September 30, 2020

Hey! Unsurprisingly, I’ve decided to postpone tonight’s update for flash fiction. I’m actually not too tired to do it, but I have so much work to do before I go in for my second day of work tomorrow, and I want to get to bed at a decent hour. Basically, there are no lesson plans at all — I have to create everything from scratch and I want to go in for my second day armed and ready, LOL.  I was hoping to get most of it done by 6 so I could relax a bit, but I’m still creating materials for tomorrow.  I’m thinking that I’ll make Wednesday’s entry on Sunday, and I’ll decide at that point if I want to take next week off to get settled into the job or not. It really depends on how the next few days go and how tired I am. Thanks for understanding!

September 29, 2020

Your Preview Chapter: Mad World – Chapter 52

A week from today, I’m releasing the entire book! I’m so freakin’ excited! I’m so proud of this book and this series so far, but even more importantly — this is the closest I’ve ever released any of my books, lol. Usually, I release one book a year and this year, I’ve managed to get two full books done with a third in the wings that might be ready in December if my schedule works out. Definitely my best year ever! Let me know what you think, what you’re looking forward to. I can’t wait for you guys to read it.

September 28, 2020

Your Update Link: Not Knowing When – Part 5

Facelift: Too Dead To Cry & Catch Me When I Fall

Happy Monday! What a great way to kick off a new week. First, I just want to let you guys know that I found out this morning that I got a job I’d interviewed for a week or so ago. I’d almost given up hope! I’m not officially starting the district job (with salary and benefits) until November, but my real start date is up in the air as they try to negotiate with my substitute company to get me in ASAP. I could start Wednesday, or any day after that.

That’s obviously a huge change in my life since I hadn’t anticipated going back to work permanently this year or at all until late October due to Covid closures in my county. Right now, I can’t begin to predict how it’s going to change my writing schedule. I write full-time now, but even that is only about 4-5 hours a day. Until I get an official start date and a look at my schedule and curriculum, I can’t make any changes or adjustments.

The most likely thing that’s going to happen is I’ll be moving Flash Fiction around to better suit my energy levels. I’ll probably take a week off and see how my schedule is and where I can fit an hour. That might mean doubling up on Saturdays or moving the Wednesday fic — I don’t know. That’s the first place I’d take time. The second place I’d look to make adjustments is push out the due date for Book 4 of Mad World from beginning of December to late Dec or early January. I really just don’t know, but I have some ideas ready to go for how to adjust my schedule on the fly.

What isn’t changing is Book 3’s release date, so no worries there. I’m posting the second preview chapter tomorrow with the full novel being released next Tuesday at 7 AM.

In other news — I worked on the Facelift today. I made graphics for two of my oldest stories — Too Dead to Cry and Catch Me When I Fall. They’re both song fictions from 2002, and I was able to embed the YouTube videos for the songs which is better than my old approach to all of that. Both stories have been linked on Alternate History page and had their links updated on my Alphabetical List. I also made graphics for Not Knowing When which you can see on the Alternate History & Flash Fiction Page. I’m gonna show them all off below because, heh, I want to.


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This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Flash Fiction: Not Knowing When

Written in 60 minutes. No time for spell check or typo check.


Cosmpolitan Suite: Sitting Room

“….this, uh, marriage thing…which was impetuous and funny about an hour ago now looks like a cover-up…”

Brenda Barrett prided herself on being observant. She didn’t care that most people thought she was self-absorbed to the point of narcissism because she knew the truth. She understood people.

And right know, she understood that Sonny Corinthos was a jackass who couldn’t read a room. The minute he’d called Jason and Elizabeth’s marriage impetuous and funny, Elizabeth Webber’s face drained of color, all life left her colors, and she stared down at her lap.

Five minutes earlier, this same woman had been sparkling with irritation, with amusement, even happiness—and now all of that emotion had blinked out of existence.

Because Sonny had called her marriage impetuous and funny—and Jason hadn’t said a word in response.

Men.

“But it’s not,” Brenda said, hoping to bring the conversation and give Jason an opportunity to speak up. But her ex-fiance (she was going to love calling him that for the rest of her life though she’d probably wait until Elizabeth thought it was funny because Brenda’s almost marriage was impetuous and funny—why couldn’t Sonny see there was a damn difference—idiot) was just frowning at Sonny.

“I don’t understand,” Jason said slowly. “What happened last night?” He looked at Elizabeth, his light brows drawn together in confusion. “How did—why were you on the pier?”

“I didn’t want to go home after work,” Elizabeth muttered, staring at hands like they had the answers to all of life’s questions. And Brenda wondered if Elizabeth’s reluctance to go home had anything to do with the beach blonde bimbo Barbie she’d threatened with the box cutter—

“But the pier—why the hell did Marco let you—”

Sonny frowned. “Marco wasn’t with her last night. He’s been guarding Courtney—”

“No, he isn’t,” Jason argued. “He’s been Elizabeth’s guard since the shooting at the hospital—” He looked at Elizabeth. “Where—”

“I—” Elizabeth finally looked up with a squint of her eyes, a little impatient. “Jason, I haven’t had a guard since I left the penthouse.”

Left the penthouse? Brenda filed that away for later. So much for no one being back in Port Charles who would mind if he got married.

“But—”

“I—” Sonny cleared his throat. “When you told me on the plane,” he said to Elizabeth a bit painfully, “that Marco had taken you to work while you were there, I didn’t—I didn’t make the connection—”

“What connection? I don’t—I don’t have a guard,” Elizabeth said. She looked back and forth between Jason and Sonny, and Brenda was surprised to see fury flash in Jason’s blue eyes—fury directed at Sonny.

She leaned back, crossed her legs, and smirked. “Oh, I see. Jason thought you had a guard this entire time, and it looks like Sonny reassigned him.” Brenda just lifted her brows when both men turned to scowl at her. “Or did I get it wrong?”

“When did you reassign Marco?” Jason bit out, shoving himself to his feet. “Didn’t he tell you—”

“He told me that—” Sonny winced, rubbing his temple. “He told he was working on something, but I—I told him I’d take care of it—I never—I forgot—”

“Damn it, Sonny—”

“Wait—” Elizabeth looked at Jason, her eyes wide. “You thought I had a guard this whole time?”

“Of course I did! You were living with me, Elizabeth! You think Alcazar didn’t know that? I didn’t—” Some of the anger drained out of him and he sat back down, his head in his hands. “I didn’t ask Marco. He’s not there to spy on you, so I figured—no report was good news. That you were okay.”

Brenda saw Elizabeth’s hand tremble as she lifted it, nearly reaching out to Jason, but it fell into her lap at the last minute. Oh, man, they were both idiots. “I think we’re getting off topic,” she murmured. “Elizabeth didn’t have a guard. Jason can smack Sonny around about it later—”

“Right,” Elizabeth said slowly, focusing on Brenda, then flicking a quick, confused glance at Jason who wasn’t looking at her. “Um, I was just gonna walk on Bannister’s Wharf, but I wasn’t paying attention—”

Jason muttered something under his breath Brenda couldn’t make out, but whatever it was had Elizabeth narrowing her eyes into slits. “I’d just been told something that made me feel very violent,” she said, her jaw clenched.

The boxcutter. Brenda nodded. “Fair enough. We’ve all been there.”

“I realized where I was, but before I could get out of there, I heard voices. I recognized Alcazar’s,” Elizabeth said, “because of that time I’d heard him at Kelly’s with Roy. He was angry with someone—I didn’t see either of them. I ducked behimd some boxes. Then—” Elizabeth rubbed her wrist, restless. “I heard a gunshot. Something dropped to the docks. I tried to get out of there without being heard, but I tripped—” She paused. “Alcazar thought it was you,” she murmured to Jason who looked at her. “And he shot at me. That’s why there’s footage of me running away from the pier.”

“Could it have been Zander you overheard with Alcazar?” Sonny asked.

“I—” Elizabeth bit her bottom lip. “Maybe. I didn’t hear the other guy. He wasn’t as loud—Alcazar was really angry—the guy had lost sight of his property—” Her face paled as she focused on Brenda. “And he said she’s gone. I think—”

“This would have been around the time you and Jason started this whole jaunt to Vegas,” Sonny said dryly. “So whoever Alcazar had watching you, Jason was able to lose him long enough for you to get to the airport.”

“But—if that was Zander—” Elizabeth sighed. “That means he got his memory back and went back to work for Alcazar. I just saw him two days ago,” she muttered. “He didn’t say anything about his memory being back—”

“Of course not. You’re more useful to him in the dark,” Sonny said. Elizabeth scowled at him as Jason winced.

“Yeah, that’s how you like your women,” Elizabeth retorted. “Out of the loop, walking around like idiots.”

“Elizabeth—” Jason began.

“It doesn’t matter. Look, can’t I just tell the PCPD what I saw?” Elizabeth asked.

“No, because you’re not credible,” Sonny said. “The PCPD knows you’d lie for Jason. You’ve done it before.”

“Funny you remember that now,” Elizabeth said, acid dripping from her words. Well, at least that cleared something up — Elizabeth had been left out of the whole Sonny not being dead secret, too, and she was still pissed about it.

“Sonny, can you just shut up?” Jason demanded. “You’re not helping—”

“What—”

“So if I can’t tell the PCPD what I saw,” Elizabeth said, cutting off Sonny’s bewildered reply, “what do I do?”

“Honestly?” Sonny shrugged, leaned back, and studied the two of them. “The best option for all of us is to pretend this Vegas trip never happened. Or at least that you never came here,” he told Elizabeth.

Elizabeth blinked at him. “Wait, what?”

“Sonny—”

“We go back to Port Charles,” Sonny said. “Liz goes back to her life, Jason goes back to his. Their breakup was well-known. People commented on it—”

“Oh, you are a lot dumber than you used to be,” Brenda breathed as Elizabeth closed her eyes and Jason winced.

“We can prove Jason was in Vegas,” Sonny continued ignoring her. “We can prove he was at the airport, and I’m betting—based on when you got to the Towers—that the plane had just taken off when the shots were fired.”

Sonny looked at Brenda. “You can alibi him, and I can give a statement about the flight taking off because I was tracking it, trying to charter another plane. I stalled you at the airport—”

“I knew something was off,” Brenda said.

“But Elizabeth, you just went home. And if Jason’s not a suspect, they’re not going to care about you,” he told her. “You guys lay low, just keep acting like you’ve been acting for the last few weeks, and this won’t be an issue.”

Except Elizabeth had come to Vegas, and Jason had practically marched her to the altar. Brenda watched Jason and Elizabeth absorb Sonny’s plan. “You mean,” she said, deciding to help them when Jason kept his mouth closed, “pretend they never got married.”

Or spent the morning locked in hotel’s master bedroom.

“Yes,” Sonny said. “I think it’s the best way to get Jason clear of this as quickly as possible. Then we can get back to focusing on Alcazar.”

Jason opened his mouth, looked at Elizabeth who was staring at her hands, then sighed. “It keeps you out of it, too,” he said softly.

Brenda closed her eyes. Absolute idiot.

“Okay.” Elizabeth’s lips trembled slightly, but she pressed them together, then nodded. “Okay, Sonny. You should—you should probably make sure I get separate transportation home from the airport or something. I can’t be dropped off in the limo or anything.”

“Right, I’ll call Benny—” Sonny got to his feet. “We’ll work out everything else—” He stopped when Elizabeth shoved away from the table and disappeared into the master bedroom. “On the plane,” he finished.

Jason exhaled slowly, looked at Sonny. “She came to you at the Towers after she was shot at—”

“She came to you,” Brenda corrected Jason quietly. She turned back to her other ex-fiance. “Didn’t she, Sonny? She was nearly killed, and came looking for Jason. And you patted her head, told her Jason was on the brink of death, loaded her on the plane because, obviously, you knew he’d never go through with marrying me if she was anywhere near it.”

Sonny slid his hands into his pockets. “You’re making it sound more calculated than it was—”

“No, I think I’ve got it right. And now, because you don’t want Jason to be distracted by someone else when he should be dealing with Luis, you want her to pretend that the last twelve hours didn’t happen. Which, in case you forgot, includes her getting married to Jason.”

“I—” Sonny looked at Jason. “You see it the way I do. She’s safer this way—”

“As safe as she was without the guard I assigned her,” Jason bit out. He got to his feet. “The only reason I’m doing this is because I don’t want the PCPD harassing her—”

“That isn’t your decision,” Brenda said bluntly. He turned his attention to her, frowning. “I don’t know the history, Jase, but Sonny seems to think Elizabeth has had run ins with the cops about you before. And she’s clearly still standing. I swear—” She took a deep breath. “I swear to God, if you leave her standing in the rain, I will never, ever forgive you.”

And with that, Brenda stalked into the other bedroom, slamming the door.

Sonny scowled after her. “What the hell crawled up her ass—” He turned when he heard another door, catching Jason just as he followed Elizabeth.

“How the hell did I end up as the bad guy?” Sonny muttered.

Master Bedroom

Jason closed the door behind him, Brenda’s words echoing in his head.

If you leave her standing in the rain… The way Sonny had left her, walking away over and over again, leaving Brenda to doubt how he felt about her—leaving her to wonder what she’d done wrong—

Jason was a literal man, but even he understood the metaphor Brenda had been trying to make.

Elizabeth was sitting on the bed, staring down at her hands. At her fingers. She was twisting a small silver ring she wore on her right hand, and he found himself wondering if they should have stopped somewhere so he could buy her a wedding ring.

It’d be something small, that wouldn’t get in the way when she painted or sketched—

“Are we leaving for the airport?” Elizabeth said, her voice empty. He knew that tone—he’d heard it before. When she’d talked about modeling and the dreams Lucky had wanted for them —

“I dont know,” Jason said. He glanced past her, at the bed and the sheets that were still all over the place. They’d spent hours in that bed earlier—he’d learned every inch of her body and he finally learned how she tasted when she laughed—

She didn’t even look like the same woman.

“I agreed to Sonny’s plan because I don’t want you in the middle of this,” Jason began. “But—”

“Same old story.” Elizabeth got to her feet and walked over to the window, yanking back the blackout curtain, sunlight streaming into the room. Jason blinked, stepped out of a direct beam. “Fine. Whatever.”

“Elizabeth—”

“When are we leaving?” Elizabeth interrupted. She folded her arms, lifting one of them so that her hand could rub her lips. “I’m tired, and I want to sleep on the way home.”

“But it’s not my decision to make,” Jason finished. “If we go back and tell everyone that we got married, the PCPD won’t care that I have an alibi. They’ll still think we got married because of what happened to Zander. Alcazar will come after you harder because he’ll know you came to us.”

“And Carly will make my life a living hell, my grandmother will be disappointed like she always is, and everyone will look at me, wondering what I was thinking,” Elizabeth said. “What’s your point?”

“My point is that since you’re the one that has to deal with all of that,” Jason said, “then you should be the one to decide if it’s what you want.”

Elizabeth frowned at him, then took a few steps forward, finally pulling herself out of the sunlight that had blocked her face from his view. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that it’s going to be harder for you this way, but if you don’t want to go with Sonny’s plan, we won’t.”

“If I want?” Elizabeth snorted. “You’ve never cared what I wanted—”

“That’s not true—”

“No, you’re right. You don’t care about it when it looks like I want you,” she said. “Because every single time I’ve given you the signal I want more, you run as fast as you can in the other direction.” She held up a finger. “And yeah, I’ve done it, too. But this is different. Because when I ran, it was because I was scared of getting hurt. When you run, it’s because you pretend the danger is too much for me.”

“I pretend—” Jason sighed, then dipped his head. “Yeah,” he admitted. “I know.”

“And I’m really tired, Jason. I can live with you pushing me away because I’ve hurt. I wouldn’t blame you. God knows, I’ve dragged you through the mud and run over you a few times—” Her voice faltered. “I deserve to be pushed away for that—”

“Hey—” He strode forward, took her hands in his, drawing them away from her waist. “No—”

“But when you tell me it’s too dangerous when Sonny gets to have a wife and you hang around with Carly and Michael and you nearly marry another woman, and kiss Courtney—” A tear spilled down her cheek. “It’s starts to feel like it’s me you don’t want—”

“I didn’t kiss Courtney—” He paused. “Is that what she told you?” When Elizabeth just wrinkled her nose, looked away. “Is that why you threatened her with a boxcutter?”

“No,” Elizabeth muttered. “I did that because she wouldn’t stop talking. I just wanted her to leave and to stop talking about how I’d been wrong, and how you’d fallen in love with her while you were guarding her—I just wanted her to shut up and go away—”

“She was wrong—she kissed me,” Jason told Elizabeth. “Half the reason I agreed to Brenda’s insane plan was to get Courtney stop—” He shook his head. “Never mind. That’s not—I don’t want you to get hurt. But if you’re willing to take that risk, then—”

“I’ve always been willing,” Elizabeth reminded him. “You’re the one that keeps changing his mind.”

“Then I’ll tell Sonny we need a new plan.” Jason grasped her chin in his fingers, lifting her eyes to meet his. “And you’ll come home with me. If that’s where you want to be.”

“Yes.” With her free hand, Elizabeth fisted her hand in his shirt. “Is that where you want me?”

“It’s where I always wanted you.” Jason cut off anything else she had to say with a kiss, and if Sonny hadn’t banged on the door a minute later, telling them the plane would be ready in fifteen minutes, they might have gone back to bed.

September 26, 2020

Your Update Link: Signs of Life – Part 2

Ugh. This day, lol. It was going well until I went to my niece’s birthday. My sister has a lot of friends who all apparently had twelve kids each, so the house was packed with small screaming children. I was counting down to the singing of Happy Birthday so I could nope out of there. We get everyone gathered around for the cake, and then we start looking for the birthday girl.

We search the entire house, the kids are sent on search teams — she’s nowhere. We start yelling her name. Nada.

The anxiety starts to set in — she’s the only kid we can’t find, and we start getting close to panicking —

And then we find her. She, along with two friends invited to the party, decided to go across the street to play with the toys in the other yard. Without telling anyone. She’s safe, but now I feel  thousand years old, and I’m gonna chip this kid like a dog so I can always find her.

ANYWAY. That was my day. I also edited another chapter of Book 3 — I had to add a scene and tweak half of it, so I didn’t get more than the one chapter done. No worries. I’ll make up the other two chapters tomorrow. I’m taking most of the day off tomorrow (I promise!) to clean the house and to relax. I’ll do a few hours in the morning, and then leave the office after that.

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Flash Fiction: Signs of Life

Written in 60 minutes.


Monday, December 27, 1999

Vista Point

Jason had planned to put more distance between himself and Elizabeth after he’d left the studio the day before. In fact, he’d planned to go back to way it had been before she’d found him that morning in the snow — two people who occasionally ran into each other and were friendly.

He wasn’t sure what him think that was a possibility after the last four weeks, but he knew once he’d listened to his sister’s angry voice mail that day at the warehouse, there was no point in pretending.

The whole world knew Elizabeth Webber was important to him, even if they had no idea what they were talking about.

He pulled over at the Vista Point observation deck, and Elizabeth hopped off the bike, pulling the helmet over her head, her hair cascading down over the leather jacket he’d given her for Christmas.

“That was just what I needed,” Elizabeth told him with bright eyes and a wide smile. He returned the smile, and stowed the helmet on the back of the bike. “Where are we?”

“You’ve never been up here?” Jason asked as he led her from the parking lot over to the observation deck where benches had been installed.

“No—” Elizabeth leaned over the guard rail, looking over the cliffs encircling Lake Ontario. “I bet there’s a good view of Spoon Island when the sky is clear,” she said.

“Probably. I’ve never been up here during the day.” He leaned against the railing, watched for a minute. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Elizabeth wrinkled her nose, looking at him. “No.” She huffed. “I was going to tell Emily the truth,” she muttered. “But she showed up at the end of my shift after I’d already dealt with customers smirking at me, Carly, and my grandmother. And—” Elizabeth eyed him. “Obviously, I can’t tell my grandmother why she found you at the studio.”

Jason accepted that with a nod. Audrey Hardy would not appreciate knowing that her granddaughter had been taking care of a gunshot victim and hiding him from the police. “No, that would not be a good idea.” He winced. “Carly?”

“I can take Carly,” Elizabeth assured him. “In fact, if my grandmother hadn’t shown up—” She sighed. “Never mind. I’ll talk to Emily tomorrow. She was just annoying me. Like I’d committed some horrible crime by not telling her we knew each other.”

Jason furrowed his brow. “She knows that. You asked for me help when she was trying to sneak off to Puerto Rico.”

“She has a nasty habit of always taking Nikolas’s side,” Elizabeth admitted. “It’s always been that way. She assumed what he said at the party was true, and didn’t even stop to think there might be anything else going on.” She lifted herself up to sit on the railing. “I’m sorry. I was just trying to help you, and literally everyone in my life made it worse.”

“I don’t care about any of that,” Jason told her. “I’m sorry it made trouble for you—”

“Only with the people who don’t think I can make my own decisions.” Elizabeth hesitated. “I’ll talk to Emily,” she repeated, “but I’m not talking to Nikolas right now after what he pulled, and he’d be harder to explain things to. He can’t be trusted with the truth.” She sighed, looked away. “He couldn’t even be trusted with a lie.”

“I’m sorry,” Jason repeated.

“It’ll be something people talk about for a minute, and then it’ll go away,” Elizabeth assured him. “Someone will do something insane at New Year’s, and it’ll be old news.” She met his eyes, searched them for a long moment. “Unless you think there’s another way to handle it.”

Jason hesitated. Until the call from Emily, Jason’s plan had been to avoid Elizabeth entirely. If they weren’t seen together, no one would take the fight at the party seriously — but — “You said customers were talking about it?”

“Yeah, I had a packed section,” Elizabeth said, rolling her eyes. “And would you believe half of them didn’t even bother to tip? Cheap bitches,” she muttered. She stared at her hands. “Just a few snickers. I over heard a couple of people saying some things—”

When she stopped talking, Jason’s stomach tightened and he stepped closer. “Saying what?” he demanded in a low voice. Damn it, Bobbie was right — he should have left long ago. He could have managed on his own after the first week. “Elizabeth—”

“Nothing worth repeating,” Elizabeth said. “Don’t worry about it. Really—”

“Who was it?” he pressed. “Was it college kids or—”

“Some workers from the docks,” Elizabeth admitted. She hopped off the railing and walked a few steps in the opposite direction. “Um, a few of them I think I recognized from the warehouse. I got your meds from Sonny there once. And then a few of the others—I think—” She turned to look at him finally. “There was a table of guys I know work for Moreno.”

Jason hissed, looking away. “Moreno,” he muttered. He hadn’t been seen since the shootout, and Jason thought he was probably dead. He couldn’t be sure, but— “What did they say?”

His tone had shifted, become harder and flatter and she flinched. He dragged a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry, I—”

“One of the guys told me when I got bored with you, I should look him up—” Elizabeth slid her hands in her pockets. “And I—” Her cheeks flushed, and she stared at the ground. “That’s really all that table said.”

That table. “What about Sonny’s guys?” Jason bit out. How were they treating a woman that was clearly linked to him?

“Jason, it’s really not a big deal—”

“Elizabeth.”

She looked up and when she met his eyes this time, he could see the confusion in her expression. “Jason, it’s not like we’re dating. It doesn’t matter what they say—”

“They don’t know that,” Jason retorted. “So it matters. What did they say?”

“Just that I didn’t seem like your type,” Elizabeth said finally. “Apparently, they think you got the good girl out of your system when you broke up with Robin, and I didn’t even have her ass to make up for my lack of—Can we drop it now?” she demanded. “Or do you also want to talk about the women who came in and decided I wasn’t built enough to—” She clenched her jaw, turned around, and started towards the parking lot.

Jason winced, then went after her, his longer legs overtaking hers just as she reached the parking lot and the bike. “Elizabeth—”

“I told you,” Elizabeth said, tossing her hair back. “I didn’t want to talk about it. So can you just take me home?”

Jason exhaled slowly, then handed her the helmet. “I’m sorry,” he said awkwardly. “They shouldn’t be talking about you that way—”

“They’re guys,” she said, pulling the helmet, and fastening the strap. “That’s what they do—”

“No, I mean—” He cleared his throat, unsure what to do with any of this. He could see that the way her customers had talked about her had hurt her feelings—and worse—he could see in the flush of her cheeks and the look in her eyes that she agreed with what they said.

And he didn’t know if either of them would be better off if Jason liked the way her body just the way it was, so he remained silent and started the bike. He waited for her to climb behind him, then took her home.

He’d been insane to think that just by leaving the studio he could put their friendship back the way it had been.

Nothing was going to be the way it had been before the night he’d been shot and the morning she’d dragged him back to the world of the living.

Tuesday, December 28, 1999

Elm Street Pier

Elizabeth’s second day back at work after the party didn’t go much better than her first day, though she noted that no one from the Corinthos-Morgan coffee warehouse sat in her section and the few guys that did come into the diner studiously avoided looking at her.

She wasn’t really sure how to take that—wondering how Jason had made that happen and what’d he had to say to them. He’d been so angry at the idea that people were talking about her, but Elizabeth didn’t know what good it did either of them for her to spell out the reasons in great detail why no one understood why he’d look twice at her.

And it was worse because Elizabeth knew that he wouldn’t, so she really didn’t need to have those reasons in her head or have to say them out loud to Jason.

But thankfully, Emily and her grandmother stayed away—Elizabeth wasn’t looking forward to setting Emily straight since she was still annoyed, and she didn’t feel like going through another round of her grandmother’s disapproval. The only problems Elizabeth had were Moreno’s guys returning to ogle her and more women who came to smirk at the silly girl with no boobs trying to get their hooks into an older man who couldn’t possibly be satisfied—

And she still got screwed on tips.

She left work and decided to have an early night at the studio, curled up on her sofa with the secondhand television that she’d give herself for Christmas—with her door locked and the ringer on her phone turned off.

But a quiet night at home wasn’t going to happen. At least not before Elizabeth ran one more gauntlet.

Waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs on the pier were Detectives Marcus Taggert and Andy Capelli. She hissed, drew up in front of them, and wrinkled her nose. She should have taken the long way round to the studio.

“Are you going to move,” Elizabeth began, “or are you standing there for a reason?”

“We have a couple of questions,” Taggert began with a smooth smile that she recognized, “if you have a minute.”

“What if I said I didn’t?” Elizabeth said. She shoved her hands into the pockets of her leather jacket, irritated with herself for leaving her gloves behind at Kelly’s in her haste to leave the diner.

“Then we’d arrange to talk at the station with an attorney,” Capelli said. “What’s it gonna be?”

So he was going to be the bad cop. Fantastic. Elizabeth pursed her lips. “What’s the question?”

“November 30,” Taggert said, meeting her eyes. “You happen to see Jason Morgan that night?”

November 30. The night she’d received that terrible art grade and danced with Jason at Kelly’s.

The night Jason had been shot. They were asking her if she could alibi Jason on a night she knew he’d been out committing crimes.

Elizabeth lifted her chin. “Yes,” she said simply. When she said nothing else, Taggert’s smile turned into a scowl.

“Is that all you want to say?” he demanded. “Just yes?”

“I see we’re abandoning good cop already. You asked me a question, Detective. I answered it—”

“I see Morgan’s trained you well,” Taggert snapped as Elizabeth attempted to walk past them. “Fine. Where did you see him? What time did you see him? And for how long did you see him?”

Elizabeth stared at him for a long time. “That’s three questions. You said you had a couple. I’ve answered one of them. You get one more. I’ll be nice. I’ll even let you choose.”

“Fine,” Capelli interrupted as Taggert opened his mouth. “How long did you spend screwing Morgan before he went off to kill Anthony Moreno?”

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

Jason braced himself as Johnny O’Brien pushed the door open and he went into the penthouse for the first time since the night he’d been shot.

Since the night Carly had waltz down the stairs in nothing more than Sonny’s shirt. The shirt Sonny had been wearing before Jason had taken the meeting that nearly killed him.

He stayed near the doorway, watching Sonny carefully as his boss poured himself a tumbler of bourbon. “You wanted me to come by?” he said evenly.

“Yeah.” Sonny sipped the liquor. “We got a call from our guy in the PCPD. Anthony Moreno’s body was pulled from the harbor over Christmas. Shot twice. Once in the chest, and once in the head.”

Jason nodded, taking in the information. “I thought Sorel would do a better job at making him disappear,” he said, “but that tracks. I got off a shot as I left—that’s probably the chest wound. No way I managed a head shot.” Not in that condition. “Sorel probably finished the job.”

“That’s what I figure.”

“What’s the problem?” Jason said. “You said there was—”

“Apparently, Nikolas Cassadine tried to file assault charges,” Sonny continued, “for the Christmas party. He was laughed out of the station, but not before Taggert got the content of the fight.”

Jason stared at Sonny for a long moment, then drew his brow together. “I don’t—What—”

“Nikolas told the entire party—essentially the entire town that you and Elizabeth were sleeping together,” Sonny reminded him. “And Nikolas, in the report at the PCPD, stated that knew that was true because he’d found you at her studio in December.”

Jason closed his eyes. “Which means Taggert knows.”

“Which means Taggert knows,” Sonny repeated. “You disappeared for most of December, around the time Moreno did. And now Taggert knows exactly where you were for some of that time.”

Jason growled, pulled out his cell phone as he yanked open the door, already dialing Alexis Davis’s number. “Jason—” Sonny said, following him into the hallway. “Listen—”

“He’s going to ask Elizabeth for my alibi,” Jason cut in. “And—” God, Elizabeth would probably do it. She’d be insane enough to give him an alibi. It would go into an official report that she’d been with him that night.

“It’s not the worst idea,” Sonny began, but Jason whirled around at the elevator. “She’s solid as a rock—”

“She doesn’t need to be in the middle of this.” He muttered a swear when he only got Alexis’s voice mail. Maybe Justus would help—

“She’s already there—”

“Moreno’s guys are going to Kelly’s,” Jason told him Sonny bluntly. “Making comments. They already know who she is. And you think it’s a good idea for her to alibi me for an entire night? Damn it—”

He jabbed the elevator button. “I need to get to her. To tell her not to talk to the PCPD without a lawyer—”

“Jason—”

But Jason was done talking to him, and the doors closed on Sonny’s face.

Elm Street Pier

Elizabeth could see from Taggert’s murderous expression that Capelli’s question had not been the plan. He glared at his partner. “That’s not what I wanted to ask—”

“That’s too bad,” Elizabeth said coolly. “You’re interested in my sex life, Detective Capelli?”

“Damn it,” Taggert muttered. He dragged his hands over his face. “Elizabeth—”

“I mean, that’s the question,” Elizabeth said, widening her eyes. “You wanted to know how long Jason and I were having sex before he left that night? What—like how many times or—”

“That’s not—” Capelli threw his hands up. “You’re deliberately misunderstanding me—”

“No,” Elizabeth said slowly, “I am merely clarifying your question. You asked me how long I spent screwing Jason before he left to go kill someone. The second part of that isn’t a question. It was a statement. So it sounds like you’re interested in my sex life. You’ll have to take a number, Detective.”

She turned and walked in the opposite direction. She’d take the long way around Bannister’s Wharf.

“Elizabeth—damn it!” Taggert rushed after her, grabbed her arm. “Wait a second. Just—”

“Don’t put your hands on me—” She backed up a few steps, and the detective grimaced. “You don’t get to be pissy with me because your partner didn’t follow the script.”

“I’m sorry—”

“You should be. Because I have no intention of answering any question from either of you or anyone else at the PCPD about the details of my personal life. Not without a lawyer or a judge telling me I have to. Am I under arrest?”

Taggert pressed his lips together. “No.”

“Then get out of my way and let me go home.”

September 25, 2020

Your Update Link: A King’s Command – Part 4

Happy Friday! I hope you guys had a good week. I was very busy here at CG as you probably noticed, so make sure you check out the Recent Updates page for any missed updates.

Today, I cleaned up Alternate History a bit by moving a bunch of my smaller 2002 Ficlets into a cluster I’m calling Take the Chance. I’m doing that because I looked at making graphics all of these smaller stories and realized — they’re nearly identical. They were all episode tags written between October-December 2002 when Liason fans were still delusionally thinking Courtney was a pit stop on the road to our couple. So it’s a lot of the same concept written over and over again, LOL.

I got a bit distracted in my Facelift journey by thinking I could just organize all my Liason screencaps to make graphics easier, and then work my way through the stories once those were done. The summer of 2002 is really kicking my butt, so I’m going to start moving stories into the History category and leave graphics for later.  The other History change I made was adding listings for all my Flash Fiction series. They’re noted as a Flash Fiction series necessary, so that you can see where they fit in and that you don’t miss them.

My final bit of news for the day is a production schedule change. I was supposed to start planning Damaged in December once the first draft of Fool Me Twice was done, but then I really thought about what writing that project would look like. Damaged is a lot like Mad World and Fool Me Twice. A lot of moving parts and huge ensemble piece. I’m kind of tired already, and I still have to edit the rest of Book 3 and Book 4 and write Fool Me Twice. I’m feeling burnt out just thinking about it.

So I’m going to switch Damaged and Book 2 of For the the Broken Girl. This means Broken Girl 2 will be out in May/June and not September. Broken Girl will be intense, but it’s more narrowly focused and I think I definitely need that after the last six months, LOL.

I’ll see you guys tomorrow for the next part of Signs of Life!

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Flash Fiction: A King's Command

Written in 50 minutes. Spellchecked, but not reread for typos.


Jason was already experiencing misgivings about his dealings with his new wife as he went downstairs to the public rooms and ordered a draught of ale, awaiting the return of Johnny and Francis with her belongings.

The sooner he could pack up his unexpected bride and return home to Braegarie where he was in control and no one could command him to do anything he did not wish to do.

When his men did finally return, Jason frowned at them, glancing out the window at the setting sun. “Did you have to go to Stirling for her things?”

“No,” Francis said shortly. He sat on the bench across from Jason and set a dingy, gray sack on the table. “This was right where milady said it would be.”

Jason stared at the sack which might have stored several pounds of grain at home, then raised his eyes to the man who had brought it. “That’s it?”

“There is something very strange afoot,” Johnny declared as he handed Francis an ale and sat next to him. “I thought your wife must have brought the wrong bag from her lodgings or perhaps she didn’t want to make a fuss after you dragged her down the Mile—”

Jason scowled. “I did not—”

“So we went to find out for sure,” Francis said. “Her father was unhappy to see us, but her brother assured us that—” He nodded at the sack. “That is the sum total of what the baron allowed his youngest daughter to pack for her presentation at the royal court.”

Jason narrowed his eyes. “There could not be more than a few articles of clothing,” he muttered. He knew the weight and shape of women’s garments — “The sister was well dressed?”

“At the wedding, yes. Her brother confirmed that Sarah,” Johnny said, biting out the name, “brought several trunks.”

“I would say it makes sense to outfit the elder daughter more than the younger,” Francis said slowly, “but the brother gives me pause. I think that the baron never intended to present the other girl. Her brother was not present when Elizabeth made her bow to the regent.”

Jason stared at the sack for another moment, before getting to his feet and picking up the sack. “I need to speak with my wife.” He tossed a few coins onto the table. “She’ll need warmer clothes for the journey north tomorrow. See to it. Get another mount.”

“Aye, we’ll see to it.”

——

Elizabeth sat on the edge of the bed, sliding her fingers over the velvet of her dress. It was such a nice color, and there was so much more materials. Perhaps the dress could be cut down and reshaped

She jumped when the door opened again. Her husband stood there, grasping her sack. Relief slid through her veins. “Oh, I was hoping they could find my garments—”

She was already reaching for the clothes, then blinked, pulling her hands back when Jason Morgan did not set the bag down.

“It seems to me,” he said slowly, as he closed the door, then walked across the room the table beneath the window. He set the sack down, and pulled out a chair. “That there are many things I could ask you that have nothing to do with your service to the regent.”

Elizabeth bit her lip, rose to her feet. “Like what?” she asked cautiously. She sat in the other empty chair. “Will you—” She tried to look into his eyes, but her husband’s expression was still closed to her. “Will you keep my belongings if I do not answers?”

“Belongings,” Jason repeated. He gestured at the sack. “There cannot be more than two dresses.”

There were three, but she bristled, unsure of what specific insult he was inflicting on her. Elizabeth lifted her chin. “There are three. You did not answer my question.”

Jason pushed the sack towards her. “Your belongings are your own,” he said gruffly. “You tell me you cannot tell me why the regent has decided to favor you with a marriage.”

“Nay, but—” Elizabeth set the sack in her lap, focused on Jason’s light blue eyes. “But if you are willing to trust me—”

“Trust is earned, Elizabeth. Not given freely.”

“How may I earn your trust, then?”

“Your father did not intend to present you to the regent, did he?”

Elizabeth stiffened, her shoulders squared back, prepared to defend her father’s honor, but then— “No, he did not.”

“Why?”

“I cannot say—” When Jason scowled, she hurried to add, “I mean that I do not know. The call to court was specific that my father was to bring all three of his children, but he had hoped to make excuses. To say that I had fallen ill. He brought me to Edinburgh, but he only intended to bring Sarah and Steven when the time came.”

She looked away, but her eyes were dry. “But the regent specifically sent for me. For my father to bring me. Only me.” Elizabeth paused, then turned her gaze back to Jason. “How did you know that?”

“My men went to your family’s lodgings to be sure you hadn’t left anything behind. It was clear that your sister came with trunks of clothing meant for court.”

They both looked down at the sack in her lip. Elizabeth’s lip trembled slightly, so she bit down on it.

“My sister is the elder. Unmarried—”

“No father overlooks a chance to rid himself of unmarried daughters,” Jason said, flatly. “Not even Lowlanders.”

Rid himself— Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. “And is that how you would approach the marriage of your daughters?” she demanded. “As baggage to be tossed aside?”

Jason tipped his head slightly to the side, and now there was a hint of a smile at the corners of his lips. Or perhaps she had mistaken a twitch of his muscles. “No. But I know enough men who see daughters as burdens. Your father strikes me as one of their number.”

She could not find fault with that reasoning, so Elizabeth just looked at her hands.

“Was it this way at home?”

Elizabeth drew her brows together, met his eyes with a slight shake of her head. “My Lord—”

“Jason,” he corrected, his voice quiet. “I am your husband.”

“You did not seem eager to claim that title earlier,” she muttered, tightening her fingers around the cord tying her sack closed.

“I was…” He looked away, his profile falling into a slash of fading sunlight. Surely she was mistaking the flush in his cheeks for something else. He leaned forward, then lit the lantern between, giving the room a soft glow. “I apologize.”

Apologize. She’d never known anyone to apologize to her and was not sure she liked knowing the reason he felt remorse.

“If you think to feel pity for me,” Elizabeth said slowly, “because my sister is richly clothed and my father struck me yesterday, then I must ask you to keep it. I will not accept your apology under such circumstances.”

“You will not—” Jason repeated, his eyes widening. “You will not accept—? Do you know how many apologies I have given in my life?”

Elizabeth winced. She ought to close her mouth and have done with it. This was how she ended up in trouble so often. If she could just control yourself? “I beg your pardon,” she muttered. “The day has been long.”

“No, I find myself curious as to why my apology is lacking.” He raised his brows. “Go on.”

Elizabeth wrinkled her nose, but then nodded. “All right then. Where shall I begin? Perhaps with the reminder that I made it quite plain to you and the regent—as well as my father—that I did not ask for this, yet you and my father have both treated me as if I am to blame. I did not want to come to Edinburgh. I did not want to meet the regent—I asked for none of this, my lord,”

“Jason—”

“I will call you by your Christian name when I please,” Elizabeth snapped. “I was not finished. You dragged me out of the chapel without my things, scarcely paid attention to me until I fell into the mud and then you put me in this room, demanded that I break my oath of secrecy to the regent—and now you think to apologize because you realize that my father does not love me.”

She set the sack on the table and rose to her feet. “If you wish to apologize for your ill manner and rude behavior because you realize you were unfair to me, I will accept your apology. But I will not accept an apology because you feel sorry for me.”

——

Jason stared at his wife for a long moment, unsure how to respond to that diatribe delivered in the biting tone with flashing eyes. Slowly, he stood, knowing that he loomed over her by nearly a foot.

Her chin lifted even higher to meet his eyes. He might have thought she was unafraid—that this was evidence of a spoiled Lowland miss that was accustomed to doing what she wanted and saying what she pleased—

But he could see her hands clenched at her sides were trembling slightly. There was a quiver to her lip—

His new wife was terrified, and likely expected that he would give her a matching bruise on the other side of her face.

“I apologize,” he repeated. “For my rudeness. You are right. Outside of whatever secret you are keeping to the regent, you have done me no wrong and did not deserve such treatment.”

Elizabeth’s chest heaved slightly as she let out a shaking breath. “I did not ask for any of this,” she repeated.

“I know.” Jason stepped closer to her. “Neither did I.” He reached out, took out of her fists in his, and gently straightened out her clenched fingers. “And let me make something clear, Elizabeth—” He waited for her eyes to meet his—startled to find they were damp with tears. Her breathing hitched. “A man who uses his strength against a woman is no man at all. I will never put my hands on you.” He paused. “In anger,” he added.”

She closed her eyes, the tension bleeding out of her shoulders. Something in her voice had changed—the wintry chill had melted. “I know.”

“You do? How—”

“I—” Elizabeth’s eyes flew open, then she blinked rapidly, her fingers tightening against into a fist. “I—you told my father that—”

“Oh.” Jason nodded. “Right. Well, I—” He cleared his throat, looked down at her hand, the softness of her skin sliding against his rougher fingers. Suddenly he was conscious of the closed door and the bed in the center of the room. “I’ve sent my men for warmer clothing. Can you ride?”

“A little,” Elizabeth said. She licked her lips, nervously, her eyes on their joined hands. “Not well.”

“We’ll go slowly,” he promised. “You’ll ride with me if the terrain is rough. I—” He stepped back, let her hand fall away. “I think it best if we—” He looked at the bed. “If we wait for any—”

“I—” Her cheeks flushed. Elizabeth laced her fingers together. “Of course. I—”

“I’ll leave you to check on supper,” he muttered, then left the room as quickly as he could. He’d intended to get answers from his wife—

And now all he had were more questions.

September 24, 2020

Your Update Link: The Ghost in the Girl

Good morning! As promised, I am posting the revised short story, The Ghost in the Girl. I wrote it as the first Sunday Rewrite short story in three parts. Parts 1 & 2 are largely the same — but they’ve been edited and refined–even expanded in some areas. Part 3 was heavily rewritten. I added a lot to the Liason scene in the park and rewrite the ending of the story entirely. Please take a read and let me know how you like it!

I’ll see you guys tomorrow for Flash Fiction!

Inspiration

When I was reorganizing the History page, I realized that I haven’t written any Liason stories set between 1999-2001. I have a few planned for 1999 (Signs of Life is a Flash Fiction series being posted on Saturdays), but nothing at all for 2001.

When I first started reading Liason fanfiction in 2002, I dove headfirst into the archives at The Canvas, and a ton of authors had written about 2001. I honestly didn’t feel like I had anything to say and since I hadn’t watched that time period closely, I didn’t feel connected.

Fast forward to 2002, when I have seen all those scenes and I’m more confident in my voice. I wanted to see what I could do.

The Ghost in the Girl was originally written as a Flash Fiction series on my site, but the ending has been rewritten and the story has been refined and revised.

Timeline & Show Recap

When Jason returned to town for a brief visit at the end of January 2001, he needed a place to stay with a view of the docks. Elizabeth let him stay in the studio, while keeping it a secret from everyone else. Over the next few weeks, it was clear they were both crushing on each other — though Elizabeth didn’t really seem to realize it, and Jason did.  Jason was forced to reveal his existence when he saved Sonny after a warehouse fire, and Elizabeth, seeing Jason come out of the warehouse, seemed to recognize for the first time that she had feelings. Lucky also saw her seeing Jason come out of the fire — and didn’t miss the looks they exchanged. Jason moved out of the studio and to a room at Jake’s. Lucky later asked Elizabeth to stop seeing Jason, and she reluctantly agreed.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth and Lucky were struggling with their own relationship woes. Lucky was working at Deception as a photographer and convinced Elizabeth to go out for the Face of Deception spot, sparring with Gia Campbell for the position. Elizabeth was uncomfortable with it, but Lucky was excited, and she agreed. Carly and Laura who were running Deception at that point battled over who should be the Face — but Laura with the bigger share of the company won.

On the day Elizabeth fled to Jake’s and Jason, she had been at a Face of Deception photoshoot, dressed as Audrey Hepburn from Tiffany’s. It was in the same studio where Tom Baker had held Elizabeth and Emily hostage in 1998, but Elizabeth seemed to get over her nerves and begin the shoot. She did her best, but Carly disagreed and was really aggressively critical of Elizabeth’s posture. Lucky and Laura both defended Elizabeth, but when asked by Carly to say Elizabeth was the better model other than Gia, Lucky couldn’t or wouldn’t, and frustrated, upset, Elizabeth left.  She went to Jake’s, and Jason took her in, worried. Elizabeth tried to take off the heavy makeup she was wearing, but worried about ruining the long white gloves she was wearing. Jason started to wash her face.

Hence the scene in the in the banner and the kiss that wasn’t.

Until now.



Thursday, March 13, 2001

Jake’s: Jason’s Room

Elizabeth Webber could feel his breath against her lips, the scent of his aftershave lingering — Jason Morgan had fastened those beautiful blue eyes of his on hers — then dropped them to her lips, leaned in — then stopped.

She should pull away.

She should absolutely stop this.

But another voice—the devil on her shoulder, the ever present reminder of who she’d been once — the Lizzie voice—reminded her that she’d been such a good girl lately, and what had it earned her?

Nothing but humiliation.

Nothing but pain and unhappiness.

Standing in that photography studio—the central location of so many nightmares in the last two years—listening to Carly Corinthos deride Elizabeth’s looks, her figure, the way she stood, the way she smiled, picking her apart until Elizabeth thought everyone could see her bleeding —

And her own boyfriend couldn’t even muster the ability to say that Elizabeth was more beautiful than Gia, the woman Elizabeth had defeated for the job he insisted she’d won fair and square. Not that Elizabeth thought she actually was, but if anyone should have believed it, it should have been the man who said he loved her.

Elizabeth had been the good and dutiful girlfriend, agreeing not to see Jason anymore, to become a model, to stand in that studio of all places where Tom Baker had terrorized her—

And for what?

For Lucky’s dreams?

What about hers? What about Elizabeth’s dreams? What she wanted—

When Jason paused, Elizabeth knew why he’d stopped. His breath was faster—his hand still on her face, his wrist against her cheek—his pulse had picked up. It pulsed against her spin. This man—this gorgeous, sexy man wanted to kiss her, but he had stopped.

Because it needed to be her choice. He wanted it to be her decision. It had to be something she wanted.

And what she wanted mattered to him.

What could be sexier than that?

So Elizabeth shut down the good girl inside of her that was screaming and listened to Lizzie for the first time in three years.

She leaned in, brushing her mouth against his, against the smoothness of his lips. Jason’s breath intake was sharp—he hadn’t expected it—but that moment of surprise disappeared a moment later as his mouth became more insistent, covering hers hungrily.

Elizabeth snaked an arm around his neck, moaning as Jason stood, lifting her against him. One of his hands speared through her hair, dislodging the upswept hair that had taken the stylist nearly an hour to achieve, his other arm was around her waist, holding her up. She clung to him, his chest hard against her softness—

Then Jason stopped—he drew back, carefully setting her on her feet, the pads of his thumbs sweeping over her cheeks. Their breathing shallow, their eyes met for a long moment before Jason rested his forehead against hers.

It was some time before Elizabeth could form any words—before coherent thought was possible. And even when she could speak —

What could she say?

She knew what she should say.

She should tell him it was a mistake.

Jason’s thumb slid across her lips before falling away, and she nearly protested — she wanted him to keep touching her—to kiss her — to make the world fall away again —

“Should I apologize?” Jason finally managed.

“Are you sorry?” Elizabeth said, her voice rusty. She cleared her throat, stepped back, her knees brushing the edge of the bed. But she didn’t sit down.

Jason studied her for a long moment, then shook her head. “No,” he admitted.

“G-Good.” Elizabeth licked her lips. They felt swollen and sensitive. Her stomach fluttered when his eyes dropped to her mouth again. Oh my God. I just want to lick him everywhere.

“B-Because I kissed you,” she continued. She pressed a hand to her belly, trying to calm the butterflies that swirled inside.

“I—” Jason exhaled slowly. Carefully. He stepped back, a foot of space separating them now. Did he need that as much as she did right now? Was it the same for him? She was so afraid she’d grab him by the shirt and shove him on the bed if he was close enough. “I know.”

“I need a minute,” Elizabeth admitted. She edged away from him, toward the other side of the room. She rubbed her neck, her hand encircling her throat, then slid up to her cheek, trying to sort herself out. “I wasn’t—um, that wasn’t the plan when I came here.”

“I didn’t think it was.”

“I just—” She bit her lip. “I think it’s obvious that I have—that I—” Elizabeth closed her eyes. Honesty. Jason respected honesty. With that in mind, she opened them and looked at him directly. “I have feelings for you, and I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Elizabeth—”

“It’s important to me that I don’t hurt you. Because you matter so much. You shouldn’t,” she said quickly, her voice tightening. “Because I’ve got everything I wanted. Everything I’m supposed to want.”

Were her feelings for Jason real? Or were they just lust, built from months of frustration and feeling swallowed by Lucky and what he needed—had she built something in her head out of nothing?

Jason just stared at her, and she broke the gaze, rubbing her finger against her mouth again. “It’s so strange,” she murmured. “Before you came home, I would have said I was happy. But I’m not. And I haven’t been. When did that change? When did Lucky change?” She looked back at Jason. “How can that happen right in front of you without you noticing? I—”

She sat on the bed, staring blindly at the dingy paint on the wall. “I keep telling myself that he’s so excited about this new job that he just can’t hear me right now. And I do want him to be happy. He’s had such a hard time since he came home finding something again. He kept telling me all the dreams we’d had once—those were for kids. Going to the city, living on art and music—just a silly dream.”

Jason carefully sat on the bed, keeping several feet between them. “Why is it silly?”

“That’s what I wanted to know. And if he didn’t want music anymore, well, why did that mean my dreams had to change? Why can’t I have dreams of my own?” Elizabeth looked at him, tears stinging her lashes. “Why do I have to share his? Why do I have to dress like this and pretend that I like being a model? Carly was right.”

Jason’s mouth pinched. “Carly doesn’t think—”

“No, she just says whatever pops in her head.” Elizabeth smiled faintly. “I used to be like that. I used to be in the moment. What I wanted, I took, and I didn’t think much about other people.”

She stared at her manicured nails, at the clear polish, wishing it was the red she preferred. “I keep telling myself that Lucky can’t hear me right now,” she repeated, “because I need to believe that he will hear me eventually. But I think—” She met Jason’s eyes. “I think he does hear me. And he just doesn’t care. And that’s—” Her voice trembled. “That’s really hard to admit. That what I want and need isn’t important to the one person it should matter to the most.”

“I’m sorry—” Jason paused. “Elizabeth—”

“I just—I don’t want to hurt you,” Elizabeth repeated. “Because I do—this—this feels real. The way I feel when you look at me, but I’m just scared that it’s because I’m unhappy with the rest of my life. I shouldn’t—” She sighed, looked away.

“You shouldn’t what?”

“When we became friends, you were an escape,” she confessed, “a way to run away from all the things that hurt me, the pieces of my life that were suffocating me. I didn’t have to think or be anything when I was with you. And I shouldn’t need that anymore.”

Jason said nothing, and she couldn’t bear to look at him. She didn’t want to know if she was hurting him. She just couldn’t keep lying to herself, and she needed to figure out what was in her head.

“How can I tell myself I’m in love with Lucky and feel this way about you?” Elizabeth murmured. “How does that even work?”

She shoved herself to her feet, dragging her hands across her face, then through her hair. “You know, I talked to Lucky about wanting to see Italy one day.”

Now she looked at him, saw Jason exhale slowly like he was bracing himself for what she would say next. “What did he say?”

“He said that maybe Deception could sponsor a photoshoot there and we could go that way. And I—I said that if I went there working—how would I see the art and museums and just soak it all in? He laughed at me.”

Jason got to his feet with a scowl. “He laughed—”

“When was I going to give up on my silly dream?” Elizabeth murmured. “When was I going to grow up?” Tears spilled over her lashes.

“Elizabeth—”

“I should have seen it then. He didn’t believe me in me anymore. And, God, that’s almost worst than the rest of it. He was the first person who ever saw me. And now—now I don’t even trust those memories. It’s not the now he’s destroying, it’s the before. I don’t know what was real. If I ever knew him at all.”

“I’m sorry,” Jason said. “I don’t—I’m sorry.”

She met his eyes, and he looked so upset, his eyes pained. “Jason—”

“I know how much your art means to you. How much Lucky believing in you meant. It was the first thing I ever learned about you,” he continued. “When your professor didn’t like that portrait of him—” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Elizabeth. I don’t want to make things worse—”

“You couldn’t,” she assured him softly. “I just—I need time. I need—I need to sort myself out. I can’t—I can’t let myself travel down this road with you until I know it’s—” She pressed her lips together. “Which is so conceited because I don’t even know what you want—”

“What I want,” Jason told her, sliding a piece of hair behind her ear, his fingers trailing down her neck to her collar bone. She nearly shivered—what would it feel like to have him touch her everywhere— “What I want is for you to be happy. To see you smile again with your whole face. You’re so beautiful,” he murmured.

Elizabeth’s cheeks heated, and she bit her lip. “Jason—”

“Whether that’s with me or alone—” Jason paused, “or even with Lucky,” he added with a pained tone, “if you’re really happy—that’s what I want.”

“Okay,” Elizabeth drew out, “but do you, um, have a preference?” She tipped her head up, met his eyes.

“Yeah,” he said, his voice little more than a whisper as he leaned down to kiss her—just one more time. “I do.”

“Oh man,” Elizabeth muttered when he pulled back. She let her head drop against his chest. “It wasn’t a fluke, was it?”

“No,” Jason said with a shake of his head, the corner of his mouth curving up. “No, it wasn’t. Do you want a ride home?”

“I should probably take a cab,” she admitted as she stepped back. “I don’t think this dress travels well on a bike. And I need—I need to think.”

Studio

Elizabeth wasn’t entirely surprised to find Lucky pacing inside when she unlocked the door to her studio. He stopped at the sound of her key in the lock, then turned to her, his nostrils flaring and his eyes cold and hard. “Where have you been?” he demanded.

Elizabeth arched her brow, closed the door behind her, and looked at her boyfriend, waiting for that familiar mixture of guilt and nerves to set in. She’d run to another man, let him hold her, then kiss her—

It never came.

Because she’d been upset when she’d left, and Lucky didn’t seem to care. He hadn’t even asked if she was okay.

No—he’d just demanded answers. Like he always did.

“I don’t think that’s the question you should be asking me,” Elizabeth said coolly. She set her purse on her table, then removed her scarf and jacket.

“And what should I be asking?” Lucky retorted, his hands clenched into fists at his side. “You embarrassed me and wasted a whole lot of people’s time and money when you stormed off—”

“Stormed off,” Elizabeth said. She folded her arms. “You mean when I left the studio after being insulted repeatedly by one of the owners of the company—”

“That’s just Carly—”

“I don’t want to be a model, Lucky,” Elizabeth said, flatly. “Carly just sees it better than the rest of you. So I’m going to thank your mother for her time—”

“Elizabeth!”

“—but we both know it should be Gia.” She took a deep breath even as his features folded into a thunderous mask of anger. And now she knew it wasn’t time she needed.

Time wasn’t going to solve what was broken between them.

“How can you do this to me?” he demanded.

“You can photograph Gia. Your dreams are not mine,” she said. “I don’t want it. And you don’t have the right to force them on me—”

“It was our dream—”

“Because you wanted it, and I wanted you to be happy. But I don’t want it for me. I want to be an artist—” She stopped. “I am an artist—”

Lucky rolled his eyes. “Again? With this? Come on—”

“And since you can’t believe in me, then we should see other people.”

Lucky’s mouth hung open for a long moment as his eyes bulged at her. “What did you just say to me? Are you—”

“We’re clearly not seeing eye to eye, we’re arguing all the time,” Elizabeth continued, “and I’m not happy—”

“This is because of Jason,” he said with a sneer. “Because of him—he’s poisoned you against me—”

“This is because of me. Because I need to do what I want, and I can’t with you shoving your dreams on me—”

“Damn it, tell me the truth!” Lucky demanded. “Is this about Jason?”

She met his angry eyes directly, then nodded. “I have feelings for him. I don’t know if they’re real or if they’re just because I’m unhappy. So I need a break from all of it—”

“That’s bullshit.” Lucky sliced his hand through the air. “You don’t need anything except to stay the hell away from Jason—”

“I need you to leave.” Elizabeth opened the door and gestured at the hallway. “Now.”

Lucky’s throat bobbed as he swallowed hard—not from nerves but from anger, from rage—and she really wanted him out of her studio right this second. Her pulse started to skitter as she wondered what she’d do if he didn’t leave.

She’d never worried about her safety before. This was Lucky — her miracle —

And her fingers were trembling as she gripped the edge of the door, wishing her phone wasn’t so far away. What if he refused—

“Fine,” Lucky snarled. “But you’ll come crawling back when he leaves again.” He stormed past her and out of the studio.

Elizabeth closed the door behind him, locked it, and exhaled slowly. She leaned back against the door, touched her lips, closed her eyes—brought back the image of Jason gently touching her face, looking at her—

Jason wanted her to be happy. If it was without him. And Lucky didn’t think she could be happy with anyone else.

No, she wouldn’t be crawling back.

Friday, March 14, 2001

Kelly’s: Diner

Elizabeth glanced warily at the stairs that led to the second floor of the diner before returning her attention to finishing her side work behind the counter. She folded utensils into napkins, refilled salt and pepper canisters—all grunt work that gave her mind time to drift.

She had stayed the night on her uncomfortable couch at the studio and didn’t know if Lucky was upstairs — and was not looking forward to seeing him again. She had left Jake’s yesterday, feeling genuinely conflicted about her feelings for Jason, nearly convinced that if she just tried to explain things to Lucky — he would take a minute and look at her.

He would see her the way he had once. That her feelings would be real to him again, and these last few weeks would seem like a terrible dream.

But Lucky couldn’t—or wouldn’t—do that. Instead of being worried about the way she’d left and how upset she had been—instead of listening — he had been mean.

He had been cruel.

And this was a side of Lucky Elizabeth simply had no reference for. Even when Lucky hadn’t liked her during her first few months in Port Charles, he might have been sarcastic and cutting, but he’d never been mean or dismissive.

She felt her phone vibrate in her apron pocket. Elizabeth tugged it out, then made a face when she saw Laura Spencer’s name flash on the identification screen. She put the phone back. Clearly, Laura had received Elizabeth’s message.

She thanked Laura for her time and energy and hoped there were no hard feelings. She was very sorry she’d wasted everyone’s time, but she wasn’t cut out to be a model.

Elizabeth turned away from the counter to check on the coffee pots behind her, to make sure there were enough for the lunch rush due in soon. Dimly, she heard the bell over the door ring as the door swung open.

She turned back and nearly jumped out of her skin when she found Nikolas Cassadine glaring at her while Gia Campbell smirked in the background.

“What the hell is going on?” Nikolas bit out, slapping a hand on the counter. “My brother is devastated, my mother is furious—”

“I told Lucky and Laura that I don’t want to be a model.” She glanced at Gia, who arched a brow. “I’m sure you’re not surprised.”

“No,” Gia began, but Nikolas sent her a hot look that had the former blackmailer pressing her lips together.

“How could you do this?” Nikolas demanded. “After everything my mother has done for you, this is how you repay her? Do you have any idea how much money and time you’ve wasted?”

“I do,” Elizabeth said slowly, “but I also know that it’s my right to quit a job at any time. Particularly one where I am subjected to abuse and harassment by co-workers and supervisors.” She tipped her head at Gia. “Did they call you yet?”

“Yes.” Gia lifted her chin.

“Good,” Elizabeth said. “Because you and Carly deserve each other.” She turned back to begin a pot of decaf coffee.

“What does that mean—” Gia began, but Nikolas had launched into his next complaint.

“And what about Lucky? You’re ruining his dream—”

“Is he not capable of pushing the button on a camera if I’m not there to hold his hand?” Elizabeth asked. She measured out the coffee, ignoring the way her hand shook. She pressed the start button. She’d believed that once—believed that the best way to help Lucky make his dreams come true was to be an active participant—

But she hadn’t just participated. She’d let his dreams swallow her whole.

“That’s not the point—”

“What is the point?” Elizabeth asked. “I don’t need anyone’s permission to quit a job that I’m unhappy in, and I also don’t need your permission to break up with my boyfriend.”

“After everything we’ve been through with Lucky, you’re just abandoning him—”

“It doesn’t even matter to you,” Elizabeth said softly, and startled, Nikolas broke off in midsentence. She met his angry, bewildered eyes. “It’s never mattered to you what makes me happy. I wonder when that changed. Why I didn’t see it—”

“I—” Nikolas flinched. “You’re just confused—”

“No, I think I’m seeing clearly for the first time.” She tipped her head as something even more devastating became startlingly clear. “How did Gia know?”

“What?” Nikolas blinked. Baffled, he shook his head. “Know what?” He looked at Gia, whose eyes had widened. “What is she talking about?”

“Nothing—” Gia began.

“She talked about people looking at me, watching me. All their eyes on me. I didn’t know for sure—” Elizabeth flicked a glance at Gia, who looked at the ground as Nikolas closed his eyes. “Until right now. You knew I was raped by a photographer. That’s why you were trying to talk me out of taking the job.”

“I wasn’t wrong,” Gia said dully. Nikolas pressed his lips together, stared at the ground.

“No,” Elizabeth said. She took a deep breath. “No, your intent was to scare me away from the job, but you weren’t wrong. I think part of me doesn’t even blame you. Because I know who you are. I’ve always known.” She focused on Nikolas. “But how did she know?”

“Elizabeth—” Nikolas faltered and swallowed. Elizabeth nodded, her suspicions confirmed. “I thought it would make things easier—”

I thought we were friends once,” she said. “You told someone that does not like me about the worst thing that ever happened to me.” Her eyes stung. “But I guess I should have known from the beginning who you were. You’ve never bothered to be anything else. You threw my rape in my face before.”

“I didn’t—”

“I don’t care what your little girlfriend has been through,” Elizabeth quoted, watching the color in Nikolas’s face fade, and she knew he remembered. “You said that to me at the Nurse’s Ball. I copped an attitude with you about Sarah, and that’s how you responded. And Lucky went after you. Because we both knew what you meant. You apologized later. You’re good at that—being cruel without thinking, then being sorry for it later.”

“Just—wait—” Nikolas put up his hands. “Let me—you’re twisting this—”

“Am I?” Elizabeth made a face and shook her head. “I don’t think so. You couldn’t stand that I didn’t want you. You tried to kiss me, and I said no—”

Excuse me,” Gia snapped.

“And that’s when it changed between us. You became possessive, jealous, and cruel after that. You were never my friend. Not really. And this is just more proof.”

“Elizabeth—”

Emily bounced down the stairs and approached them with a sunny smile on her face. “Hey—” Then that smile faded as she looked between them. “What’s going on?”

“I quit modeling and broke up with Lucky,” Elizabeth said, not taking her eyes off Nikolas. “And Nikolas told Gia I was raped.”

“You told Gia—” Emily glared at Nikolas. “What’s wrong with you? She blackmailed me! It’s bad enough you’re sleeping with her—but then you go and give her ammunition—”

“Oh, my God, I am not the anti-Christ!” Gia said, throwing up her hands. “All I did was remind Elizabeth that people would be looking at her, particularly photographers! How is that a bad thing? Am I the only one who thinks that the last place she should be in a photography studio? I mean, Jesus—” She scowled when no one said anything and stormed out.

Emily pressed her lips together. “You broke up with Lucky?” she said, looking at Elizabeth with furrowed brows.

“She told him she has feelings for Jason—”

“Of course, that’s the only part he concentrated on,” Elizabeth muttered, but Emily was already shaking her head.

“Elizabeth, how could you do that—”

Elizabeth retrieved her phone from her apron, untied it, then tossed it on the counter. She stalked away from the counter towards the front of the diner where her coat and purse were hanging.

“Are you quitting another job?” Nikolas asked sarcastically. “Jason going to pay for everything now?”

“Emily’s shift starts in ten minutes. She can cover until Penny gets here at noon.” Elizabeth stared back at two of her oldest and—until this moment—closest friends. “You can both go to hell.”

“Wait—”

“Elizabeth—”

She slammed the door behind her so hard the building shook. To hell with all of this.

Port Charles Park

Jason sighed and rolled his neck as he turned back to Carly. “Is there a chance you’re not going to make a stupid plan to get us all in trouble?” he asked.

“Oh, my God, just once, I’d like you to give me the benefit of the doubt!” Carly said, planting her hands on her hips.

“I’d like to,” Jason said slowly, “but you were also the one that shot Tony Jones in open court, then faked mental illness and ended up locked up for almost a year.”

“Oh, come on—”

“Then you had me arrested for kidnapping—”

Carly narrowed her eyes. “I didn’t file those charges, AJ did!”

“You also tried to help Sonny and Mike, and what happened?” Jason asked with an arch of his brows.

Carly huffed, looked away, muttering something.

“I’m sorry—can you say that louder?”

She glared at him. “I ended up getting Sonny arrested for drug trafficking. You know, when you just make a list of my worst crimes like that, it sounds bad.”

“Is there another way to make that list?”

“Context,” Carly told him through clenched teeth, “adds a lot.”

Not convinced, Jason shook his head. “I also don’t hear you telling me you’re not planning something stupid that’s going to get us all arrested.”

“I—” Carly pursed her lips. “I’m not planning to get anyone arrested—”

“No, that’s usually just a bonus—”

“I don’t even know why I talk to you,” she muttered as she stalked away. Five seconds later, she heard a thud and a groan—Carly turned back, saw Jason on the ground with some crazy bastard on top of him. She broke into a run.

“Hey! Get off of him!” Carly grabbed the attacker’s jacket, yanking him back. “Holy shit—” She leaped back as she saw the flash of a knife—then she realized who was holding the blade to Jason’s throat. “Lucky—what the hell—” Her fingers shaking, she dived for her purse, which she’d tossed to get to Jason. Sonny. She needed to call Sonny—

But then, Jason got the upper hand, and with an explosion of fists, he’d thrown Lucky off him, the knife skittering away. He was just raising his fist to knock the little shit into next week when he froze.

Carly scowled, turning to follow his gaze—only to find Elizabeth Webber standing on the steps into the park, her face pale, her eyes wide. “Screw her, Jason! Finish the little shit!”

Jason was distracted long enough for Lucky to get his breath back and land another hit to Jason’s jaw, knocking the enforcer into a nearby bench, his back, slamming against the edge. Breathing hard, Lucky got to his feet, then saw Elizabeth.

Carly watched as Lucky’s eyes shifted—his angry, murderous expression melted into a hurt, confused, and scared one. “Elizabeth—thank God. You stopped him. He—he came out of nowhere, attacked—”

“Oh, fuck that all the way to next Sunday—” Carly snarled as Jason wearily got to his feet, looking away from Elizabeth. She glared at Elizabeth. “You really are the dumbest person alive—”

Elizabeth swallowed hard and walked towards them, edging away from Lucky, but never taking her eyes off him, and Carly realized—she realized that Elizabeth hadn’t said a word.

But her eyes said it all. She was scared of Lucky.

And she didn’t believe him.

“Are you okay?” she asked Jason softly. “I—I saw—” She looked away, where the switchblade had fallen, the blade glinting against the snow. She touched the hollow of his throat. “He didn’t—”

“I’m fine,” Jason said roughly, staring at her like he’d never seen her before.

“Elizabeth, get away from him—” Lucky started forward, but Carly swung her purse—heavy with cosmetics and a flat iron she never went anywhere without—cracking him hard across the face. Lucky ended up sprawled in the snow on his, blinking at the sky.

“You come near him again, and I will end you!” she retorted.

“Carly—” Jason winced as Lucky rolled to his side, coughing out blood. “Get over here—”

“Little piece of shit, coming at you like he’s worth anything,” Carly muttered. She kept one eye on Jason as she crossed over to Jason and Elizabeth. “With a knife! A freakin’ knife!” She scowled, turned back as if she was going to take another whack at him.

“I saw it,” Jason said, dryly, and Carly was relieved to see that blank look had vanished. He’d been so sure Elizabeth would take Lucky’s side. If she had—Carly might have let her purse swing in her direction next. Annoying twit.

“What is in there?” Jason asked Carly as Lucky rose unsteadily to his feet, blood dripping from the corner of his mouth. There was another cut high on his cheek, more blood oozing from it. “He looks worse now than when I hit him.”

“You need to get away from him,” Lucky tried again, his words slurring. He attempted to step towards the three of them, but Jason stepped in front of Carly and Elizabeth, making sure to kick the knife away from Lucky. Carly tightened her fingers around the strap of her purse, ready to go back in swinging.

“Walk away,” Jason said in a voice that would have frozen even boiling water. “You’re not attacking me from the back this time.”

“Yeah, and I’m packing!” Carly tossed out. She looked at Elizabeth. “You got anything to back us up?”

Elizabeth blinked but actually started to search inside her much smaller purse. Maybe she wasn’t totally worthless.

“Carly—” Jason bit out.

“Shutting up.”

Lucky glared at Jason before leveling a malevolent look at his—Carly was hoping—ex-girlfriend. “This isn’t over.”

“If it wasn’t before,” Elizabeth said, her voice a bit shaky, “it is now. You—you attacked Jason with a knife! How—” She pressed a hand to her chest. “What is wrong with you?”

Lucky said nothing else and slunk away, disappearing around the corner of the park. Jason kept an eye on the entrance but turned slightly towards Carly and Elizabeth.

“What—”

“Carly, it’s time for you to go home,” he said, finally. He looked at her. “Don’t do anything stupid until I talk to you.”

Carly narrowed her eyes. “That’s not helpful. You know I don’t know it’s stupid until after I do it—”

“Then go home, sit on the sofa, and do nothing,” Jason said with a roll of his eyes.

“That—” Carly pursed her lips. “I can do.” She looked at Elizabeth. “Thank you for saving me the energy of firing you. You’re a terrible model—”

Carly—”

“And you’re a terrible boss,” Elizabeth retorted. “So, I think we’re even.”

“That’s right.” Carly nodded, then walked out of the park — leaving Jason and Elizabeth alone, against her better judgment.


Elizabeth watched Carly walk out of the park, almost wishing the acerbic blonde had stuck around a little longer. She wasn’t entirely ready to face Jason — not alone.

What the hell had just happened?

“Elizabeth?”

She sighed, then met his concerned eyes. “Are you okay?” she asked him again. “I don’t think I’ll ever get that image out of my mind—he had a knife—” Elizabeth looked down at the switchblade where Jason had kicked it under a bench.

A knife.

Lucky had pressed a knife to Jason’s throat—would he have gone through with it?

“I’m fine,” Jason told her. He touched her elbow. Startled, she blinked, tried to focus on him. “I—”

“And he tried to make it seem like you’d attacked him!” Elizabeth dragged her hands through her hair, walked a few steps away, trying to settle her thoughts. Would she have believed Lucky if she hadn’t seen it?

Would she have believed Jason had thrown the first punch?

Or would she have known the truth?

She’d just wanted to cut through the park on her way to her grandmother’s house, desperate for some space where no one would think to look for her. Audrey was out of town, and it would be empty.

Instead, she’d heard Jason’s voice. That amused tone she recognized when he was teasing someone—Elizabeth had wandered towards it, then realized Carly with him. She’d nearly walked away then, but then a blur had hurtled out of the bushes, launching himself at Jason from the back—

Lucky had attacked Jason without warning, put a knife to his throat—

And then had looked at her with those eyes that she had trusted more than life — and lied to her.

How could she have been so blind? How had she missed it?

And still — still — Elizabeth didn’t know if she would have believed Lucky if she hadn’t seen the truth. If she could have looked at the boy she’d loved so hard and for so long, and not believe him—

“Elizabeth—”

“I think if I hadn’t seen it,” she said slowly, squeezing her eyes shut, “I think maybe I would have taken his side. I don’t know what—” She turned back to him, meeting his eyes, seeing the hurt and confusion. Her heart broke at it—she didn’t want to do this to him.

All she ever did was hurt people.

“You think I’d do that—”

“No, I don’t.” Elizabeth pressed her lips together. “But I think I feel guilty enough about all of this that I might have taken his side to make it stop. To stop him from being angry.”

And what did that say about her?

“Why?” Jason asked, the word sounding like it had been dragged his throat—hoarse, confused—and still hurt.

She wandered over to the bench and sat down. “I told you that I was really selfish when I was younger,” she told him. Elizabeth laughed lightly, the sound sour as he sat on the other end of the bench. “I wasn’t much better than Carly.”

“You said that yesterday, but I still find it hard to believe—”

“Ask Emily about it sometimes,” Elizabeth murmured. “Or Nikolas.”

“I don’t care what they think,” Jason said flatly. “I know who you are—”

“Maybe.” She focused on him. “You probably have a better idea than most. Maybe I wasn’t as bad as Carly, but I could have been. A few more years. I lied. I cheated. I stole. I didn’t care who I had to hurt as long as I got what I wanted.” She hesitated, stared at her hands. “I was just so desperate for someone to give a damn about me. To pay attention. I stopped caring if it was good or bad. I just wanted someone to see me.”

She took a breath, then squinted at him. “Sound familiar?”

“Uh, yeah, actually,” Jason admitted. “Elizabeth—”

“Everything changed after the rape. I couldn’t think past the minute, past the next breath—I couldn’t plan or scheme. I just wanted to survive the day.” She stared at her hands. “All the people in my life—they’re in my life because of the rape. Because they liked who I was after it happened. What the rape made me.”

He sucked in a sharp breath—she could hear the harsh sound. “That’s not true—”

“Lucky didn’t like me before it happened. I always knew he felt guilty about how it happened. He’d changed his mind about going to the dance with me at the last minute, and I lied to save face. That’s how I ended up in the park. And Emily—she didn’t like me either. Neither did Nikolas.” Tears stung her eyes. “They didn’t like who I was. And so I wasn’t her anymore. It was the only way I knew how to get through the day.”

She’d locked herself up in a tight little box, terrified that if she let go for even a minute—it would all fall apart.

“Hey—” She could hear his voice closer to her now, lower, pained.

“But it’s so hard to be someone you’re not all the time. To always swallow what you’re thinking, to try so hard to keep people in your life—and wonder why—” Elizabeth swiped her hand roughly against her cheek, the tears freezing her skin as they fell. “Why can’t I ever be enough? Just the way I am?”

“You are enough—”

Elizabeth looked at him, smiling wistfully. He’d slid closer to her, his eyes intent on hers. “You’re the only one who’s ever thought so. Nikolas came to Kelly’s to yell at me for quitting Deception, and Emily’s first thought was for Lucky — no one even asked me why.”

She drew in a ragged breath. “I realized today that Nikolas told Gia I was raped. And she was the only one who seemed to think it wasn’t a great idea for me to be a model, to be around photographers, in the same studio where Tom Baker—” She stopped. “She used that information to hurt me, but she wasn’t wrong. It almost feels like she’s the only one who could see it. Nikolas told her about the worst thing that ever happened to me, and when I realized that—”

Jason reached over to take one of her hands—she hadn’t even realized how badly it was shaking. How cold she was was until it was wrapped in his larger, warmer hand. “I’m sorry,” he said tightly.

“It’s my truth to tell. Not his. I never even told him, you know? That wasn’t my choice either. He saw me coming out of a support group a few months after it happened, and—he threw it in my face.” She bit her lip. “Do you remember that last Nurse’s Ball? Before the fire? You and Robin were still together, you broke up a fight between Lucky and Nikolas on the terrace?”

Jason squinted, then nodded. “Yeah, I—” He drew back a bit. “It was that night?”

“I was angry at him for hurting my sister, breaking up with her the way he had. And I copped an attitude. The first time I’ve felt like myself,” she admitted. “I let Lizzie Webber out to play—and he slapped me with it.” Elizabeth pushed her hair behind her ear with her free hand. “He told Lucky he didn’t care what his little girlfriend had been through—”

Jason’s mouth tightened. “That’s why Lucky punched him—”

“Yeah. It used to matter to him when people hurt me,” she murmured. “But I couldn’t breathe—I couldn’t even think. I was so scared people would find out, and what they’d say if they knew. Nikolas showed me what would happen. They wouldn’t care.”

“I should have hit him harder at that Christmas party,” she heard Jason mutter, and Elizabeth smiled faintly.

“He apologized later, but the damage was done. I pushed Lizzie away again because she only made people hate me. I buried her deep, and I thought I didn’t need her. I told myself she was from before. And Lizzie was why we were in the park in the first place—she was why the bad things happened.”

“Lizzie,” Jason repeated. “I don’t—”

“I blamed myself for the rape—who I was then. I blamed the voice in my head that was impulsive and angry—and I told myself that was the Lizzie voice. The part of me no one liked, so she had to go away.”

She met his eyes. “And she did. I didn’t need her because I had Lucky, and I thought he loved me. But he didn’t. He couldn’t. Because I’m always going to be Lizzie. And he never wanted her.”

On a shaky breath, Elizabeth smiled. “Lizzie was the one you met that night at Jake’s. When I was so angry because you’d helped me, and I yelled at you. You didn’t blink. You didn’t walk away. You stayed and listened.”

And, oh, she hadn’t even realized how much she’d needed that. Until this moment right now—Elizabeth hadn’t let herself really see how much that night mattered.

“I needed Lizzie to stand up to Carly that December. To protect you, to stand against Sonny and Carly, and my grandmother—Nikolas—all of them, I needed her again. And I got angry. And I was mean. And I was snarky. And impulsive—” She grinned at him. “When I told Nikolas we were lovers—”

Jason smiled at the memory. “I remember.”

“I liked how strong I felt. I knew I was going to be okay.” She sighed. “But then Lucky came back. And I was quiet again.” Elizabeth focused on him. “That’s what you saw. You knew I was unhappy before I did. And it’s because I have spent so much time blocking that voice, I didn’t even see it. I don’t want to shut it out anymore.” She smiled. “I like who I am when I let Lizzie out. I love that part of me. I want to be impulsive and snarky—devious. I want to lose control and—”

“I like that part of you, too,” he said, his fingers moving lightly back and forth over the palm of her hand. “I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone take care of me the way you did. You saved my life. And I don’t mean by dragging me out of the snow that morning.”

They sat there for a long moment in comfortable silence, as Elizabeth just watched the way he touched her hand, the light brush of their skin against each other.

“I’m just so tired,” she admitted. “Of this place. Of these people. Of constantly pretending to be happy. To be someone I’m not. I need a minute to breathe. To remember how to be me.” Their eyes met. “I care about you. You know that.”

“I care about you, too,” he said softly. “But I know you need more time to be sure.”

“I need to be sure,” she said with a nod. “I don’t expect you to wait around or—”

“Where am I going?” Jason tipped his head.

“Nowhere, I guess, but I think I need to. I was thinking—my parents keep telling me I can come to see them in Europe. They’re in, um, Croatia now, I think. I don’t really want to see them or deal with them. But I also think I need to get away. To have space. I’m afraid if I stay here—around all of these people who just make me feel like I have to be quiet—” She broke off, sighed.

“If you don’t want to see your parents,” Jason said slowly, “then maybe you’d be okay with the island. The one Sonny has in the Caribbean.”

“I—” Elizabeth blinked. “I don’t know—”

“I wouldn’t be there,” he added quickly. “I just—” Jason shook his head. “Never mind. I want you to be comfortable, so you should go where you want—”

“No, I—I really don’t want to go to Europe. I mean, not to Croatia, I’d rather see Italy.” She bit her lip. “I don’t want to see it alone,” she murmured, “and I’m not ready for that.”

“I know.”

Elizabeth looked away, looked straight ahead, pressing her lips together as she considered it. She wanted a break. She thought she might even deserve it —

“Yeah. Yeah. The island sounds—that sounds great. But I can’t afford it for more than a few days—” She wrinkled her nose when Jason just stared at her. “I’m not a charity case—”

“No, but you never let me pay for anything when I stayed at the studio,” he reminded her. “The way I see it, I owe you six weeks of rent, so why don’t you take a villa at the hotel for as long as you want it, and we’ll call it even.”

“A luxury villa in a Caribbean resort is not even with a one-room studio with no heat during a New York winter.” She rolled her eyes.

“I needed a place, and you gave it to me.” Jason pulled her to her feet. “It’s exactly the same.”

“It’s really not,” she argued even as he walked her out of the park, knowing she was going to lose this fight — but enjoying it all the same.

Kelly’s: Elizabeth’s Room

A few hours later, Elizabeth found herself packing up the meager belongings she kept in her room on the second floor at Kelly’s. Anything that wasn’t clothing was being boxed up, and Jason said he’d have someone store them at her studio.

It seemed a little crazy how fast everything was happening—she’d woken up the morning before and gone to that photoshoot and now, twenty-four hours later—

“Tammy said you’d turned in your resignation.”

Elizabeth turned to find Emily in the open doorway to her room. She wrinkled her nose and turned back to folding clothes into her suitcase. “She offered to hold my job, and I know she means that. But Kelly’s is just giving me an excuse not to go for things.”

“Things?” Emily folded her arms. “Like my brother?”

Elizabeth looked at her best friend. “Like my art,” she said softly. “You know, that silly dream I’m supposed to give up because of Lucky.”

“I didn’t come to fight, Elizabeth. I really didn’t,” Emily insisted when Elizabeth shook her head. “I wanted to say I was sorry. When Nikolas said you broke up with Lucky—I shouldn’t have taken his side. I thought I was a better friend than that.”

So had Elizabeth, but— “It’s fine—”

“It’s not. And I’m sorry Nikolas told Gia what happened. It was terrible and selfish of him. He wants us all to get along, but he doesn’t get it. He’s like Lucky, I guess,” Emily said, making a face. “They both seem to think what they want is more important. I didn’t know you were so unhappy. I should have.”

Elizabeth focused on Emily. “Lucky attacked Jason in the park today. With a knife.”

Emily’s hands fell to her side as her eyes widened. “What?”

“I’m leaving because as long as I’m here, Lucky will just get worse. And Jason isn’t going with me before you ask. I need time to think. Space to breathe. I just—” She chewed on her bottom lip. “But I know something is wrong.”

“You think it’s Helena?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“And you’re still going—”

“It’s not—” Elizabeth clenched her jaw. “It’s not my job to fix Lucky. Let Luke and Laura know. Tell Nikolas. I can’t do it again. I can’t go through months of this only to—” She exhaled slowly. “If I thought everything that was wrong was about Helena—maybe I could talk myself into staying. But I know better. Lucky and I grew up. And we don’t see each other any more. He thinks my art is silly, Emily. That’s not the brainwashing.”

“No, I guess not. All right, I’ll tell them. Is Jason okay?”

“Yeah.” Elizabeth closed her suitcase. “Tell me something, Em. Before that fall—with Tom Baker and the blackmailing, you didn’t like me, did you?”

“I don’t—” Emily frowned, drawing her brows together as she considered the question. “You know, I don’t know if I really thought about it. I was dealing with a lot. And I was silly. Nikolas didn’t, so I followed his lead.” She paused. “But I also know that every time I’ve ever needed you, you had my back. With the blackmailing, when I was hurt over Nikolas and Katherine—my issues with Juan—and the cop last summer—” Emily lifted her chin. “You’ve never let me down. So this is me returning the favor. I love you. Whatever you need to be happy, that’s what you should do. Leave Lucky to me and his family. We’ll take care of him.”

Elizabeth could barely breathe or speak, so she settled for hugging her best friend tightly. “Thank you.”

“Just write or call me. I can’t be without my best friend.” Emily hugged her back. “And get into some trouble, will you? You’re too boring these days.”

Elizabeth snorted. “When I get into trouble, it’s usually because of you.”

Emily grinned wickedly. “That’s right, so let that be a warning. Make your own trouble, or I’ll come find it for you.”

Port Charles Airport: Gate

Elizabeth heard the flight to Miami called and took a deep breath. She turned to Jason, who had been sitting with her, and managed a smile. “So, when I get to Miami—”

“There’s another flight to the island,” Jason told her. He handed her the ticket. “And a driver will meet you at the airport there.”

“Thank you.” She got to her feet, and Jason stood with her. “I mean it. This—this is happening so fast, and I feel terrible just—” She met his eyes. “I feel terrible leaving like this. Leaving you.”

“You can change your mind,” he told her. “You can go tomorrow—or when you want—”

“No, it has to be now.” She couldn’t take the chance that she’d change her mind—that she’d cling to the comfort of what was comfortable and familiar. “I haven’t—” She cleared her throat. “Leaving isn’t the problem. It’s—”

“Elizabeth?”

“Leaving you,” she admitted.

Jason touched her chin, lifting her face so he could kiss her gently—just a brush of his lips against hers. “Call me when you get there,” he told her. “You’ve got my number. You’re not leaving me, Elizabeth. You’re just going away for a while.”

“I don’t want this to be like the last time,” Elizabeth whispered. “When you left town, and you told me that—everything was different—” Her chest tightened. “What if you change your mind about what you want?”

“I haven’t changed my mind in the last year,” Jason said. She blinked at him, taken aback. “What if you change yours?”

“I—” She licked her lips. “I don’t—” Wasn’t that exactly why she was leaving? Because she needed to be sure? Because she needed to figure out if she even knew who she was? “I don’t think I will.”

“Well, until you know for sure, then you need to go.” He hesitated. “You’ll call me, won’t you?”

“Yeah.” Elizabeth nodded. “I’ll call you. Thank you. For just—for just being you. And letting me do this.”

“I’ll see you later.”

“See you later.”

Tuesday, March 18, 2001

West Plana Cays, Bahamas: Cafe

Leaving Port Charles had been the best decision Elizabeth had ever made.

She’d arrived on the island late Friday night, and as Jason had promised, a driver had taken her to one of the private villas attached to the resort Sonny owned on the island. It sat on the beach, with its own private garden and entrance—almost like it wasn’t even part of the larger resort at all.

She’d spent a few days resting, sitting on the beach, and swimming in the surf, basking in the warmth of the Caribbean sun, and enjoying the sparkling waters. Being alone without a care in the world—

But today, she’d ventured into the village near the resort, armed with her sketchbook and pencils. She’d been feeling the desperate urge to create, to capture the way she felt and the world she saw.

She ordered a cappuccino, took up a seat outside, and got to work. Elizabeth wasn’t sure how long she sat there, sketching others at the cafe, the cars on the street passing her, the way the lush greenery of the interior of the island bled into the warm sands of the beach in the distance, but eventually, she heard someone clear their throat.

Blinking, Elizabeth looked up to find a smiling woman with dangling green earrings and friendly eyes. “Oh. I’ve been here too long. Do I need—”

“No, no—” She waved a hand, taking a seat across the table, the colorful bracelets clinking on her arms. “You’re fine. I’ve been watching you from across the street.” The woman gestured at the shop on the other side of the road — Agathe’s Curiosities and Trinkets. “And I wanted to see what you were sketching.”

Elizabeth bit her lip as the woman reached for the drawings on the table, hastily created with only a hint of color from her pencils. “They’re—they’re rough. Preliminary—”

“They’re beautiful. Do you only sketch?” the woman asked. “Or do you work in other mediums?”

“Um, mostly oils,” Elizabeth admitted. “Sometimes acrylics. I was working on watercolors, too—” Until she’d dropped out of her classes.

“I could sell these—just the way they are—” the woman shook her head. “Forgive me. Agathe Rolle. It’s my shop, and I’m always looking for something else to draw in the tourists. You have a gift.”

“I do?” Elizabeth stared at her. “You could sell these? Like—for—” She set her sketchpad down. “I mean—you want them?”

“On commission,” Agathe told her. “How long are you here for? A week? Two?”

“It’s open-ended,” Elizabeth told her, her heart pounding. “I’m—I know the owner of the resort. You really think people would buy these?”

“Honey, if this is what you put together sitting in a cafe,” Agathe said with a grin, “I can’t wait to see what you’ll do with some more time. You want to come over, look at a commission contract?”

“More than anything in the world.”

Elizabeth practically floated across the street, barely even believing any of this was happening —an hour later, she’d signed a commission agreement, and Agathe had picked out a few sketches to sell on their own as well as a few that she hoped Elizabeth would turn into more finished products.

Because she wanted to sell Elizabeth’s art.

Someone had looked at what she’d created and wanted to show it off.

Elizabeth unlocked the door to the villa and tossed her art bag on the chaise lounge before dashing for the phone on the other side of the room. She couldn’t barely focus on the numbers as she dialed.

“Hello?”

“Jason?” Elizabeth’s smile stretched from ear to ear, the words bubbling out of her. “You’re never going to believe what happened today!”

April 2001

Resort Villa: Terrace

Elizabeth smiled mistily at the letter in her hands as she reread the final paragraph. Luke had believed Emily when she’d told him about the fight in the park and the knife, and according to Emily — the older Spencer had grabbed his son in the middle of the night and disappeared.

Emily was sure this time Luke and Laura would get to the bottom of what had happened with the brainwashing, and they were both grateful Elizabeth had taken the time to tell her what had happened.

Whatever else had gone wrong with Lucky, Elizabeth wanted him to be okay. She wanted his mind to belong to him again, and she was glad that she’d told Emily.

She set Emily’s letter aside as her phone rang. She reached for it, grinning as she saw Jason’s number on the Caller ID.

“Hey!”

“Hey.” Jason’s voice was thin—the connection between New York and the Bahamas wasn’t always the greatest. “I’m glad I caught you. I wasn’t sure what time you were leaving.”

“I’m just about done moving things over,” Elizabeth told him. She swirled the cord of the phone around her fingers. “You’re sure it’s okay if I stay down here a few more weeks? I’m not going to get in any trouble with immigration?”

“No, you’re on a tourist visa, and it’s good for another four months—” The line crackled as his voice faded out, then came back. “There—there are some things happening here. I’m glad you’re out of town.”

“Jason—” She sat up straight. “What’s wrong? Is it Emily—”

“No. She’s safe. It’s—I’m not going to be available for a few weeks,” he said. “You can leave messages, but—”

“Are you okay? Will you be safe?”

“I—I hope so. Elizabeth—”

“When you’re back—I mean, when it’s okay—don’t call,” Elizabeth told him. “Just—just come here. Can you do that? When it’s all clear?”

“Are you sure?”

“I was going to call you tonight and ask you anyway. So, yeah, I’m sure.” She closed her eyes. “I miss you. Be careful. There’s so much I want to say to you.”

“I miss you, too. I’ll see you in a few weeks.”

“I’ll see you later.”

May 2001

Agathe’s Curiosities & Trinkets: Elizabeth’s Studio

Elizabeth glanced at the calendar on her wall, with the small red xs marking the days that had passed since she’d heard from Jason.

She knew now what he’d been so worried about — Emily had written her a long letter, detailing the worst of it. Sonny had been arrested by the FBI—and Carly had turned him in, hoping he’d go into witness protection. Jason had disappeared—probably to avoid getting hauled in on similar charges. Emily was trying hard not to be worried, but she was scared she might never see Jason again if they couldn’t get Sonny’s case dismissed.

Remembering the fierceness Carly had exhibited in the park, protecting Jason from Lucky with that stupid purse—and Carly’s promise not to do anything to get them in trouble—Elizabeth couldn’t fathom what had made her think turning Sonny into the feds was a good idea.

But she knew from experience when Carly got scared or felt threatened, she tended to go for the nuclear option, and the last few months with Sonny getting shot and the warehouse—it had been a lot, and part of Elizabeth could almost understand wanting Sonny out of the business whatever the cost.

But now it had been three weeks since that phone call with Jason, and Elizabeth was wondering if she would ever see him again.

She leaned forward, picked up her watercolor brush, and got back to work on the design for another round of postcards—her most popular products by far. Agathe could scarcely keep them on the shelves, and Elizabeth had started wondering if maybe she should think bigger —

Footsteps outside her door had Elizabeth blinking and looking at the door to her apartment. She had her own private entrance, and the footsteps outside must have climbed the steps that hugged the side of the building. Was it Agathe—

She was already reaching for the knob when the knock came. Harder, heavier than Agathe’s knock. Her heart racing, she snatched the door open to find Jason on the threshold—

“Jason!” Elizabeth launched herself at him, throwing her arms around his neck. “I’ve been so worried!”

His arms closed around her tightly, his fingers almost digging into her shoulder blades as he lifted her in the air and went inside her studio slash apartment. He kicked the door closed behind them. “Hey.”

She drew back, framing his face with his cheeks. He looked so tired, so worn—stubble on his cheeks like he hadn’t shaved in a few days. “Hey,” she whispered. “Emily wrote me.”

Jason rested his forehead against hers. “It’s okay,” he told her. “Sonny’s been released. The charges are gone.”

Her chest eased. “You’re safe? You don’t have to run?”

“No. I don’t.” Jason set her on the ground, her body sliding slowly down his. “I came as soon as I could—”

“I missed you.” Elizabeth leaned up on her toes and kissed him. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s—” Jason shook his head. “It’s not okay,” he muttered. “But it will be. I knew she’d get us arrested,” he added with a sigh. “She usually does.”

“How long do you have?” Elizabeth asked. “Before you have to go back?”

“I don’t know. A few days. Maybe longer. Maybe less. I didn’t stop to ask. I just—” Jason let his fingers trail down her cheek. “I just needed to see you. Hear your voice. You said you wanted me to come—”

“Because I needed to see you, too. To tell you that I know what I want. That I’m sure.” Elizabeth hesitated. “And when you’re ready—I want to see Italy.”

His breath hitched slightly as he stared at her. “Italy?”

“Yeah. I’m in the postcard business now, and I’ve already painted the entire island a thousand times. I need more inspiration,” she told him, trying to ignore how her pulse was racing, and part of her brain was screaming at her to stop — but not the part that mattered. She wasn’t going to hide anymore. She wasn’t going to pretend to be someone she wasn’t.

So when her Lizzie voice poked at her and whispered slyly in her ear — “I was wondering if you knew anyone who could go with me,” Elizabeth continued. “I want to see if the light’s different there.”

“I want to show you,” Jason said. He hesitated, with a faint smile. “Can I sleep first?”

“Yeah.” Elizabeth grinned, leaned up to kiss him again, ridiculously flattered that he’d come to see her the moment he could—not even stopping to sleep. “Yeah. And then maybe we could rent a bike—”

He rolled his eyes as she tugged him back towards her bedroom. “We don’t have to rent one. I keep one here—” Jason took her hand, then swung her back around, so she was pressed against him again. “I’ll take you anywhere you want to go,” he promised. “I love the way you’re smiling,” he murmured. He kissed her eyelids, the tip of her noses, the corners of her mouth— “You’re listening to your Lizzie voice more?”

“No, I’m listening to me.” Elizabeth nipped at his bottom lip. “We’re the same person.” She smiled. “We always were. Thank you. For knowing that. For liking all of me. I’m never going to let myself forget again.”