to make that work for him.

It was just shy of eight when Jason stopped in the open doorway, and Sonny sighed. His partner looked as if he hadn’t yet slept and since he knew that he had not sent Jason on any task that required being out until the small hours of the morning—

“You went to see Baker last night, didn’t you?”

Jason hesitated, then came into the office proper. He slumped onto the sofa. “You were right. I should have sent someone else.”

“A lot of good it does me now,” Sonny muttered. He rose, crossed to the doorway, and peered out at the clerk who sat outside his office. “Can you get Jason a cup of black coffee? Thanks.”

He turned back to the exhausted and guilt-ridden younger man in his office. The clerk pressed the mug into Sonny’s hands, then Sonny closed the door. He handed the coffee to Jason. “Did you just get back or—”

“I couldn’t sleep after I left.” Jason sipped the coffee, then set it on the table next to the sofa. “I—” He shook his head. “Do I keep things to myself?”

Sonny squinted, not sure where the conversation was going. “You’ve always been a private kind of guy, but yeah, I guess you’ve been a bit more…closed off these last few years. I don’t blame you for it. You used to talk to me more, but I know—it’s been rough for a while.” He sat next to Jason at the other end of the sofa, stretched his arm out over the back. “I imagine you’re asking for a reason.”

“I had a fight with Elizabeth,” he muttered. “She said it feels like she has to force me to talk to her. That it’s always her starting it.” He scrubbed his hands over his face. “That’s not…is it true?”

Sonny waited a long moment, considering the question. “When you and I met, you had a way of just saying what you felt. You didn’t volunteer a lot, but you never ducked a direct question. You were honest, even when it hurt.” He exhaled slowly. “Yeah, I’d agree that part of your personality has changed. It’s not a bad thing. You just…learned how to protect yourself. Putting yourself out there got you hurt, too.”

“She knows something is bothering me,” Jason muttered. “She can always tell. And she asked me directly last night. I didn’t…I didn’t lie to her, but I’m not sure she’ll see it that way.”

He pushed himself to his feet. “I should have left it alone. I didn’t. I went to see him, and he said he didn’t do it.”

Sonny closed his eyes, shook his head. Damn it. “He’s lying. You know that, right?”

“I don’t know. I—when the trial happened, I stayed away. I didn’t want to make things worse for Emily. I didn’t even see Baker until I left town. And by then—” Jason paced the office. “He seemed weak to me. But I thought he’d been in prison for more than a year and was probably scared. I let it go. Elizabeth said he’d confessed.”

He pulled out the crumpled letter. It had been flattened, then folded a few times. “I read it.”

“Hell.” Sonny stood, pressing his hand to his chest, rubbing his heart. “Jase—”

“He wrote the same thing he told me last night. That she’d said something that made him realize she’d been raped, and he ran with it to control her. To get her into the dark room with Emily.” Jason stared down at the letter. “And you know what? That made sense to me. Because the guy who panicked and shoved my sister and Elizabeth into a dark room, who blackmailed a Quartermaine—nothing about that crime was violent.”

“Doesn’t mean anything, Jason. It doesn’t,” he repeated when Jason shook his head. “You said it yourself. He says. He confessed. He’s trying to back pedal—”

“What if he didn’t do it—”

“It’s awful to think about that,” Sonny said. “I don’t like the idea of the fucker who hurt her still being out there in the world. But she doesn’t know it, Jase.”

“No. But she should.” Jason turned back to his partner. “Last year, I wanted to tell Elizabeth about the plan, and you said no.”

“I was wrong—”

“And I listened to you. I let you talk me into keeping her in the dark even when I knew how much she hated being lied to.” Jason crossed to the window, stared out over the docks. “I told myself it wouldn’t be for long, that I would try not to lie to her face. But it didn’t change how hurt she was.”

“No, it didn’t. This is different, Jason. If you don’t tell her, it’s not like someone will come back from the dead and challenge it. She doesn’t know there’s anything to know. If you tell her now, if you do the exact thing she asked you not to do and put this all into her head again—it’s just gonna hurt her. Right now, she thinks it’s over. She has closure. You tell her the truth, it makes it now again.” Sonny lifted his brows. “Do you want to hurt her so you feel better? You don’t even know if he’s telling the truth.”

Jason exhaled slowly. “I don’t want to hurt her at all, but if she found out I did this and didn’t tell her—wouldn’t that be worse than a lie? After everything—” He shook his head. “We promised each other honesty. Even when it hurt.”

“People say that all the damn time. They always want honesty until they get it. I can’t make this choice for you,” Sonny said after a long moment. “I told you not to go. You went. And now you think you know this thing. But only we know. I’m not going to tell her—”

“I just—I wanted to make it go away,” Jason muttered. “But I can’t. I can’t ever make her rape go away. If I tell her because I feel guilty, you’re right. It’ll hurt her. And I don’t want to do that. Not right now, while she’s still figuring things out. Monica didn’t want a lot of stress—” He lifted a shoulder. “So I’ll just…put it away for now.”

“I know it’s hard, Jase, but you gotta do what’s right for her.” Sonny got to his feet. “I wish there was something else I could say.”

“Yeah, well, there’s not.” Jason shook his head, as if to clear it. He picked up his coffee cup and winced as he noticed the clock on the wall. “I’m late to meet Elizabeth for breakfast.”

“Go, I’ll see you when you get back.”

Quartermaine Estate: Family Room

Tracy, Edward, and Ned had left for the office before Monica or Alan had come down for breakfast that morning, and Alan had a meeting at the hospital. So it was just Monica and the teenagers sitting down to eat together.

Brooke was talking a mile a minute about one of the customers she’d had the day before and the fact that she didn’t expect much of a first paycheck. “I think I’ve broken every dish in the building,” she said with a laugh. “Tammy says I’m hopeless. I might be the worst waitress ever.”

“You did bring me a tuna fish sandwich on Sunday,” Dillon agreed, “which is basically a war crime. I hate tuna fish.”

“You’re settling in at Kelly’s all right, then?” Monica forced herself to ask. Having read Brooke the riot act two weeks earlier, she felt somewhat responsible for the girl’s well-being.

It wasn’t as if Ned knew how to take an active role. Monica may not have been the mother of the year, but she’d attempted to be there for her kids growing up which is more than one could say for Ned.

“It’s okay. Better than I thought, especially since Dillon talked the others into giving me a second chance.” The brunette offered her uncle a shy smile. “Thanks for that by the way. I hope it’s okay Lucas invited me to the movies tonight.”

“Lucas Jones?” Monica asked with a raise of her brow. “He’s a good kid. Bobbie and Tony think he’s going to be a great doctor.”

“How can you tell after one year in college?” Dillon asked. To Brooke, he said, “Nah, it’s fine. It’s an old movie festival, but I’m not sure Maxie knows that means it’s in black and white so it should be entertaining.” He hesitated. “Lucas and Kyle hate each other, you know that, right?”

“Yeah, he’s the only one I haven’t met. Should I expect a lot of fighting?”

“Hard to tell. As long as Kyle doesn’t give Lucas an opening, but he’s an agitator. So what I’m saying, Aunt Monica, is that you should probably be ready with bail.”

“You expect to throw a punch?” Monica asked with surprise.

“No,” Dillon sighed, “but the last time Kyle and Lucas went at it, Maxie tried to wade in, and then I was pulling her off and somehow I’m the one Sergeant Beaudry says was committing assault. It’s like being in school, you know? The kid who gets caught talking is always the second one telling the first one to shut their mouth.”

“Life’s just not fair,” Brooke offered with a smirk. Dillon scowled and lobbed a piece of melon at her.

“Better to learn that now.” Monica got to her feet. “I’m leaving for the hospital. If you need a lawyer, Dillon, Alexis is on retainer.”

“Good to know. Because, man, the last time, that jerk cop wouldn’t even give me my phone call. He’s, like, don’t believe everything you read in the movies. I mean, seriously, right?” Dillon shoved a piece of bacon into his mouth. “Violating my constitutional rights, would you believe it?”

“Welcome to Port Charles,” Monica said, dryly. “Where truth, justice, and the American Way is just a slogan.”

“Dude, you read Superman? I knew you were my favorite Quartermaine.”

Port Charles Municipal Building: Kelsey Joyce’s Office

When the point on Kelsey’s pencil snapped, she scowled and launched it across the room. It flew past a smirking Lucky, poised to knock on her open door. At the sight of him, she smiled, immediately lifted. “Hey. What brings you by?”

“I have warrant requests,” he said, holding up a few files. He sauntered into the office, pulling the door partially closed behind him, then set them down in front of her. He leaned in to kiss her.

She slid her hand up his neck, twining her fingers into the hair at the nape of his neck, holding him down so she could linger just a moment longer. “Hey,” she repeated, a bit more softly. “How’d you know I needed to see your face today?”

“I wanted to see yours.” He drew back and sat on the edge of her desk. “I had a good time on Saturday, and Beaudry needed these dropped off. I thought this was a great excuse to flirt in the daylight.”

Kelsey laughed and leaned back in her chair. “I definitely agree.” Her smile faded slightly as she looked back at the memo she’d been handed shortly before he’d arrived. “I guess you guys got a copy of this at the PCPD.” She held it out to him.

Lucky scanned it, grimacing as he did. “Yeah, Taggert hit the roof. I mean, Mac told him not to get his hopes up. Floyd was never going to allow the public to know there’s a serial rapist in the park. Not during the summer in an election year.” He shook his head. “We’re still waiting to hear from the city council about overtime and lab work requests.”

“Yeah, I saw the dinosaur policy. No processing rape kits without a suspect?” Kelsey snorted. “Maybe that made financial sense ten years ago, but the CODIS database is extensive now. I’ll talk to Scott. Maybe he can find the money in our budget.” She wrinkled her nose. “But what took Taggert so long to make the request?”

“He just made the link yesterday—” Lucky frowned. “Didn’t he? He took the cases from Vinnie—”

“I talked to Vinnie Esposito in June. Just after I took over. I brought up the Watson and Norton case.” Kelsey scowled. “You’re telling me he didn’t make the link official? Not even after Morris on the second?”

“No, I guess not. I didn’t know about Watson until yesterday.” Lucky leaned back, out of her way, as Kelsey shoved herself out of her seat.

She stalked the length of the office, then whirled to stab a finger at Lucky. “This is bullshit. The DA’s office made this link two weeks ago. We could already have security in place—I told Scott about this after the Morris case came in.” She shook her head, closing her eyes. “It’s my fault. It’s my division. I should have kept the pressure on Vinnie, followed up—”

“Hey—” Lucky crossed to her, taking her by the shoulders. “Hey. You’ve been here for a month, Kelsey. And you’ve already cleared half the cases in the office. It’s not your job to make sure the PCPD does theirs. We should be able to trust each other—”

“It’s just—” Kelsey took a deep breath. “I might be in over my head here, you know? I—I just got my license, and I’m it—I’m the only lawyer. It’s not even a real division. I’m doing everything—” She let her head fall forward into his chest. “I don’t know if I can do this.”

He tugged her closer, resting his chin on the top of her head. “Maybe then you can understand how something like this can slip through the cracks. Up until Taggert transferred and took over the division, Vinnie was the only investigating officer in Major Crimes. Beaudry isn’t much more than a glorified patrol cop. Even the best cop would miss something, and I think we can both admit Vinnie’s not much of a cop.”

“No, he’s definitely not.” She let herself stay in his arms for another minute before drawing back. “Whining about it doesn’t change anything,” she told him. “I can’t magically convince more people to transfer or join the DA’s office.  I did clear a lot of those pending cases, so I can be on top of this case now. And I’ll talk to Scott. We’ll get more resources.”

“Listen.” Lucky ran his hands down her arms, from the shoulders to the elbows, then back again. “Taggert put me on this case officially today. He wants it to be the only thing I work on. We’ll do it together, okay?” He nodded back towards her desk, where the memo from the mayor’s office lay. “If there’s another attack, the PCPD might try to blame someone. They might go after you. The mayor might go after you. So, save that memo. Write down everything.”

“I just don’t know if I could live with myself if something happened to another woman because I didn’t do enough,” Kelsey admitted. She squared her shoulders. “But I can’t let that hold me back. I’ll use it as a motivation.”

“Good.” He cupped her chin in one hand and kissed her again. “I’m on call tonight at the station, but tomorrow, I’ll be at the club. Come by. Bring the files. We’ll go over it while I work.”

“Okay.” She kissed him again. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Old Stone Bridge

When Jason pulled the bike to a stop that evening, Elizabeth climbed off and wordlessly handed him the helmet to stow on the back of the bike.

Things had been awkward between them all day long, since Jason had been almost a half hour late for breakfast, and then when he’d returned after work for another awkward dinner.

He didn’t know how to fix this silence between them without telling her what was bothering him, and Sonny was right. Telling her would only create more problems. He’d done something stupid and it was his burden to bear.

Elizabeth didn’t want Tom Baker in her head, and it wasn’t up to Jason to change that.

She leaned over the edge of the bridge, her elbows resting on the cream-colored stone. “It’s been a while since we came here.”

“Yeah, I guess we’ve just gone to Vista Point a lot lately. I thought—” Jason leaned his back against the bridge, looking down at the roughened surface of the ground. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Elizabeth twisted halfway so she was looking at him.

“You’re right. I don’t…really talk about what’s in my head unless someone…I guess force is the best word.”

“Jason, I don’t expect you to tell me everything,” she said after a moment. “But—”

“When something is bothering me,” Jason said slowly, “you want to make it stop. And if I don’t tell you, you can’t fix it.”

She smiled then, a bit of the warmth he’d missed all day seeping back into her expression. “Yeah, something like that. Not that I think I could fix things, but—”

Jason didn’t want to tell her about his visit with Baker. What the man had said. He couldn’t do that to her, but maybe there was a middle ground. A way to at least…broach the subject and see if she really didn’t want to know.  “The day you moved out of the house, you got a letter.”

Elizabeth’s eyes shuttered and all emotion disappeared. She looked away, out over the gorge. “Yeah.”

“You crumpled it up and threw it. When I got the box off the ground…I took the letter,” Jason admitted.

She was quiet for a long moment, squeezing her eyes shut. “Okay.” She opened her eyes, took a deep breath, but still didn’t look at him. “Okay. Did you read it?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t want to know,” she said immediately. She looked at him now. “I don’t ever want to know. I don’t care if he’s getting out on parole. Okay? I don’t want to know. I just want to forget about the letter. I don’t care what he wrote.” Her words came so fast, they were nearly tumbling over each other. “He has to stay gone.”

“Okay.”

“I mean it, Jason.” She tugged on his arm so he was facing her. “This isn’t something you can fix. You can’t make it so it never happened. I need you to promise me you’ll destroy it. That you’ll forget.”

“I don’t know if I can,” Jason admitted, his words low and tense. “I’m sorry. I can’t lie to you.”

Her fingers tightened on his arm, her nails almost digging into his skin. “Why? No, don’t answer that. Don’t—” She shook her head. “Okay, so you’ve been feeling guilty about not telling me you read the letter. Okay.” Elizabeth drew in a sharp breath. “Okay. Thank you. It’s done now.” She started back towards the bike.

“Elizabeth—”

“Tom Baker raped me before we ever met,” she said as she spun on her heel to look back at him. “It has nothing to do with you. It’s over. I made it over a long time ago, and you’re not going to make me think about it again.”

“Okay,” Jason said after a long moment. He dragged one of his hands through his hair. “I’m sorry.”

She nodded sharply. “Okay. I mean, I get it. You—” Elizabeth’s breath was shaky. “And maybe it’s wrong to not know. Not read it. But I think I’m the one who gets to decide what I can’t handle.”

He waited a moment. “I know. I’m sorry.”

“I have enough to deal with right now, okay? I almost died two weeks ago. I married a psychopath who fed me drugs and nearly killed me, and I lost a baby. I just—I can’t let Baker in my head again. I can’t. I put him away a long time ago, and I don’t care what he’s saying now.”

She wrapped her arms around her torso, and all he wanted to do was take her in his arms. Make it go away.

Make her feel safe.

But he’d done this. He’d brought this out in her. Just like Sonny had said—wanting to be honest with her had hurt her. There was no way in hell Jason would tell her now that he’d gone to see Baker. Or what he’d said. Not unless he had proof.

“Let’s just go, okay?” she asked. “Can we go? And…take the cliff roads? I really don’t want to think anymore.”

“Yeah.” He approached her, stopped in front of her. “I’m sorry—”

“No, I badgered you until you told me.” Elizabeth peered up at him. “I’m not…I’m not mad at you. Not really. I wish you hadn’t done it, but—” She leaned into him, sliding her arms around his waist. Jason took his first easy breath of the night and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, resting his chin on top of her head. They stood there, like that, for a while.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated. “I just didn’t want to lie to you.”

“I know. That matters, Jason.” She drew back and with a slightly forced smile, said, “Let’s go nowhere. Fast.”

“You got it.”

Harwin Theater: Sidewalk Entrance

Brooke had had high hopes for this night. She thought she’d made a good attempt making peace between herself and Dillon’s group of friends, as well as maybe even beginning a friendship with Lucas and Georgie.

Halfway through the double feature of Bette Davis movies, the night had collapsed in catastrophe. Not that it had gotten off to a great start. Maxie had decided not to tell Kyle that they were joining everyone else for the movies, and her boyfriend had been pretty steamed when they arrived.

Lucas had said something sarcastic that Brooke hadn’t really paid attention to, possibly insulting the size of Kyle’s penis which Kyle had taken exception to.

Somehow, Dillon had created peace between the two of them and the group had gone inside to buy tickets and concessions. They’d put Kyle and Lucas on opposite sides of the group as they had taken up half a row on their own.

But then as Jezebel got going, Maxie started to complain about the black and white film, just as Dillon had predicted. Lucas overheard and told Maxie she had shitty taste in movies and men. Kyle hadn’t liked the insult to him or his girlfriend and lunged to his feet.

Which sent his soda flying all over Maxie, who screeched, and the customer in the front row who had stood, turned, and clocked Kyle in the mouth.

Dillon had started to laugh; Georgie had yelled at him. Lucas had yelled at Georgie—

And before Brooke knew it, their feuding group had been sent outside.

“You’re just an asshole who likes to ruin things for everyone else!” Georgie told Kyle with a stomp of her foot.

“Oh, really? It was your boyfriend’s dumb idea to come to this stupid movie,” Maxie shot back, her cheeks flushed with anger. “We have color for a reason! It’s called progress.”

“It’s called culture,” Dillon snarled, because no one attacked Bette Davis.

“You’re a fucking asshole for ruining this,” Lucas shot at Kyle, who took a swing.

Brooke sighed, checked her watch, and eyed the park across the street. If she remembered right, on the other side of the park there was a bus stop that would take her past the Quartermaine mansion. She could cut through in ten minutes and be home before any of these idiots realized she was gone.

She slid away from the arguing teenagers and crossed the street diagonally, heading for the north entrance to the park.  It had been a long time since she’d walked through the park—but she knew it was faster than going around.

And she smelled like soda and popcorn, thanks to the goddamn food fight.

Brooke ambled down the stone paths, past a fountain, as she neared the center of the park. She wished now she had packed her iPod in her purse, but Dillon had convinced her to leave her safety net behind. She didn’t know why she listened to him—the fact that she was out here was mostly his fault.

It was clear that Kyle and Lucas hated each other, that nearly everyone had a poor opinion of Maxie’s boyfriend, so why did anyone bother?

Brooke passed the center of the park about ten minutes into the walk, smirking at the thought of the others. Had they noticed she was gone yet? Or maybe they wouldn’t notice at all. Maybe she was such a new addition, they wouldn’t even realize she’d left.

They barely knew she’d been there in the first place.

“Son of—” Brooke muttered as her shoelace, apparently having become untied, became trapped under her shoe, causing her to stumble and fly forward.

Her knee hit a sharp stone, and she glanced up at the fountain in front of her. Wincing as she climbed to her feet, she limped over to the bench and studied it. How many fountains were in this damn park? Had she gotten turned around?

Brooke examined the broken skin on her knee and the blood slowly oozing from the scrape, visible through the carefully torn jeans. “Well, this is definitely your life,” she muttered. “When you think things can’t get worse, they usually do.” It was going to hurt like hell to walk the rest of the way to the bus stop. Maybe she could call her father at a payphone or stop at the Port Charles Hotel. Her family owned it and it was just a few blocks down from the bus stop on Central Avenue.

She never had the chance to make that decision.

A hand clamped around her mouth, and Brooke jumped, shoved herself forward, but whoever had grabbed her had already snaked an arm around her waist, yanking her backward.

She was being lifted in the air—she tried to scream, tried to force sound through the fingers pressed against her mouth. She kicked, she dug with her hands at the weight behind her. And then bit down hard on the fingers—

She heard a growl, and then her back hit the ground with a thud. “Bitch!” a voice snarled, and then her head snapped back as his hand slapped her. He gripped her hair, then slammed her head against the ground.

Dizzy, with her ears ringing, Brooke felt herself being shoved onto her stomach, then cold, metal snapped around her wrists. In her fear, in her terror, she thought—was she being arrested?

No. No, now he flipped her back and she tried to look up, tried to focus on the man on top of her. Her heart was beating so fast she couldn’t breathe. “Help!”

She only managed one yelp before he slapped her again and something sticky was pressed against her mouth. Oh, God, Oh, God make it stop.

Brooke continued to struggle, tried to fight back—

He slammed her head against the ground once more, and everything tilted. Oh, it hurt so much—she heard the pull of a zipper—her jeans being pulled down—

She kicked out wildly, knew she’d connected when she heard an oomph. She rolled over, trying to crawl away—but he yanked her back by her hair until her head was next to his. “Not a word,” he murmured in her ear.

He threw her back to the ground, curled his hand into a fist again and punched her. Her vision exploded into a field of red—

And then he was on top of her and she couldn’t move. His heavy weight, his labored breathing, and the smell of soap permeated Brooke’s senses as she tried buck away—his fingers curled into her thigh, bare now that he had managed to drag her jeans off her. She screamed beneath the gag.

Oh, God. No, no—make it stop. Daddy. Someone. Someone

August 15, 2019

This entry is part 5 of 23 in the series All of Me

Why’d you have to wait?
Where were you, where were you?
Just a little late
You found me, you found me
Why’d you have to wait
To find me?
To find me?
You Found Me, The Fray


Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Port Charles Park

If anything happened to Brooke, his brother would make his life a living hell.

This had been the reasoning that Dillon offered to Kyle and Lucas when they had stopped fighting long enough to notice Brooke was gone.

Kyle had smirked, and Lucas had rolled his eyes, because that was clearly Dillon’s problem. Well, bastards, it was going to be their problem, because Ned was a Quartermaine.

And Quartermaines were really good at revenge.

Maxie and Georgie had agreed to get into Maxie’s car and drive around the park while the three guys had split the park into thirds, planning to meet on the sidewalk at the other side.

“You got your cell phones, right?” Dillon asked as they stood at the entrance of the park and at the division of the pathways. “They’re charged?”

“How dumb do you think I am—” Kyle held his hand up as Lucas opened his mouth. “Don’t say it. Never mind. We’re in a crisis here. Let’s knock this shit off until we find Brooke.” He checked his watch. “Maxie and Georgie should be at the bus stop right now—”

“And they haven’t called yet, so she’s probably in the park,” Lucas said, craning his neck with a grimace. “It’s a big park, do you think she got lost? I mean, how often did she visit growing up?”

“Not a lot. Okay, I’ll go straight down the middle,” Dillon told them, feeling better that the other two were more concerned. “Kyle, take the far left, Lucas, the far right. We’ll meet at the bus stop.”

“Okay.” Lucas took a deep breath. “She’s probably lost,” he repeated.

The trio divided and Dillon started his trek through the center of the park. He called Brooke’s name every few minutes, irritated that he’d allowed the night to end in complete disaster. He’d tried to be the good guy, hadn’t he? Tried to make peace between Maxie and her boyfriend and the rest of the group. He’d tried to make Brooke give his friends a chance, but what did it get him?

Searching the damn park at eleven at night for his niece who had decided to go off on her own. When Dillon found her—

The pathways met one another at the center of the park before splitting again, and Dillon sighed when they all three reached it at about the same time. “No sign?”

“Not a peep. Did you try her phone?” Kyle asked.

“Her parents took it as a punishment,” Dillon said. “Don’t worry, I’m going to be bringing that up in some great detail when Ned is blaming me for losing his kid.” He gestured to the path. “Let’s keep going.”

Five minutes later, Dillon reached the fountain that rested near the south entrance to the park—just twenty feet from the bus stop. He stared down at the ground—at the single sneaker laying on its side near the bench.

He knew that sneaker—the bright electric yellow high-top—Brooke had worn those shoes that night, and he’d pointed out it was so bright they would get kicked out of the theater. She’d just rolled her eyes—

Dillon’s heart started to pound—could you actually hear the sound of your own heart? He fumbled in his pockets for his phone and shakily—he found Lucas’s number in his contacts.

“Lucas.”

“You found her?”

“I don’t—I found her sneaker.” Dillon swallowed hard. “I haven’t—I didn’t look any further.”

“Where?”

“The south fountain—”

“I’ll meet you there.”

He placed a similar call to Kyle, put his phone back in his pocket and just stood there, listening to the water trickle down in the fountain. “Brooke?” he called, his voice trembling. “Brooke?”

Nothing.

Maybe she’d lost the shoe and was now, limping her way to the bus stop, cursing—but Dillon couldn’t think of any way someone could lose their sneaker that didn’t end in…

He’d watched too many movies. That’s all this was.

Lucas appeared, running towards him, breathing hard as he drew to a stop. He cleared his throat as he, too, saw the sneaker. “Dillon—”

Kyle arrived and the three of them stared at the sneaker for another long moment. “The girls haven’t called, have they?” Kyle asked, his voice subdued.

“No.” Lucas squeezed his hands into fists. “Should we call the police—”

Dillon took a deep breath. “No, I just—I didn’t want to be alone if I—” He met their eyes, these two men who had been at each other’s throats earlier. “I just didn’t want to be alone.”

“So, let’s look,” Lucas said, putting a hand on Dillon’s shoulder. As a group they began a search of the bushes and trees around the fountain—

It didn’t take them more than two minutes to find her.

Her jeans tossed beside her, her t-shirt in shreds, and her other sneaker peeking out from under a bush.

Her legs with scratches and blood—Dillon’s heart seized. Her legs laid open. Oh, God.

“Is she—” Kyle asked with a waver in his voice.

The pre-med Lucas took a deep breath and moved forward. With shaky fingers he reached for Brooke’s pale slim arm, placed two fingers at her wrist. After a moment, he nodded. “There’s a pulse. Call—call 911.”

He backed away and stopped Kyle as he started to approach. “Don’t touch her. Don’t touch anything. You’ll mess up the scene.” He met Dillon’s eyes as Dillon put his phone to his ear. “Tell them she’s unconscious, her pulse is faint, and that she’s been sexually assaulted.”

Port Charles Park

It was Taggert’s worst nightmare. Another attack in the park before the city council had had a chance to approve extra security. After the mayor had denied them the chance to warn the public. Taggert had hoped for more time, for a longer cooling off period.

But this guy had gone from eleven weeks to five to two. Would there be another victim this week? Next? How was Taggert supposed to protect the public if he wasn’t given the tools?

And the identity made everything worse. The granddaughter of the town’s most powerful and ruthless family. Not that it mattered to Taggert, but it would matter to the Quartermaines. It would matter to the mayor, to Mac, to the press—

Even if Brooke’s name was kept quiet, he knew the shit had hit the fan. They’d never be able to keep the Herald from printing the story. Which might be the only sliver of good news he’d find in this tragedy.

Taggert pulled the car to screeching halt at the south entrance to the Port Charles Park, his siren still wailing. He switched off the ignition, looked at the pale countenance of Lucky Spencer in the seat next to him. “You ready?”

“Yeah.” Lucky nodded. He took a deep breath. “Yeah. We need to—we need to get this guy, Taggert. Four women in six months—”

“Yeah, I know.”

They got out of the car and hurried the short distance between the entrance and the fountain, where they found a group of teenagers clustered. Taggert recognized the commissioner’s daughters standing with a trio of boys. Georgie had buried her head in Dillon Quartermaine’s chest, as her sister clung to a boy he didn’t recognize. Off to the side, Lucas Jones stood somberly, staring at the bushes.

Taggert’s attention was drawn to the stone bench and something rolled in the pit of his stomach. He glanced at the fountain, at the bench, and then at Lucky, who seemed to be coming to the same realization.  He hadn’t made the connection when he’d gotten the call, had only heard the bare details.

But now he remembered another young girl’s life destroyed in those bushes.

Beyond them, the crime scene unit had already arrived along with paramedics. Brooke Lynn Ashton had been loaded into a stretcher, a white cotton sheet pulled up to her chin. Behind her, a tech had plastic bags filled with cloth that resembled clothing, sneakers, and a purse.

“I want to go with her,” Dillon said. “I didn’t call Ned yet, but I want to go with her.” He stared at Taggert, almost defiant. “I’m her family—”

“Lucky,” Taggert said. “Take Dillon to the hospital. Get me a statement, okay?”

Lucky nodded. He scrubbed his hands over his face. “Yeah, okay. What about the notification—”

“Mac is already on his way to notify Ned.” Taggert put a hand on Lucky’s shoulders. “I know where we are, man. Put it away for now.”

“Yeah.” Lucky cleared his throat. He looked at Dillon. “C’mon, I’ll drive you in the car. We’ll probably beat the ambulance there.”

Dillon murmured something to Georgie who nodded and then broke away from her, following Lucky out of the park. Lucas stepped forward to put an arm around Georgie’s shoulder.

Taggert approached those who were left. “What happened tonight?” he asked. He generally didn’t like group statements, but there was little doubt that none of these kids were involved, and they needed to stick together.

The dark-haired boy with Maxie cleared his throat, stepped forward. “I’m Kyle Radcliffe. Um, we went to the movies—the Harwin—” he gestured behind him, in the direction of the theater. “It was a double feature. It started around nine, I think. But we, ah, got kicked out around ten-thirty.”

Taggert lifted his brows. “Okay.”

“We were fighting outside,” Maxie said, miserably. Her voice sounded thick as though she’d been crying. “All of us, except Brooke. I guess she got bored or mad, and decided to go. We didn’t—” she sucked in a deep sob. “We didn’t notice.”

“She knows all the bus stops in Port Charles,” Lucas offered, dully. “She doesn’t have a car, and she’s used to them from being in the city. She’s taken the bus from Central a lot because it has a route past the Quartermaine estate.”

“So, we thought maybe she’d gone through the park,” Kyle picked up the story. “Maxie and Georgie got in the car, went looking on the sidewalks, and we divided up the park.”

“How did you end up here together?”

“Dillon saw Brooke’s sneaker out here.” Lucas gestured. “And he didn’t—” He swallowed hard. “He didn’t want to find her alone. He called us both, and we came to meet him. And then we found her.” His voice faltered. “Um, her clothes were torn and scattered all around her. Her other sneaker—and she had bruises and cuts—um, her—” He shook his head.

“We thought maybe she’d been hurt…” Kyle continued another swallow. “Because her jeans were off—and her legs were…anyway, we called 911, and then I called Maxie. I didn’t want them out there alone.”

“We came here and waited for the cops,” Georgie said. She sniffled. “Can we go? I want to go to the hospital. I want to check on her.”

“Yeah, okay. We’ll probably have to sit down for a more formal statement, but yeah.” Taggert watched as the group filed out of the park, then turned to the crime scene techs. “Frankie, what do we got?”

“We got clothes, we got sneakers. Not much else.” Frankie shrugged. “Kids are right, though. She was likely raped or there was an attempt. We found her underwear in shreds near the jeans. He really did a number on her.”

“Fantastic.” Taggert scrubbed his hands over his face, a sour feeling settling in his abdomen. It was only going to get worse.

Quartermaine Estate: Study

 Ned grimaced and looked at his mother’s tired face as she stared at the report he’d just handed her. He looked at his grandfather, who looked impossibly old. They were surrounded by paperwork, similar reports. All of them with the same results.  “We’ll have to do an immediate recall.”

“I know.” Tracy leaned back, folded her hands in her lap. “I wish I could say we only used the latex in the one product, but—”

“If we get out of ahead of this—” Edward cleared his throat, but he looked every bit his of eighty-five years. “So far we’ve only located one damaged shipment. One batch of faulty latex. You’ve already tracked the lot numbers, the products that have been shipped?”

“I have,” Tracy said. She looked at Ned. “It’s not a lot, but I’m worried if we don’t do a full recall of all the products, we might miss something. This isn’t something I want to play around with.”

“I know. Neither do I—” Ned glanced up as there was a knock on the door. He frowned, then traded troubled looks with his mother and grandfather. Every member of the family knew they were closeted in here on dire ELQ business.

To interrupt them meant an emergency.

Ned left Edward and Tracy at the conference table and crossed to the door, finding a sleepy, worried Reginald. Their butler retired when Lila did, keeping the same schedule as the woman he cared for. “Reggie?’

“I’m sorry, Mr. Ashton, I know you said you couldn’t be disturbed, but Mac Scorpio said it was an emergency—”

Ned’s hand, wrapped around the brass doorknob, tightened. He knew Mac, of course, but they were not friends, and there was no reason for the commissioner of the Port Charles Police Department to be visiting him this time of the evening. He swallowed hard and followed Reginald into the foyer where a somber Mac Scorpio was waiting.

He was only dimly aware of his mother and grandfather following him.

“Brooke,” he managed. “My daughter.” Because why else would Mac ask for him after eleven at night?

Mac took a deep breath and nodded. “Dillon and a few friends found her in the park. She’s alive—” he hastened to add when Ned started forward. “But she’s hurt.”

“Hurt—”

Monica stepped out of the family room, followed by Alan where they usually shared a night cap before retiring for the evening. “What’s going on—”

“Brooke’s been hurt,” Tracy said quickly, putting a hand on Ned’s arm. “You said Dillon found her in the park—”

“They were supposed to be at the movies,” Monica murmured. “They—” She gratefully gripped Alan’s hand when he offered it to her. “What happened?”

“We don’t know yet,” Mac admitted. “She was unconscious, and she’d been beaten.”

There was a sharp inhale of breath as Edward pushed forward. “How can you not know anything—”

“Father,” Tracy murmured. “Hush. Because it’s just happened.” She looked at Mac. “Was she—was she—” She couldn’t force the words out, and Monica paled. Ned frowned at his mother, saw that his grandfather and Alan also looked mystified.

“Based on the initial report,” Mac said slowly, “we think so.” He looked at Ned, shook his head. “We suspect, in addition to the physical assault, your daughter was—”

Ned threw up a hand. “No. No. Don’t—you don’t—” Because now he knew what why Tracy and Monica had looked so concerned. His little girl. His baby.

Tracy closed her eyes. “Okay, Ned, we’ll go to the hospital. Right now. Father, you should be here when Grandmother wakes up.”

“I’m going to the hospital, too,” Alan declared.

“I have to—” Ned shook his head. Couldn’t focus. Couldn’t think straight. His little girl. Attacked. Hurt. Violated. “Lois.”

“I’ll call Lois,” Monica said immediately. “I’ll help her make arrangements to get here.”

“Okay.” Ned nodded. “Okay.” He still didn’t move, couldn’t until his mother pressed gently on his shoulders. “Okay. Let’s go.”

Cruz & Dante’s Apartment: Dante’s Bedroom

Dante had just drifted to sleep after pulling a double shift when his door swung open and the bright lights of the living room woke him.

“Hey, what the fuck man!”

“Sorry—” Cruz grimaced. “But I wanted to—Lucky just called because you—you know her.” He paused. “Brooke Lynn Ashton was just found beaten and unconscious in the park.”

Dante jackknifed into a sitting position. “What? What? What are you—” He shook his head trying to clear the fogginess of the sleep. “What are you saying?”

“She’s on her way to the hospital,” Cruz told him. “I figured—”

Dante just stared at him for a long moment before taking a deep breath. “Yeah, I know her,” he managed. He got to his feet. “Beaten and unconscious in the park,” he repeated. “Wait.”

“Yeah, Lucky didn’t say for sure because he was with Dillon Quartermaine who found him, but it was near a fountain.” Cruz paused and nodded.  “Like the others.”

“Fuck me.” Dante fell back onto his bed. “I gotta call my ma. She’s close with Brooke’s ma and—Christ. A fucking serial rapist and we’re not allowed to tell anyone, hey don’t walk through the park if you’re a young woman with brown hair—”

He lunged to his feet and slammed his fist on the dresser, cracking the cheap plywood. “This fucking city!”

“You want to go to the hospital?” Cruz asked after a long moment. “Be with the family—”

“No.” Dante shook his head. “No. I want to go down to the station and rip my fucking cousin’s head off. That lazy son of a bitch refused to say they were one guy—refused—and Mac insisted on waiting for permission—” He clenched his jaw. “And now Brooke is paying for it. Well, fuck this.”

He reached for his phone and dialed for information. “Yeah, I need the number for the Port Charles Herald.” He reached for a stub of a pencil and started to write.

“Dante, think about this,” Cruz said, crossing the room rapidly, trying to stop Dante from dialing the number he scrawled out on a napkin. “If you tell the press—”

“What, I’ll lose my job?” Dante demanded. “Did Capelli lose his damn job when he nearly got an innocent woman killed? Fuck this. I got into this to protect people, not cover asses.” He jammed every number in. “This city only understands pressure. Change ain’t gonna happen if we shove our heads into the sand. We gotta make it happen.”

“Dante—we don’t know anything—”

“Yeah, I need Jessica Mitchell,” Dante said, naming the reporter on the crime beat. “I know it’s late. Can you just see if she’s still there? I got an anonymous tip for her.”

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

 Condo: Bedroom

It was just after midnight when Elizabeth’s cell phone began to chirp, pulling her out of a fitful sleep. She sighed, sat up, and reached for the phone charging near her bed.

“This better be good,” she grumbled.

“Liz? I’m so sorry for calling this late. Maybe I should have waited, but I was worried you’d hear about it in the papers because I bet the press is already sniffing it out—”

“Em, Em—” Elizabeth folded her legs underneath her. “Slow down. What’s wrong?”

“My cousin Brooke? She was just…I don’t know if you know her.”

“Yeah, she’s been my waitress a few times at Kelly’s—” Elizabeth rubbed her eyes. “She’s okay, right?”

“God. I don’t think so. I’m stuck here, can’t get out of here—I am so sick of this program—”

“Emily.”

“Dillon found her in the park. She was unconscious and hurt pretty bad.” Emily swallowed hard. “And Mom said they think she’s been sexually assaulted.”

“In the park,” Elizabeth repeated. She closed her eyes. “Where in the park?”

“Near the fountain on the south side. Mom said the press already knows somehow—they’re not supposed to report Brooke’s name, but they’re already at the house—I was afraid it would be in the papers—and I just—I wanted you—”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth cut in. “I appreciate it. I’ve been—Thank you.”

She and Emily spoke for a few more moments before they hung up. Elizabeth switched on the lamp next to her bed, unable to handle the shadows in the corners.

The fountain at the south side of the park. The same place where Elizabeth’s world had been broken into pieces only five years earlier.

She didn’t think about it too hard as she pressed a speed dial on her phone. It took a few moments, but a voice came over the line—Jason didn’t sound groggy, and she wondered if he’d had problems sleeping, too, after their conversation at the bridge.

“Hey. I’m sorry—”

“Are you okay? Don’t worry about it—”

“I, um—” Her tears spilled over now. It was in her head now, and she was terrified she might never ever be able to get rid of it. To put it away again. “Ned’s daughter, Brooke—she was raped in the park. At the same place—”

“I’ll be right there, okay? I’m coming over.”

She didn’t even bother to argue with him. She wanted to feel safe, and right now, that meant Jason.

General Hospital: Emergency Room

It was almost surreal, Ned thought, as he sat on a hard plastic chair in the emergency room. He felt as though he were floating above his body. Was he really there? Was he really waiting to hear about his daughter?

Was this really happening?

“Ned…” Alexis rushed in, clad in jeans and a gray sweatshirt. He rose to greet her, and Alexis wrapped him into a tight hug. He buried his face in her hair, but he couldn’t lose it. Not yet.

He had to keep it together.

He drew back from her, resting his hands on her shoulders. “Who—”

“Monica called.” Alexis glanced at Tracy, nodded absently in greeting. “She thought you might need someone who wasn’t family. I called Jax—he’s on his way back from Europe. He’ll be here tomorrow.”

Ned exhaled slowly. “They don’t know anything yet. I haven’t been able to talk to Dillon—he’s still with the police—” He drew back further and started to pace the small space, dragging his hands through his hair, clutching at the strands. “No one has told us anything about her condition—”

“Does Mac know anything yet?”

“No,” Tracy said with a shake of her head. “Not yet. Monica was supposed to contact Lois—”

“Edward already arranged for a charter flight out of LaGuardia,” Alexis murmured. “She’ll be here in a few hours.”

Tony Jones stepped out from behind a curtain, clearing his throat. Ned turned to face him, Alexis leaving a hand on his shoulder for support.

“Ned, Brooke is—” He hesitated. “She came around in the ambulance and they had to sedate her.”

Ned closed his eyes. “But she’s awake—”

“It was heavy sedation,” Tony said awkwardly. “She has a fractured cheekbone, a concussion, and sprained wrist. She also sustained a cracked rib, so we’re keeping an eye on her for internal bleeding.”

“Was she—” Tracy managed a deep breath. “The police suggested she may have been—”

“There is evidence of a sexual assault,” Tony said with deep regret. “Bruising on the thighs—the PCPD is arranging for our S.A.N.E nurse to take a preliminary rape kit.”

“Jesus Christ,” Ned managed as his knees gave out and he sunk back onto the chair. “Oh, God. Oh, God. What do I do?”

“I don’t mean to make it worse,” Alexis murmured as she sat next to Ned, rubbing his back. “But press is already outside, and Monica said they’d showed up at the house.”

Ned’s head snapped up, flames in his dark eyes. “What?” he demanded. “I thought the identities of sexual assault victims were protected—”

“They are, but I imagine someone leaked it,” Alexis said with a heavy sigh. “I can make some calls—”

“Do it,” Ned ordered. “I don’t want anyone—” He put his head back in his hands. “How is this happening? How can I—What do I do?”

“I wish I knew.” Alexis closed her eyes and rested her forehead on Ned’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Ned. I’ll make those calls, and I’ll get them away from the house.”

“When I find out who is responsible for this,” Ned said, lifting his head to meet Alexis’s eyes. “They are going to wish they’d never been born.”

Condo: Living Room

Elizabeth had jerked the door open almost before Jason could knock, throwing herself into his arms. She just wanted to feel safe and warm.

She wanted it to go away—to never think about her rape again.

“Hey,” Jason murmured as he gently steered her back into the apartment and closed the door behind him. He ran his hand up and down her back, his fingers warm and smooth against the thin cloth of her tank top.

“I’m sorry. You must think I’m crazy—I mean this didn’t even—” Elizabeth choked out a sob as her voice faltered. She pressed her forehead into chest, covered with a gray t-shirt. “I’m sorry if I woke you up.”

“Couldn’t really sleep,” Jason admitted. He took her hand and led her to the sofa where he sat down and she curled into his side. “You said Ned’s daughter was hurt?”

Elizabeth nodded and related the phone call she’d received. “I know Emily was trying to help,” she said. “But at the same time…I don’t know…maybe I could have avoided it.” She grimaced. “But probably not. Brooke works at Kelly’s. She knows the same people. But God, Jason, she was attacked at the same place. How is that possible?”

Jason seemed to hesitate for a moment before speaking. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “It probably didn’t help that I told you tonight that—”

“I wish I could blame it on you,” Elizabeth said with a sigh. “But the truth is that I’ve been thinking about the rape since before I got that letter.”

Jason frowned at her, shook his head. “Why? What—” He clenched his jaw. “Ric.”

“I think the first time he drugged me was the night I—” Her stomach rolled as she tried to continue. “I don’t—I don’t remember wanting to—but he had been at the viewing and I was tired. I didn’t really want to go home, and he told me he had a room upstairs in case I hadn’t wanted to go home. He gave me some wine, and then—I don’t know. I woke up the next morning, and I just—” She winced as she saw the banked fury in Jason’s eyes. “I knew we’d slept together, but I just…didn’t remember why. I thought I was just sad and lonely. We weren’t together a lot, but I always remember wine or something else he’d brought to eat.”

“He drugged you to—” The muscles in the arm around her tightened until it felt like she was being embraced by concrete. And then, as if it cost him, Jason took a deep breath, relaxed his arm. “Have you talked to Gail about it?” he said finally.

“No. I guess I just—I wasn’t ready to think about it—because I know that’s—” Elizabeth pressed her face into his side, trying to find the courage to say it aloud. “I know that it means Ric raped me.”

She felt his hand clench into a fist. She leaned up, unwound his arm from around her, and took his clenched fist between her own hands. “I’m sorry, Jason. I should—”

“No, this—it didn’t happen to me,” Jason said after a moment. “I’m sorry. I just—I know he went after you because we’d been together. That doesn’t make it my fault, but I wish like hell—” He drew in a deep breath, then slowly exhaled it. “You should talk to Gail. It’s not that I don’t want to hear it,” he added. “It’s just—”

“You love me,” she murmured, “and it hurts you to hear me talk about things that hurt me.” She kissed his knuckles until his hand loosened. “Yeah. I think between admitting that out loud, the letter, and what happened with Brooke—I think I should talk to Gail.” She waited a long moment. “Will you—will you stay tonight? Not to—I just don’t want to be alone.”

“Yeah…” Jason nodded with a raspy tone to his voice. “Yeah, I can stay.”

August 19, 2019

This entry is part 6 of 23 in the series All of Me

I am so ashamed,
I am so ashamed of all the trouble I have caused
I am so ashamed of all these unopened doors
I am so ashamed of what I have become
You Will Leave a Mark, Silent Film


Wednesday, July 16, 2003

General Hospital: Conference Room

Lucky pressed a mug of bad hospital coffee into the younger man’s hands and took a seat across from him. “Are you ready to give a statement now?”

“Yeah. I guess.” Dillon took a deep breath. “Sorry. I know that you guys are just trying to help. I—” He shook his head. “I’m such a fucking coward,” he muttered. “I let her sit in those bushes because I couldn’t do it alone—”

“Hey.” Lucky looked at the miserable brown eyes of the boy sitting across from him and…God, he knew what Dillon was feeling. Without even trying to pull at piece of his memory—

Lucky could remember that shock of discovery, that crushing guilt, that miserable feeling of knowing that no matter what you did, you could never go back. You could never make it unhappen.

He dipped his head, trying to focus. Hell of a time to have memories and emotions rush into his head, into his heart. Use them. Make the connection.

“You waited, what, two extra minutes, Dillon?” Lucky said quietly. “What did that change? Did it make it less awful? I can tell you—” He hesitated. “You’re what, eighteen?”

“Almost nineteen,” Dillon muttered. “Why?”

“I was a little younger than you when I found Elizabeth.” Dillon’s head snapped up at that. “About sixteen, I guess. It was winter. Valentine’s Day. I’d promised that I’d go to the dance with her, but we’d meant it just as friends.”

Lucky managed a half smile. “I knew better. I knew she had a crush on me. But I wanted her sister. When Sarah asked me, I abandoned Elizabeth without a backward glance.” He’d never been able to tell Elizabeth before—that part of the reason he’d agreed to go with Sarah was that he hadn’t wanted to lead Elizabeth on.

“Elizabeth decided to save face, I guess, and made up a date so it would all work out. I don’t know if I believed her. I know I wanted to.” Lucky tipped his head. “But she never came to the dance, and it turns out the Sarah I wanted existed only in my head. All I could think about the entire night was Elizabeth. I got worried about her—she always knew how to get herself into trouble, so I went looking.”

“And you found her—” Dillon swallowed. “Like Brooke—”

“Not exactly. It was actually—” Lucky rubbed his chest, remembering that horrible moment, that stunned terror as he realized the whimpering sounds were Elizabeth as she crawled through the brush. “She was still conscious. He hadn’t—he hadn’t hurt her the same way.” But he sure had destroyed her. “She crawled out of the bushes, and she didn’t even recognize me. When she did, she tried to pretend nothing happened. Like she wasn’t bruised, her dress torn, her shoes broken—” He drew in a shuddering breath. “Anyway. For a long time, I lived with the knowledge if I had just gone to the damn dance with her—”

“Yeah.” Dillon closed his eyes. “Does that go away?” he asked. “You don’t still feel guilty?”

“I got brainwashed by the Cassadines a few times,” Lucky admitted. “And it played with my memories. The way I think about things. And until this minute…I hadn’t been able to remember what happened to her. Not the same way.” And it felt freeing to say that out loud. “But looking at you, knowing what you’re thinking, it’s coming back for me.”  He paused. “I don’t know if the guilt will ever go away.”

“Brooke was a real pain in the ass when she moved here six weeks ago,” Dillon said after a long moment. “Just a raging jackass who never had anything nice to say and got pleasure out of making everyone else miserable, you know? I avoided her like the plague.” He sipped the coffee.

“That changed a few weeks ago. Monica kind of snapped at her, something I don’t think anyone else had done. And I guess—it made Brooke decide to try harder. She got a job at Kelly’s, and Georgie and Lucas were coming around.” Dillon paused. “So Lucas invited her to the movies tonight. This was supposed to be our chance to just hang out. To have fun. But Maxie’s boyfriend is an idiot—” He looked away. “He was a stand-up guy tonight, though. So maybe Maxie’s right. Maybe we just don’t know him that well.”

“You were at the Harwin?”

“Yeah, it was a Bette Davis double feature. Jezebel and Of Human Bondage. I’m kind of obsessed with old movies,” Dillon confessed. “Georgie tries, but I know everyone was bored. And they were in black and white. I should have picked something else, but it was my turn, you know? Lucas and Kyle were arguing even before we went in, but we got almost through Jezebel before Maxie started complaining, then Lucas said something, and Kyle spilled his soda on some guy who punched him—” Dillon shook his head. “We got kicked out.”

“Brooke wasn’t in on the fight?” Lucky asked, scribbling something on his notepad. “This guy who punched Kyle—”

“Oh, he got to stay,” Dillon said sourly. “Because he’s an adult. Whatever. Um, we kept fighting outside. I don’t know how long we were out there when we noticed Brooke was gone.” He managed a weak smile. “I was defending Bette Davis’s honor.”

“Do you think Brooke left on purpose?” Lucky asked. “Could she have seen someone she knows?”

“I doubt it. Brooke really doesn’t know a lot of people here. I know she’s been working at Kelly’s, but—she’s not a really friendly person.” Dillon winced. “That sounds bad. What I mean is—she’s not immediately friendly. Once you get to know her, it’s better. No, I’m pretty sure Brooke went off on her own. There’s a bus stop on Central Avenue, a few blocks from the hotel. She’s taken it before—it goes right past the mansion.”

“Which explains why she was on the south side of the park.” And so close to the bus stop. “Okay, so walk me through realizing she’s gone.”

“It was Lucas who realized it,” Dillon said. “He looked around and she wasn’t there. Um, we got worried right away because Brooke hasn’t lived here long. I mean, I’ve only been here like four more months, but still, it’s longer.” He cleared his throat. “But I figured she’d head for the bus stop. Maxie and Georgie didn’t want to walk in the park, so they volunteered to drive to the bus stop, to see if Brooke went around.”

Lucky hesitated. “Was there a reason they didn’t want to walk in the park?”

“I don’t know, I think their dad—their stepdad, I mean—he said something about the park after dark or something.” Dillon frowned. “I don’t know. They didn’t say anything. Why?”

“Just trying to get a better picture. So, you split up.”

“Yeah, then me, Lucas, and Kyle took the park. Brooke didn’t have a phone on her, so we just kind of walked the paths—separate areas—and I got to the fountain and I saw her shoe.” Dillon’s jaw trembled slightly. “I didn’t—I froze. And I just—I was so goddamn scared I was about to find her dead, and I didn’t want to do that alone.”

“I don’t blame you, Dillon.” Lucas looked down at his notepad. “What time you do think you got kicked out?”

“Oh. Well, the movie started at like nine. We got kicked out at around ten-thirty.”

And the call had come in at 11:03 p.m. that evening. “How long you do think you were fighting outside the theater before you noticed she was gone?”

“Maybe five minutes,” Dillon said with a shake of his head. “But I don’t know. I don’t know the time, but I can tell you what scene we got kicked out at, and maybe theater knows exactly when they started it. Would that help?”

“We’re just trying to narrow down time frames for security footage.” Lucky tapped his fingers against the pad. “Is there anything else?”

“No, um, but is Brooke…” Dillon trailed off. “I just want to go check on Brooke. Can I go?” He got to his feet when Lucky nodded. He waited a moment though. “How did you deal with the guilt?” he asked, avoiding Lucky’s eyes, staring at the ground.

“I decided the best way to make it better was to help Elizabeth. I did whatever she needed when she needed it. I made her my number one priority.”

“And that helped?”

“I could sleep better at night, but for the rest of my life, Dillon, I’ll wonder if I was just a little bit quicker…if I could have prevented it.”

Dillon swallowed. “You said it happened at the same place—at the fountain—”

“Coincidence,” Lucky assured him. “The guy who attacked Elizabeth confessed and is in prison now.” He got to his feet, put a hand on Dillon’s shoulder. “I’ll be right back.”

He stepped out into the hall, leaned against the wall, and took a deep breath. He tried to calm the swirling thoughts, the ache in his chest. The flashes in his head. He’d kept it together. He’d gotten through the interview, but, oh, man.

It had started in the park. When he’d walked into that clearing, and he’d just—he’d gone back. Back to the terrible, freezing night when he’d trekked through the snow, his breath white puffs of air. He could remember his irritation at annoying Lizzie Webber who never told the truth if a lie was more interesting.

And then the sound of the bushes rustling—he’d heard her first, her soft whimpers, the crunch of snow as she’d dragged herself back to the clearing—

The look in her eyes, the tear in her dress—

Lucky exhaled slowly, then took out his cell phone and dialed.

“Lucky? Hey. You’re at the hospital, aren’t you?”

“Yeah.” His voice cracked as he spoke, so he cleared his throat. “You heard already?”

“Yeah.” Kelsey’s voice was thick. “Yeah. I’m on my way into the office. Scott and I are meeting tonight—Mac’s supposed to come with the details. Damn it. I knew—I knew we didn’t have a lot of time, but I didn’t think—”

“Yeah.”

“And Brooke Lynn—the girl at Luke’s last week—she’s a kid—” He listened as her voice broke. When she spoke again, Kelsey sounded stronger. “I’ll be here all night, but if you can—I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Yeah.”

He closed his phone and slipped it back into his back. He felt better just hearing her voice, but knew he’d have to tell her tomorrow why finding a young brunette in a park had hit him so hard. Lucky knew now it wasn’t fair to go forward without admitting just how much of his previous life Helena had destroyed—

And how he now had to cope with the fact that it was coming back.

General Hospital: ICU Waiting Room

 It was nearly two in the morning before the hospital was able to move Brooke from the emergency room to her own room in the ICU—a precaution, Tony had assured Ned when it was time to make the move. They were concerned about the head injury, the cracked ribs, and Brooke’s unconscious state.

Ned thought, and his mother had agreed, that this sounded more like the hospital trying to cover its ass with the niece of the Chief of Staff and granddaughter of members of the hospital board, but he wanted Brooke to have the best care.

They sat with her in shifts—Dillon and Tracy were taking this half hour as Ned sat in the waiting room, trying to draft a press statement. Alexis, representing both the hospital and the family, had left to find out exactly how Brooke’s name had been leaked to the press.

So far, only the Sun had run her name because the Sun had zero journalistic principles, but Brooke was a Quartermaine and the other media would eventually run with it.

And the fact that he had to run damage control before his daughter was even conscious—

The door to the room opened, and Ned was relieved to find Jax on the other side, with two cups of steaming coffee in his hand. “I thought Alexis said you’d be here tomorrow—” Ned rose to his feet. Jax set the coffees on the small table next to one of the chairs and embraced Ned tightly.

“I turned the plane around over the Atlantic,” Jax told him. He drew back, keeping his hands on Ned’s shoulders. “How is she?”

“Ah—” Ned had to struggle to think straight. “Still hasn’t—she hasn’t woken up. Tony doesn’t seem to think that’s unusual. It’s been about—” He checked his watch— “God, it’s been about five hours. Concussion, sprained wrist, cracked ribs—” His voice faltered. “He beat her within an inch of her life—her face is—” He collapsed onto the seat, his head in his hands. “It’s my fault.”

“Ned—”

I brought her up here, didn’t care what she thought. I took her phone away, I wouldn’t let her have a car—she was only walking in that park because she was trying to take the bus—”

“Hey, you know better than that.” Jax shook Ned’s shoulder. “This is about the animal who did this to her. No one else.”

“Yeah. Yeah, well, they better hope when they get him, I’m not left alone with him.” Ned looked at his friend. “Someone at the department leaked her name. The press was at the house—Alexis only just managed to get them away from the hospital.”

“Why—why would they do that?” Jax demanded. His eyes flashed. “She’s a child—”

“To cover their asses. The PCPD has been under a lot of criticism for handling Carly’s kidnapping and putting Liz Webber in danger from her violent husband—this shifts it away from their screwups.” Ned shook his head. “I don’t know what to do. Lois is going to come through those doors in an hour or two, and she’s going to be angry with me, and I deserve it.”

“We’ll take this one step at a time—”

The doors opened again, and this time it was his grandfather, looking impossibly old and worn. “I got a copy of the Herald delivered express.” Edward blinked. “Oh. Jax.”

“Edward. Is there anything I can do for you? Get you? Some breakfast?” he asked, turning to Ned, but Ned just shook his head.

“Grandfather, tell me the Herald didn’t publish her name—”

“No. Only the Sun, and believe you me, I already have Alexis drawing up a lawsuit. I am going to buy that rag and burn it to the ground,” Edward growled. He tossed the paper down on the seat next to Ned. “The Herald has another story that might interest you.”

Ned picked it up and just stared at the two-inch banner headline. SERIAL RAPIST STRIKES AGAIN

“Serial…” he swallowed hard, his fingers gripping the paper hard. “What the hell is this—”

“Brooke is the fourth young woman attacked at a fountain in that park since February,” Edward revealed, jabbing his finger at the paper. “According to the Herald, the department refused to make a connection after the first two attacks in February and May, and then asked the paper to hold the story after the third—”

“Two weeks ago,” Ned breathed, the fury rising inside like a volcano. “If they had just said something about this before—this didn’t—” He stared at his grandmother. “That goddamn department is so concerned with saving their own asses—”

He couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe. His little girl was lying in the hospital, bruised and broken, because the PCPD hadn’t bothered to warn the public.

He looked across the room, at the notebook where he’d been scratching out a draft of a press statement.

Ned was going to destroy the career of any man who had held back this story and make them regret the day they’d pinned on a badge.

Port Charles Airport: Arrivals Hall

Dante moved from one foot to the other, his eyes studying the arrivals board closely. The chartered flight from New York City had landed ten minutes ago, so where the hell were they?

Cruz nudged him and offered a cup of coffee he had bought from one of the stalls nearby. The arrivals hall was basically deserted this early in the morning—Port Charles saw its share of international and domestic flights, but few of them arrived in the hours between four and seven.

“You know, if Mac tracks the leak back to you—”

“I didn’t tell them her name,” Dante muttered. “They must have gotten that somewhere else. I just wanted them on the serial rapist. I wanted the city to know—” He shook his head. “I didn’t look out for Brooke when she got here. Not like I should have.”

“You’ve been busy.”

“Doesn’t matter. I could have done more.” Dante clenched his jaw. “So now I will. The PCPD isn’t going to sweep this story under the rug anymore. They’re going to do this right, and the only way they’ll process those damn kits is if they have to.”

He saw the two women walking briskly towards him—both dark haired and petite, but the anger and despair radiated from Lois Cerullo even from fifty feet away. With a large handbag over her shoulder, her almost black hair cropped short to her chin, Lois’s expression was set in battle mode.

Behind him, Dante’s mother, Olivia Falconieri, looked tired and simply sad. Her streaky caramel hair pulled into a messy tail, pieces of it falling in her face and around her neck. She carried a duffel bag and pulled a smaller travel carry-on behind her.

“Hey, kiddo,” she murmured, pressing her lips to his cheek. “Has there been anything? We couldn’t get any service in LaGuardia—”

“Brooke was moved to her own room in the ICU—” At Lois’s muffled gasp, Dante hurried to explain. “Lucky Spencer has been at the hospital all night monitoring her, and he says it’s just because of her concussion—”

“And the fact that she’s a Quartermaine,” Olivia said dryly. She sighed and looked at her old friend. “Why don’t you let Dante drop you at the hospital and I’ll check in our things at the hotel.”

Dante shuffled his feet. “I’m supposed to remind you that the Qs have offered—”

“I’m not staying in that house.” Lois rubbed her forehead. “Yeah, yeah, that’d be great, Liv. I want to see what’s going on, and how soon I can take Brookie home.” Her eyes were glimmering with tears. “This was a gigantic mistake, sending her here when I damn well knew that Ned was too worried about himself to look after her.”

“Lois,” Olivia murmured. She touched her friend’s shoulder. “C’mon. Don’t start with that tonight. I always thought he was a good guy who didn’t know what the hell he was doing. I don’t want you to fight with him.”

“Yeah, okay.” Lois looked at Dante—who was also her godson—and nodded. “Let’s—” She seemed to notice Cruz at his side. “Who’re you?”

“My roommate and another rookie,” Dante told her. “Cruz just—he wanted to keep me company while I waited.”

“Yeah, you can drop me at the hospital, too,” Cruz told Dante. “I’m supposed to relieve Lucky. I’m very sorry, Ms. Cerullo. Brooke seems like a great girl, and I know that we’ll work hard to find this guy.”

Dante wanted to argue with his friend—they were only rookies and what could they really do—but this wasn’t the time, so he took the bags from his mother and started for the parking lot.

PCPD: Commissioner’s Office

It was rare to see Garrett Floyd in a full-fledge rage, and to be honest, under other circumstances, Mac might have enjoyed it. But right now, he just sat back in his desk chair, his hands clasped in his lap, and waited for him to wind down. It was just past seven in the morning after a long night, and he was more interested in finishing his coffee than trading insults.

Floyd raged about the incompetency of the officers, the inability to control leaks, protect victims, and keep the streets safe. He fired Mac six times during the rant, but that was normal. Floyd usually fired Mac once a month, but then remembered why he kept Mac on.

For better or worse, Mac played ball when Floyd needed him to, and that made him more valuable than anyone else who might take over.

“Who the hell leaked the girl’s name?” Floyd demanded. He shook the newspaper in Mac’s face. “I got not only Edward Quartermaine threatening me, but a state senator—and goddamn Hilary Clinton contacted my office, worried about victim’s rights.”

A former First Lady and current sitting United States Senator. Mac raised his brows. Edward was bringing in the big guns. Not that Mac blamed him—the PCPD had sat on a serial rapist for at least the last two weeks, hoping that they could apprehend the guy before they had to terrify the public.

Taggert had argued, but Mac knew the company line. Alerting the public to danger in their midst months before a mayoral election was not even an option. Without convincing evidence that they were linked, and with a direct order from the mayor—Mac’s hands were tied. In a twisted way, he was glad one of his officers had leaked the information and relieved him of the decision.

“I don’t know which one of my guys leaked the name—and before you throw Capelli at me—he’s still on suspension for two more weeks,” Mac reminded him. “I told you that my guys wanted to put out a warning. You vetoed it.”

Floyd bared his teeth with a growl. “If I have to sacrifice you and throw you under the bus—”

Calmly, Mac reached into his desk, pulled out a tape recorder and pressed play. After getting the notification from Taggert about Brooke Lynn Ashton, Mac had come into work, gone into his office, and cued this tape up.

I don’t want any goddamn people talking about a serial rapist—you issue that warning, and I’ll replace so you damn fast—

Floyd narrowed his eyes. “You recorded me.”

“Since the Tom Baker case and the first time you tried to sacrifice this department for an election, yeah. I also have the memo you sent out. So does the DA’s office.” Mac looked at him. “Brooke was with my daughters last night. It could have been one of them. For years, I’ve done what you asked. I’ve pushed on suspects, made some things less of a priority—I’ve done what you asked.” Mac leaned forward. “I will eat this story, I will personally take the blame, but this is it. This is the last time you push me around and threaten my job.”

“I can put anyone else in your job—”

“And I’ll release this tape. You think Edward Quartermaine is crawling up your ass now? The deadline to register for the election is July 31. You think the Quartermaines won’t throw their weight behind any goon on the street if I tell them you’re the one who pushed back on a public warning?”

Floyd yanked his suit jacket from the back of the chair. “How long have you been waiting to pay me back for the Baker case?” he demanded.

“You asked me to ignore protocol and close a rape victim’s case so that Baker could go to jail faster. I did that because I honestly thought Baker was the guy.” Mac shook his head. “I don’t know anymore.”

“Listen to me—”

“In the last six months, four young women have been attacked and raped in the Port Charles Park. Near fountains. Five years ago, Elizabeth Webber was raped at the same location as Brooke. We never ran her rape kit—never knew if there was DNA to be found on her dress.”

Floyd’s face paled. “Are you going to run it now?”

“What do you think it would do to the election if we did?” Mac murmured. “If that kit came back with DNA that matched the new victims? You think anyone is going to care that we thought Baker was the guy? No. We run that rape kit now, you’re not the only one who will pay. I’ll go down with you.”

He looked at the photographs on his desk. On one side, he stood with both his girls at Georgie’s high school graduation only last month, and on other side, Robin and her father, Robert—the last photo of the two of them together. They all looked at him, accusing.

He’d done the wrong thing five years ago and he was terrified that the same man was at work now, but if Mac could catch this guy now—if he could make it right—

Then no one would ever have to know what a terrible choice he’d made. He’d had his reasons, and maybe some would believe him. Forgive him.

But it wouldn’t ever take the horror away. It wouldn’t ever erase the guilt.

“Not unless I have to,” Mac said finally. “But I’m not the only one who knows about that case. Taggert worked it—he thinks the rape kit was already run. That we had a negative return. Lucky Spencer found her that night. They both work for me. And Elizabeth Webber is about to be the star witness against Ric Lansing.”

“Mac—”

“I can spin it if I have to. We thought we had the guy, Baker confessed. Closure. I might take a hit—but it wouldn’t be fatal. But you better hope Edward Quartermaine doesn’t make the connection. You wanted that case to go away so the Quartermaines would stop pressuring you, but you and I both know that he never wanted us to throw Elizabeth away with it.”

Floyd gritted his teeth. “Mac—”

“She’s dating his grandson. And the Quartermaines are even fonder of her now than they were before. If it comes out that we didn’t run the rape kit, Edward Quartermaine will put the entire force of all his connections against someone in the fall.”

“You’ve made your point. We’ll just agree that I was perhaps…hasty…in my decision not to issue a public warning. I’ll have my office draft a statement.” Floyd hesitated. “I know that you hate what we did in the Baker case, but we had no way of knowing Baker didn’t do it—we still don’t know—”

“If we had investigated it properly, maybe we would know.” Mac rose to his feet. “I have a briefing with my guys. You know the way out.”

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

Sonny carefully folded the Port Charles Sun and exhaled slowly. He hadn’t been close with Lois Cerullo or anyone in the Bensonhurst crowd since he had migrated up to Port Charles to work the clubs for Frank Smith in his early twenties. There hadn’t been much to stay around for after Connie Falconieri had dumped him.

He and Lois had briefly resurrected their friendship when she’d been married to Ned, but it brought back too many memories and Lois had never been comfortable with his criminal tendencies. But he knew Brooke Lynn, had seen her around town as a child—

He’d been, literally her godfather, along with Brenda.

And now, according to the tabloids, she’d been brutally beaten and raped in the park. Just like three other women.

Max knocked on the closed door, then opened it. Sonny looked up to find Jason standing in the hallway, looking again as if he hadn’t slept. He knew why, of course—

The visit to Tom Baker had suddenly taken a new, horrifying meaning. If he hadn’t been the one to attack Elizabeth—if the animal was still out there—

Could it be the same man?

Jason closed the door behind him and just stood there. Silently.

“I saw,” Sonny said. He scowled at the tabloids. “I thought they weren’t supposed to print names, but then again, this is the same damn paper the PCPD leaked the affair to.”

Jason sat on the sofa, put his head in his hands. “I tried to tell her last night. I just—I just started with something small. That I had the letter, that I’d read it—”

“Jason—”

“And she was angry with me. Hurt. It was just like you said. I put it back in her head, and then Emily called her last night—it happened at the same place, Sonny.”

Sonny nodded, gesturing towards the Herald laying underneath the Sun on the coffee table. “Yeah, the paper said it was in the park—”

“No. The same exact place. Sonny, they found Brooke Lynn Ashton at the same fountain where Elizabeth was attacked.” Jason shook his head. “I can’t—I can’t ignore that. Baker says he didn’t do it, and now apparently, there’s someone raping young women in the park. They said all of the women were in the same age range, all with brown hair—”

“I get it, Jason. I know what it might mean. What did Elizabeth think about it—”

“We didn’t—I didn’t ask, and she didn’t say. I couldn’t.”

“That’s smart.” When Jason looked at him, surprised, Sonny continued, “Don’t bring it up. The last thing she needs now is to think it’s the same guy, Jase. It’s bad enough that she’s thinking about it. You said she was upset just at the thought of you reading the letter—what—”

“It’s not just about not lying to her—I mean, it’s that. But it’s—if this is the same guy, Sonny, then it’s not just these four women. It’s Elizabeth. Her attack was more than five years ago.” Jason swallowed hard. “How many other women are there?”

“Yeah.” Sonny got to his feet. “Yeah, but you’re not the only one who knows about her attack. Taggert worked her case, didn’t he? He’s still there. And Lucky Spencer—they were friends. He’s on the force now. Her case is a matter of public record. What’s it gonna serve for you to turn that letter over to the police and force Elizabeth to confront something that might not even be true?”

“Come on—”

“And even if you did tell the PCPD, what makes you think they’ll handle it right?” Sonny shook his head, crossed to the minibar and poured himself a glass of water. “They couldn’t find Carly. If you believe the press, they didn’t even notice they had a serial rapist. You gonna put Elizabeth through this for something that might not be worth it?”

“Sonny—”

“I just—” Sonny hesitated. “I don’t know.  It’s up to you, Jase, but what does it change? It’s been five years. They might not be able to open her case again. Why do you have to be the one that drags this up for her? She has closure right now, Jason. You want to take it away?”

“No. But—”

“And is there any reason it has to be today? Right now? Why don’t you give it a few days? Let all of this settle.” He put a hand on Jason’s shoulder. “Give her time to settle. Isn’t her protection hearing coming up next week?”

“Yeah.” Jason nodded. “Yeah, I guess you have a point. I just—I don’t want to hurt her, Sonny. But I’m not sure there’s a way to avoid it.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m gonna go home, shower and change. I have to be at the warehouse in a bit.”

“Okay.” Sonny watched him go, then shook his head again. Man, he did not envy Jason this dilemma.

“You told him to lie to her.”

Sonny turned to find Carly standing at the top of the stairs, one hand braced on the banister. “Carly—”

“I don’t know what secret Jason’s keeping,” she said as she slowly made her way down the stairs. “But if it’s about this attack on that poor girl—if he knows something, he should tell someone.”

“You know, what happened to not cooperating with the police?” Sonny muttered. He grimaced, his head starting to spin.

“I get that lying and keeping secrets is your favorite thing to do, Sonny, but believe it or not, not every woman finds it charming,” Carly snapped. “How can you want Jason to keep quiet about something like this? You know Lois. Her daughter has been attacked—”

“When?” Sonny demanded. His skin felt pale, clammy. He could feel a bead of sweat sliding down his face. “How? Brooke’s in New York. I haven’t seen her since she was christened.”

Carly blinked, her mouth falling open slightly. She gestured at the papers. “Last night, Sonny. Brooke moved here to go to college—”

“That’s not possible. She can’t be more than ten,” Sonny said as he yanked the papers up. “She—” He closed his eyes. “No, no. I remember now. She’s…she’s nineteen. I—I—think Benny reminded me to send her a card last year.” He laughed, a bit uncomfortable now. “I can’t—I’m sorry. They just—kids grow up so fast, you know.”

“Yeah.” Carly squinted at him. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Sonny rubbed his chest. “I’m fine. I, ah, have work. I have to go to work.”

General Hospital: Gail’s Office

“Where do you want to start?” Gail asked as she leaned back in her armchair, a notepad in her lap, a pen in her hand.

“I got a call from Emily last night,” Elizabeth confessed, then told Gail about Brooke and asking Jason to come over. “He encouraged me to talk about why things with my rape are—” She sighed. “In my head.”

“It was on your mind before the letter?” Gail asked.

“Sort of, yeah.” Elizabeth waited a moment, trying to find the courage, the energy to do this. “When I found out Ric had been drugging me since January, I thought about what had happened then. Was there some reason he started it then, you know? And I remembered that after my grandmother’s reception, I was so tired and just…not ready to go back to my studio. I had put off the grieving because I kept planning—and then it was over, and she was buried.”

Elizabeth stared at her clasped hands. “Ric said he’d taken a room in the hotel for me because he’d thought I might be too tired, and he wanted me to be comfortable. I remember thinking—God—I remember thinking that I was so lucky to have him. He had helped me with Gram’s estate. He’d been there when I found out—he’d explained all he estate paperwork to me, and—he kept putting me first.”

Her eyes glittered and her voice thickened. “And I hated myself because I kept thinking—I kept wishing he was Jason. That I wished that I loved Ric the way he seemed to love me, but I couldn’t. And I thought I was pathetic because it was clear Jason didn’t. I told myself that I was going to make it work with Ric. That’s why I didn’t—I didn’t really—”

She bit her lip. “We went upstairs and inside the suite, he offered me a glass of wine. I was grateful to have company, and I drank the wine. I had another glass—and then I didn’t really remember anything else.” She met Gail’s warm eyes, filled with concern. “I woke up the next morning, naked under the sheets, next to Ric. I just—I thought maybe I had been tipsy, or God, maybe I’d had another panic attack like I had with Zander.”

“So, you didn’t think about it much,” Gail said quietly.

“No—I just…I got dressed, left him a note, and went home. I just—I thought maybe I had rushed it, and I wanted to pull back, because I still didn’t quite—” She bit her lip. “It’s the only time I really don’t have any memory of having sex with Ric. The other times we were together, I know he always fed me something he’d made or brought some wine, but I can honestly say that I didn’t think much of it. That maybe he put more in my glass that first time—enough to make me black out.” Her lip trembled. “The way he must have done to Carly.”

“And after that?”

“I don’t remember resisting. It was usually his idea, and I just—I went along with it because I didn’t really care. I—we weren’t even together after I found out about what he’d done to Carly, and then what happened with Courtney and learning about Sonny—even after I went back to him—I shied away from him and I wasn’t drinking any more wine.”

“You think Ric drugged you the first time to get you to sleep with him, and then after that, maybe to just make you less resistant,” Gail said slowly. For the first time, Elizabeth was able to read the disgust and anger in her grandmother’s old friend.

“I’m pretty sure. And if it’s true, then I know it means Ric raped me.” Her voice faltered, and Elizabeth closed her eyes against the rush of tears. “And I just don’t know if I can really—I don’t know if I can deal with this. If I can even allow myself to accept it.” She accepted the tissue Gail offered her. “I had to claw and drag myself back the last time—and how can I accept it’s happened again?”

“I don’t know,” Gail said honestly. “But I think just addressing it is the first step.” She squeezed Elizabeth’s hand. “Knowing that you’re not alone is also important. Have you told anyone else?”

“I told Jason last night. He encouraged me to talk to you. That’s—that’s good, right? That I opened up to him before you assigned it for homework.” Elizabeth managed a smile. “He was so angry, but he tried to hide it. Tried to make me the focus.” She sighed. “I guess it makes sense that I’m thinking about all of this now. I told you about that letter from Tom Baker, and then Jason told me he’d read it—”

“He did?” Gail repeated, her brows lifting slightly. “When?”

“He grabbed the letter the day I tried to throw it out. I guess he thought I’d change my mind. I don’t know what it says, and I don’t want to know. He’s up for parole, and I just—I mean, is it wrong that I don’t want to deal with it?”

“I wouldn’t say it’s wrong. I think you should just be aware of why you don’t want to deal with it. You do have a great deal going on, and it can often feel overwhelming to tackle all your trauma at the same time.”

“Yeah. That’s kind of what I figured. I mean, it doesn’t matter. Tom Baker is in jail. He—hearing about Brooke was hard because she was…raped in the park. Like I was.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “Apparently at the same place in the park.”

“Really?”

“It’s in a quiet area. Just the fountain with a few benches and lot of bushes and trees. I mean…I don’t—” Elizabeth shook her head. “Tom Baker confessed. I have my justice. I hope Brooke and the others get theirs. It’s hard enough for me to wake up with what Ric’s done to me.”

“Okay.” Gail pursed her lips. “Are you all right with what Jason did? That he read it?”

“I don’t know. I guess, I understand it. And part of me—” She tilted her head towards the ceiling and blew out an exasperated breath. “As irritated and upset as I was with him last night, there’s part of me that is relieved. Because he didn’t want to lie to me. Even when it might hurt me, he didn’t want to lie to me.”

“And that matters?”

“It’s everything.” Elizabeth met Gail’s eyes. “Being honest, being open—that’s the thing we’ve both struggled with. He’s trying as much as I am. He started to tell me, but then he listened when I told him to stop. It’s just…it means that we’re on the same page. Finally. After all these years. It gives me hope that I can stop saying my goal is to be okay. That one day, I can actually hope to be happy. With Jason.”

August 22, 2019

This entry is part 7 of 23 in the series All of Me

But you can’t walk in my shoes
Every mile just feels like two
I won’t keep explaining
I won’t keep on trying
So what if I’m hiding
You’re giving me a headache
Please Don’t Shout, Billie Myers


Wednesday, July 16, 2003

 General Hospital: ICU

She could hear the voices first. They were whispers, murmurs, sounds. She wanted to stay in the darkness, in the softness and bliss of nothing. Nothingness seemed better.

But then the voices shifted—in tone, in volume. Brooke opened her eyes, turning her head slightly to the side. Where was she? Why did she still feel like she was floating?

And…why were her parents arguing? Why were they together?

“I want to take Brookie home today!” her mother snarled, and blearily, Brooke could see her mother stabbing her finger into her father’s chest, her face screwed up in furious lines, tear stains glinting on her cheeks. “I don’t want her in this godforsaken city another minute—”

“The doctors say it’s more important to let her wake up on her own,” her father retorted. “To say nothing of the police who want to take her statement—”

“The police? You have the nerve to bring them up? The PCPD isn’t getting through that goddamn door—”

“I may not like them very much, but I want this animal caught and that can’t—”

“Hey!” Another voice snapped. “The both of you. This is a hospital—” Brooke knew that sound—her mother’s best friend, Liv. Level-headed Aunt Livvie.

“Brooke?” Olivia murmured, as she approached the bed. “She’s awake.”

“Oh, Brookie—” Lois pressed her fingers to her lips. “Baby. How are you feeling?”

“I—” Brooke cleared her throat. Looked at her parents before looking at her aunt. “What’s going on?  It’s hard to—” Why couldn’t she finish a sentence? Why couldn’t she think? “Am…Am I in the hospital—Ma, what are you doing here?”

“Baby, we’ll talk about this later.” Lois whacked Ned in the chest. “Go get a doctor.”

“Hey, we’re not married anymore. You don’t get to order me around,” Ned muttered, but nonetheless obeyed.

“We’re going to take you home to Bensonhurst, just as soon as you’re up to it,” Lois promised, perching on the edge of the bed.

“Lois,” Olivia murmured. “This isn’t the time—”

“Home?” Brooke repeated. “I—I’m going to school here. I got a job—maybe even friends—”

Oh, God, oh, God.

 It slammed into her with the force of a freight train—the terror, the tearing pain, the desperation—oh, God. “Ma…” Her eyes filled with tears. “Ma.”

“Oh, my baby…” Lois slid up closer, touching Brooke’s cheek. “Baby…”

Ned returned, with Tony Jones on his heels—and Lieutenant Taggert. “Brooke…”

“I don’t want to talk to anyone. Get out. Get out, get out!” Brooke screeched. She thrashed on the bed. She wasn’t going to talk about it. She was never going to think about it again. She didn’t want to even know about it. “Get out!”

“Go!” Lois snarled, launching herself off the bed at Taggert. “Get out! You’re upsetting her!”

“Call me if she changes her mind,” Taggert murmured to Ned before leaving.

“Aunt Livvie, make them all go away—” Brooke whimpered. She reached blindly for Olivia’s hand. “Make it stop. Make them all stop.”

“All right, baby girl. All right.” Olivia turned to Brooke’s parents and the doctor. “She’s not going to talk to anyone—”

“I need to examine her,” Tony protested.

“That’s my daughter—” Ned added.

“Brookie—”

“And the first thing she hears when she wakes up is her parents goin’ at each other. Let’s just give her a minute, okay?” Olivia put an arm around Lois’s shoulder. “Go get some coffee. Kill each other in the parking lot for all I care.”

Ned pressed his lips together, looked at his crying daughter and took a deep breath. “Okay. If Brooke needs me to go, that’s what I’ll do.”

“Wait here,” Olivia said to Tony once Ned and Lois had reluctantly left. “Brooke, baby, you were hurt pretty bad. No one is going to talk about why, but can you let the doctor check on you? The faster you heal, the faster you can leave.”

Brooke’s tears continued but she nodded. “Okay. Okay. But I don’t wanna see anyone else.” She grabbed Olivia’s wrist. “Do-do they all know?”

“Don’t worry about any of that, baby girl.” Olivia took Brooke’s hand in both of hers. “Let—” She looked at Tony.

“Dr. Jones,” he supplied.

“Let Dr. Jones look at you. And maybe he can give you something that might make you feel better.” She met Tony’s eyes as he hesitantly approached. “Dr. Jones?”

“Sure, sure, if that’s what Brooke wants.”

“I just want it to go away. It didn’t happen, Aunt Livvie. Okay? It never happened—” Brooke continued to cry even as Tony started on her vitals. “Please don’t make me think about it.”

Brooke haltingly got through Tony’s examination, answering his questions in one or two words. With a sigh, Tony reached for her chart. Olivia followed him into the hall. “Doctor—”

“I’m writing her an order for some lorazepam,” Tony told her. “It’s an anti-anxiety drug and it should calm her down—” Lois and Ned rushed up to him. “Brooke is doing as well as can be expected. I think she can leave the ICU in a few more hours — I want to monitor the concussion a bit longer.” He patted Ned’s shoulder before going down the hall.

“He’s going to give her some anxiety medication,” Olivia told the parents.

“Who are you to make decisions?” Lois demanded. She shook her fist at her best friend. “She is my daughter not yours—” And with that, Lois went back into the hospital room where they watched Brooke crying through the clear glass walls.

Ned exhaled slowly. “Let me guess. Lois is hard on Brooke, but you’ve always played mediator.”

“And then she does the same for me and my son. It’s easier when it’s not your kid to see both sides,” Olivia said with a half-smile. “Lois loves too hard sometimes. I get that—that’s how I feel about my Dante.” She looked at Ned. “How are you holding up?”

“I don’t matter,” Ned said softly. “Thanks for stepping in. Brooke’s lucky to have you.”

Port Charles Municipal Building: Kelsey’s Office

 Lucky rubbed his tired eyes as he entered Kelsey’s office, unsurprised to find her seated at the conference table, surrounded by casefiles, and sipping from a mug of coffee. “Hey.”

“Hey.” She sprang up, setting the mug down. She crossed to him, putting her hands on his upper arms. “I wasn’t expecting you this early—”

“Taggert wanted me to update you while he went to the station to talk to Mac.”

“Yeah, Scott is there with him.” She gestured towards a table in the corner of her office where a coffee pot sat. “There’s coffee if you need it.”

“Thanks.” Lucky went to pour himself a cup. “Brooke woke up a bit ago—Taggert called me on my way over. She’s not talking yet.”

“I figured.” Kelsey frowned at him as he stirred sugar into his cup. “You interviewed the kids who found her, right?”

“Kids.” Lucky snorted as he leaned back against the table, sipped his coffee. “Brooke’s nineteen. They’re all round that age. It’s not much younger than me.” He stared down into the black liquid. “Or you.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Anyway, they didn’t have a lot more to offer except to tighten the time frame.” Lucky looked at her. “He’s either following them or lying in wait, hoping someone will walk into the clearing.”

“I think he might be following them.” Kelsey turned back to the statements. “I looked over Watson and Norton — both of these statements are pretty basic. It looks like they gave an initial interview when asked, but then there wasn’t a lot of follow up.” She looked at him. “You’re listed on the second Norton interview. Do you know why she didn’t give more information?”

“Because Vinnie opened the conversation by asking why she was wearing such a revealing outfit that late in public,” Lucky muttered. He sat the conference table. “Wendy Morris refused a follow-up altogether. None of the victims liked him much.” He frowned at her. “But you think they were followed?”

“Unless he picks a different fountain to hang out,” Kelsey said as she sat next to him. “I’m hoping Taggert will be able to get the victims to do a follow-up interview that’s a bit more thorough. It doesn’t look like Vinnie asked any of them why they were in the park but—”

“Why can’t you do the follow-up? Or Scott?”

“I wish I could.” She sighed and shuffled through some paper. “I can be in the room when Taggert takes the statements. I probably will be. But I can’t take them alone. Not when their initial statements are so bare. Because then I turn into an investigator, and I can’t try the case.”

“If he were following them from one of the shops on Quartz Lane, that would make sense. The timeline is pretty narrow with Brooke’s attack.” Lucky pulled out his notepad. “You’ll get the official copies, but basically — Dillon says they went to a double feature at the Harwin. It started at nine, but they were kicked out around 10:30 PM.”

“The call came in at 11:03.” Kelsey tossed one dull pencil aside and grabbed another, already sharpened. “Is he sure about the time?”

“He said they were almost done the first movie. I’m checking with the theater—they keep exact times of when they start films. Dillon can point out the scene where they left.”

“And they left because of a fight?”

“Yeah. Maxie Jones has a boyfriend the rest of them barely tolerate. He was there that night. It seems like it was small stuff — Maxie didn’t like the movie, Lucas insulted her and Kyle, a soda got knocked over, and another patron punched Kyle.”

Kelsey stared at him. “And the movie theater kicked out them out, but not the guy who actually committed the assault?” She shook her head. “Figures.”

“Yeah, I interviewed all three of the boys when Lucas and Kyle got to the hospital. I asked Kyle if he wanted us to look into it, but he was more concerned with Brooke. The fight continued outside. None of the kids are sure how long they were arguing before they noticed Brooke had left.”

“Any idea why she went off alone?” Kelsey asked, scribbling furiously.

“She’s new to the group and probably got annoyed by the fighting. She doesn’t have a car or a phone—”

“Really?” Kelsey interrupted, frowning. “She’s a Quartermaine—”

“Who got into trouble back in New York. This was part of a punishment—she needed to earn those privileges back or pay for them herself.” He shook her head. “But she’s familiar with the bus system from living in the city. There’s a bus stop on Central Avenue that goes past the Quartermaine house. She cut through the park.”

“Okay. So, we have a half hour between being kicked out and the call to 911. How long do the boys think they were searching?”

“Ten minutes,” Lucky offered. “They were able to pinpoint that because the boys split the park in three. Kyle gave his numbers to both Lucas and Dillon by texting to them. That gave me a time stamp. They started walking through the park at 10:50 PM. Figure in maybe five minutes to figure out a search plan. Maybe two or three minutes of talking about Brooke being gone.”

“That’s…” Kelsey sat back. Set the pencil down. “That’s a very tight timeline. If she gives them five minutes of fighting, it’s only about five minutes before they notice she’s gone. To get to that spot in the park, when you’re not looking for someone—”

“Maybe seven minutes. Ten at most.”

“We’ll have a better idea once you get me the exact time they were kicked out, but if Dillon is right — if they’re kicked out at 10:30, Brooke takes off around 10:35, and it takes until 10:45 to get to that spot—”

“Fifteen minutes before Dillon finds her.”

“Fifteen minutes,” Kelsey repeated. She looked at him. “To beat her unconscious, rape her, and flee the scene. That’s not a lot of time.”

“He followed her from the movies and waited until she got to the fountain. Because that location means something. We can’t rule out the lying-in wait, but—”

“We need to know where the other victims were before the attack.” Kelsey rubbed the back of her neck. “But this is just more proof it’s the same man. He has this down to a science. No way this is the first time.”

“Yeah, that’s definite.” Lucky hesitated. “There’s—there’s something else I need to tell you.”

Kelsey shoved her chair out slightly so she could angle herself towards him. “What’s wrong? I know these kids are friends with your sister. You mentioned it—”

“It’s more—” He looked at her. “I told you about Elizabeth Webber, right? That we dated?”

“Yeah?”

“She was raped in the park, too. When we were teenagers. Valentine’s Day, 1998. At the same fountain.”

“The same—” Kelsey’s eyes flared wide. “Lucky, do you think it’s—”

“No, no. I just—they caught the guy. He confessed. He’s in prison for an unrelated crime, but that’s not—” Lucky rubbed a hand over his chest. “I found her like Dillon. She wasn’t hurt as badly. And she didn’t report it right away. That’s not—that’s not why I’m telling you this. I told you that I was kidnapped and brainwashed.”

“You told me that night at Luke’s.” Kelsey put a hand on his arm. “Lucky, I don’t want you to think you have to tell me anything you’re not ready to—”

“She removed memories of Elizabeth, I told you that.”

“Oh.” Kelsey pursed her lips. “I thought you meant recent ones—but…all of them?”

“And not just Elizabeth. I had trouble remembering my family. I remembered more about them, but Elizabeth—that was almost completely gone. It started coming back last night. While I was interviewing Dillon. Like it was happening all over again.” Lucky shook his head. “It’s…I can do the job, but I think—”

“This one hits home more than the other cases because it’s so similar.” Kelsey tightened her hand slightly on his arm. “Hey. I get it. These kids—they’re not much older than you guys were, I guess. And in the same location. And you’re just remembering it again, so it feels like it’s now. I get it, Lucky. And I can tell you’ll be fine doing the job. You finished the interviews. And we’ve put together a good theory.”

She leaned in closer. “But if you want me to tell you if I think it’s affecting your work, I will. I promise.”

“Thanks. I…I really like you,” he confessed, his cheeks flushing just a bit. “I want to keep seeing you. I just—I thought you had a right to know.”

“I appreciate it.” She leaned forward, kissed him, sliding her fingers through his hair. “We’ll get Brooke justice. Like you and Elizabeth Webber got. We’ll put this guy away so he can’t hurt anyone else.”

Corinthos Coffee: Office

 Jason squinted at the rows of numbers in the latest batch of invoices and rubbed his eyes. Sonny wanted to open this place in two weeks—a new legitimate business and place to meet—but everything had stopped while Carly had been missing. The builders had continued their work, but without a business manager on the paperwork—

Sonny had a habit of starting projects that ended up being Jason’s problem.

The door opened and Carly entered, a large book of fabric and patterns in her arms. He got to his feet and rushed to take it from her. She frowned at him. “I’m pregnant, Jase, not dead. It’s not even that heavy—”

But he’d already set it on the table serving as a temporary desk—that was why Carly was here. One of her “getting back to Carly” projects was finishing up the design of the coffee house and furnishing their office. She settled herself in the lone chair he’d vacated, and he stood by her side.

After they’d gone through a few pattern choices, Carly closed the book they were looking at and set it on the table. “I have a confession to make.”

Jason frowned, then leaned against the table so he was facing her. “What’s up? Is anything wrong?”

“I was upstairs when you were over yesterday. I didn’t mean to listen—” She bit her lip. “Okay, I meant to listen. I thought you might say something about Ric—”

He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Carly—”

“I know, I know. I know better. The thing is, I only kind of heard what you and Sonny were talking about. But I know he wanted you to keep something from Elizabeth.”

“Carly—”

“And then I see you today—the first time I’ve seen you in a few days mind you—and you look like you haven’t slept. I’m just—” She shook her head. “I don’t know. I feel like I owe Elizabeth since she helped find me. And I know you love her.” She smirked. “I may not understand it, but I know it.”

Jason looked away, sighed. He knew what Sonny thought about this topic, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a bad idea. “You probably saw the papers about Brooke Lynn Ashton.”

“Yeah. I know her a little from when I lived at the mansion. She visited Ned a few times.” Carly leaned back against the chair, rubbing her belly. “What does that have to do with anything—” She tilted her head. “I know Elizabeth was raped when she was younger.”

Jason blinked at her. Shook his head. “How—”

“It came up when she was in the running to be Face of Deception,” she explained. “She had trouble with some of the photoshoots, and I guess we’d rented the same studio where she’d been held with Emily. That photographer, right?”

“Yeah.” He reluctantly told her about the letter, his visit, and Elizabeth’s reaction to his reading the letter. “Sonny thinks I shouldn’t tell her. That if it is related, the PCPD knows about her case—”

“But you feel like you’re sitting on this evidence that her rapist is still out there, and she doesn’t know it,” Carly said. “You have to tell her—”

“I just—she’s going through so much, and she begged me not to bring it up—”

Carly leaned forward. “I know that, and I’m sorry. But you have to tell her. Because she thinks you only read the letter. You already went to see this guy. You know what the letter says. What it might mean for this investigation. I get that it’s going to be hard on her. And I know it’s hard on you. But think about—”

She saw a copy of the Herald buried under some of the paperwork. SERIAL RAPIST STRIKES AGAIN. She picked it up, held it so that Jason could see it. “Four women this year. All of them in the park. Like her. The woman who nearly sacrificed her life to help you? To find me? She’d want the police to have all the information they need.”

Jason exhaled slowly, looked away. “Carly—”

“Not talking to the cops when I was missing—that’s one thing. But—” She raised her brows. “How are you gonna feel if you stay quiet, and someone else gets attacked? What if the PCPD doesn’t make the connection in time? What if this guy hurt other women and they don’t know?”

Carly pursed her lips. “But beyond that, it’s not up to you to decide what Liz can’t handle. You already went to see this guy. You hold on to what you think you know, and it’s going to eat you alive. You think she won’t see it in your face? That she won’t know you’re holding back?”

“Sonny said—”

“Since when do you take advice on women from Sonny? I love him, Jase, but his first instinct is always to keep the secret.” Carly looked at the paper again. “Elizabeth and I are never going to be best friends, but I just—if you keep this to yourself when this guy could be out there raping other women and she finds out? C’mon, Jase. You know her better than I do. How’s that going to shake out?”

She sighed. “You’re going to hurt her either way. This is not a secret you can keep forever. You already know that. You know you have to tell her. So, stop pretending it’s going to suck less a few weeks from now.”

General Hospital: Conference Room

 Ned collapsed into a chair at the long wooden table and put his head in his hands.

It had been hours since Brooke had woken up, crying, refusing to talk to anyone, and Ned simply didn’t know what to do. How to keep Lois from taking his daughter out of the hospital and taking her home.

How to get her justice.

How to make it so that this never happened. He just wanted to turn back time, give his daughter a damned cell phone.

Another Styrofoam cup of coffee was placed in front of him as his two best friends in the world sat down at the table. Neither Jax nor Alexis looked as though they had slept, and Ned was ridiculously grateful to them. His mother and grandfather were trying to run to damage control at ELQ and demanding retractions from the media, threatening them with lawsuits if they didn’t stop using Brooke’s name.

Victims of sexual assault were typically not identified, Alexis had told Ned quietly, but apparently, Brooke’s case was now the symbol of a corrupt and negligent police department, and even the normally staid Herald was trumpeting her case as a need for reform. She was over eighteen, and hey, her name had been leaked, so it really wasn’t their fault.

Ned just wanted them all to go away.

“No change?” Jax murmured. He slid a few packets of creamer and sugar across the table. “She still isn’t speaking to anyone?”

“No. That—that’s not good, is it?” Ned asked. He hated how his voice sounded—high-pitched. Desperate. He needed someone to tell him what came next, and he hated that feeling.

Ned always knew the next step, always knew how to make things better. He was the fucking gatekeeper for the Quartermaines—it was his job to make things better. To protect his family.

Why couldn’t he do that this time?

“I really couldn’t say,” Alexis said, with an almost helpless glance at her ex-husband. “The police are going to keep asking her for a statement unless you bar them—”

“The police,” Ned scowled. “I swear to God—” He pressed his fingertips to his temples and took in a deep breath. “Right. I don’t give a shit about the statement to the police right now. Lois just wants to take her home to Bensonhurst. Pretend none of this ever happened.”

“That might be for the best,” Alexis said, but Jax pressed his lips together, furrowing his brow.

“I think the best way forward is research,” the corporate raider declared. Ned glared at him, but Jax continued. “When I don’t know something, I find someone who does. You can’t know what’s right for Brooke. Or even what might be a good idea. None of us have ever been through anything like this.”

“No, I guess not,” Alexis murmured. “Research, huh?”

“I think we ought to talk to someone who has some experience, and this…” Jax tapped a copy of the Port Charles Sun’s latest edition. “This gives me ideas.”

“Burn down the offices?” Ned asked dryly. He took the paper and skimmed the cover. “It’s just another headline about the PCPD—” He hesitated. “It’s a list of their most recent scandals. Elizabeth Webber.” He frowned. “She was—she was hurt once, wasn’t she?”

“She used to work for you and Chloe, remember?” Jax said. He tapped Elizabeth’s picture. “Chloe said something to me then about her.”

“I remember this now. She was raped by the man who blackmailed Emily,” Ned murmured. “I was there the day at the courthouse when she made her outcry. Edward was upset—he wanted me to see if anything could be done for her. But there wasn’t enough evidence, they said.” He exhaled slowly. “I don’t know if I should ask her.”

“She’s been through a lot this summer, Jax,” Alexis told him. “Between a miscarriage in May, Ric’s assault, and then her pulmonary embolism. She nearly died a few times thanks to Ric. I don’t think we want to ask her to revisit this kind of experience.”

“Fair enough,” Jax said. “But you wouldn’t have to ask her for details. It would just be asking her how to talk to Brooke. Should you leave her alone, for example? Push her? She might have some ideas.”

“I guess.” And still, Ned hesitated. He’d already used Elizabeth once as a pawn in his misguided grudge against Sonny Corinthos. He hadn’t done anything really to push her towards Ric Lansing—but he had given Ric support and cover a few times.

He didn’t want to ask her for anything—didn’t feel like she owed him any help at all. But this wasn’t about him—it was about his little girl. And there was very little he wouldn’t do for Brooke.

Brownstone: Living Room

 When Lucas got home from the police station, Bobbie was waiting for him.  She’d been unable to talk to her son since receiving the phone call from Felicia the night before—Lucas had gone to the station, then to the hospital, and then back to the station—and Bobbie hadn’t wanted to hover.

Hadn’t wanted Lucas to feel smothered.

But she called in a favor at work and waited for him to finally walk through the door. She got to her feet. “Lucas.”

“Mom.” Her little boy stared at him, his blond hair disheveled, his dark brown eyes bloodshot from exhaustion. “I thought you—I thought you had to work—”

“Felicia called last night when she picked the girls up from the station.” Bobbie couldn’t stop herself anymore and put her arms around him. Lucas hugged her back. “I didn’t know if you’d want me to come—”

“I’m okay,” he told her quickly. He stepped back. “Really, I mean it didn’t even happen to me, and it’s stupid for me to be upset. I didn’t even do anything wrong. We found her, didn’t we? It’s not—” He swallowed and looked away, his lower lip trembling. “I thought she was dead, Mom.”

“Oh, baby—”

“I thought she was dead, and that it was my fault because I invited her and I let Kyle goad me into a fight, and then we all—we all missed her walking away. It wasn’t that long, but it didn’t matter. She looked like a broken doll laying on the ground, and I—” His voice trembled, and he swallowed again. “I checked her pulse, and I was so damn scared—”

She hugged him again, his words fading away as she ran her fingers through his hair, scratching his scalp as she had done when he was a little boy. “I’m so sorry, Lucas.”

“How can a man do that to a woman?” Lucas demanded. “And how the hell can he keep doing it and get away with it?” He drew back with a sharp shake of his head. “It’s just bullshit. I wanted to go to the hospital again when we were done, but Dillon said she wasn’t seeing anyone. Refused to talk to anyone.”

“It’s going to be hard for the next few days,” Bobbie murmured. “You have to just listen to her. Let her set the pace. She knows what she needs. You just have to follow her.”

“I ever find the asshole who did this—” Lucas shook his head. “I don’t know what I’ll do,” he admitted. “But I suddenly understand men like Sonny and Jason today.’

He started for the back of the house where his room was, and Bobbie squeezed her eyes shut. She’d never wanted her little boy to know the horrors of the world up close, but there was no protecting him or anyone else from the evil that walked the Earth.

PCPD: Commissioner’s Office

 “I swear to God, the level of incompetence is really starting to piss me off,” Scott seethed as he threw the latest copy of the Herald on Mac’s desk. Behind him, the mayor quietly removed his suit jacket and set it on the back of the sofa. “First I got motherfucking Ric Lansing trying to get the charges dropped—”

“Is that a possibility?”

“This is the same justice system that let him have control of his wife’s medical care less than twenty-four hours after he assaulted her, so I’m not putting anything past these bitches.” Scott all but tore folders from his briefcase. “And now—now I got this serial rapist fuckery—what the hell is this bullshit, Mac?”

“I don’t know where the paper got their information,” Mac said, his expression all but blank. Scott was going to shove his thumb in that bastard’s eye in a minute. “We hadn’t officially linked them—”

“Bull-fucking-shit. I linked them—my office linked them two weeks ago,” Scott said with a stab of his finger. “I called you after the third—an investigation, by the way, on which your boys fucked up protocol again. Lazy ass Esposito wasn’t supposed to be working sex crimes, and yet he grabbed the case and didn’t put it on the report—”

“Taggert took over all three last week—”

“And is the Herald right? Not one of these cases have had their rape kits processed?” Scott demanded. He slapped his hand on the paper. “This is amateur hour, Mac! We’ve talked about trying to get back on the right track and every time we come close—”

“Scott,” Floyd said, but his voice was quiet, so the raging district attorney didn’t hear him.

“We don’t test rape kits without a suspect,” Mac said, but this came with a heavy sigh. “That’s been the departmental policy since it even became an option to process them—”

“What, because of budgets? Fuck that shit, Mac. How the hell can you find a suspect if you don’t test for DNA? How many unprocessed rape kits do we got in this damn building?”

“We don’t get that many rapes, believe it or not,” Mac said dryly. “Maybe ten.” He hesitated. “Fourteen if you count these four.”

“I do count these four,” Scott said, his teeth clenched. “How many of those ten are within the statutes of limitations? Jesus, Mac, if we get DNA profiles, we can stretch out the statutes—don’t you pay attention to the change in the laws? The DNA puts a hold on the statute, but you have to process the kits and get the profile!”

“Scott, there have been budget issues,” Floyd tried again, but this time Scott heard him. He whirled around and shook his finger at him.

“Then you go hold a press conference and you tell this city that quibbling over fourteen thousand lousy dollars, a serial rapist was able to go—”

“He isn’t responsible for all fourteen,” Mac interrupted.

“How the hell do you know that?” Scott shook the paper. “Your idiot detectives couldn’t even link three cases with young brunettes in their twenties being raped at night near fountains in the park. Jesus fucking Christ, Mac! Don’t tell me that these four are the only cases we have in the park—”

Mac glanced at Floyd, who shook his head. Scott narrowed his eyes. “What is this? Do you want me to pull the cases? Because I can—”

“I think there are…” Mac shook his head. “One or two. I’d have to look—”

“Don’t bother. I’m assigning Kelsey to this. She’s going to personally look over every single sexual assault case run by this office since you took over—”

“You don’t have authority.” Mac lunged to his feet. “Who the hell are you—”

“I’m the fucking district attorney, and I can look at whatever case I want. You get them on my desk by the morning, Mac, and you send all the rape kits you can in this building for processing now, or I swear to God, I will leak this to the press myself.”

Scott grabbed his briefcase and files, then stormed out.

Floyd exhaled slowly. “It’s a pity I can’t fire him,” he murmured. “Don’t send the Baker case, Mac—”

“Oh, yeah, because I’m going to get away with holding out on one case,” Mac retorted with a dismissal of his hand. “Taggert worked that case.”

“Her case is officially solved, Mac.” Floyd raised his brows. “Baker confessed. Her kit wasn’t processed, but there’s no reason to.”

“Her case fits the profile—”

“And we have a confession,” Floyd pressed. “You send her case down to Baldwin, he’s pissed off enough right now to see we didn’t process the kit and start asking questions. Don’t send it. You can always tell him later her case was solved.”

Mac sat back down, put his head in his hands. “But Taggert knows it wasn’t supposed to be listed that way. It was supposed to be put on the inactive list. I listed it as solved.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Mac. At the end of the day, you made the decision not to investigate Baker and hold up the trial. You and Dara Jensen.” Floyd put his jacket back on, buttoned it. “Which will be the statement I release to the press if this should blow up in our faces.”

Mac scowled as the mayor left, but knew he’d been left with no choice. He had two girls in college—he couldn’t afford to lose his job right now, and that’s exactly would happen if the Baker case went public before the election.

After all, Tom Baker had confessed. Elizabeth had gotten her justice. Even if hadn’t happened in the way it supposed to—

This…the fact that her case seemed similar was just a coincidence. It had to be. She was in his head because of what had happened this summer. He called his secretary into begin collecting the case files.

Elizabeth’s Condo: Living Room

She was almost grateful when the doorman in the lobby telephoned her to say that Ned Ashton was downstairs to see her. Elizabeth honestly couldn’t think what Ned would want from her, but she was happy for the distraction.

Jason had had to go to work, leaving Elizabeth alone with her thoughts. She’d thought about calling Lucky a few times, just to ask about the case. Or to call Bobbie and check on Lucas. She’d tried to sketch, she’d tried to paint. She’d tried watching television and even had attempted to do some reading. But nothing distracted her.

She was starting to get her energy back and struggled to find something to do with it— should she be looking for a job? Some way to fill her hours?

She pulled open the door when Ned knocked, and her chest ached at the sight of Emily and Jason’s cousin, a worried and exhausted father, as he stood on her doorstep. “Ned. I’m surprised to see you.”

“I’m sorry to just show up here,” he said. He took a deep breath, cleared his throat. “Can—Can I come in?”

“Oh. Yeah, sure. Do you—do you want some water? I keep coffee for Jason, if you want some.”

“No, no, I’ve been drinking my weight in coffee thanks to Jax and Alexis.” Ned rubbed the back of his neck. “Now that I’m here, I’m reconsidering why I came. I don’t have the right to ask you anything—”

“Because of Ric?” Elizabeth tilted her head to the side as she sat on her sofa. She gestured for Ned to sit in the armchair and waited until he did so. “Jason said you helped us figure out it was the house, which led us to the real estate agent. I don’t care that you worked with Ric. I know how hard it must have been when Kristina died last year.”

“You’re…too generous.” Ned rubbed his eyes. “I’m sure you’ve heard what happened to my daughter, Brooke, last night. She was attacked and—” He struggled to get the words out. “Raped.”

“Emily called me.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “Did she tell you about what happened to me?”

“Oh. No. I—Jax remembered Chloe saying something, and I remembered the Baker trial. I—” Ned shook his head. “I don’t know what to do to help her. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to act. I just want to make it better, and I know I can’t. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t even be asking—”

“Do you think it would help if I talked to her?” Elizabeth offered almost before she had even realized it. “I was a little younger than her, but I remember those first few days. They were…they were the worst of my life. And eventually I went to a support group. I could—if you thought it would help.”

Ned looked stunned. “I had only thought to ask you for some advice, but—” He swallowed hard. “God, yes. I think if Brooke could look at you and know it doesn’t have to mean the end of everything—” He got to his feet. “I would be profoundly grateful.”

She also stood. “Of course. I’ll come by the hospital tomorrow. She might need some time to process and just…be alone. The first twenty-four hours, I was mostly in denial. I didn’t want anyone to look at me.” Elizabeth managed a half smile. “Eventually I let people in.”

“Thank you,” Ned reached for her hand, folded it between both of his. “Thank you. You have no idea—”

“It’s good to know you’re not alone,” Elizabeth told him. “I can at least let Brooke know that.”

August 26, 2019

This entry is part 8 of 23 in the series All of Me

Please note that the final scene has a trigger warning. See Content Notes for more information.


She wants to go home
But nobody’s home
That’s where she lies
Broken inside
With no place to go
No place to go to
To dry her eyes
Broken inside
Nobody’s Home, Avril Lavigne


Thursday, July 17, 2003

General Hospital: Brooke’s Room

That morning, Brooke’s doctor had agreed to move her out of the ICU with its clear, transparent walls, and into her own room. She’d begged to be released, begged to go home, but then her parents had just argued again about whether Brooke would go home to the gatehouse or to Bensonhurst—and though Olivia had managed to quiet them both—Brooke stopped asking to leave.

She was tired of her parents arguing. It was the dominant memory of her childhood and had been the reason she had never believed or even hoped her parents would get back together. She had no memory of them being together and couldn’t imagine them ever being in love enough to create a child.

She refused all visitors, refused to talk to the police. This just needed to be over. She wanted to close her eyes, go to sleep, and just never wake up. Every time she was conscious, there was pain. Her head. Her arms.

And inside. Sometimes she woke gasping for air, the stabbing pain of being held down while someone forced himself inside her—

Brooke couldn’t even curl up, couldn’t even disappear into dreamless sleep. Her ribs pained her, her dreams haunted her—

Every second of her life was a waking nightmare, and sleep provided only minimal escape.

Her father lightly tapped on the door and pushed it open. “Brooke, I know you said you didn’t want to see anyone—”

“And that’s still true,” Brooke muttered, but she couldn’t force any anger or heat into her words. All of that took too much energy.

“I just—I thought you might want to talk to someone—”

“I already told you, I’m not talking to a shrink—” Brooke turned her head to face the door, then blinked because the woman standing next to her father wasn’t a shrink. She’d seen the woman’s face all over the newspapers for the last few weeks. “What—”

“I can go, Brooke,” Elizabeth Webber said. “The last thing you need is someone forcing you to talk to anyone. I—I know what that’s like.”

Brooke fumbled for the remote on the left side of her bed slightly. “How?” she asked with suspicion. She furrowed her brow. Why would her father bring this woman to see her?

“Because when it happened to me, I spent the next three days in bed, and then a few more weeks pretending it had never happened,” Elizabeth said, meeting her eyes. “And when I finally told people, it felt like it was all they ever saw when they looked at me.”

Brooke looked at her father, but Ned’s face remained expressionless. She knew her father hated being powerless, of not being able to fix this for her. So clearly, he’d gone out to find a way to fix it.

He was trying, and Brooke so desperately wanted to believe this was something that her father could make go away.

“You can come in, I guess. Just you,” she said quickly. Elizabeth turned, flashed a half smile at Ned, then let the dark wooden door fall shut behind her. “I’m not going to talk about it.”

“Okay.” Elizabeth looked around the room, exhaling slowly. “It wasn’t so long ago I was stuck in a room like this,” she murmured. “I hated the ICU, too. Hated the way people seemed to stop and stare at me. I mean, maybe it was in my head, but it just felt like I was some sort of circus show.”

She sat in the chair near Brooke’s bed and folded her hands in her lap. “Do…do you want to ask me anything?”

“I—” Brooke bit her lip. “When did it happen to you?”

“I was sixteen,” Elizabeth said. “Valentine’s Day, 1998.” She rubbed her hands together, staring down at the chipped nails. “It’s been five years.”

Brooke leaned her had back against the pillow. “Did you—did they get the guy?”

“Eventually. Not for what happened to me. They couldn’t prove it by then. I did—” Elizabeth shook her head. “I guess people would say I did everything wrong, you know? I took a shower. I waited to report. And by the time I did, there was nowhere to look. I mean, I did a rape kit right after and gave them the dress I had been wearing, but I still didn’t officially file a report.”

“Is that why you’re here? To tell me to talk to the cops?” Brooke demanded with a scowl. “I’m not going to. Some asshole already told everyone about me, and I just—maybe if the world didn’t know—but—” The pressure building behind her eyes released and tears slid down her cheek. “I can’t. I can’t say it out loud.”

“I get that,” Elizabeth said softly. “I’ve never really—I locked it away for a long time. At first, I could only—I could only give some details. I couldn’t face it. Even when I did face it—I still only did it halfway. There’s no right way to handle something this big, Brooke. You have to do what’s right for you, you know? I can wish I did things differently. Hindsight gives me that ability to see everything I could have done to make it easier for me, but that’s me.”

She bit her lip. “I was in a survivor’s group for a while as part of my therapy, and God, the stories broke my heart. I started to tell myself I’d been lucky to be attacked by a stranger. At least it wasn’t my boyfriend. Or my father, or my brother.” Her fist clenched in her lap. “But that was me trying to make it less awful, trying to minimize what happened to me.”

Brooke closed her eyes. “I don’t want to say it out loud,” she managed. “I don’t want it to be true, and I don’t want anyone to know. But I guess…I guess that ship has sailed on that. I belong to a prominent family, so I guess I don’t have a choice—”

“You always have a choice, Brooke. He didn’t take that from you.” Elizabeth hesitated. “When it happened, I had never been with anyone. I hadn’t even really been in love. I couldn’t imagine ever letting someone touch me because then—then they might see how broken and dirty I was.”

Brooke choked as a sob pushed its way up her throat. “I don’t like boys. I never ever wanted—” The tears came fast now. “I knew someone whose guy friend found out she was gay, and he—he forced her to prove she really wanted boys. And I was always scared—and now—” She managed a deep breath. “Does it ever stop being the worst thing that ever happened to you? How do you sleep and not think about it? How do you stop?”

“Time. Nothing but time,” Elizabeth admitted. “And sometimes…sometimes, the dreams come again. I wish—I wish I could give you sunshine and rainbows, Brooke, and promise you there will be a turning point where it stops being something that you think about. For years, I thought of myself as the girl who got raped, and while I don’t give myself that label anymore, there will never be a time when I don’t see that day as…”

Elizabeth hesitated. “It’s like this giant thing in the middle of my life. There will always be a before and an after for me. A time before I got raped, and everything that happened after.”

Her chest ached as Brooke tried to take another deep breath, tried to stop crying. “B-but it got better.”

“It did. I started to let people in. I didn’t have a choice about Lucky Spencer. He found me that night and took me back to his house where his father and his aunt took care of me. Bobbie became someone I could say anything to. I eventually told my grandmother and my sister. And others in my life if it became relevant. I fell in love—with Lucky, and then Jason. For a long time, I thought of myself as two people. Lizzie came before, and I used to blame her. That wild child who lied, broke the rules, and stayed out late. I did everything I could to drown Lizzie’s voice out.”

Brooke sniffled and took the tissue Elizabeth offered. “You don’t anymore?”

“No. Lizzie wasn’t to blame.  I wasn’t to blame. I walked through the park one night and I sat on a bench, and that was something I had the right to do. It didn’t matter what I wore, where I was, or how late it was. Someone came in and tried to steal that from me, and eventually, it became easier to blame him and not myself.”

Brooke blinked at her. Bench. Park. “Y-you said they caught him. H-how did you know?”

“He admitted it. It’s—complicated.” Elizabeth shook her head. “He denied it later, and they couldn’t make a case against him.”

“There are other girls. That’s what the papers say.” Brooke met Elizabeth’s eyes. “Maybe…talking to the police…that could help them, right?”

“It could.”

“I should—I should try to help so that it doesn’t happen to anyone else. I—I can do that. I guess. Tell them what happened. Once,” she added quickly. “If I just say it once, then maybe it won’t hurt so much.”

“Maybe,” Elizabeth said softly. “But don’t expect miracles, Brooke. This—this isn’t going to go away tomorrow or if you wish really hard. This is something that’s going to stay with you. Expecting to put it in a box in your head and lock it away—I’ve tried that.”

“Can—if I wanted to talk about it again, could I talk to you?” Brooke asked hesitantly.

“I’ll leave you my number,” Elizabeth said, looking at the table for a pen and paper. “You call me any hour of the day or night. I will be here for you if you need it.” She scribbled something and handed it to Brooke. “That’s my land line and my cell phone.”

“Thanks. Um, I guess I should tell my dad to call the police and tell them—”

“There’s no rush,” Elizabeth said, getting to her feet. “Brooke—”

“If I don’t do it now, I might never do it.’

General Hospital: Conference Room

Taggert could see, even before Ned took a seat across from him at the table, that Brooke’s father was boiling with rage—that it lay simmering beneath the surface, threatening to bubble over given even the slightest opportunity. His ex-wife, Lois, didn’t bother to sit, though the woman who had traveled with Lois—Olivia Falconieri—gingerly took a seat next to Ned. Taggert was a bit mystified to see Lois throwing angry looks in her friend’s direction.

“I appreciate you meeting with me,” Taggert began.

Before he could continue, Ned leaned forward and pointed a finger at the table, all but stabbing it. “Let’s get one thing straight. The only reason I am in this room with you and not with Alexis preparing a gigantic lawsuit is because my daughter has decided to make a statement and Elizabeth Webber said you could be trusted.”

Taggert exhaled slowly. He had shown Elizabeth some kindness all of those years ago, and now he was benefiting from it. After the way the department had screwed her over, he hadn’t expected that. “Ned—”

“Are the papers right?” Lois demanded, her face mottled with red, her dark eyes molten with fury. “Is my daughter a victim of a serial rapist?”

“Yes,” Taggert said.

“How long have you known?” Olivia asked quietly. Lois threw her another dirty look, but Olivia ignored her. “My son is thinking about quitting. You know that, don’t you?”

“I started to suspect about two weeks ago when I transferred to Major Crimes,” Taggert told the trio. “I took a look at the open case files. The officer assigned had reasons to doubt it, but there were too many similarities. The DA’s office is on board with linking the cases. We were held back from issuing a public alert.”

“By who? The mayor?” Ned demanded. “Why?”

“A few reasons that don’t matter,” Taggert offered with a shake of his head. “But more likely because it’s an election year.”

Olivia raised a thin brow. “Should you be telling us that?”

“Why the hell are you even here?” Lois exploded, and Olivia looked at her now, mystified. “Brooke is my daughter, not yours—”

“Because I asked her to be,” Ned snapped at his ex-wife. “Because we’re both too angry and upset, and I wanted someone else Brooke trusted to listen to an investigation update. Her son works for the PCPD, Lois. You asked her to come here to Port Charles. Let her help.”

“I’ll go.” Olivia got to her feet. “I don’t want to make things worse—”

Lois scrubbed her hands over her face, digging her heels into her eyes. “No. No. Ned is right. I’m sorry.”

“There isn’t much Floyd can do to me,” Taggert said, answering Olivia’s question as if the intervening argument hadn’t happened. “Scott Baldwin has assigned an ADA to this case full-time, and Kelsey Joyce is already getting us the extra funding we need to test all the rape kits we have as a backlog. We should have those results back in a few weeks.”

“My daughter’s life has been destroyed,” Ned said. “And you don’t have a single lead?”

“We have leads,” Taggert said, a bit defensively. “But, no, we don’t have any suspects. But based on the types of women this asshole targets and the way he targets them, we have places to look. I’m putting the entire unit on this, and I’ll be in charge—”

“Why should that make me feel better?” Lois jabbed a finger at him. “Did you find Carly Corinthos? She was locked behind a damn wall in the house of the man her son told you kidnapped her, and you still couldn’t find her. His wife had to nearly die in order to make that happen.”

“I—” Taggert shook his head. “I’m sorry. I wish I had more to give you—”

“You tell Mac and the mayor that I don’t care what asshole I have to pick up off the streets,” Ned began as he shoved himself to his feet. “I am putting the full force of the Quartermaines behind who ever runs against that son of the bitch in the fall. He sacrificed my daughter for his fucking election. You and the rest of the PCPD—”

He sliced his hand through the air. “I am through accepting the bullshit this town has for police protection. You couldn’t protect my daughter, my fiancée last year—and you have no problems throwing innocent women to the wolves to cover your own asses—it has to stop.”

He stormed out of the room, Lois and Olivia on his heels.

Brownstone: Living Room

Lulu dropped her bags on the chair and scowled at the police officer in the foyer. “Why are you here bothering my cousin?” she demanded.

Dante Falconieri rolled his eyes at his friend’s younger sister. Apparently, according to Lucky, Lulu had taken the first flight home when she found out Brooke had been hurt and was now acting like a guard dog for Lucas Jones. “We just have a few follow-ups—”

“Because the only thing you assholes definitely know is that Lucas, Dillon, and Kyle didn’t do it.” Lulu lifted her chin. “So, go find the piece of shit who did—”

Dante held up his hands. “Hey. Knock off the attitude. Your brother is one of us, remember? And I just started this job a month ago.”

None of the fire was extinguished from Lulu’s angry dark eyes. “Oh, yeah? You think I’m not pissed at my brother either? That could have happened to any of us—Brooke walked through the park like I’ve done a thousand times—” Her voice wavered slightly. “She never would have done that if we’d known—”

“Brooke’s my friend, too,” Dante returned, more gently. “We grew up together in Bensonhurst—”

Lulu perched on the arm of the chair and sighed. “Right. Shit. I’m sorry. I forgot—” She chewed on her bottom lip. “If I hadn’t been in London, I probably would have been with them that night. We do a movie night every month, and it was Dillon’s turn to pick the movie.” She folded her arms. “Last month, we invited Kyle for the first time, and it was a major drama because Lucas is like a five-year-old who can’t keep his mouth shut.”

Dante tilted his head. “Why does everyone hate Kyle Radcliffe?”

“Oh, we have legitimate reasons. He seduced Maxie in the spring and then broadcast their first time on a webcam. Complete asshole.” She tossed her hair over her shoulder. “But like Maxie tells us, that’s her shit to forgive, not ours. Whatever. Anyway, if I had been there, I could have done something. Maybe I would have seen her leave. I could have stopped her. Or I could have—” She shook her head again. “Lucas isn’t here. He’s at Kelly’s. Trying to keep his mind off of things.”

“Okay. Thanks.” Dante hesitated. “Did Brooke go last month? Was she part of the group then? I know she moved here early in June—”

“No, she was still having a temper tantrum. And I don’t even know her that well. She only visited a few times when we were kids, and sometimes Ned had me and Maxie and Georgie to come play with her. We weren’t that close. And we didn’t even go to the Harwin, if you’re wondering if maybe the group was targeted. That’s why you’re asking, right?”

“Yeah.” Dante lifted his brows. “How did you know?”

“That’s how this works. These are the questions.  Was Brooke targeted? How did the asshole find her? Was she random?” She shrugged. “So, no, that was the first time at the Harwin for the group at large. That’s Dillon’s favorite theater. It shows all the old movies. We usually hit the Loewe’s or AMC out at the mall. We went to AMC last month.” Lulu hesitated. “Hey, is my brother okay with all of this?”

“Lucky?” Dante asked. “Yeah. I guess, why?”

“Oh. I just worried it might bring back bad memories.” Dante’s mystified look must have read on his face because Lulu continued. “When he was sixteen, he found Elizabeth in the park after she’d been raped. I was just worried about him, that’s all. Can you tell him to return my phone calls when you see him?”

General Hospital: Administration Suite

Alexis shifted uncomfortably in her chair and watched as Ned paced the small office she occupied as the hospital’s attorney. Her ex-fiancé had been on the phone for the last twenty minutes trying to find someone willing to run against Garrett Floyd before the deadline at the end of the month.

Ned tossed his flip phone onto the glass conference table with a grimace. “The Barringtons have already promised their support to Floyd.”

Alexis pursed her lips. “They weren’t swayed by the recent reports?”

“They think it’s too soon to assign blame.” Ned rolled his shoulders. “I’m doing this all wrong, aren’t I?”

She shook her head. “Uh uh. Don’t ask me. I’ve been a mother for less than a year and I’m pretty sure I’m messing it up.”

He scrubbed his hands over his face. “I can’t fix this, Alexis. I wouldn’t let her have a car. I took away her phone—”

“You were disciplining her—and you never would have done that if you’d known there was a serial rapist targeting young brunettes.” Alexis leaned back in her chair. “You could always file suit against the city—”

Ned hesitated. “Maybe, but…the whole world already knows this happened to her. Elizabeth told me Brooke is struggling with that. She wants to make a statement to the police and move on with her life.” He grimaced. It burned at him, though, that such callous decisions had been made without even an of ounce concern for all the damage that could be done.

Someone had to pay.

“It’s good that she’s ready to make a statement, and I’m glad Elizabeth could be there to help her.” Alexis hesitated. “Ned, it doesn’t matter what happens with the investigation, with the election—this is always going to have happened. Don’t be so hard on yourself for not having all the answers yet.”

“I’ve never been able to be there for my daughter,” Ned murmured. “I’ve never been a good father. I just wanted to be better this time.”

“Maybe you haven’t been the world’s best father.” Alexis rose from her chair and rounded the desk to step in front of him. She put her hands on his cheek, framing his face. “But you’re a good man, and you’re going to do the best you can. That’s all you can ask of yourself. Be there for Brooke, listen to what she needs. Everything else can—and should—wait.”

Elizabeth’s Condo: Living Room

Elizabeth managed a tired smile when Jason came over that night. She brushed her lips against his. “Hey. I hope you don’t mind Kelly’s again.” She gestured towards the counter in her kitchen where takeout containers sat. “I went by the hospital today and I wasn’t really up to anything else.”

“No, no, that’s—” He swallowed, slid his fingers through his hair. “I forgot you were talking to Brooke today. I should have called.”

She opened a drawer to pull out some utensils. “It’s so different for her,” Elizabeth murmured. “No one knew about me. No one I didn’t want to know, anyway. But someone leaked her name, and she had to go to the hospital—it’s been a circus.” She sighed. “Kind of like this summer when I was in the ICU and all the papers, you know? I felt like I was on display.”

“Why would they leak her name? Because of the Quartermaines?” Jason took the food from her and set it on the table. They both sat down but neither started eating. “To sell papers?”

“Bobbie told me it was two separate leaks. Brooke’s name and the serial rapist—” Elizabeth pushed her chili around in the plastic bowl. “Justus called from Philly—he thinks we should go after the PCPD after all because of the negligence—and I just—I don’t know. I can’t do it.”

“They put you in danger. They didn’t warn people about the park,” Jason said. “Do you think that’s something they should get away with?”

“No.” She sighed. “But I just keep thinking about that poor girl, looking at me and asking me if it gets better. If it would all go away.” Her throat thickened and she swallowed hard. “I should have lied to her. I should have told yes, of course. It gets better. It goes away, and you’ll never have to think about it again.” She turned to look out the window. “It gets better, but it never ever goes away. And you never know what will trigger the memory.”

She looked back at him, at the untouched dinners in front of them, and sighed. “I’m sorry. I’m a mess. I feel like every time we see each other, I’m crying again, or—” Elizabeth shook her head and shoved away from the table, crossing to the sofa. She folded herself up into the corner. “I don’t know why you bother.”

Behind her, she heard him sigh and get up. He sat next to her on the sofa, at the other end with space between them. “I bother,” he said, stressing the word, “because I love you. I’m sorry about what Brooke’s going through. What it’s brought back for you—”

“I told you—it was already in my head.” Elizabeth leaned back against the sofa, tilting her head up to the ceiling. “That last day with Ric, when he was coming after me—I’m not even sure if I had time to realize that the fear I felt—that it was familiar. That it was something I had lived with for months after I was raped. It took me years to walk through that park alone without breaking into a sweat or a panic attack. And then when I started to think about being drugged—” She bit her lip. “And of course, that letter.” She looked at him. “Did you get rid of it?”

Jason hesitated.  And there was something in his eyes, in the way the muscles in his cheeks twitched slightly. Her heart started to pound. “Jason.”

“No, I didn’t throw it away,” he said finally. He reached into his back pocket and took out the letter which had been folded several times over, then looked at her. “I told you that I read it.”

“What else did you do?” she asked. She shoved herself to her feet, her heart pounding. Because she knew—she knew what he was going to say next. Her mouth dry, her head screaming, she swallowed hard. “Did you go to see him?”

He winced, closed his eyes, and everything inside her just exploded.

“I shouldn’t have,” Jason acknowledged. “I wish I hadn’t. But I couldn’t get it out of my head. I told myself I would go and keep whatever he told me to myself. If you ever wanted to know, I could…I could tell you then.” He stood. “I had a friend in the prison let me in to see Baker a few days ago. I wanted to warn him to stay away from you. But then he said something—so I read the letter. After Brooke, I realized if what he said was true—”

Stop! Don’t say another—” She broke off abruptly, her mouth dry, her heart racing so fast—the room started to spin. Elizabeth moved hastily around the back of the sofa. Wanting something between them. Needing something between them. She couldn’t…she couldn’t breathe. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to make it all go away—but instead—

Don’t say another…

Despite the artificial cold of the air conditioning unit hanging in one of her windows, the air felt more bitter than that. That was all it took—just the mention of his name, the closing of her eyes, and she could still summon the sensation of bitter February winter, the wetness of the snow after he’d stripped her of her warm wool coat.  It had seeped into her dress, drenching her skin.

Not a word.

Even taking hot showers every day for more than a month hadn’t been able to banish that feeling from her mind.

“Elizabeth?”

Jason’s voice came from somewhere far away—as Lucky’s had that night. She’d heard Lucky calling her name, then the vanishing of the weight from above her. The bright burst of pain as he’d taken a hunk of her hair and slammed it one more time against the frozen dirt—

“Elizabeth—”

Something touched her shoulder, and Elizabeth’s eyes flew open. She stumbled back, her hands flying out to push against whatever was next to her—she could sense that weight more than see it.

And then she was back in the present. In July 2003, not February 1998. Inside her small living room, with the warm yellow light filtering through the lamp shades and the humming of her air conditioner.

Not outside. Not on the ground. Not in the snow.

“Elizabeth—”

She looked at Jason. He stood a few feet from her, his hands up in surrender, a scratch on his forearm already beginning to drip with blood. She looked down at her hands, at the blood underneath one of her fingernails before looking back at him. His eyes were bright with worry, with sorrow.

He’d done this to her. He’d brought this feeling back. Hadn’t she told him not to do it? To leave it alone?

“I just wanted it to stay locked up,” Elizabeth murmured. She looked at the letter sitting on her table as it weren’t a ticking time bomb. “I wanted it to stay away.”

“I know. I’m sorry—”

“I asked you to not to do anything.” A tear slid down her cheek. “I—I already have nightmares. I see the panic room every night. I see Carly and I can’t get to her, and he comes home, and he stops me. He puts me in there with her—”

Jason said nothing, only swallowed hard, but now his eyes were damp. What right did he have to cry? This was his fault.

“I had nightmares last year. Of the dark. Of never getting back out of it. Bad things come in the dark. They happen in the dark, when you can’t see to stop them. They grab you—” She choked off the words, pressed her hands to her mouth. “I can’t…I can’t…I have them, too. I’m locked in the dark, and I can hear Carly screaming. And now I’m going to think about the snow. About lying on that ground and not being able to stop him. How I felt like I was being torn in two—”

Jason took a single step towards her, and Elizabeth backed up until she hit the wall and then slid to the ground. She couldn’t do this again. She couldn’t be that girl. She wasn’t even put together yet, and he was breaking her again.

“I thought it would be different,” she managed. She raised her eyes to look at him as he stood across the room, holding one hand against the scratch—probably to stop the blood from dripping. “I thought you could be someone I could trust.”

“That’s why I had to tell you. I didn’t want to lie to you.”

“I guess your epiphany came too late,” she retorted. “I asked you to not to do anything. Because I can’t—I don’t want to know what he said. I need you to go. I can’t…I can’t have people I don’t trust in my life. Not ever again.”

He exhaled slowly. “I’ll go because you’re asking me to, and I’ve done enough to hurt you. I know that, but Elizabeth…I know it was wrong to go when you’d told me not to do anything. That was your decision to make, not mine.”

“Too little, too late.” Elizabeth forced herself to rise but remained against the wall. “I want you to go.” When he still didn’t move, she screamed it this time. “Go! Get out!”

He went, taking the letter with him. She should have been angry about that, but she didn’t want it in her house. Didn’t want to have to look at it. Touch it.

When the door closed behind him, she slid back onto the ground, wrapping her arms around her legs, tucking her head down.

And cried.

Outside her door, Jason made a call and then waited until the elevator at the end of the hall opened and his mother stepped out. She carried a black bag and hurried towards him.

Monica frowned at him. “Why—”

“She threw me out.” Jason shook his head. “I can’t—I can’t talk about it. The door’s open. Please. Just make sure she’s all right. That it was just—Please.”

“Okay.”

“I have to go.”

He left then, afraid if he waited until Monica was done, he might not be able to go at all.

And she wanted him gone.

August 29, 2019

This entry is part 9 of 23 in the series All of Me

Come and see him when she is gone
He’s surprised but knows he is wrong
A simple case of do or die
And now she’s cut and run
Your vision let you down
You almost let her drown
Liberty, Olive


Friday, July 18, 2003

Corinthos & Morgan Warehouse: Main Floor

Bernie had called Sonny just past dawn, passing on a report from a concerned night shift manager. He didn’t have a lot of the details, but something was wrong with Jason—he wasn’t hurt, Bernie said, but Sonny was needed.

So Sonny dragged himself out of bed, murmured something to a sleeping Carly, and came over to the warehouse at six in the morning to find a cluster of his men talking just inside the large bay doors that led to the dock out on Lake Ontario.

He followed their concerned looks and frowned, spying a familiar set of shoulders lifting coffee sacks out of crates and handing them off to the next worker. When was the last time Jason did grunt work in the warehouse?

“How long has he been out here?” Sonny asked. “He looks like hell.”

“Since last night,” Max Giambetti murmured. “The foreman said he was in his office all night going over books and then came out here around three in the morning.”

Sonny sighed and crossed the floor. “Jason—”

“I’m busy.” Jason reached for another sack, but the employee who had been handing them to him was standing with his hands at his side. Sonny had signaled him to stop work. “Sonny—”

“Take a walk with me. The guys got this.”

And Jason followed—not because he wanted to, but because Jason would never countermand an order in front of the men, warehouse or organization. Sonny was in charge, and Jason followed him.

Wordlessly, Sonny led Jason outside, to the pier that set out over the lake. His back to the muddy brown water, Sonny raised a brow. “You suddenly have a hankering for back breaking work on no sleep?”

Up close, Jason looked even worse. His eyes were red, nearly blood shot. His hair was sticking in all directions, his jaw was shaded with a day-old beard. And his t-shirt was wrinkled as if he’d worn it the day before.

“What’s going on, Jase?” He hesitated. “Is Elizabeth okay?” Ah, there it was. The flicker in Jason’s eye. “You tell her about Baker?”

All Jason offered was a short nod. “Just that I went to see him. I never got a chance to say the rest—she was upset—”

“She’ll get past it,” Sonny said, but he was unsure. Jason’s relationship with Elizabeth was fragile, still in the rebuilding phases. Even a light blow could knock it back to its foundations. “I’m sorry it shook out like that.”

“It’s…” Jason rolled his shoulders. “It’s fine.”

“Jason.” Sonny tilted his head. “I know Elizabeth. I know you. You’re not fine.”

Jason hesitated, pressed his lips together, looked away across the lake where Spoon Island rose out of the water, towering over the western landscape. “She threw me out. She cried.”

His tone was even, the sentences short and choppy. Sonny knew that Jason had said it in the order in which it mattered. He was upset Elizabeth had thrown him out, but making her cry—

But all Sonny did was nod.  “Okay. Well, I’m sorry for that. Give her some time, some space. Why don’t you take off for the day? Get some sleep?”

“Can’t. Can’t sleep. Don’t—” Jason swallowed. “If I stop, I think. And I don’t want to think about it.”

“Okay. Well, I’d rather you not be around heavy machinery so if you need something physical to do, Bernie’s been bitching about reorganizing the storage room. He’s in his office.”

“Okay.” Jason disappeared back inside, and a moment later, Max emerged, his expression still worried. “He okay, Boss?”

“I don’t know,” Sonny admitted. “I guess we’ll have to see.” He rubbed his neck. “Give Bernie a call. See if he can talk Jason into going home in an hour or two. He might do it if it comes from someone else.”

And if Jason didn’t go home by the end of the day, if he didn’t get some sleep, Sonny might have to do something more drastic. He didn’t think Jason had slept more than a handful hours since that damn letter from Tom Baker had arrived.

Something needed to be done.

General Hospital: Gail’s Office

She hadn’t had an appointment scheduled with Gail that day, but she must have sounded terrible on the phone because Gail’s secretary had penciled her in for Gail’s lunch hour. And now, sitting in front of her grandmother’s friend, Elizabeth didn’t know what to say to her.

How to explain any of it. How what Jason had done seemed like the worst thing he could have done to her. She was in the process of divorcing an actually abusive sociopath who had nearly killed her, and yet…

“Why don’t you simply start at the beginning, dear?” Gail asked as she handed Elizabeth a glass of water. She did not take her seat on her chair, but rather stayed next to her on the sofa. “Just tell me what happened yesterday. Hilda said you were upset this morning. That you’d had a panic attack last night?”

“Panic attack,” Elizabeth repeated, closing her eyes. “That’s what Monica said. Jason called her after—but yeah. I—I don’t even know where the beginning is, because when I try to explain it to myself, I don’t understand it. How did it—How did it happen—why did something—he didn’t even tell me—” She sipped her tea, more to stop the babbling flow of nonsense than from thirst.

“What did you do yesterday?” Gail asked. “Was Jason the only person you spoke to?”

“No.” Elizabeth sighed. “No.” She set the tea on the table in front of them and clasped her fingers in her lap. “Ned asked me to talk to his daughter. To just…give her advice. And so I did. And I tried—I tried to be honest with her, but I feel like I messed it up. I didn’t—I didn’t really know what to tell her. And I guess talking about it…with what we’ve been doing in here about what happened with Ric—” She squeezed her eyes shut until she almost felt dizzy. “The fact that Ric basically raped me God knows how many times thanks to the pills—”

She pressed a fist to her mouth. “It’s hard to say it out loud, but I need to. But with Brooke being attacked in the park, with that newspaper article about the other attacks, and the letter from…” Elizabeth opened her eyes and leaned back against the sofa, suddenly exhausted. “It wasn’t even what happened with Jason. Not really. Or it wasn’t just that.”

“And what happened with Jason?”

“He didn’t just read the letter.” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “He went to see Baker. I still—I still don’t know what he said. I don’t want to know. But he went to see him, and it’s—it’s what’s been bothering him. I guess. He knew how upset I’d be but even I didn’t—” She met Gail’s kind eyes. “He took out the letter and that’s all it was. He just took it out of his pocket, put it on the coffee table, and I—I flipped out.”

She pressed her hands to her face. “I was in the park. I could literally feel the snow on my skin and how cold it was that night. The sound of his heavy breathing, the weight of him on top of me, inside—” Her voice broke. “I could hear Lucky’s voice—God, if he ever knew how close he was—he’d never forgive himself. I just—I was in that moment again, Gail. Being raped again. It was like living in a nightmare while still being awake, and I couldn’t make it go away. I couldn’t make it stop. I know I was screaming, and Jason tried to help me— I scratched him—”

Elizabeth pushed herself to her feet, too restless to stay in one place. She paced the small room, stopping by the window that overlooked the park. She couldn’t see the fountain from here, but that didn’t even matter. “When I came back to myself, and I saw Jason standing there, I—couldn’t stand it. I blamed him. It was like he’d—God, it was like he’d raped me. Just like Ric. Just like Tom. And that’s insane, because all he did was take out a fucking letter—”

Her voice broke again and this time, Elizabeth couldn’t stop it. Couldn’t stop the sobs bubbling up and breaking free. She wrapped her arms around her torso, her shoulders shaking. “I threw him out. I told myself and him I couldn’t trust him.”

“Elizabeth.” Gail’s voice was closer now and Elizabeth opened her eyes to see her therapist standing in front of her. “Do you really think it happened because of a letter?”

“I—” Elizabeth shook her head, her chest heaving. She shook it again. Struggled to get out the words. “No. No. It was just—it was the last piece. I hadn’t really—I guess I haven’t really dealt with any of it. I keep thinking I have, but I keep falling apart. When does it stop? When do I get to stop having to start all over again?”

She scrubbed her hands over her face. “It’s stupid for me to think Jason and I could work right now. I am a complete disaster and he deserves someone who isn’t certifiably insane.” She turned back to the window, rubbing a fist over her heart. It was the right thing to do. To let him go. She knew that.

“Maybe you’re not in a position to be in a new relationship,” Gail allowed as she came to stand next to Elizabeth. “But is that why you’d step back from him now? Because you’re not ready?”

“No.” Elizabeth’s breath was shaky. “No. But he’s…there’s no way…he thinks I’m strong. And I’m not. And when he figures it out—”

“He’ll leave you,” Gail said when Elizabeth broke off abruptly. “So you’re planning to leave first.”

“Just like last year,” Elizabeth murmured. She closed her eyes. “God. Why do I do that? Why is it so easy for me to walk away from Jason? I stuck with Ric. With Lucky. When I shouldn’t have. But at the first sign of trouble with Jason, I’m right out the door. What is wrong with me?”

“I don’t know if that’s quite the question I would pose to myself, but I think maybe that should be your homework this time.” Gail touched her shoulder. “And remember what we talked about before. You’ve been through a lot these few months. And this is coming from the woman who has known you your entire life, Elizabeth. I remember you running down these halls, hoping your grandfather would chase you, hiding from your parents who wanted to take you back to Colorado.”

Elizabeth laughed, despite her tears. “I always begged them to let me stay here. With Gram and Gramps. They knew me. They loved me. They never wanted me to be anyone else.” She exhaled slowly. “The thing is…I’ve never understood why he would stay. Why would he want me?” she said softly. “After everything I’ve done to him, Gail, and God, it’s been legion. I’ve never done anything except hurt him. Why does he still want me? Why can’t he just…” Her throat burned. “And if he does really want me, he won’t stay. Something will blow it up. Something will go wrong.”

“Something?”

I’ll do something awful to make him go away.” She used the heel of her hand to swipe at the tears. “I always do.” She laughed bitterly. “I did it last night. I threw him out. It’s not even the first time I’ve hurt him.”

“Oh?”

“I believed Lucky when he said Jason hurt him. I walked away from him—I was so angry with him. And he offered me the world, and I said no.”

“Why?”

“I—” Elizabeth stared at her. “I couldn’t walk away from Lucky. Lucky never walked away from me, and he needed me. I had to see him through that. And then Jason…he went. And he was gone by the time I realized that—And then Zander…” She looked away. “I just…I’m in love with him, and I think he loves me, too. But I can’t believe it. Because I don’t deserve it.”

Gail glanced at her clock. “We only have a few more moments, and I have another appointment, or I would keep you here.” She leaned forward. “So, let me leave you with this. I can’t make you feel like you deserve love. I wish I could flip a switch—that it were that easy. But you are loved. And you are worth it. So, if you really want to know why he’d want you, then you should ask him.”

PCPD: Conference Room

Ned braced Brooke’s elbow as his daughter gingerly lowered herself into a chair across from Lieutenant Taggert and the lawyer lady who had introduced herself as Kelsey. Brooke had only checked out of the hospital a few hours earlier, and Ned had wanted her to wait, but—

She just wanted this over with. She wanted to move on with her life and to stop thinking about this. She’d told her mother to wait back at the gate house, exhausted by her parents and their constant arguing. She didn’t want to go back to Brooklyn with her mother, but she didn’t want to stay here either.

She didn’t know what she wanted.

Except for all of this to just go away.

“We appreciate you coming in, Miss Ashton,” Kelsey said quietly. “We’d like to tape this to make sure your statement is taken accurately. Would you—would you prefer if I took the statement alone or—”

“You mean do I want to talk about being raped in front of my father and a guy cop?” Brooke demanded. She clenched her hands into fists on the table. “Look, he’s gonna hear it. And the way this place works, everyone is gonna read it in the papers, so I don’t care. I just want to answer your questions and then I want you to leave me alone. I’m only doing this because—”

She took a deep breath. Forced herself to breathe more slowly. “Because Elizabeth Webber told me not reporting it as soon as possible was a big regret for her, and I guess—I guess I don’t wanna look back and wish I had done it better.

“So I’m gonna tell you what I remember and then I’ll try to answer any of your questions. But after that, I don’t want to deal with it again, okay?”

“Okay.” Kelsey leaned back and looked at Taggert before looking at Brooke’s father, who hadn’t taken a seat yet. “So, let’s get started.”

Harborview Towers: Hallway

Elizabeth managed a smile for Max who knocked lightly on the door before opening it and announcing her. Sonny was standing by his minibar, a bourbon in his hand. He glanced at her briefly before taking a sip and looking back at the collection of bottles and glasses.

“Hey. I’m—I hope it’s okay I stopped by. Max said Courtney wasn’t here, so—”

“I haven’t seen Jason since this morning,” Sonny told her. He finished his drink, then poured another. “You want anything?”

“No.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “I stopped by his place and called him, but he didn’t pick up.” She shifted from one foot to another, feeling uncomfortable. Sonny wasn’t exactly being all that welcoming, and it was a stark shift in how he had treated her since Carly’s kidnapping.

She might as well not even be in the room. He’d treated her this way last year, just before he faked his death and the lying began.

“Well, can you blame him?” Sonny shrugged. “He tries to look out for you, feels bad about not telling you, and you rip his head off when he tries to be honest?” He snorted, took another drink. “I mean, you want honesty, don’t you, Elizabeth? Isn’t that what that crap was about last year?”

She blinked at him, took a step back. “I—yes. It’s—” She took a deep breath. “That’s why I’m looking for him. I need to talk to him. To explain—”

“To explain why you threw him out after everything he’s done for you this last month?” Sonny demanded. He looked at her again and she frowned at him. She didn’t recognize that strange light in his eyes. “I told him to stay out of it. To lie to you. Looks like I was right. You know what your problem is, Elizabeth?”

She folded her arms and arched a brow. “No, but I bet you’re going to tell me.”

“You’re just a kid. That’s the problem.” He threw back the rest of his drink. Poured another. And this time, his hand trembled slightly. “You run from your problems. As fast as you can. As soon as things get hard, you run away.”

“That’s not true—”

“Oh, you want credit because you stuck with Lucky Spencer until he slept with your sister?” Sonny sneered. “You were punishing yourself. For whatever the hell you did to Jason that sent him out of town last year.”

“Last year—” Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. “Sonny, Jason left in 2001. Two years ago. He’s been back a year.” Her ire fading, she stepped forward. “Are you…okay?”

“What?” He blinked at her. Cleared his throat. “What?”

“Jason came home last year,” Elizabeth said gently. “After he thought Carly had died in that car accident. He came home and he almost married Courtney.”

“I—” Sonny swallowed hard. Shook his head. “I know that. Why are you—” He looked around the room, looked down at the glass in his hand. “What’s going on?”

“Let’s sit down.” Elizabeth took him by the elbow and led him to the sofa where they both sat down. She was not at all comforted by the fact that Sonny followed her. “I know you had some…when Carly was gone, you—”

“Went crazy,” Sonny muttered, digging the heels of his palm into his eyes. “I thought I was talking to Lily. And then I was—I don’t know. I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened.” He set the bourbon glass on the table. “I should stop drinking. It makes it worse. I lose track of time.” He met her eyes. “I’m sorry. I had no right to talk to you like that.”

“I know that I hurt Jason,” Elizabeth said carefully. “And I know you’re protective of him. He’s not answering my calls which tells me how much I hurt him. He’s almost smothered me since I got sick. But he hurt me, too, Sonny.”

“I know.” Sonny took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what I was—you know I think the world of you. I don’t—you’re not—Damn it.”

“Hey.” Elizabeth touched his elbow. “Have you talked to someone—”

“I don’t need to talk to anyone,” Sonny retorted. He shook her hand off and got to his feet. “I know better than to drink. That’s all. It’s not good for me. It just brings back a lot of stuff and I lose track of time.”

She bit back a protest. “Okay. Okay.” She stood up. “Well, I need to find him. So, if you see him, please let him know.”

“I’m really sorry, Elizabeth.” Sonny followed her to the door. “I don’t—”

“It’s okay, Sonny. I’ll talk to you later.”

She managed to extract herself from the penthouse, then offered a few words to Max before getting on the elevator. As soon as the doors slid closed, she pulled out her cell phone and pressed Bobbie’s number on her speed dial.

The Cellar: Office

“Mama?” Carly set her contracts aside and struggled to stand up when her mother appeared in the doorway of her office. “I didn’t know you were coming by—”

Bobbie kissed her cheek and let her daughter lead her to the sofa. “Well, I wasn’t planning on it, but I got a call from Elizabeth.”

“Elizabeth?” Carly bit her lip. “Oh, man, did Jason finally tell her?”

“What?” Bobbie shook her head. “Tell her what? No, she called—” She hesitated. “Though that might explain why she was at Sonny’s if she’s trying to find Jason.” She’d track that story down later. Right now, there was something more important to worry about. “She said she was talking to Sonny and he forgot where he was. Or what year it was.”

Carly sighed, leaned back against the sofa, and rubbed her forehead. “Yeah. That’s…that’s not the first time. He had the breakdown while I was gone, and then my first day home, he thought it was 1999 and demanded to know why I was in his house. He couldn’t remember how old Brooke Lynn Ashton was. Did Elizabeth tell you any details?”

“Just that he thought it was last year and that Jason hadn’t come home yet. She said she was able to bring him back around, but—” Bobbie clenched her hands in her lap. “Are you telling me that Sonny is regularly losing track of time and place?”

“Not regularly. Just…not…” Carly wrinkled her nose, defensive now. “I know what you’re going to say, Mama. I know you wanted him to get help after the breakdown. I thought maybe he would, but he changed his mind. And I guess I get it. I mean, it’s not the first time it’s happened, and me and Jason are always able to talk him out of it. He’s just stressed because of the kidnapping and Ric’s case—” She shook her head. “We’ll be fine.”

“You’ll be fine,” Bobbie repeated. “You know, Jason drove himself into the ground because he had to handle everything himself. Keeping the PCPD from arresting him, looking for you, trying to keep Elizabeth alive. And worry for Jason kept Elizabeth in that damn house long enough for Ric to attack her and drug her more. You were held hostage in a dark, cement panic room for a week. Why the hell is it your or Jason’s job to keep Sonny sane?”

“Because he’s my husband. He’s our family,” Carly snapped. She pulled herself to her feet, her hand braced over her belly. “And we’ve always kept him safe.”

“Whatever he said to Elizabeth today had her rattled enough to call me, worried about Sonny, worried about you and Jason.” Bobbie stood, planting her hands on her hips. “Tell me, Carly. When Sonny has these nervous breakdowns, have you ever feared for your safety?”

When her daughter looked away, didn’t answer, Bobbie nodded. “It’s one thing for you and Jason to sign on to be his nursemaids. But you are raising children with him. Elizabeth is planning a future with Jason. Do your children deserve this life? Does Elizabeth?”

Carly rolled her eyes. “Spare me your concern about precious Elizabeth. She’ll be just—” She stopped. Took a deep breath. “When exactly did you get so damned worried about Elizabeth Webber?”

“Because she’s part of my family, too,” Bobbie snapped. “And don’t give me that look, Caroline. She risked her life to save you—”

“She risked her life because she’s obsessed with Jason,” Carly retorted, but her shoulders hunched. “And maybe some of that was about me—”

“I will not let you belittle what she did. How—with nearly her last breath—she found the button that set you free.” Bobbie stabbed a finger at Carly. “You like having Jason to yourself because he’s there at your beck and call to save Sonny. To keep him sane. That’s why you wanted him to be with Courtney. Because you knew he’d never go far. It is not fair to ask that Jason keep saving Sonny. One day, that man is going to have to save himself and stop depending on the rest of us to carry the weight.”

And with that, Bobbie stormed out.

Kelly’s: Lucky’s Room

Kelsey sighed in relief as she dumped a pile of folders on Lucky’s battered desk and turned to him. “Thank you.”

“For what?” He opened the paper bag he’d brought up from the diner downstairs and started unpacking the Styrofoam containers on the table tucked into the corner. “We both have to work. There’s no reason we can’t do it together.” Lucky managed a weak grin. “Second date, right?”

A laugh escaped her lips as she rubbed her temples. “This has been the worst day, I swear. Did you read Brooke Lynn’s statement yet?”

“Not yet,” Lucky admitted. “Taggert just got us copies before I signed out for the day.” He pulled out a chair and waited for her to sit down. “But it must have been hard to sit through.”

“She says she won’t sit for another interview.” Kelsey sat down and unpacked the burger she’d ordered, then stared at it. “She only talked to us at all because Elizabeth Webber said it was her biggest regret.”

Lucky frowned at her. Shook his head. “I don’t—”

“Ned asked Elizabeth to talk to Brooke. And I guess Elizabeth said something about not reporting right away, and how it made it harder to get Tom Baker when he became a suspect.” Kelsey studied him for a long moment. “It was smart of her dad to go out and try to find someone who could help her. Support her. Elizabeth told Ned Taggert could be trusted and had been kind to her, so…we benefited from that.”

“Yeah.” Lucky shifted in his seat. “Yeah, Taggert didn’t like me much back then, but he always liked Elizabeth. Garcia didn’t do much with her case, but every time Elizabeth came to Taggert with some—” He squeezed his eyes shut.

Kelsey reached over to cover his hand with hers. “Hey. Something else coming back?”

“Yeah.” He cleared his throat. “Yeah. She didn’t remember a lot at first. But details came back. Just small ones. He smelled like soap and he’d said something to her—I don’t—” Lucky grimaced. “I can’t remember all of it yet. But I will. Anyway, every time, Taggert sat down. Wrote it up. Had her look at mugshots. He knew it was a long shot, but he always took the time for her.”

“I can tell this matters to him.” Kelsey cut her burger into quarters, hoping she could eat at least something. “He was kind to her, but Brooke didn’t remember a lot. Her details are similar to the attacks from this year. She remembered handcuffs and that he smelled her hair. He also said something to her. She thinks it was just him telling her to be quiet. Then beat her when it was over.”

Her stomach rolled. “They think they might be able to get DNA, though. He didn’t wear a condom.”

“Risky or dumb?” Lucky asked.

“It probably means his DNA isn’t in the system, or if it is, it’s never been attached to a name.” Kelsey sighed. “She just—I remember the girl we met last week. She was so vibrant. And today—it’s like night and day. This guy—men who do this—they steal something that we can never give them back, you know? It doesn’t matter if we find this guy. We can’t ever make it right.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Lucky nodded towards the files. “Do you think she gave us anything we can use?”

“Taggert is trying to get the other three victims to do a follow up, but they’ve refused. The press coverage—they don’t have a lot of faith anything can be done.”

“Maybe if the forensics come back and give us a link, they’ll reconsider.” Lucky shoved his dinner, mostly untouched, aside. “But the hair thing. That’s interesting.”

“Smelling her hair? Maybe. They’re all brunettes. Maybe he’s looking for something specific. Scott managed to convince the city council to give the PCPD emergency funding to cover overtime and testing. You guys can now carpet the park with officers and test every single kit in storage.”

“I guess that’s something.” Lucky grimaced. “We’re not really eating, are we?”

“No. I guess we should get back to work. I want to read over her statement again, and there’s a couple of cases I’m going to court for in the morning. I’ll be relieved when Scott can manage to get a few more ADAs in my office.” She twisted to look at the stack of files on his desk. “It’s going to be a long night. Maybe I should just head home—”

“No, hey—” Lucky stood, grabbed the files, then set them down. “We’ll go through them together. I probably worked some of them.”

“Well, I’ve got three vandalism cases, one simple assault from a bar fight, and two burglaries—all of which are guilty pleas, so at least that’s more cheerful than a serial rapist.” She reached for her briefcase with her stationery and notebooks. “Let’s get started.”

Condo: Hallway

After looking for Jason in a few other places, Elizabeth finally gave up and returned home—only to find Jason sitting outside her door, his back against the wall with his legs stretched out. When he saw her, he got to his feet.

“I know you said not to come back—”

“I’m glad you’re here—” she said at the same time, throwing herself at him, wrapping her arms around his neck. He lifted her slightly in the air as she kissed him hard. “I’m sorry,” she murmured against his lips. “I’m sorry.”

“You never ever—” He tightened his arms around her torso, holding her against his chest. “I’m sorry. I can’t stand how much I hurt you—”

“It’s not—” She sighed and waited for him to release her. When she was back on her feet, she unlocked her door and invited him in. “I’m not sorry I was angry about what happened. That you not only took the letter, read it, and then went to…see him…I didn’t want you to do that.”

She dumped her purse on the table and turned to face him, taking in the fact he was wearing his shirt from the night before, wrinkled now. He had a day’s growth of stubble lining his jaw and his eyes were rimmed with red. She bit her lip. “Have you slept?”

“I went to the warehouse. I packed coffee until Sonny sent me to the office. Then Bernie sent me home.” Jason shook his head. “I went for a ride. I didn’t even know you were calling me, but—I’m sorry.”

“Come here.” She took his hand and led him to the sofa where he sat down and she curled up against him. “I saw Gail today and she…helped me understand what happened last night.”

“I did that—I made you—”

“Not—” She laced her fingers through his. She’d always liked the way their hands fit together, her much smaller fingers against his larger ones. “Thank you for calling Monica. Part of it was a panic attack, but it was triggered by something else. It was like…” She rested her chin on his shoulder, waited until he turned his head slightly to meet her eyes. “It was like I saw that letter—and just that was enough to put me back in that moment. It was like I was there. And it was happening again. And that—” She bit her lip. “Gail said I was re-experiencing the trauma.”

He closed his eyes. “Because of me—”

Ric did that to me,” Elizabeth said softly. “Ric, Tom Baker, and whoever attacked Brooke Lynn Ashton and those other girls. They created the conditions, and you just lit the match. It was always going to be something. I’m so sorry it was you.”

She bit her lip. “While I was with Gail, I started to think that I was a complete mess. That this is the wrong time for us to be trying this—that I don’t even understand my own brain, how could I ever hope to have a healthy romantic relationship right now?”

She could feel his muscles tense as he exhaled slowly. “Are you—Do you want—”

“And Gail asked me if that was really why I would step back, and I realized…” She drew back slightly. “I guess I realized that’s usually what I do when it comes to you. When it gets hard, I run as fast as I can in the opposite direction. With Lucky, with Ric, I dug in. I stayed.”

Jason frowned, shifting on the sofa, turning slightly to face her more fully. “Why?”

“Because you’re not like them. You see me. You’ve always seen me, and I think…” Her throat burned as she forced out the words. “I think I’m afraid one day you’ll see that I don’t deserve it.”

“Deserve…” Jason shook his head. “You don’t—deserve what?”

“My parents. They left. As soon as they could. And even my grandmother, as much as she loved me, I knew she was disappointed in me. Lucky left. He never came back. And you left. Everyone leaves. And after that first time, Jason, when you left and I was crying, begging you to stay, I knew it would happen again. So, I left first. I sent you away when you offered me the world, and I walked out on you last year—”

He took her hand in his, shaking his head. “That’s—what did you say in the hospital? About telling yourself stories that make you out to be the bad guy?”

“Yeah, but that’s what happened—”

“Elizabeth, you—” He sat up straight and took a deep breath. “You have to stop taking on the weight of the world. You threw me out last night because I didn’t listen to you. You knew you weren’t ready to deal with Tom Baker or his letter, and I decided what I needed was more important. I was selfish. You had every right to be angry at me, but now we’re here and you’re telling me that you don’t deserve me, and I just—” He shook his head. “I’m supposed to be the one apologizing here.”

“I—” She bit her lip. “I guess. But—”

“When I left that first time—after I got shot. I told you that I had to go.” Jason tucked a piece of her hair behind her ear, letting his fingers trail down her jawline. “The thing is you were the only reason I would have stayed. If you hadn’t left first, I don’t know if I could have gone through with it. But I knew Carly was on the warpath and she was determined to make my life a living hell. I had to get away from her. I had to force her to fix her own problems. But I didn’t want to leave you.”

Something deep inside of her loosened and she managed a smile. “Really?”

“And when I—how did you put it?—offered you the world—” Jason shook his head. “You’re making it sound like I got down on one knee and begged you to leave with me. You didn’t spit in my face, Elizabeth. I knew how hard all of that was for you. I asked you to leave, and when you asked me if it meant with me, and I didn’t—” He grimaced. “I didn’t say the right words. I knew it even as I was saying them. I told you that it didn’t have to be with me.  Just as long as you were safe.”

She closed her eyes. “I didn’t—I forgot—” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “You’re right. I have to—I need to be kinder to myself. Gail tells me that all the time. And you do, too. It’s just hard. I’m trying.”

“I know.” He kissed her forehead. “I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you about the letter.”

“I’m still not ready to know what he said or what happened when you saw him.” She leaned back against him and he put an arm around her. “Will you stay here tonight? I didn’t sleep last night. And I don’t want to be alone.”

“I missed you.” His fingers slid through her hair. “We’re going to get this right this time, Elizabeth. I promise. I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

September 2, 2019

This entry is part 10 of 23 in the series All of Me

The first and final scenes have a trigger warning. The final scene also features music from Angel (Sarah McLachlan)


Don’t be mad if I cry
It just hurts so bad sometimes
Cause everyday it’s sinking in
And I have to say goodbye all over again
You know I bet it feels good to have the weight of this world
Off your shoulders now
I’m dreaming of the day when I’m finally there with you
Save a Place for Me, Matthew West


Saturday, July 19, 2003

Gatehouse: Living Room

Telling her story, going through every detail—

It hadn’t helped.

Brooke was curled up in the corner of the sofa, wrapped in a thick cardigan, her legs drawn up under her chin. She had begged her parents to leave her alone. For just a few hours. To just give her some space. Since the moment she’d woken up in that terrible haze of pain in the hospital, she hadn’t been left alone for more than five minutes.

Everyone was staring at her. They knew. They all knew and they all probably thought it was her fault. Maybe she had smiled at the wrong guy, worn the wrong outfit…hadn’t she walked through the park late at night? In the dark?

Didn’t she have it coming?

She could still see her mother’s worried face, her father’s angry expression—they’d both tried to hide it, both had plastered fake smiles across their face. But then one of them would say something to set the other off, and then they’d be screaming at one another.

She couldn’t deal with it. Didn’t want to deal with it. She couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat. Everything hurt. Her jaw, her chest…

Between her legs.

She didn’t even know she was crying until the tears soaked through her sweater and hit her skin. Oh, God. It was never going to end. What did Elizabeth Webber say? It would get better one day?

Why couldn’t one day be today? Why couldn’t it all go away now?

She just wanted to sleep. She wanted to sink into dreams, where nothing but darkness waited but even that hadn’t kept out of the terror and pain. She just wanted it over.

There was a hesitant knock on the front door that Brooke nearly ignored, but she didn’t want to be alone with her thoughts, and maybe it was Monica up at the main house. Monica had been kind, but not pushy. Probably had known what to do from listening to Elizabeth Webber, Brooke thought darkly as she struggled to her feet and headed for the door.

But it wasn’t her aunt at the door. It was her uncle, his girlfriend, and…Lucas. The trio of them looked worried, uncomfortable, nervous.

Doing the good Samaritan duty, Brooke thought but stepped back to let them in. “You come to gawk at the freak show?” she demanded, her voice laced with bitterness.

“No.” Dillon shoved his hands in his pockets, Georgie hovering just behind his shoulder while Lucas didn’t move far from the threshold. “We just—we wanted to wait a few days before we…”

“Came to visit?” Brooke demanded. She lifted her chin and sneered. “Well, take a look. Here’s the damaged victim. You’re no different than anyone else in the hospital. Another sad little girl raped in—” She broke off, bile rising in her throat as she turned away.

“Maybe we shouldn’t have all come,” Georgie murmured to Dillon. “Why don’t Lucas and I go? You can—”

“No, no.” Brooke turned back to them, flipping her hair over her shoulder.  She spoke through clenched teeth. “I don’t need your pity. I don’t need your kindness. I don’t need any of you. So just get out—”

“We’re going. Lucas—” Georgie touched her cousin’s shoulder, but Lucas shook his head.

“You and Dillon go, I’ll catch up in a minute.”

Dillon hesitated another moment, before swallowing and nodding. “I just want to do what you need me to do, Brooke. So, I’m going. I’m sorry.” He took Georgie’s hand and they left.

“You can go to,” Brooke muttered as she turned her back on Lucas and curled back up on the sofa. “You think because we had five minutes of being friends that I need you?”

“No,” Lucas said. He perched on the coffee table in front of the sofa. “I needed to say I was sorry. That I feel like this is my fault. I invited you. And you only left because we were—”

“Oh, God!” Brooke exploded. She shifted and shoved him back, sending Lucas tumbling off the table to the floor. “You came here because you feel guilty! Not one of you actually gives a damn about me! No one does! You didn’t even notice I was gone! If you had, if you’d come even five minutes earlier—” She squeezed her eyes shut. “I don’t need you to feel sorry for me. I want you to get out.”

“I’m sorry,” Lucas repeated. He got to his feet and took a deep breath. “You’re right. I came here to make myself feel better and that was selfish. If it makes you feel better to hit me, you—”

“Nothing makes it better!” she cried. She pushed him again, and he fell back a step. “Nothing is ever going to make it go away or not have happened. Everyone knows. It’s all they can think when they see me, do you have any idea what that’s like?”

“No,” he admitted. “Brooke—”

“Get out.”

And this time, Lucas listened though he waited another moment before he left, closing the door gently behind him.

Trembling, Brooke pressed her hands to her eyes. God. It all hurt, and she just wanted to sleep. To make it go away for a few hours. She stumbled into the bathroom and saw the bottle of pain medication that Tony Jones had sent home for her. Hadn’t he said one of the side effects was fatigue?

If she could…could just close her eyes, if she could just sink into the darkness…maybe the pills could keep the demons from chasing her in her dreams, making her wake up in a cold sweat, still lying on her back in the park…

Looking into his face…

Because, oh, God.

She knew that face.

It had to go away.

She had to make it go away.

Condo: Living Room

Elizabeth scowled as she stepped back inside the apartment, kicking the door closed behind her with her foot as she stared down at the paper. “You know, maybe I should have sued the PCPD.” She handed it to Jason who was sipping his coffee at the table by the window. “Clearly they didn’t get the point before.”

Jason scanned the headline. “It’s another story about the attacks in the park.” He cleared his throat, set it on the table. “I thought that was leaked a few days ago…when Ned’s daughter was attacked.” He shifted in his seat.

“Yeah, the dates of the attacks but not the details.” She flicked the paper. “How did they not know it might be the same guy?” She picked up the paper and scanned it again. “It looks like they never even bothered to send out the rape kits after the first two. I can’t believe they’re still pulling the same crap they did on my case.”

Jason furrowed his brows, set his mug on the table, and leaned forward. “I thought you said they didn’t go forward because Baker denied making the confession.”

“Yeah, well…” Elizabeth bit her lip. “They said they couldn’t send my rape kit for testing without a suspect, and then when…after he was arrested, they finally did. Or at least that’s what Mac told me when I called after Taggert closed my case. They said it came back inconclusive. I never asked anything else. I didn’t want to know anything else. I mean, Baker confessed. He was going to prison for what he did to Emily.” She sighed and leaned back. “It just seemed insane to me then that they would refuse to test without a suspect. How do you even get a suspect if you don’t find the DNA? And how could that still be the policy all these years later?”

She got to her feet and wandered back into the kitchen to make herself another cup of tea. “I guess it’s a good sign that I can read that story and talk about my case without freaking out.”

“Yeah.” Jason stared down at the paper she’d left behind and wondered. If Baker hadn’t done it, if those kits had never been processed…what if they were now and came back to link with Elizabeth’s case?

What if Tom Baker hadn’t been lying and this scumbag was still active, nearly six years later? He glanced at her, took a deep breath. He needed to think about this. He didn’t want those other girls going through what Elizabeth had, but he didn’t exactly trust the Port Charles Police Department to take what he might know seriously or not to throw him in jail for meeting with Baker.

And Elizabeth had made it clear that she did not want to know the contents of Baker’s letter or the visit. Jason had already hurt her once putting himself first; he wasn’t going to do it again. But maybe he could still do something that would encourage the police to look into their cold files.

“So, what’s your plan today?” Elizabeth asked, settling across from him with a smile on her lips, looking brighter and happier than she’d looked in days. He put away the dark thoughts and returned the smile.

“Well, I was thinking of taking a ride up through the foothills,” Jason said. He arched a brow. “You know anyone who might want to join me?”

“You don’t have to ask me twice.”

“Great. I just have to make a call before we go.”

Kelly’s: Courtyard

“Lois,” Jax said, his voice taking on a tone even Ned knew would piss off his ex-wife. “Ned isn’t suggesting that suing the PCPD is going to make Brooke’s situation better—”

“Going after people and making them pay—that’s all he ever knows how to do,” Lois snapped, slapping her hand over the newspaper and glaring at Ned. “If he had been a better father, a better husband, we wouldn’t be in this position—”

“And if you hadn’t expected me to change into a completely different man after we got married the second time,” Ned said, through clenched teeth, “we wouldn’t be here. You keep making me pay for something I can’t change—”

“You don’t want to change,” Lois snarled. She leaned forward, her teeth bared. “If you had paid one ounce of attention to our daughter instead of the new one, then maybe Brooke wouldn’t have been alone in that park—”

“It was your bright idea to send her here. You told me I had to set boundaries. I took away her phone. I made her get a job. She was making friends—” Ned threw up his hands. “You didn’t want her in New York. You made that clear. All I want to do is make sure what happened to Brooke never happens again—”

Olivia, still silent, cleared her throat. “I think Lois has a point, Ned—”

“Oh, great. Here comes the reasonable, rational Olivia to bail him out again. You know what, Liv?” Lois demanded as she got to her feet and shoved her purse strap over her shoulder. “You understand him so much, you should marry him.”

She stomped out of the courtyard. With a sigh, Jax followed.

“All she does is yell at you,” Ned said, dryly. “Why exactly are you friends again?”

Olivia sighed and shrugged. “I don’t make the rules. Her ma is my godmother, my ma is her godmother. We’re god sisters. Or so I’ve been told my whole life.” She shifted, uncomfortable. “Listen, you know Lois. She’s a pitbull. Her baby has been hurt and she can’t make it go away. I mean, isn’t that what you’re doing? Going after anyone who might be held accountable because it’s all you can do?”

“I’m not wrong,” Ned insisted. He tapped the headline. “Someone has to pay for this asinine decision. Not running rape kits? Not warning the women of this city that a serial rapist was on the loose? This isn’t even the first time this summer that the PCPD has nearly gotten a woman killed. They leaked a story that ended up with a woman getting attacked by her husband—” He shook his head. “That department is a cesspool.”

“I get you, but it looks like everyone already knows that. It’s in the papers.” Olivia shrugged. “How does suing them change anything?  That’s your answer because you’re a businessman, but it’s not going to do anything.”

“Maybe. It’ll make me feel better,” Ned muttered. He sighed. “But that’s not the point, is it? Going after the papers for leaking her name, after the police for screwing up—it’s not going to change anything. I can’t turn back time.”

“You should go home and be with your kid. Brooke may want alone time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be in the house, ready if she needs you.” Olivia sighed. “I’m sure Lois is already on her way there and I bet it’d be nice if the two of you didn’t yell and scream with Brooke in the room.”

“Yeah. Yeah. Thanks.”

PCPD: Commissioner’s Office

Floyd slapped the Herald down on Mac’s desk. “Who the hell is telling these reporters all of this?” he demanded with a growl.

Taggert leaned back in his chair, stretched his legs out in front of him, and crossed his ankles. “I did.”

The mayor glared at him. “Under whose authority? I never agreed to release any more details—”

“You didn’t agree to release any details at all,” Mac interrupted with some heat. He got to his feet and leaned over his desk, planting his hands on the desk. “That’s what got us into this damn mess—you trying to protect your election—”

He looked at Vinnie, slouched next to Taggert. “And why the hell didn’t you bring this to my desk? Once you had a third attack in the same location with same type of victim—”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Vinnie retorted, not moving a muscle. “Maybe it’s because up until five minutes ago, I was investigating every goddamn crime in this city while everyone else was chasing after Corinthos and Morgan. I missed it. You think that makes me happy?”

“First your guy Capelli nearly gets Elizabeth Webber killed, and now this incompetent jackass misses the mark on—”

You told us not to release the story,” Taggert interrupted. He looked at Mac. “I came to you with this link before the granddaughter of this town’s most prominent family was brutally attacked and raped. I begged you. But you refused.” He shoved himself to his feet. “You interfere with this case again, Floyd, and I will walk. I’ll turn in my badge, I’ll walk out of this building and straight over to Jessica Mitchell to give her an exclusive interview—”

“I’ll see that you never work in law enforcement again,” Floyd retorted, but Taggert only smirked.

“You’ll have already lost the election in a scandal. I’m not worried about your leverage—”

“Let’s just—” Mac took a deep breath. He stood up and held his hands out. “Let’s just take a deep breath here. We missed this. Departmental policy, lack of officers, whatever the reason. We’re not going to get anywhere by screaming at each other.” He looked at Vinnie. “You should have said you were overworked, but I’m not recommending any discipline be taken. Your case load has been cut in half and you’ve been reassigned. I think that should satisfy everyone.”

Vinnie scowled. “I swear if he tries to throw me under the bus about these damn cases—”

“The last thing the mayor wants to do with the deadline for candidates to declare themselves so close is talk more about how the PCPD under his care screwed up cases,” Mac said, looking pointedly at Floyd who glowered back at him. “From now on, you bring your complaints to me, Floyd. You don’t talk to my men.” He hesitated. “And you don’t give orders on cases. Ever again.”

Something passed between the two men that Taggert didn’t quite understand. He frowned—there was something there he didn’t know. But for now, Mac was on his side and he wasn’t going to question it. “Great. Glad we understand. You go run Port Charles, Floyd. Let me catch this sick son of a bitch.”

“Whatever you have to do,” Floyd said, his jaw clenched. “Any test. Any budget request. The city council has declared a public emergency. Get this case solved and out of the newspapers.” He stormed out of the office.

“What a dick,” Vinnie muttered as he followed a few minutes later.

Left alone, Taggert looked at Mac with a sigh. “We’ve got a problem, Mac. Brooke Lynn Ashton’s statement…” He grimaced. “I don’t think…I don’t think this guy just started this year.”

“Oh. Hell.” Mac sank back into his chair and put his head in his hands. “Why? I haven’t read the statement yet.” He swallowed. “I couldn’t—I can’t stop thinking about Maxie and Georgie being there. How it might have been one of them—” He exhaled slowly. “What makes you think there are other cases besides the four we have?”

“The location,” Taggert admitted. “The victim profile. And the fact that…” He paused. “Brooke said her attacker grabbed her from behind, dragged her back into the bushes and handcuffed her. He only said one thing to her.” His stomach clenched. “He said ‘not a word.’” He saw the realization slowly dawn on Mac’s face. “You remember the case.”

“I—” Mac sat back. “Of course. It ended up—it was a big trial.” He met Taggert’s eyes. “But we got that guy. We closed that case. Baker confessed, even if we couldn’t prove it.”

“Maybe. Maybe there’s something we don’t know. I can’t stop thinking about the fact that four young women with dark hair have been attacked at fountains in the park, Mac. The first one we know about is in February.” He shook his head. “Maybe Baker talked to someone in prison who got inspired. Maybe he had an accomplice.”

He scrubbed his hands over his face. “God, I wish her rape kit had come back positive for something. Maybe if we ran it again—” He looked at Mac. “Can I pull her case out of cold storage?”

“I—” Mac exhaled slowly. “Are you sure you want to drag it up? I mean, I understand why you think it might be connected, but if you pull it out and it turns out it’s not related—I think this department has put that woman through enough.” He shook his head. “After nearly dying, she’s still got the case against Lansing to deal with.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I guess. I just—I can’t forget the way she looked when I told her we had to close the case.” Taggert rubbed the back of his neck. “What about looking for other priors? Our cases prior to 2001 haven’t been put on computer yet. Can I send the rookies down to look at cold storage? You’re right. I don’t want to put Elizabeth through opening her case again unless I have something better than a phrase.”

“Yeah, yeah, that sounds good.” Mac nodded. “I hope we don’t find anything, but I agree with you that it’s better safe than sorry. Ah, Scott Baldwin already requested a copy of our open files. Maybe you can check with him to see if he’s already done the legwork.”

“Thanks, Mac.”

Taggert returned to his desk and stared down at his notes, tapping his fingers. He knew he’d just been told to leave the Webber case alone, but something about Mac’s expression troubled him. Maybe there was something he didn’t know. And hell, if he didn’t tell the rookies to leave her case alone, they would pull it from cold storage on their own.

He just wanted one more look at the file. He wanted to be sure that the man who had attacked Elizabeth was Tom Baker. After the last few weeks, he owed her that much.

He flipped through the phone messages that had been left on his desk during the meeting. He frowned when he came to the last one, left just ten minutes earlier. From the hot line — an anonymous caller suggesting that the PCPD should link into cold cases of rapes in the park.

He stared at it, then exhaled slowly. Maybe a victim who didn’t want to come forward officially. It just convinced him he was right to send the rookies to storage. And if, for what reason, they didn’t pull Elizabeth Webber’s file, he would.

Condo: Parking Garage

Jason pulled the bike into the parking spot next to her battered Nissan and switched off the engine. Elizabeth was still laughing as she swung her leg over the back of the bike and pulled off her helmet. “That was even better than I remembered,” she said as he parked the bike and set her helmet on the back. She leaned up to kiss him, sliding her fingers through his hair.

“I’m glad you had fun. You’re not mad because I wouldn’t let you drive?” he asked when they parted. Jason rubbed his thumb against her bottom lip.

“No. Monica barely lets me take my own car around town. I’m not ready to drive your bike on those cliff roads.” Elizabeth smirked. “I will be, before you know it.” She wrapped her arms around his waist. “I’ll be ready to do a lot of things soon.” She rose on her toes and kissed him again, pressing herself tightly against him.

He groaned and pulled away from her. “That’s not fair.”

She giggled, then reached for her purse where he’d stowed it in one of the side compartments. She dug out her phone and went through her messages. A few voice mails—Bobbie, Emily, even Nikolas—but her final one, left almost an hour ago, had her frowning.

“Brooke Lynn Ashton called me.”

Jason leaned back against the bike. “You think she wants to talk again?”

“I hope so.” Elizabeth pressed play and put the phone against her ear.

The storm keeps on twisting
Keep on building the lies

“Elizabeth…” Brooke’s voice sounded tired, even slightly slurred. “I just…I wanted to ask you why it never stops. Why can’t I close my eyes? Why doesn’t he ever go away.”

“Oh,” Elizabeth murmured, pressing her fingers to her lips. “I missed—”

That you make up for all that you lack
It don’t make no difference

“He’s always there. When I’m awake. When I’m asleep. I wish I had never—why did I wake up—I didn’t feel anything before I…it was better when I didn’t know. I wish I didn’t know. I wish no one knew. But they all…do…they all stare at me…they’re all sorry for me…the sad little girl…who…got…and…then I remembered…oh, God…I remembered what he did to me…I remembered…”

Escape one last time
It’s easier to believe in this sweet madness

Brooke’s voice faded away and then the message ended. Elizabeth took a deep breath and stared at her phone for a moment, trying to figure out exactly what she’d heard.

Oh, this glorious sadness
That brings me to my knees

“Elizabeth—”

“Do you have Ned’s number?” she demanded. She grimaced, looking through her contacts. “I think someone should check on her. I just—I have—” She looked at Jason. “I have this terrible feeling, Jason.”

He took out his own phone, glanced through his contacts, and grimaced. “No. But Emily or Monica will have it—let me call them.”

In the arms of the angel
Fly away from here

Gatehouse: Entrance

Ned pulled into the driveway just behind Lois and got out of his car. but it was almost a minute before his ex-wife stepped out of hers. When she did, she stopped at the garage door, and they stared at one another for a long moment, the sounds of the trees rustling around them.

From this dark, cold hotel room

“I know you love Brooke,” Lois said quietly, her face withdrawn. “I know you feel as helpless as I do. It’s easier to yell at you. To make this your fault.” She swallowed hard. “It’s not your fault. It’s not mine. I just—” Tears slid down her cheeks, and despite all the time and the anger that had created that gulf—it still decimated Ned to see this strong woman break.

“I don’t know what to do,” she confessed, her voice breaking into a sob.

And the endlessness that you fear

“I know.” Ned rounded the car and for the first time since she’d arrived, he drew her into a hug. “We’re just stumbling in the dark, hoping we’ll figure it out. And we can scream and yell at each other, but we have to stop around Brooke. We have to put her first.” He shook his head. “We have to be people she can depend on.” He drew away and tucked her hair behind her ears before gently kissing her forehead. “We’re better than this, Lois.”

You are pulled from the wreckage

“You’re right.” Lois managed a smile for him. “Let’s go in and check on her. I know she wanted some time alone, but—”

“I want to be near if she needs us,” Ned finished. His phone rang. He tugged it from the inside pocket of his suit jacket and looked at the caller id screen. “It’s Elizabeth Webber,” he murmured with a frown.

“She’s the one that tried to talk to Brooke?” Lois asked. She patted his chest. “You take that. I’ll go in and check on my baby.” She disappeared up the front walk while Ned flipped open his phone.

Of your silent reverie

“Elizabeth?” Ned greeted. “Hello—”

“I’m sorry to bother you, and it’s probably nothing. I had my phone turned off for a while and Brooke called me about an hour ago. She sounded…tired. And really upset.” He could hear her voice shaking as his heart dropped down into his stomach.

“An hour ago?” Ned repeated.

“She trailed off and the message just ended—I’m afraid—”

From inside the house, he heard a blood-curdling scream. His phone dropped to the ground as Ned ran.

You’re in the arms of the angel

He took the steps two at a time, the railing shaking under his weight as he all but flew up to the second floor and down the hall where Lois’s screams had been replaced by sobbing, deep heart-rending cries, repeating Brooke’s name over and over again.

He found her sitting on Brooke’s bed, their daughter in her arms as Lois rocked back and forth. Brooke’s eyes were closed, and her arms were lying limply at her side.

Lifeless.

May you find some comfort here

“Wake up, baby, wake up—”

On the ground, next to Brooke’s bed, a phone receiver sat, the dial tone relentless and jarring, a bottle of prescription pills next to it.

Empty.

You’re in the arms of the angel

Almost in a daze, Ned gently hung up the phone, then picked it up to dial 911, not taking his eyes off his daughter. Cradling the receiver between his shoulder and face, he reached out a hand to touch her cheek and a shudder ripped through his body.

She was cold.

They were too late.

May you find some comfort here