May 31, 2022

Update Link: Mad World, Book 4 – Chapter 84

Mad World

  • I’m so sorry for ducking out on Flash Fiction this weekend, but I woke up on Sunday morning with a sore back which was going to limit how much time I could spend at my desk. I knew if I pushed, I could finish Mad World’s edit, and I just wanted that to be my focus.
  • I’m super excited because I went into my four day break at Chapter 92, and I managed about 20 chapters on Saturday & Sunday. The book is done. I still have some line edits due from Ang, but my work on it is finished. It’s a huge weight off my shoulders.
  • The only thing left is for me to figure out if I wanna write an epilogue or not and I’ve got time to make at that decision. Chapter 115 is fine as an ending point as well.
  • This week, chapters will be posted on Tuesdays & Fridays.
  • That’s going to be the schedule between May 31-June 10.
  • Starting the week of June 20, I’ll move updates to Tuesdays & Thursdays so that there are daily updates on the site M-F.
  • If you are a Patreon supporter, the posting draft has been posted for $5 tiers.

Flash Fiction

  • The summer schedule for Flash Fiction kicks off Monday June 20 with Second Chance Mondays. Thanks to the voters on Patreon, I’ll be writing a historical Western romance (still untitled).
  • Flash Fiction will be at the usual time in the morning, but that first day I have a doctor’s appointment so it’ll be in the evening.
  • Wednesdays will be a new story. I took suggestions from some Patreon tiers, and Adored tier is going to vote on the story starting this Sunday.
  • Fridays will be Signs of Life/Scars.


This entry is part 9 of 41 in the Mad World: Liberty

All day starin’ at the ceilin’ makin’
Friends with shadows on my wall
All night hearing voices tellin’ me
That I should get some sleep
Because tomorrow might be good for somethin’
Hold on, feelin’ like I’m headed for a breakdown
And I don’t know why

Unwell, Matchbox Twenty

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

 Morgan Penthouse: Living Room

Elizabeth really wasn’t looking forward to this conversation, but she’d worried the people in her life long enough. Everyone knew she’d had tests six weeks ago and hadn’t revealed the results. By now, her breathing issues at the wedding would be just as well-known.

She’d tried so hard to pretend that this wasn’t happening to her but after that appointment—

“Thank you for coming over,” Elizabeth said, kissing Bobbie’s cheek and squeezing Nikolas’s hand. “I hope it wasn’t too much trouble—”

“No, no, I’ve reduced my hours at GH,” Bobbie reminded her, “with the boys living with me full-time, and—”

“I run my own empire,” Nikolas said with a casual, if forced, smile. “I don’t have a schedule.”

She knew that was only partially true and that Nikolas had shoved way too many things around this last year to help his mother. “Still, thanks.”

He placed his hand just her elbow, helping Elizabeth as she sat on the sofa. “I’m hoping you’re finally going to tell us what’s going on.”

“Nikolas,” Bobbie muttered, but he just shrugged.

“It’s all right. I know it’s been hard on Emily, not being able to tell saying anything to you, Nikolas. Jason is telling Carly today,” Elizabeth assured Bobbie, “so you don’t have to worry about that.” She took a quick, shallow breath, wincing at the tightness in her chest. “I’ve been having some breathing issues off and on since the hearing,” she told them. “At first, I really did just think they were anxiety attacks that were complicated by the embolism.”

“But that changed,” Bobbie murmured. “Around Christmas?”

“I was feeling run down and tired, and we were hoping it would get better once the hearing was over. You know, I’d been living in pretty much constant stress since I got out of the hospital in July.”

Bobbie’s face tightened. “But things with Sonny—”

“That happened the night of the hearing,” Elizabeth reminded her gently. “After that, things really were calm. I rested more, but it didn’t change anything. I was getting more and more tired. And then, at the Quartermaines, I had a really bad breathing attack without any clear stressors. Monica and Kelly were already going to order some tests,” she told them, “but based on what happened at Christmas, Monica ordered some extra ones.”

“How bad is it?” Nikolas asked, his hands tightening into fists. “Elizabeth—”

“At some point last fall, I had more clots in the blood vessels in my lungs,” Elizabeth said. “They dissolved on their own, but they left—well, basically, they left scar tissue.”

“Scar tissue,” Bobbie echoed. “In the vessels. That would explain the problem with breathing—”

“Yeah. My lungs can’t quite expand all the way, and my blood isn’t pumping as well as it should. It means—”

“It means oxygen isn’t getting everywhere it needs to,” Nikolas finished grimly. “Your lungs. Your heart. Your brain?”

“So far, there’s no organ damage, and my oxygen levels have remained mostly stable,” Elizabeth assured him. She rested a hand on her belly. “The baby and I are as healthy as we can be under the circumstances.”

“This is—” Bobbie closed her eyes, took a deep breath, bracing herself. “Okay. You’re all right today. But you still have months to go—the baby will put more stress on your body—What’s—how do we fix this? Can we?”

“I can get doctors from anywhere in the world—I have connections on every continent—”

“Thank you—” Elizabeth reached over and squeezed his hands. “Thank you,” she repeated. “What I have — it’s a condition that doctors know about. It’s called CTEPH, and it’s a rare complication that can follow pulmonary embolisms. It’s so rare,” she said with a wrinkle of her nose, “that there’s very little understanding of how to treat a pregnant woman with the condition. The few cases Monica and Kelly could find—well, most of them were diagnosed early and terminated. But we didn’t find out until I was too far along.”

Bobbie pursed her lips and gratefully remained silent. As a nurse, she likely knew that Elizabeth still could have terminated her pregnancy at twenty-three weeks for medical reasons.

“There’s a surgery I can have after the baby is here,” Elizabeth continued, “and it’s the closest thing to a cure. I should be a good candidate, and Monica and Alan are already working on getting General Hospital certified to perform the procedure so that I won’t have to travel.”

“Whatever money they need—whatever resources—”

“I know. I’m sure we’ll be okay, but I appreciate it.”

“Okay, so if things are under control and we’re just waiting on the baby—” Bobbie frowned. “What aren’t you telling us?”

Elizabeth braced herself, knowing that the next part of the conversation would be the hard part. Another person to answer to, another person who demanded Elizabeth put herself and not her child first.

“I’m all right today,” Elizabeth said slowly, “but my oxygen levels dropped at the last appointment. We have to be very careful that they don’t drop below a certain level, or  it could trigger long-term organ damage.” She pressed a hand to her chest. “There’s a risk of heart or lung failure, which would mean that I would no longer be a candidate for the surgery.”

“Because of the baby,” Nikolas said. “How far along are you? Six months?”

“Thirty weeks,” Elizabeth said, “so a little more than that.”

“You could deliver now,” Bobbie said. “Couldn’t you? I haven’t read much on premature births, but I remember Alexis last year. She was about this far along with Kristina—”

“I know. And Kristina nearly died. She needed surgery after surgery—Monica wanted me to deliver two weeks ago. I’ve read everything,” she said when Nikolas blinked, and Bobbie scowled. “Babies born at thirty weeks have an eighty to ninety percent survival rate, and there aren’t many complications.”

“If you know that—”

“Would you?” Elizabeth asked softly, and Bobbie closed her mouth. “Eighty percent survival still means that two in ten babies die. And the eight that live—complications could follow him for years. His entire life. Every day I give him is one more chance for a normal, healthy life—”

“I—” Bobbie exhaled slowly. “What does Jason think about this?”

“He’s not happy about it. No one is,” she clarified. “But as long as my vitals stay where they are, and my organs aren’t damaged, I’m determined to wait. Monica is monitoring me very closely,” she assured them. “I promise you. I just—I can’t risk it. I want my son—Cameron—” she corrected. “We’re naming him Cameron—I want him to have every chance. It’s my job as his mother to keep him safe. As long as my body can manage it, that’s what I’m going to do.”

The Cellar: Carly’s Office

When Jason told her he needed to talk to her about Elizabeth and the baby, Carly knew he was finally going to reveal the mysterious test results that had been hanging over all of them like an ax.

And still, knowing it was terrible news, Carly was horrified when Jason finished explaining the condition.

“There’s nothing else they can do until the surgery?” Carly asked. Jason pushed himself to his feet and started to pace the room. “Nothing except inducing labor now?”

“The only thing that will make a difference,” Jason muttered. He dragged his hands over his face. “Sorry I didn’t say anything earlier—”


“Elizabeth said I could, but I was worried if you knew, but we didn’t tell Bobbie—”

“Jason.” Carly got to her feet and went over to him, taking his hands in his. “It’s okay. You both handled this however worked for you. You never have to apologize for that.” When he just arched a brow, she forced a smile for him. “Okay, a year or two ago, I would have thrown a tantrum, but I’ve come a long way.”

“Yeah. You have.”

“I guess I just—this sucks so bad. Everything else you’ve both been through—the baby seemed like such a blessing.” Carly folded her arms. “I remember when you found out Elizabeth was healthy enough to go through with the pregnancy. What changed? How did it go wrong?”

“Blood clots were always a possibility,” Jason reminded her. “And they dissolved on their own before Monica could detect them in a scan. Nothing changed. We just—we ended up with a rare complication.”

“Which is the last thing you need,” she murmured. She’d known they were dealing with something heavy, but this— “I’ll tell Alexis to stall the divorce.”

“No, Carly—”

“I’ll—I’ll find a way to make it okay for a few more weeks or months,” Carly told him. “Maybe hold back on the adoption—”

“Carly, you told me you need this—”

“And I do,” she assured him. “But you need Sonny to give you a break over the next few weeks. He’s fighting with Justus already, he’s already come at you once. If he thinks you’re supporting me, it’ll make it worse. I’ve waited this long,” Carly said. “I’ll talk to AJ.”

“I wouldn’t ask—”

“No, you never would, and that’s why I love you. You have repeatedly sacrificed for me and my boys. It’s my turn to do the same for you.”

“It would be easier,” Jason admitted, somewhat painfully, “if this was one less thing to worry about with Sonny across the hall.”

“It’s just a few more weeks, anyway. You said Elizabeth is checking in at thirty-five weeks, right? I can handle that—” She stopped because something in his face changed, and she hadn’t noticed it the first time when he’d told her about the condition. “What?”

“It might—I don’t know. It might be sooner.” Jason exhaled slowly. “Her oxygen levels were low at the last appointment. If they don’t stabilize—”

“Then she has to deliver early. Oh, man, I’m sorry. But technology has come so far,” Carly said. “I mean, I had to deliver my son at twenty-four weeks, and there was no chance for him. That was just four years ago. Thirty weeks is such a difference—”

“Kelly said it was like eighty to ninety percent survival, and the long-term complications aren’t…there’s less of a chance.”

“It must be so scary.” Carly pressed a hand to her chest. “But Dr. Lee is a great doctor, right? Monica said she was the best in the state for high-risk.”


Carly hesitated. “Is there—” She tried to catch Jason’s eye, but he kept looking away. “Jason. Is there something you’re not telling me?”

“No. You know everything—”

“Is it—is Monica saying Elizabeth should deliver even earlier?” Carly asked. When Jason tensed, but refused to look at her, she knew she had it. “She wants her to deliver now?”

“She wanted it two weeks ago,” Jason said finally. “Every day she’s pregnant, the baby puts stress on her heart and her lungs. There’s no damage yet—”

“But that could change tomorrow,” Carly murmured. “And if there’s organ damage—”

“She’s not a candidate for the surgery anymore—” He sat down and stared at his hands. “And that would be the good news.”

She slowly sat next to him. “Then the bad news would be Elizabeth might die.” Jason didn’t answer her. “I’m so sorry,” Carly murmured. “I can understand Elizabeth wanting to wait, but I’m sure it’s hard for both of you. It couldn’t have been an easy decision.”

“There was no decision,” Jason said, his tone clipped. “Elizabeth never considered it. Thirty-five weeks was her compromise.”

Her compromise. Elizabeth never considered it. “Someone is missing from that equation, Jason. Did you—do you want her to deliver?”

“It’s not—” Jason got to his feet, restless. “It’s not my choice. It’s not my body—”

“No, but it is your family. And it will be your decision if she ends up unconscious.” Jason blinked at her. “She’s having these oxygen issues. She could pass out. A doctor is going to ask you who you want to save,” she pointed out. “Any doctor would. They asked Sonny. He had to choose. He chose me, and even though I knew it was the right decision, I hated him. There was almost no chance our son would survive, but I thought he should have taken it. Even a one percent chance was better than none.”

Jason closed his eyes. “Carly—”

“I get Elizabeth’s choice. I understand it, and I’d be making it, too. I’m just—” She spread out her hands. “If you’re not on board with it, she needs to know that. Because if it comes down to it, if you’re asked to make a choice — can you honestly tell me you won’t do exactly what Sonny did?”

“I can’t—I can’t have this conversation—”

“You’d choose Elizabeth, and she’d wake up without that little boy.” Carly’s voice broke at the thought of it, of the memory of that horror. “Everyone will tell her she can have another baby, that at least she’s alive to try again—”

Jason closed his eyes. “Carly—”

“I’m sorry if you don’t want to hear this. But I’m your family, too, and someone needs to say this to you. You know more than anyone else how much she wants this baby. But I know you, don’t I? You’d choose Elizabeth.”

“I would,” he finally said. “Thirty seconds.” He scrubbed his hands over his face. “They lost her for thirty seconds.”

“Last summer, you mean.”

“The paramedics didn’t think she’d make it to the hospital. They didn’t even think—she was dead for thirty seconds.”

“She’s been through hell. I might have my own mental and emotional scars from Ric, but she’ll have to live with what he did to her physically for a very long time. You’ve had a front row seat to all of it—”

“I’m not going to do what Sonny did,” Jason snapped, making Carly widen her eyes. “He took what happened to you and made it about him—”

“Yes,” she said softly. “He did. And everything I needed to recover from what happened to me, he took it as a personal attack. It made it a lot harder to get through it. But we’re not talking about Sonny, Jason. We’re talking about you. You haven’t just been supporting Elizabeth through this, you’ve been there for me. You didn’t rest until I was home, and while I know you backed down on Ric because Elizabeth asked you to, you did it for me, too. At great personal and, I’m sure, business cost.”

“I did what had to be done. What you and Elizabeth needed,” Jason said. “It’s not complicated—”

“No, it’s not. You’ve always been there for me, even when I didn’t deserve it. That’s why I’m telling you, Jase, that I know how hard it’s been for you, and I think you need to give Elizabeth a chance to be there for you, too. You need to talk to her about this, and make sure she understands the position she’d be putting you in if the worst happens.”

“I can’t think about it—”

“You have to,” she insisted. “I hope it doesn’t. And I absolutely think, at the end of the day, it’s Elizabeth’s risk to take. But it’s your family, too, and what you think matters. What you’re dealing with matters. Sonny and I didn’t talk about the things that mattered. Not when we should have. Don’t make our mistakes, Jason. You deserve so much better.”

Port Charles Municipal Building: Conference Room

Ned squinted, trying to focus on Jax’s summary of his meeting with the police union, but he couldn’t help but keep one eye on his ex-wife.

Lois sat across from him at the long table, her eyes trained on the yellow pad in front of her, her fingers tapping a pencil rapidly against the table.

He’d known her long enough to be sure that something had pissed her off.

“I think we’re in good shape on the next round of contracts,” Jax said. Ned blinked at him, and his chief of staff arched a brow. “With the union,” he repeated. “We’re opening negotiations at the end of this next year, but—”

“They’re not going to draw out negotiations,” Alexis said with a shake of her head. “They’re still digging out of the bad press from last summer and—” She grimaced, glancing at Lois. “The union leaders know they don’t have the city behind them—”

“We couldn’t get Capelli fired,” Ned muttered. He cleared his throat. “And we couldn’t even keep Esposito off duty after Floyd suspended him—”

“Because, at the time Floyd suspended him,” Jax reminded him gently, “it was clearly a way to get the heat off himself. We didn’t have the evidence against him, and Capelli could argue that he had Mac’s approval to plant that story about Elizabeth. But Alexis is right—popular opinion is even more against the PCPD. They haven’t had a single success in a year. They didn’t even figure out it was Esposito until he’d already—”

“We don’t need to revisit history,” Lois said flatly, finally raising her head. “The PCPD is barely able to do the basics, and hiring Anna Devane was just a plaster job over the whole rotten lot of them. When the only officers worth a damn are the goddamn rookies—” She broke off. “They’re lucky we’re not dissolving the contract and going county. You make sure they know that, Jax. Ned and I could have sued the pants off this city, and Elizabeth Webber let that entire department off with a goddamn warning—”

“I know,” Jax said, his tone still quiet and even. Understanding. “This is why we’re already talking about contracts. The union leaders are putting out feelers to sign a deal early. They’re worried another scandal will put them even deeper in the hole.”

“Have them draw up the contract,” Ned said, “but I want concessions on suspensions and terminations. It needs to be easier to get rid of bad cops. Capelli shouldn’t be wearing the badge.”

Jax collected his paperwork and got to his feet. “You wanna be able to swing that? We might need another scandal.”

As Jax, Alexis, and some of the others filed out of the room, Ned snagged Lois by the elbow. She clenched her jaw and glared at him. “I have a meeting—”

“What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” she said before he had even finished his question. “I don’t like talking about the PCPD. Do you?”

“No, but—”

“And I didn’t even get the satisfaction of firing Mac Scorpio to help me sleep at night. Must be nice.”

Ned blinked at the harsh words. “Are you—did I do something?”

“I don’t have time for this.” Lois stacked her papers on top of the legal pad. “I’m not your babysitter or your mother, and I don’t have to tell you everything—”

“No, you don’t—”

“Then just leave me alone.”

She stalked out before he could catch his breath. He nearly went after her, but he knew that look in her eyes. Better to let Lois just calm down. He’d catch up to her later.

Luke’s: Office

Luke dropped his feet from the desk to the floor when Jason appeared in the doorway. “Wondered when I’d see you,” he said. “Figured it’d be sooner.”

“I only got back yesterday.” Jason closed the door behind him, then folded his arms. “What are you doing down at the Blue Moon asking Tommy questions?”

Luke snorted. He reached across his desk and picked out a cigar. Jason clenched his jaw waiting for the other man to light the cigar, then take a long puff. Luke leaned back in his desk chair. “Because I can.”

“Damn it, Luke—”

“You asked me to keep an eye on the situation,” Luke replied. “I checked the security at the Brownstone, gave Barbara and Caroline some advice, then dropped in on Sonny. What I heard there worried me, so I used some contacts.”

“Well, you can stop now. I’m back—”

“Uh huh.” Luke tapped the ash into a ceramic tray on the desk. “And you got a plan for the mutiny on your hands?”

“There’s no mutiny!”

“Today, no.” Luke tilted his head. “And maybe Tommy’s not lying. Maybe he can keep things quiet for a few more months. But that depends on whether or not Sonny stays under control. You get one more strange Lansing sighting, and Sonny will lose his damn mind—”

Jason scowled. “I don’t have time for this—”

“Then you better make it.” Luke got to his feet. “Don’t walk out on me, kid. You might be in charge now, and I might be rusty, but I’ve been in this life longer than you’ve been alive. I know how to keep me and mine breathing. You might want to listen.”

Jason turned back from the door with a hot, angry glare at Sonny’s former partner. “You wanted out of this—”

“You know better. There is no out. There’s no such thing as retired. You tried it, didn’t you? You almost made it. Maybe you would have. But Sonny came home and dragged you back, and now it’s too late. The men don’t follow Sonny. They follow you. You’re not thick or stupid, Morgan. You know that’s true.”

Jason pressed his lips together. “What do you expect me to do?” he bit out. “Take the business from Sonny?”

“You’ve already done that in everything but name. You were the right-hand man. You gave the orders to the men below you, but those orders used to come from Sonny.” Luke arched a brow. “When was the last time you got an order from Sonny you could actually follow?” Jason said nothing. “That’s what I thought. You need to make Sonny back down.”

“And that’s so easy,” the younger man replied caustically.

“Don’t act like I don’t know what I’m talking about—”

“I don’t have the time for this,” Jason repeated. “Elizabeth—” He curled his hand into a fist. “She could—things could go wrong in an hour. Tomorrow. At any minute. I don’t have time to fight a war with Sonny.”

“Does he know how bad it is with her?” Luke asked. “Does he know how sick she is? How fatal this condition is?”

Jason hesitated, looked away. “No,” he admitted. “I told you what was going on because I had to leave town. We only started telling people today.”

“Then you need to tell Sonny today,” Luke said. “And I know you told Tommy that Elizabeth wasn’t well. You need to clarify with him. He’s old school, and he’s going to work harder to keep a lid on his end until Elizabeth’s out of the woods. No one wants this to blow up.”

“I—” Jason exhaled slowly. “I was planning to tell him—” He cleared his throat. “I just—I don’t know if it will actually change anything.”

Luke took that in, then nodded. “Then you need to know that,” he said gently. “You need to know what you’re dealing with. If Sonny hears that you’re struggling, that you need him to step up so you can focus on your family, and he doesn’t do a damn thing to make it better for you—”

“And what am I supposed to do if that happens?” Jason retorted. “What if it changes nothing?”

“Then you’ll know, and we’ll go from there. I’m not leaving you to deal with this bullshit by yourself,” Luke added. “Bernie told me that this Lansing crap is off the walls. The only people who’ve seen this asshole are on the inside? That doesn’t wash for me.”

“No, me either,” Jason admitted. “But it doesn’t mean Ric isn’t out there.”

“It doesn’t mean he is. If you got someone trying to play mind games with you—” Luke arched a brow. “That’s not good.”

“Why the hell would they want to?”

“Because they can. Someone out there knows that Sonny has lost his mind since Lansing jumped bail, and that you’re distracted. Why wouldn’t someone try to take advantage of that? You and Sonny have made a lot of enemies in the last decade. Any one of them could be coming for you through the Lansing stuff. We need to get Sonny under control, get Elizabeth through this baby business, and then we can deal with whatever else is coming.”

Kelly’s: Kitchen

The bell over the door jangled, and Lulu glanced out the cut-through window to see her brother and his partner walking in. They headed for a table where Cruz and Nikolas were already sitting, so Lu put them out of her mind. That was Penny’s section, not hers.

She returned to loading the dishwasher, and wiping down the counters. It was all hands on deck during the lunch rush, and with it winding down, she was happy to have a reason to avoid the dining room.

“Do you have a minute?”

Lulu gritted her teeth when she heard Dante’s voice in the doorway, but didn’t look up. “Why? So you can just be an asshole again? No thanks, I’m not taking applications for that right now. Check back in the next life.”

She grabbed the last tub of dirty dishes and started to load them in the nearly full dishwater, the ceramic plates jostling against each other, drowning out whatever response he was going to make.

It didn’t matter if he had a right be angry with her, she reminded herself. She’d tried to apologize, and he didn’t want to hear it. Fine. That didn’t mean she had to listen while he screamed at her all the things she already knew about herself—

“Lu—” Dante’s larger hand settled over one of hers, and she stilled, finally meeting his gaze. “Let me apologize.”

His eyes were dark with regret and concern, and she nearly broke then, her throat burning. “No. I don’t want to hear it. I did what I did and it was awful, but I did it because I wanted to help, but you wanted to hurt me, and I can’t have that in my life, okay—”

“I know. I’m sorry—”

“No!” Lulu repeated. She jerked her hand back, and the plate went flying, crashing into the sink and shattering. She stared at it blindly, then glanced up to find a few people in the dining room staring at her, including both of her brothers and Cruz.

Lulu hissed, spun on her heel, and headed for the back door.

Kelly’s: Dining Room

Nikolas heard a plate crash not long after Dante had disappeared into the kitchen and half-rose out of his seat. “Should I—”

“No, either she’ll forgive him or she’ll slug him.” Lucky grimaced. “Either way, it’s not our business. Not yet.”

Nikolas sat back down, still ruffled. “I don’t know him,” he muttered. “Is he good enough for Lu? I know he’s your partner—”

“Dante’s as good as they come,” Lucky assured him. “But you know—”

“The Vinnie stuff really messed him up,” the other man at their table—the second of Lucky’s new group of friends, Cruz Rodriguez—spoke up. “I think more than he realized. Or wants to admit.”

“Well,” Nikolas said, “since most of my family are homicidal maniacs, I can understand that.” He cleared his throat and looked at his brother. “Anyway, I need to talk to you about Elizabeth. Do you remember the test results Emily mentioned a few weeks ago?”

“Oh, man.” Lucky stilled. “How bad is it?”

“Right now, she’s all right, but she’s got this condition that puts extra stress on her heart and lungs. The longer she’s pregnant, the worse that’ll get. She has to deliver the baby before the due date.”

“It doesn’t seem fair,” Cruz muttered, drawing both their attention. He colored slightly. “I just mean—I know how sick she was last summer.”

“You were there during the kidnapping,” Nikolas remembered. That day had been such a blur—but now Nikolas remembered the cop being there the day they’d found Carly and Elizabeth had nearly died.

“Yeah, Cruz took point on that case because he was shadowing Taggert.” Lucky picked up a napkin and started shredding it. “This sucks. She’s been through so much this year.”

“I know we’ve grown distant from her—and from each other,” he added, “over the last year or so. Since—”

“The wedding, the accident, Mom—” Lucky sat back. “Yeah, I know. A lot of things put us on separate paths. But it doesn’t mean I don’t care about her.”

“I know that. That’s why I’m keeping you in the loop.”

“This condition—does it, um, track back to what Lansing did to her? With the pills?” Cruz wanted to know.

“Yeah. It’s a complication of the embolism. Why?”

“Just—I know this doesn’t matter,” Cruz continued, “but it just feels like everything going wrong with Elizabeth Webber—Morgan—” he corrected, “—can be blamed on us. The PCPD, I mean. We screwed up the rape case, the kidnapping, and she had to clean up after all of it. How much worse was her health because of Capelli and after what Vinnie did to her?”

“You can’t take that on,” Lucky told Cruz. “Not you, me, or Dante. We didn’t do any of it—”

“But we carry the badge, don’t we? Capelli’s still at the PCPD, and if Vinnie didn’t get caught—” Cruz paused. “All I ever wanted to be was a cop so I could help people and protect them. Now it just feels like I’m part of the problem.” He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry. This—this isn’t about me. Or the PCPD—”

“No—” Nikolas studied the other man with new respect, and nodded. “You’re right. A lot of what Elizabeth is dealing with can be laid at the PCPD’s feet, and they let Lansing slip out of their fingers. It’s still happening because of them. I can’t fix Elizabeth or make her better. None of us can.”

“We’re trying to do better,” Lucky reminded Cruz. “Elizabeth knows that. She doesn’t blame you or me. Or Dante—”

“I blame me. I was there that night,” Cruz argued. “When Carly went missing, and I saw that Elizabeth was under the influence of something.” He swallowed hard. “Taggert and Capelli—they left me with Jason and Sonny to go search the house. Emily—she tried to tell me that Jason was gonna take Elizabeth away, but I made them stay.”

Nikolas exhaled slowly as that sank in. If Elizabeth had left the house that first night, she couldn’t have gone back. She wouldn’t have ingested the Valium that nearly killed her the next morning or the birth control in the ice—

“And Ric probably would have killed Carly that first night,” Lucky broke into Nikolas’s thoughts. He looked at his brother, at Lucky’s grim face. “Elizabeth might have been safe, but Ric would have had no reason to keep Carly. He wanted to give that baby to Elizabeth. If there’s no Elizabeth, he doesn’t need Carly. He could have called his father, and Carly would be dead.”


“You kept Jason and Sonny there because Taggert would just have hunted them down, and Jason was free the next day to find Elizabeth before she overdosed. We can’t do everything perfectly, Cruz. You think I don’t beat myself up all the time? I didn’t remember Vinnie was a regular at Kelly’s. Even after I knew that Elizabeth was the first attack. I knew we were looking for a strange guy in her past, and I didn’t remember.”

“Lucky—” Nikolas put a hand out.

“The what ifs nearly broke me,” Lucky continued, keeping his eyes on Cruz. “If I’d gone looking for Elizabeth sooner that night, if I hadn’t broken the date, if I’d heard the guy in the park—you did the best you could on your first day on the job. What’s happening to Elizabeth now sucks. It sucks hard, and I wish like hell it wasn’t happening. She deserves the best.” He took a deep breath. “But if I know Jason—and his family—and you—” Lucky said, looking at Nikolas, “the hospital is ready with whatever she might need. That’s all we can do now.”

“I know. Sorry,” Cruz added. “It’s not about me,” he repeated. “Or even the PCPD—”

“But it is,” Nikolas said simply. “The PCPD is responsible. Both of you need to remember that. You need to do better than the assholes that came before. But, that’s it. There’s nothing else you can do.”

Harborview Towers: Hallway

“How is he today?” Jason asked Max as he approached the door.

“Uh, better than yesterday, I think. He was up and around this morning. Didn’t hear much yelling,” Max continued. “Might be a good day if you wanna talk to him.” He paused. “Do you want to?”


“All right.” The guard knocked lightly. “Yo, Boss, it’s Jason.”

The door swung open and Sonny stood there, dressed in a dark dress shirt and pants, his curls disheveled and falling on his face. “Sonny.”

“Did I know you were coming?” Sonny asked. But before Jason could answer, Sonny wandered away, towards the window. His attention seemed to be slightly unfocused, his demeanor was shaky. Jason exhaled slowly, not sure what version of his partner he was dealing with. He went inside, and Max pulled the door shut, leaving them alone.

“You here about Carly?” Sonny demanded, though there was no real harshness in his voice. More of a resigned tone.


“Because I know—I know it’s gotten off track. All of it,” Sonny added as if Jason had asked a question. “I’m trying— it’s just—I just need everyone to be safe,” he muttered. He gripped the back of a chair, his fingers digging into the leather. “I need my family to be safe. Couldn’t make them safe before. I failed them.”

“I know that’s what it feels like,” Jason said slowly, “but—”

“Failed Lily,” Sonny muttered. “She’s dead. So’s my son. And Carly. Carly could have died. I should have dealt with Ric when we had the chance. Before the kidnapping. I was weak.” He looked at Jason, the whites of his eye stark against his olive-toned skin. “I can’t be weak.”

“Sonny—” Jason hesitated.

Sonny closed his eyes, took a deep breath. “I’m okay,” he said, his voice a bit more even. A bit more normal. “I’m okay,” he repeated. “I’m just not sleeping well. I’ll be fine if I can sleep.”

“Okay,” Jason said. “Look, I just came by—” He sighed, rubbed the back of his neck. “I should have maybe told you before we left. The reason I was insisting on the wedding, on going away for two weeks—Elizabeth—” He clenched his jaw. It didn’t matter how many times he said this.

It never got easier.


“She has this…condition,” Jason told him. “It’s—it’s serious. It could be fatal. We needed—” His chest was tight. “I needed her to be away from everything. To rest.”

“Fatal,” Sonny repeated. He looked around as if just realizing where they were. “Uh, sit down, sit down. Let’s—let’s talk about this. Tell me everything.”

Kelly’s: Alley

Dante charged after Lulu, not even entirely sure what he’d say, only that he had to say something.


“No!” She whirled around and jabbed a finger at him. “This is where I leave you? I’m sorry for what I did. I took advantage of our friendship, and I shouldn’t have. But I’m not interested in—” Her voice broke slightly. “I can’t do this again, okay? I can’t be around someone who pretends they like the things that make me who I am, and then use them later as a reason to hate me.”

“That’s not—” Dante swallowed hard. “I don’t hate you.”

“Give it time. Everyone usually manages it.” She scrubbed at her face, digging the heels of her hands into her eyes. “I told you, didn’t I? Dillon said he liked my no bullshit, no filter approach, and then later, he said it made me a bitch—he said I didn’t have any problems and you don’t think I do either—and maybe I don’t compared to you—”

“Stop—” Dante wrapped his fingers around her wrists, pulling her hands away from her face, startled to see the dark circles under her eyes. “Lu. I’m sorry.”

She closed her eyes. “Fine. You’re sorry. Whatever. Go away.”

“No. I want things to be like they were before—”

“They can’t. Because I did what I did, and now you know who I am, okay? You saw what everyone else always sees, and—”

“You saw that I was in pain, that my mother was hurting, and you wanted to make it better,” Dante interrupted, and she stumbled to a stop, blinking at him. “You knew I was holding something back from her, and she knew it, too. But I couldn’t say anything. I wouldn’t have. Maybe ever, and it would have just eaten me up inside. You saw it, Lu, and you wanted to help. No, you shouldn’t have done it, but I’m glad you did.”

“You—” She cleared her throat, stared at him as if he were an alien, her eyes wide. “What did you say?”

“I needed to talk to my mom. I needed to tell her—” Dante looked around the alley, and when he was satisfied that they were alone, he stepped closer. “The day of the hearing, my grandmother told me that I was just like my father. Just like Sonny Corinthos.”

“Sonny—” Lulu’s face drained of color. “Oh, God. Dante. That’s—”

“I can’t—I can’t go into everything,” he continued. “I’m still working it through in my head, but I couldn’t say anything to my mom. Until you made me. Thank you.”

“You’re—” She shook her head. “I don’t understand.”

“You have absolutely no filter or patience for people who lie,” Dante said. “And you’re too impulsive for your own good.” When she flinched, he hurried to continue. “But you’re also kind and you care about people. You listen,” he added. “And you hear more than people say. You heard more than I told you. I need you in my life, Lu. I need you to forgive me.”

“You—” Her eyes searched his. “After what I did, you’re actually begging me for my forgiveness? Did you hit your head?”

“No. You were right. I said what I did to hurt you, and I hate myself for it.”

“You’ve been through a lot—”

“It’s not an excuse—”

“No, but you need to shut up and let me accept your apology,” Lulu said with a roll of her eyes. “Because I really am sorry about what I did. Even if you’re glad it happened, it doesn’t change the fact that I messed up. I won’t tell anyone about Sonny. I promise.”

“I know you won’t.” He reached out and rubbed his hands up and down her arms, her skin nearly frozen through the thin shirt she wore. “We’re good?”

“Yeah. We’re good.” She smiled up at him, and the tightness in his chest finally eased. “Let’s go in before I turn into an icicle.”

Morgan Penthouse: Master Bedroom

Jason furrowed his brow as he reached the doorway. “Who carried you up?” he wanted to know.

Elizabeth reached for the remote at her side and muted the television. “Cody. You weren’t sure when you’d be home, and I was feeling tired.” She rested a hand on her belly. “I can’t exactly sleep on the sofa anymore. I’m afraid I’ll roll off.”

He smiled faintly as he crossed the room to sit next to her, reaching for her wrist without thinking. “It feels normal,” he said after a moment, then winced. “Sorry—”

Elizabeth covered his hand with hers and waited for him to look up. “It’s the blood pressure and oxygen mask I don’t want you to decide for me. This? Never bothered me, and I know it makes you feel better.” She curled her hand in his shirt and drew him in for a long, lingering kiss. “And that makes me feel better, so we’re even.”

He rested his forehead against hers. “Me, too.”

“Double win.” She kissed him again. “Long day?”

“Yeah.” He sighed, then drew away. “Did you eat?”

“Mmm, ordered pizza. And a side salad,” she called as he went to the dresser to retrieve a pair of sweats to change. “So covered all the bases.” Elizabeth paused. “I told Bobbie and Nikolas. It went okay.”

“Good. Good.” He crawled into bed next to her, helped her sit up, then sat behind her to massage her back and shoulders. “I told Carly. And Luke already knew.” He waited a beat. “I told Sonny.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” Elizabeth asked when he didn’t continue.

“Not much to say. He was having a good day, I guess, so he listened. Said all the right things.”

It broke her heart to hear the doubt in his words, the worry. Because Sonny had known for months that she wasn’t well, and it hadn’t stopped him. Would knowing how potentially dangerous her condition was change anything? For Jason’s sake, she prayed it would.

“Carly told me she’s going to stall the divorce. Until the baby is born.”

“She doesn’t have to—”

“I told her, but she insisted. She’s got a restraining order right now, so—”

Restraining orders were only good if they were obeyed, but neither mentioned it. What was the point? Elizabeth exhaled slowly. “But didn’t she ask AJ to help her? Is he going to want to wait for the adoption to be revoked?”

“I don’t know—”

“I can have Monica talk to him if you think it would help—”

“I don’t want you to worry about it—”

She reached behind her to snag one of his hands, stilling it. “Jason. I’m going to worry about it because Carly’s your family.” Grimacing, bracing one hand on her belly, she turned slightly to see him. “And this is about Sonny. He lives across the hall. You said you wanted things to be as calm as possible until the baby is born. Sonny not finding out AJ is involved helps with that, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, but—”

“There’s a chance AJ might not want to wait. If there’s anyone who could do it, it would be Lila, but you and I agreed we’re not going to tell her, so Monica is our best option. Or Emily.” She stroked his arm, leaning against his chest. “We might not have to worry. AJ might agree to wait. Or Alexis might come up with a really good reason for him to be okay with it. I’m just saying—it’s there if we need it.”

She waited a long moment, but he said nothing. “I know this is more your decision than mine,” she forced out painfully. “And you’re supporting it even though you don’t really want to—”

“That’s not—”

“Let me do what I can to make this okay. Please.”

“All right.” He sighed, his breath warm against her temples. “All right. If we need it.”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Port Charles Municipal Building: Lobby

Ned managed to corner his ex-wife picking up a late cappuccino. “Hey.” He slid into the chair across from her and saw her face carefully blank. “See—that’s why I had to chase you down. What gives?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Lois murmured. She got to her feet and started out of the shop. Ned rolled his eyes and followed her as she moved towards the elevator. She jabbed at the button.

“You were upset this morning, and you sent your assistant to our meeting this afternoon—”

“I’ve been busy—”


“Leave it alone, Ned,” Lois warned him as the elevator doors opened. She stepped into the car and growled as he followed her. “I’m serious—”

“So, there is something—”

Lois glared at him from the corner of her eye. “You really don’t want to do this with me.”

“I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t—”

“I heard you and Olivia.” When Ned blinked at her, Lois continued. “Last night.”

“Heard us?” Ned shook his head. They stepped off the elevator on the floor where his offices were located. Lois started for her office, but he stopped her just before she was able to storm inside. The floor was mostly deserted at this time of the day, particularly in her department. “What do you mean you heard us?”

“I heard her tell you about Dante’s father,” Lois said through gritted teeth. “And I know!”

“You know,” Ned repeated.  “Lois—”

“You know, I tried not to blame you—I convinced myself that it really wasn’t your fault—but I was wrong.” Lois’s fingers clenched hard around her cappuccino, until the top burst off and the hot liquid spilled out over her fingers. She cried out, and Ned grabbed a napkin from a nearby table to take it from her.

The tears were rushing down her face as she continued—the dam had been broken. “You were so worried about Dante, so worried about everyone else—you cared more about protecting Sonny’s kids—what about ours? What about our little girl?”

“Lois—” Ned spread his hands at his side. “What are you talking about? Everything I’m doing—I’m working hard for her—I’m worried about Dante because of what he did for Brooke—not because he’s Sonny’s son—”

“What about Kristina, then?” Lois shot back. “You’re lying about her, aren’t you? Protecting Alexis from Sonny—why couldn’t you care that much about our daughter?” She shoved at him, her sobs ripping from her chest, from soul. He grabbed her hands to stop her— to just—

“Lois, it’s not like that—I loved Brooke—”

“Not—as much—” Lois’s breaths were heaving sobs as she forced the words out— “Oh, God. Not enough. You didn’t love her enough.”

“Lois—” He didn’t have the words—didn’t have a defense. He’d adored his daughter, had loved every inch of her—but he hadn’t been there.

He hadn’t done enough.

Ned squeezed her hands. “I will take those regrets to my grave,” he said quietly. “I wasn’t there for her. I didn’t do enough. I thought I’d have more time to get it right, Lois. I thought—”

“I hung up on her.” The rush of tears had ended and now Lois was looking at him blankly. “The last time we talked before the attack. I was in a hurry, and I rushed her off the phone. I think I—I think I hung up before she even said goodbye.”


“It’s been months. Months. And I thought—” Lois closed her eyes. “I thought I was over it. I was past it, but every morning, I wake up, and I have to remember all over again that she’s gone. I’m not a mother anymore. You get to keep being a father, but there’s nothing left for me—and now—”

“Now you find out that the only daughter I have left is one I stole from another man,” Ned said roughly. “I should have told you, but there was never a good time, and I told Liv because—”

“A secret for a secret.” Lois exhaled, her breath shaky and still sounded as if it was on the edge of a sob. She leaned her head against his chest. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’ve been so jealous of you, I’ve hated you for Kristina, and Olivia for having Dante, and I have nothing—”

He kissed the top of her head. “It’s okay.”

“It’s not. It’s not—”

“It’s okay,” he repeated. He stepped back, cradling her jaw in his hands. “There’s no right way to do any of this, Lois. We take every day as it comes. Some days I can breathe. And some days, I have to force it. You can scream at me any time. I’ve earned it. Twice over. Maybe a hundred times.”

“I’ll remember that.” She managed a shaky smile. “I won’t say anything. I mean, I’ll tell Liv I know, and you can tell Alexis, but I won’t—I don’t want to do anything to hurt you. Or Liv. And Kristina’s just a baby. And God, if the world knew Dante was Sonny’s son—if they knew about Kristina—”

“His career would be over. The boy that did so much for our daughter deserves better from us,” Ned told her. “We need to protect him.”

“It’s what Brooke would have wanted. What she would have done.”

Ned helped Lois into her office, and neither of them saw the man who had ducked behind the planter when the mayor and his ex-wife had stormed off the elevators.

But he’d seen them, and he’d heard everything. He waited to make sure they were gone, then hurried to the service stairs.

He needed a phone. He could think of a dozen people who’d pay for this story.

May 25, 2022

Update Link: Mad World, Book 4 – Liberty, Chapter 83

A few quick notes before I dip out again until Sunday.

  • Mad World is moving to twice a week, starting Tuesday, May 31. Chapters will be posted on Tuesdays & Fridays at 7 AM.
  • New computer is here and we’re mostly set up. Getting used to the new keyboard and screen (it’s huge)
  • Had a busy start to week, but I’m home every night for the rest of the week, and then I have a three day weekend for Memorial Day, so planning a lot of editing.
  • Mad World was starting to really struggle to open on my last laptop, which was why editing was also a bit slow. New computer — it opens in 30 seconds and runs really fast.
  • I’ll have some more Flash Fiction scheduling news, I think, on Saturday.

Prayers with anyone affected by the school shooting in Texas on Tuesday. As a teacher, the knowledge that at any time, this could happen, has always been part of my teaching experience.  Columbine happened when I was freshman in high school. Sandy Hook when I was a college senior, but nothing has brought home more than the lockdown drills we do at school.

We have large classes full rambunctious kiddos who struggle with staying quiet on good days, much less during anxiety ridden practices.  My job is to get to the door, make sure it’s locked and closed, and then get the kids in the corner and hope this time it’s a drill, praying the real thing will never happen. The odds are against it every happening in my school, to be sure, but I know those parents who hugged and kissed their kids goodbye yesterday never dreamed they wouldn’t come home.

Take care of yourself and your loved ones. I’ll see you on Sunday.

This entry is part 8 of 41 in the Mad World: Liberty

Blurring and stirring the truth and the lies
So I don’t know what’s real
So I don’t know what’s real and what’s not
Don’t know what’s real and what’s not
Always confusing the thoughts in my head
So I can’t trust myself anymore

Going Under, Evanescence

Monday, February 16, 2004

Morgan Penthouse: Living Room

Jason breathed a sigh of relief when he pushed open the door and made it inside without seeing or hearing Sonny. He just wanted to get Elizabeth settled before he went over to talk to his partner. Better to get it over with and remove the risk of Sonny coming to him.

He set their bags down by the stairs. “Do you want to take a nap before the appointment?” he asked. He crossed to the desk and picked up the phone to let Cody know they were back. The guard hadn’t been on the door when they’d returned, so Jason thought maybe he’d mistaken their return time.

“No, I’ll just stay down here. Closer to the door.” Elizabeth started to sort through the stack of mail. “It should be criminal to waste this much paper,” she muttered as she tossed the junk back on the desk. “Is Justus still coming over?”

“Yeah. Then we’ll go over to talk to Sonny.” He studied her critically. Her blood pressure and vitals had remained steady, but she’d felt dizzy a few times the day before, and the headaches were back. “Where do you want to get lunch?”

“Maybe the Grille. Edward said I have lifetime access to the kitchen,” she reminded him. “I only had to promise him our firstborn.”

Jason smirked lightly as he hung up the phone. “No, you didn’t. Edward likes you.”

“Well, better than he likes you,” she teased. “We should probably talk about what you want to do when the baby’s here. About the Quartermaines.”

“What about them?” Jason squinted.

“I know you’ll want Lila and Emily to have all the time they want, and I’m sure Monica’s on that list after these last few months.”

He stretched out to next to her, tossing her the menu for the hotel restaurant. “I guess you’re asking about Alan and Edward.”

“I know you and Edward are better after last fall, I just didn’t want to assume what that meant.”

“It doesn’t matter to me—”

“Jason.” She tipped her head when he looked at her. “I know how much you’ve struggled with them. You and I weren’t close when things went down with Michael, but I know that made everything worse. I know Edward and Alan were not kind, in particular, even when they thought Michael was yours. Emily only talked about it a few times, but it upset her that they used her.”

“That was a long time ago,” Jason said carefully. “Barely two years after the accident. I was still angry a lot of the time,” he admitted. “And they were still upset about me working for Sonny. Still trying to control me. I don’t doubt that they actually thought they were right—that I couldn’t raise Michael. That’s not true anymore.”

“I don’t want you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable because of me. You invited them to the wedding, and I appreciated that. But if we give an inch on letting them see Cameron, they’ll take it and run. I want you to know that I’m okay if you want to set boundaries or limits or even cut them out.”

Jason considered it for a long moment as she turned her attention to the menu. “When Edward found out that the pressure he’d put on Floyd had made Mac screw up your case, he was angry at himself.”

“I know.”

“I wanted to blame him when Ned told us. I wanted to blame them both because the Quartermaines have always put themselves first without thinking about anyone who might get crushed.” He paused. “But you didn’t.”

“They just wanted justice for Emily. I nearly ruined everything when I lost it at the trial. Instead of being angry at me, Edward tried to help. I wish I’d known that back then. It might have pushed Mac and Floyd to do the wrong thing, but it means a lot to me that he tried.”

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to look at Edward—or Alan—and see them as family, but I don’t see them as the enemy anymore. I know family is important to you. I know the fact that yours isn’t around hurts.” He waited. “If you want them to be part of Cameron’s life, we can work that out.”

“Are you sure—”

Jason opened his mouth to reassure her again, but he heard some voices outside the door. He winced, recognizing his cousin—and Sonny. “Lunch is going to have to wait.” He helped Elizabeth stand, holding her elbow. Before she was even really on her feet, the door to the penthouse flew open, hitting the wall and bouncing back lightly.

“Nice of you to come back,” Sonny said with a snarl. “Have a good vacation?”

Without a word, Elizabeth started for the stairs, and he watched her go.

“Can’t you go faster?” Sonny snapped when Elizabeth paused once she’d reached the first landing.

“Let’s go across the hall,” Jason said in a clipped tone, relieved when Elizabeth ignored Sonny and continued up the second set of stairs.

“No! I want you to talk some goddamn sense into Carly! Do you know what she’s going to do? She’s going to keep my kids!”

“This isn’t—this is something you should be talking to Justus about—”

“He’s not being very helpful,” Sonny bit out, glaring at Justus, who had remained quiet. His cousin had closed the door, set his briefcase on the desk, then leaned against it. Patiently waiting.

“If you mean trying to file first claiming your traumatized wife is to blame because you haven’t had sex in almost a year, then no, I guess I’m not being very helpful.”

Jason blinked at that, then focused on Sonny. “What?”

“It’s grounds for divorce,” Sonny muttered. “Constructive abandonment.”

“I’m not doing it,” Justus said pleasantly as if they were discussing the weather. “For one thing, it hasn’t actually been a year. For another, your wife had a baby and was medically advised not to engage in sexual intercourse, and three, you’re an absolute piece of shit for considering it.”

Jason closed his eyes as Sonny absorbed their lawyer’s opinion. The older man’s eyes bulged, and a vein in his forehead throbbed. “What the hell did you just say to me?”

“Sonny,” Jason began.

“You’ll lose. It is my legal obligation to give you the best advice possible. Not only will you lose, but the judge will think you’re a terrible person, and it will make Carly’s case much easier to prove.”

Jason dragged his hands down his face. “Do when we know when she’s filing?”

“Not yet, but I don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know what will be in the petition. Cruel and inhumane treatment. She’s using December as the grounds. It’s a solid case, as I’ve told Sonny. The fact that Carly has a history of mental illness is actually going to work against Sonny, not for him—”

“Don’t talk about me like I’m not here!”

“Her mental health issues have been well documented. It does not matter that everyone suspects she faked her commitment to Ferncliffe to avoid jail. It’s legally true. She was diagnosed with acute stress disorder on the record, Sonny, and there are any number of witnesses to the struggles she’d had since. Everything you think helps you helps Carly.”

“Witnesses,” Sonny said sourly. “No one will testify, and I’ll deny it. You can’t say anything because you’re my lawyer, and Bernie and Jason know better.” He glared at Jason. “If you can keep your wife quiet, Carly can’t prove anything.”

Jason’s blood began to boil. “What makes you think I wouldn’t tell the truth?”

“Damn it, Jason—”

“You want this to go away, Sonny? You want Carly to back down?” Jason challenged. “Do what she wants. Go get some damn help. Justus is right. Carly has a good case. If she walks in there with this evidence, you’re going to lose everything. You’re out of options.”

“I am Sonny Corinthos,” Sonny hissed, jabbing a finger at Jason. “I don’t answer to you or anyone else.”

He stalked out of the penthouse, slamming the door so hard the frame shook.

“I’m sorry,” Justus said. “I shouldn’t have antagonized him, but he sprang that abandonment crap on me right before he stormed over here—” He took a deep breath. “Everything Carly has been through this year, and he wants to go into court to say it’s her fault because she wouldn’t have sex with him—I can’t do it, Jason.”

“No, I know—”

“I mean it. If he doesn’t drop this defense, I’m quitting. To hell with him.”

“You—” Jason felt the first tendrils of fear slide through him. If he lost Justus right now— “Okay. I get it. This is the worst possible thing to happen right now. I know you’re unhappy.”

“I’ve been this way for months. I’ve been sticking because of you, but—”

“I know. I know. And I can’t—getting away for two weeks—Elizabeth’s blood pressure is back to normal. She’s better,” Jason told him. “It was worth it. Thank you. I just—” He fisted his hands at his side. “I have no right to ask this, but—”

“I’m staying on until Elizabeth has the baby. After that—you need to find another sucker to put up with him.”

Justus left then without waiting for Jason to say anything. Not that there was anything to say.

He’d known Justus was miserable, he’d known that Carly’s divorce petition would make everything worse—

He just hadn’t expected to feel this helpless to do anything about it.

Kelly’s: Dining Room

Dante followed his partner into the restaurant, then immediately scowled when he spied the blonde working behind the counter. “Damn it—”

“Look, she just wants to apologize—” Lucky snagged Dante’s sleeve before he could leave. “She’s been moping around for days—”

“Then she should have thought about that before she opened her mouth,” Dante retorted. “I don’t owe her anything—”

“No, you don’t, but you’re avoiding the diner, and this would resolve it, wouldn’t it? Come on. Just let her apologize for telling your mother whatever she told her—”

“I’m surprised she didn’t tell you,” he muttered. “If she’s been complaining—”

“I asked her what was going on. She just said she got into the middle of something with you and your mother that she shouldn’t have.” Lucky narrowed his eyes. “Why? Is there something I should know?”

“No,” he sighed. “Fine. I’ll let her apologize.”

“Good.” Lucky turned to face the counter where Lulu watched them apprehensively. “Let’s go.”

“Lucky, what did you do?” Lulu demanded before her brother even took a seat. “I never told him anything—” she said to Dante.

“Yeah, he said that.” He paused, then made a face. “Can you take your break? We’ll go out into the alley.”

“Sure,” Lulu said warily. She flagged down another waitress, and then Dante followed her through the kitchen into the brick alleyway that ran behind the diner.

“Go ahead and apologize so I can tell you I don’t care.”

She flinched. “I am sorry—”

“You had no right to get between me and my mother. It was none of your business—”

“I know that, and I was sorry as soon as I said it,” Lulu cut in. “But I just couldn’t stand how upset she looked, and I knew it wasn’t about her—”

“You don’t know anything!” Dante exploded. “You have no idea what I’m going through!”

“Okay, okay, I know that—” Lulu swallowed hard. “But—”

“I told you I didn’t want to talk about it. It’s no one’s damn business. I’m sorry your life is so boring you have to screw with mine—”

“Excuse me?” Lulu said hotly. “That is not—”

“It’s exactly what’s going on. Your brother’s a goddamn prince—you’ve never had a problem in your life—”

His jaw exploded in pain as Lulu’s fist connected with it, and Dante stumbled back.

You have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said through clenched teeth, her eyes bright with tears. “I’m sorry I thought you were worth the trouble.” She untied her apron, threw it at him, then stalked away, disappearing down the alley.

Dante winced as he wiggled his jaw. She had a hell of a left hook, he acknowledged, rubbing it again, but he’d had that coming. He’d meant to just let her apologize so this could go away, but he’d just—

He’d lost it. His patience and his damn mind, obviously.

“Just checking to make sure you’re both alive—” Lucky shoved open the metal door, then blinked at Dante standing alone in the alley, holding his sister’s apron. “What happened? He squinted. “Shit, did she slug you?”

“Yeah.” Dante exhaled slowly. “I lost my temper,” he muttered. “She just—she gets under my skin.”

“Uh huh. What did you say? Lu’s not really violent.”

“I just—look, she just doesn’t get what I’m dealing with—”

“No one does, man, you’ve been all over the place since Christmas.” Lucky crossed his arms. “I’d blame it on your cousin, but you were mostly okay until the hearing. Are you still off because you had to testify? That crap with your family? Because if that’s it, Lu does get it—”

“She doesn’t—”

“You did the right thing, Dante, but you feel like you screwed up your whole damn family and made them feel like they had to take sides. You think that’s impossible for people to understand?” Lucky snorted. “It’s literally the story of my sister’s life. She’s only alive today because of Nikolas, and his showing screwed up our entire family.”

Dante stared at him. “What are you talking about?”

“Lu got really sick when she was a kid. None of us were bone marrow matches, so Mom reached out to Nikolas’s uncle in Greece. We didn’t know he existed. He came here, and me and my dad—” Lucky looked away. “We didn’t handle it well. Nikolas being in Port Charles, saving Lu’s life—the fact that my mother had lied about him all her life—my parents never really got over that. They ended up getting divorced. Nikolas and I always put Lu in the middle, and she’s blamed herself. If Mom hadn’t called Nikolas, she might have been able to keep protecting herself from facing what Nikolas’s father did to her. Instead, the Cassadines came to town, I ended up getting kidnapped, and Mom was catatonic for a year.”

“I—” Dante cleared his throat. “I didn’t realize—”

“Whatever Lu did or said to your mother, I promise you, she meant well.” Lucky waited a minute. “You don’t have to accept her apology, that’s on you, but she’s not a bad person.”

“I know that.” He sighed and looked down the alley where Lulu had disappeared. “I know.”

Brownstone: Kitchen

Jason scrubbed his hands over his face and took a deep breath before asking the question his brain was screaming. “AJ was the only way? The only way?”

Carly made a face, then tapped her fingers against the table. “No, but Alexis convinced me he was the best option. Justus is a good lawyer. He might win supervised visits. I can’t take the chance.” She scowled. “You’re really not mad that I did this, are you?”

“I’m—” Jason paused. He wasn’t, of course. Michael was Carly’s son, and she had every right to do whatever she needed to. “It’s just—it’s AJ. You’ve spent so many years running away from him. I go away for two weeks, and that’s all gone now.”

“That was a long time ago, and I just—” Carly lifted her hands. “I went to see him first. We had a good conversation, and I think he wants what’s best for Michael. You know I didn’t always believe that. Or maybe I didn’t want to. Michael is scared of Sonny. If he isn’t going to get help—” She pressed her lips together. “Would you want him around your son? The way he is now?”

The simple question stung, and Jason swallowed hard, then shook his head. “No. No, I wouldn’t.”

“Okay. Alexis told me that AJ was coming back to Port Charles anyway because of Ned and ELQ, so it’s just good timing. I know this is crazy, Jase. I was right where you were a week ago, but I also—” Carly paused. “I needed to apologize to AJ.”

Jason scowled. “Apologize—”

“Don’t pretend that he doesn’t have good reasons to hate me,” Carly interrupted. “You have your own issues with him, but those are your problems. Not mine. I did a lot of damage to AJ and blamed him for things that I can’t—” She clenched her fist. “A lot of things that were my fault.”


“I needed to apologize and put it behind me. So that’s what I did. I did it because I needed the peace of mind and because I want my boys away from Sonny as quickly as possible.”

Jason blinked because that was the second time Carly had said that. “Is there some kind of deadline?”

“Jason—” Carly exchanged a look with her mother, who sighed. “Jason, I know about April.”

“April?” he repeated, mystified. “What—”

“Luke took your words to heart,” Bobbie said, sitting next to her daughter. “He’s been checking in on the situation, maybe more than you’d want. He still has his old connections, and he’s been talking to some people.”

“Who?” Jason demanded.

“I don’t know. Some guy who works in one of the clubs near the waterfront. He said he’d worked with Smith back in the day.” Bobbie shuddered, likely remembering her own connections to Frank Smith and the mob more than twenty years ago. “Luke was in this business for a long time, Jason.”

“I know.” He’d been a mentor when Jason had been left alone to handle things, but it still made Jason uncomfortable now to trust someone else. “Okay, Luke’s talked to people. So what?”

“I’m not asking for details. Please believe me. I don’t want them. I never have,” Carly said. “But I know you understand that I deserve to know the things that affect me and my boys. Luke said there’s going to be—God, it sounds stupid to say it — but he made it sound like there was a lot of violence coming.”

Jason paused, took a deep breath, and thought about how to answer the question. “I’m doing everything I can to keep that from happening,” he said finally. “Sonny hasn’t been showing up, and I—I took a risk leaving for so long. I’ve been distracted.”

“What’s going on?” Bobbie wanted to know. “Is it Elizabeth and the baby?”

“We’re—we’re working on that, and I know she wants to talk to you. We both do,” Jason said as Carly scowled. “I’m just—we’re not ready—there’s a doctor’s appointment later, and we’ll—” His skin felt tight. “I can’t.”

Bobbie sighed, sat back. “Okay. So Sonny’s not doing his job as the local godfather, and there are some morons who think you’re weak.”

“Yeah. I’ve got it handled, Bobbie.”

“Until April,” Carly said, and Jason looked at her. “That’s what Luke said. You’re getting a break because people respect you and feel bad for Elizabeth. And I also think you’re getting it because they want you to deal with Sonny yourself. Is that it?”

“Yeah.” He hated this. He hated bringing any of this home to his family, to the people he loved. “I don’t want you to worry about any of this, Carly.”

“I know you’ve done everything to keep me and the boys safe. You’ve always done that,” she continued. “But my boys are not safe around Sonny. All it takes is one person to get impatient and go after him. There are people who don’t care about me and Elizabeth or our children. They’re not going to wait.” She smiled grimly. “You know I’m right. I’ve been in this life long enough to see the signs. He won’t go down without a fight, and I’m not putting my boys in the middle. I love you, and I will always want you to be part of my life and theirs, but I can’t take that risk with Sonny anymore. I’m not brave enough.”

He wanted to argue with her, he wanted to tell her she didn’t know what she was talking about, but of course, she did. Carly had seen this internal power struggle before when Sonny had been shot outside the police station a few years earlier. She’d gone nuclear and tried to get Sonny a deal with the FBI, to get him out herself.

But she’d learned a valuable lesson. There was no Sonny without the power. So she was going nuclear again—only this time, she didn’t plan to take Sonny with her. That was why AJ was needed. To burn the final bridges.

“I’m trying to stop this from happening—”

“And I love you for that,” Carly said softly. “I love you for never giving up on him. If he were in his right mind, he wouldn’t give up on you, either. But he’s not, and he hasn’t been in months, Jason. We get days and weeks, but something’s tipped inside, and he won’t fix it. I tried to do it, but I can’t.”

“I know—”

“And you’ll get there, too.” She paused, met his eyes. “Because if you don’t do something about it, someone else will. Sonny’s done, Jason. You’re the only one who doesn’t see it.”

Olivia Falconieri’s Apartment: Hallway

Olivia brightened when she saw her son on her doorstep. He hadn’t returned any of her calls since that terrible day at the diner, but finally, he was reaching out.

“Dante!” Pleased, she stepped back. “Come in, come in. You caught me on my way to work—”

“I can go.” He turned, and her smile dimmed a bit. His eyes were shadowed, and there was some stubble on his chin. He looked as if he hadn’t been sleeping. “I just—I need to talk you.”

“What’s wrong?” Olivia closed the door, focusing on him. “I mean, other than the—I don’t know—do you want to talk about it yet—”

He exhaled slowly, tipped his head back to look at the ceiling. “I should have said something when I found out,” Dante admitted. “But I couldn’t—I couldn’t face it.”

“Baby—” Guilt swamped her, her throat tightening. “I should have said something when you moved here, but I just—I’d put it away so long ago—”

“He doesn’t know, does he?” Dante asked. “No one does?”

“No one except your grandma and your uncle Frankie. It was their idea that I hide it,” Olivia told him. “Sonny—we all knew he was running numbers for Joe Scully, but, uh, we thought it was neighborhood crap.” She shifted. “And then there was Connie.”

Dante dragged one hand down his cheek. “Aunt Connie? I mean—” He cleared his throat. “Aunt Kate,” he corrected. “I didn’t realize—”

“We didn’t talk for ages,” Olivia murmured, “when they started going together behind my back. Years,” she admitted. “I found out about you not long after I discovered them, and keeping the secret—well, it was petty at first. Then we started to hear more things about the kind of jobs Scully was having him do. Uncle Frankie found me throwing up, and he and Ma arranged for me to go away. To stay away. I got lucky,” Olivia continued, “because Sonny left after his ma died, and then I could come home with you.”

“No one suspected?” Dante asked suspiciously.

“Sonny wasn’t popular by then,” Olivia said. “If anyone in the neighborhood thought you looked like him, they kept their mouth shut. No one ever said a thing to me or you. He’s been out of my life longer than he was ever in it, and he got what he deserved when Connie broke his heart and left him for college and changed her whole life.”

Dante wandered into her living room and sat down on the sofa. Olivia followed. “I’m sorry, baby. I never dreamed Ma would say anything to you—”

“She said I was like him because I’d turned on family,” Dante murmured. “I remember the old rumors about Sonny. People thought he’d hurt his ma.”

“Not me,” Olivia said, “but plenty did. Ma and Uncle Frankie did. And maybe that’s another reason no one said anything. Dante—”

“I did turn on family,” Dante said. He looked up at her. “I was right to,” he added, “but I wasn’t gonna tell anyone about that tape unless I was forced to. I was gonna let it go. Let him just get away with all the things he’d said and done—”

“That is not—”

“He was going down for just the Webber case,” Dante said, “and maybe one day, no one would even remember the rest of it. No one would ever know what he’d done to Brooke. And then they told us about that hearing—I couldn’t stand it. Couldn’t face him getting off clean when I knew how rotten he was—” He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. “I turned on him. I didn’t wanna, Ma. I didn’t want it to be him.”

“Of course not, baby.”

“He’s in me. That blood,” Dante continued as Olivia just blinked at him. “Whatever made him twisted — it’s in my DNA, and Sonny—” He stared off into the distance. “Sonny’s in me, too. I tried to let it go. I tried to forget it.”

“You should. You’re nothing like them—you’re better—”

“No? You should have seen the way I talked to Lu after what she said to you.” Dante got to his feet. “She just wanted to help me, and I slapped her down for it.”

“Then you apologize for it—for whatever you said—”

Dante shook his head. “I don’t deserve it—”

“That’s not up to you,” Olivia said stubbornly. “You offer the apology, and you let her decide whether to accept it. She cared enough about you to try to help, you ought to care enough to try to make it right.”

General Hospital: Kelly Lee’s Office

By the time Monica joined them, Kelly had already completed Elizabeth’s physical, including an ultrasound. It was exciting to see how much the baby had grown since the last one.

“You can see his legs and arms,” Elizabeth told Jason, beaming as she studied the printout in Kelly’s office while their doctor was organizing her blood work results and waiting for Monica. “See?” She pointed it out on the grainy photo, and Jason nodded.

“Sure, if that’s what those are—”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes and beamed as Kelly and Monica finally came back in. “Did you see the ultrasound?” she asked her mother-in-law. “Kelly’s getting a video so we can show everyone—”

“I did,” Monica took a seat next to Elizabeth and Jason, in the third chair set in front of Kelly’s desk. “He looks great.”

Elizabeth turned to Kelly, expecting confirmation. Their pretty, dark-haired doctor nodded in agreement. “The baby is in great health. I’ve got your fetal kick count chart here, and that’s right on target. The baby is developing just as we’d expected.” She hesitated, and some of Elizabeth’s excitement dimmed.

Jason’s hand tightened around hers. “But?” he said, and she looked at him, grateful that he was willing to say what she couldn’t.

“When I conducted the physical, I could see that you weren’t taking deep, full breaths without being directed to do so.” Kelly looked at Monica, who continued.

“I know that you’ve been taking your pulse and checking your blood pressure as directed,” Monica said. “I know they’re within the range we discussed, and I’m glad to see for the most part, your vitals have stabilized. I was a bit concerned, however, with the oxygen levels in your blood work.”

Elizabeth bit her lip and looked down. “They’re low, aren’t they?” she murmured.

“Not dangerously low,” Kelly cautioned. “The normal range is 95 to 100. Anything below 90 is a sign of hypoxemia and will drive your blood pressure up. Hypoxemia can lead to organ damage, so we must prevent it.” She tilted her head to the side. “How is your breathing?”

“Um, mostly okay, I think. I’ve been trying to avoid stairs unless necessary. The lake house was one floor—”

They waited, but Elizabeth didn’t continue speaking. Jason sighed. “You know about the oxygen she needed on our wedding day,” he said to Monica, then looked at Elizabeth. “And you’re not taking a lot of deep breaths. That’s not new. It’s been like that for a few weeks. Maybe even longer. Even when you sleep. You’ve been compensating with more shallow ones.”

Elizabeth frowned, and the corner of his mouth turned up. “I’m not even sure if you noticed,” he admitted. “You’re…it’s been…I think you’re just used to doing it. Before the embolism, then after—”

“I—” Elizabeth sighed. “Maybe. I haven’t noticed it, but if Jason says so, he’s probably right. I get tired easily. The good days—they’re a little less, and the bad days feel worse. I had a really few rough days while we were away.”

She put a hand protectively over her belly. “But I bounced back, and I feel better now. I rested just like I was supposed to do, and I feel almost normal. Except for the headaches,” Elizabeth insisted. “I can still walk a-and I could make it up the stairs if I tried. I just don’t because you said not to—and I can still breathe. I—the wedding was—there were outside things—” She closed her mouth, realizing that no one was fighting with her. No one was saying anything.

“What are her oxygen levels?” Jason asked.

“94,” Monica answered. “Which means we need to treat it now before it gets worse. You could suffer organ damage.”

Elizabeth closed her eyes. “And how are we going to treat it?” she asked flatly.

“I’m not suggesting we induce labor,” Kelly told her, and Elizabeth opened her eyes, looked at her with suspicion. “You’ve already told me that it’s a last resort, and I respect that, Elizabeth. I really do. You’re right. Every day we can wait is better for the baby. But—”

“But it’s also our responsibility to make sure that you deliver safely,” Monica said, her voice a bit tougher. “That you survive delivery. If your organs shut down—with a condition that already puts stress on your heart and lungs—that’s not something we can guarantee you’ll come back from. You could end up needing a double transplant. I’m the one recommending you deliver as soon as possible. Honestly, I’d like you to check in now. Today.”

Elizabeth dipped her head and stared at her belly, at her hand resting over her son. As if sensing his mother’s distress, she felt a heel press against her palm. A tear splashed the back of her hand.

“Elizabeth—” Monica began.

“What else can be done?” Jason asked. He covered her hand with his, the wedding ring she’d put on his finger glinting dully. She looked up to find him studying his mother. “Elizabeth wants to wait as long as we can, and you said her oxygen levels aren’t too low yet. Is there anything that can stabilize them? To give us a few more weeks? She’s right. The rest of her vitals are normal, and her energy has come back.”

Elizabeth smiled at him gratefully, and Monica sighed. “More structured oxygen therapy,” she said, her tone clipped. “I’d like you on oxygen while you sleep to start. I’ll ask you to check your oxygen levels every few hours. If it dips below 90, you come to the hospital immediately, do you understand?”

“Yes.” Elizabeth looked at her, gratefully. “I know you want me to deliver sooner—”

“I want you to survive,” Monica cut in. “But I also know—” She sighed. “I also know that I would probably be making a similar choice in your position,” she muttered. “I’m coming over every day,” she warned Jason and Elizabeth.

“If you being there to watch over me and the baby means I can wait until thirty-five weeks, I might just ask you to move in,” Elizabeth replied, trying to smile.

“Don’t joke. That’s literally the next step,” Monica warned.

“Is there anything else?” Jason asked Kelly.

“No, the baby—”

“Cameron,” Elizabeth corrected. “We—we picked a name, and I want to use it now. Cameron Hardy Morgan. For my grandparents.”

“Cameron,” Kelly said, “is developing just fine. Whatever you’re doing—with the addition of whatever Monica prescribes—keep it up.” She got to her feet. “I’ll go get the video of the ultrasound for you.”

“I’ll go with you. I wanted to ask you one more thing,” Elizabeth offered. She flashed a smile at Jason. “I’ll be right back.”


Jason watched her go, then looked at his mother. “She shouldn’t wait, should he?” he asked roughly.

Monica shook her head. “I can’t say that, Jason.” When he stood with a scowl, she returned it. “I can’t. She’s not wrong—babies born this early can face all kinds of complications. Every day you can give him is a better outlook—”

“But?” Jason raised a brow.

“But pregnancy often pushes even a healthy woman to her limits. She’s supporting a second life, and Elizabeth’s body wasn’t entirely one hundred percent before she got pregnant. Every day, her heart and lungs are supporting two people, and they’re not quite up to the job.”

“Every day she gives Cameron is another day she might be taking from herself,” he finished with a hard swallow. “She knows it. Do you know why she wants to use the name now? Why she’s insisting on it?”

“Because she might not live to use it once he’s born,” Monica said. She exhaled slowly. “Have the two of you talked about that?”

“A little.” Jason scrubbed his hands over his face. “This oxygen therapy—this will work?”

“It will give her more time,” Monica replied. “We’ll keep doing what we’re doing, and if luck is on our side, we can get her through the next few weeks.” She touched his arm. “We’re doing everything we can.”

“I know.” He managed a smile, then hugged her, grateful for the support. “Thanks.”

Elizabeth and Kelly emerged from the back room, Elizabeth tucking a slim DVD case into her purse. “Ready to go?” she asked him with a brightness that was clearly forced. He held out his hand, and she laced her fingers through his.

He pressed a kiss to her temple. “Yeah, let’s go home.”

Ward Home: Kitchen

“Part of me wants you to just say to hell with it and quit,” Tamika told him as Justus loaded the dishwater. He grimaced. “I know you can’t tell me what you argued about, but—”

“I wanted to quit in December,” Justus muttered, “but I stayed on. The ink on the mortgage was barely dry.” He sighed, crossed to their wine rack, and took down a bottle. “I dragged you up here—”

“We were already considering expanding the store,” Tamika cut in. “And you wanted to reconnect with your family. You could quit this job tomorrow, and I wouldn’t care. Go into private practice. Hell, go into the public defender’s office. Keep Scott Baldwin honest.” She accepted the glass of wine he handed her. “You don’t have to stay with Sonny and Jason just because the job is why we moved here.”

“If I were to quit now,” Justus said, slowly, “when things are so unresolved and chaotic, I’d feel like I was abandoning Jason. He doesn’t need that right now.”

“Because Elizabeth is sick, and you wanna stick with him until it’s fixed. If you go, Bernie is handling things by himself.” Tamika sipped her wine. “So, you stay until the baby is born or until you feel comfortable enough to go—”

“If it were just Jason,” Justus said. He stopped, staring down into the dark red wine.

“You like the job,” Tamika said. “We talked about this, Justus, and I told you as long as you stay safe and be smart, I just want you to be happy. I mean, Portia’s dating a cop, but he went to Jason’s wedding. Port Charles has a lot of gray areas.”

“Yeah, that’s true. I don’t know. I can’t get into it,” he repeated, “but I think everyone can see how tense things are between Jason and Sonny. Something is going to break it open, and I guess—I don’t know. I don’t want Jason standing alone when it does.”

Municipal Building: Mayor’s Office

Olivia knocked hesitantly on Ned’s door and flashed him a faint smile when he gestured for her to come in. “I was really looking for Lois,” she admitted as she sat down in front of his desk. “She wasn’t at her place.”

“She had a late meeting,” Ned said, “but she’s supposed to stop by if you want to wait for her.”

“Thanks.” Olivia bit her lip and twisted her hands in her lap. “Um, how are things going? As the mayor?”

“It’s interesting. A lot of paperwork,” he admitted, “but I feel like I’m making a difference.” He paused. “It’s filling the empty time and gives me something to concentrate on.”

“That’s why I stayed after—” Olivia paused. “After,” she finished. “I couldn’t go back. I knew I couldn’t walk those streets anymore. I needed the distraction of something else. Somewhere else.”

“Yeah, I can understand that. The grief for me—” He shook his head. “It’s overwhelming at times, but I can see the weight is different for Lois. Not just because she did most of the heavy lifting with Brooke—although that’s part of it—it’s knowing.

“They ran together, growing up. Vinnie was a little older,” Olivia said, “but he was one of the neighborhood kids. Brooke used to—” Her throat tightened. “She used to tease him about dating. She’d see him leave in his Camaro—I’m sorry. I don’t—”

“It’s okay. Brooke was yours, too.”

“My godbaby. I looked after her the way Lois looked after Dante. Single moms—” Olivia shook her head. “I didn’t mean—”

“Yeah, you did. And Lois was a single mom. I didn’t spend enough time with my daughter.” Ned glanced over at the picture on his desk of a pretty baby with dark hair. “I’m trying to make up for it with Kristina, but I’ll never rid myself of the guilt.” He exhaled slowly. “How’s Dante handling all of this?”

“I thought he was doing okay with it. The hearing was hard on him. He knew it had to be done, but it still hurt to turn on family. My mother—” Olivia pressed her lips together. “She can’t forgive him.”

“I’m sorry. I can’t understand—with what kind of monster he was—”

“Ma doesn’t—can’t—see it that way. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t fond of Frannie, and she never liked the husband. She didn’t much like Vinnie, either. But blood—you don’t mess with it. You don’t snitch on family.” Her fingers tightened in her lap. “I should have done better by him.”

“Dante’s a good kid, Olivia—”

“I should have told him,” she blurted out. She closed her eyes when Ned blinked at her. “If I’d told him, you see, he couldn’t be blindsided that way. Ma couldn’t have hurt him with the truth if he’d already known it.”

“The truth?” Ned echoed.

“Christ.” Olivia shoved to her feet and paced to the door. “Never mind. I’m sorry. I need to go.”

“Olivia—” Ned stood. “I hope you know that whatever you say to me—it’s in confidence.” She turned back to him. “I know Lois would have fallen apart a thousand times without you these last few months. If you want to wait for her—”

“She doesn’t know. No one knew. Just Ma and Frankie. My brother,” she added absently when he frowned. “As soon as Dante told me he was coming to the academy in Port Charles, I should have just found a way—but I didn’t—I hoped it wouldn’t matter.” She rubbed her chest. “He looks like him,” she murmured. She met Ned’s eyes. “I was just a girl, you know, and he broke my heart, so I didn’t tell him about Dante. At first. Then later, well, all the stories and the papers, I knew he’d end up no good—”

“Lois said a few months ago that you and Sonny had dated as kids,” Ned said when Olivia stopped talking. “That’s who you’re talking about. Dante—Sonny is his father.”

“I never wanted him to know. It was selfish of me—”

“You never told Lois?”

“I thought about it. I thought she might have even suspected,” Olivia admitted. “But she’s never said. Dante found out, and he’s been—well, it was a one-two punch. First Vinnie, then Sonny.”

“Yeah, I can only imagine.”

“He doesn’t want anyone to know, and it’ll ruin his career if it gets out,” Olivia said. “No one will care that Dante doesn’t want him in his life.”

“He’s better off,” Ned assured her. “I promise you that. I don’t—” He hesitated. “I don’t ever plan to tell Kristina.”

Olivia blinked at him, then her eyes widened. “Kristina isn’t—she’s—” She exhaled slowly. “Oh. But why are you—”

“A secret for a secret,” Ned said with a wry smile. “I promised Alexis we would protect her daughter from Sonny, and after we lost her sister—my fiancée—I knew I would go to my grave keeping it. You did the right thing,” he told her again. “And if there’s anything I can do to help you and Dante protect this secret, I’ll do it. I can’t help Brooke anymore, but I can help the boy who put away the monster who broke her.”

Olivia squeezed his hand, smiling through her tears. “If I can think of something that will help, I’ll tell you. And thank you. For trusting me with your secret. I’ll take it to the grave.”

“I know you will.”

Outside Ned’s office, the door slightly ajar, Lois stood there, her hand on the wall, bracing herself as her brain swirled. Ned had lied about Kristina.

He’d ignored their daughter, cast her to the wolves, all so he could take care of someone else’s kid.

Her blood boiled.

May 22, 2022

Update Link: Signs of Life – Part 34


    • I ordered this back in April after saving for a year. The laptop I’m on is my primary computer and it’s about four years old. It’s sluggish and opening EVERYTHING has gotten ridiculous. Every time I open Mad World, it takes 5 minutes and my computer is unresponsive for 3 of them, lol.
    • The new computer means I can reformat the old laptop to JUST writing stuff and I can be way more mobile with it because now I don’t have to hook and unhook it every day for a primary computer at home.
    • So yay for that!
  • Physically, I’m feeling better. 
    • I don’t have any long-term solutions yet (all doctor appointments are now after the school year ends) but I’ve worked out enough small-scale solutions that I’m in a better place.
    • I’m sleeping better thanks to the Night Guard, which I use during the day to avoid clenching.
    • My neck and back are a bit looser thanks to the chiropractor.
    • I’m able to sit at my computer for longer periods of time again, so I expect to be able to pick up working at night and longer on Saturdays this week and next.
  • Mad World is moving to twice a week!
    • I’m sooo excited to be bumping up the posting for MW. You guys have been really awesome so far with the slow-pace, and the chapters are pretty long so I feel like you’re getting a good bank for your buck with the weekly updates.
    • That being said, starting with next week’s chapter, the story really picks up the pace.
    • I feel good enough where I am with the edit to start posting twice a week.
    • Starting May 31, next Tuesdays, I’ll be posting on Tuesdays & Fridays
      • I have enough chapters to get us through June and I know the edit will be done by the end of June. It actually should be done by May 31 (or by the latest June 5).


  • Added Mad World Early Access for Love, Chapter 83
  • Added Mad World Chapter 91-92 for Stalker
  • Added For the Broken Girl, Book 2 Discovery for Obsession
  • Added Flash Fiction Voting for Crimson Obsession tiers
  • Added Crimson Discovery #15
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This entry is part 34 of 41 in the Flash Fiction: Signs of Life

Written in 56 minutes.

Tuesday, February 1, 2000


Elizabeth swirled the last paintbrush in the sink, then set it aside to dry. She glanced over her shoulder at the canvas on the easel across the room, studying it with a critical eye. It was her third attempt at trying to recreate The Wind which had been destroyed the day the PCPD raided the penthouse, but she hadn’t quite recaptured the way she’d felt that first time.

That first try had been messy with some splatters and drips, but it had felt right. Every other attempt just felt like she was copying her own work.

She exhaled on a huff, then checked the clock. Her morning classes were over, and she was supposed to meet Jason for dinner—if she didn’t leave right now, she’d be late. While things were quiet on most fronts, she knew Jason hadn’t yet dealt with Sorel. It had been a little over two weeks since the disastrous wedding reception, and the tension still hung in the air. With Sorel, with Sonny—

With Carly.

She shoved all of that out of her head, covered the canvas with a sheet, then tugged on her jacket. Time to stop thinking about all of the things she had no control over and go home to meet her husband.

Elm Street Pier

She jogged down the steps to the pier, crossing towards Bannister’s Wharf and the parking lot where the car waited. Several feet behind her, a guard trailed. She always felt bad for the guards assigned to her — they were supposed to follow her around, but she had such short legs. How did they stay behind without basically dragging their own feet?

Distracted for a moment by the thought of the tall, blond, muscular Francis Corelli keeping the pace of a turtle, Elizabeth didn’t hear the other footsteps until two men stepped out from the steps leading up to the wharf.  She stumbled to a stop, and almost as quickly, Francis stepped up and slid in front of her.

“Ah, Mrs. Morgan.” Joseph Sorel smiled, flashing his even white teeth. “What a lovely surprise.”

“Out of the way,” Francis stated simply, taking Elizabeth by the elbow. “Now.”

“This is a public dock,” Sorel murmured. “I can walk where I wish.”

“Let’s just go back,” Elizabeth told Francis. They’d go back to the studio or towards Kelly’s. Francis nodded, and they started to turn.

“I’m surprised you’ve returned to your, ah, studio.”

“Ignore him,” Francis muttered, and Elizabeth agreed. They were already at the stairs with Francis almost shoving her onto the bottom step.

Then Sorel spoke again. “Those bad manners are showing again. No greeting, no goodbye. You don’t even let a man finish his sentence before you hang up.”

Elizabeth froze, turned just a moment to meet Sorel’s eyes. Hang up.

She’d hung up on him that night at the studio, when it was clear that he’d be of no use to her.  He’d claimed it wasn’t him, but she’d always known it was. She’d heard his voice that night at the reception and recognized it, the smooth lies over the oily tone. Insincerity oozing from every word.

He’d chosen his words carefully to remind her. To carry a message. He’d gotten to her in the studio. In the limo. Today on the docks.

If not for a bad charge on the bomb on New Year’s, Elizabeth might already be dead.

“When you show me a man worth respecting,” Elizabeth said coolly, “then we can discuss manners.” Then she turned away, continuing her climb, her heart pounding, Francis’s boots echoing in her ears.

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

Jason’s fists were clenched as he shoved the door open to the penthouse and stalked inside. “What?”

Sonny scowled at the entrance, then crossed to the minibar. “I don’t know why you’re so angry with me already,” he bit out. “I didn’t do anything—”

“I have things to deal with—”

“And we need to talk about what happened on the docks.” Sonny arched a brow. “Or were you planning to just go out and shoot Sorel where you found him?”

His throat was tight as Jason just kept his mouth shut. Elizabeth and Francis had related the incident on the docks, and Sonny had called him over almost right away. He hadn’t even processed what had happened yet. Really taken in that Sorel had been stupid enough again to approach Elizabeth.

“Because I thought that was the plan two weeks ago,” Sonny continued when Jason had said nothing. “But you’ve done nothing—”

“He never goes anywhere alone,” Jason bit out. “And today was the first time he was out in public. He’s waiting. He knows I’m coming—”

“And so he decided to step out and taunt you today,” Sonny pointed out. “Look, you don’t have to trust or respect me—” His eyes flashed with a mixture of irritation and hurt. “But I still know what the hell I’m doing. He didn’t just show himself to Elizabeth. That’s not what Francis reported.”

“No.” Jason exhaled slowly, his hands going to his waist. “He accused her of having no manners. Of being the type to hang up on someone. He chose those words deliberately, and she knew it. If he’d just wanted to insult her, he would have just called her rude for walking away. But we never told anyone that Elizabeth hung up that night. They know she claimed to hear from Sorel, but the hangup—”

“It’s something only Sorel would have known about. He wanted you to know that he was behind it, Jason. Either he’s arrogant to the point of stupidity or he’s planning something—” Sonny hesitated. “I’m worried if we just take him out now, if there’s a back up plan. If something gets triggered if he goes missing—”

“I can’t worry about that. I can’t,” Jason repeated. “And you know it.”

“I just—” Sonny shook his head. “We need to be ready for anything. I want him gone, too. That’s three times he’s gone for Elizabeth. I don’t want her in danger either. I never wanted that—”

“It was just a risk you were willing to take,” Jason bit out.

“And it’s one you were, too,” Sonny shot back. “You married her, didn’t you? You could have left. Yeah, things would have gone to hell with Carly, but she would have been out of it with Sorel, and you knew it. You decided to stay.” His eyes burned into his. “I told you to go, didn’t I? Stop being so pissed off at me because we knew this would happen if you did!”

Jason didn’t have an answer for that. Of course not. He’d stayed because Elizabeth had wanted him to, because he hadn’t wanted to go. But the only way to be sure Sorel wouldn’t use her was not to be in town. He’d put her in the middle of everything by marrying her.

“That doesn’t change what you did—”

“No, but I’ll be damned if I take any of the blame for her being in this situation in the first place.” Sonny tossed back the last of his bourbon. “You were the one that stayed in her studio even after people knew you were there. You used her to stay out of sight.”

Jason scrubbed his hands over his face. This wasn’t getting them anywhere. “I don’t want to fight about this anymore,” he growled. “It is what is.” And damn it, Sonny had a goddamn point. The reception was his fault, but everything else—

“When you make the hit,” Sonny said, and Jason focused on him, “we need to make sure everything is covered. Elizabeth doesn’t make a move without Francis, and we might want to add more plain clothes protection. For both of you.”

“Yeah, okay.”

“And let’s make sure this son of a bitch doesn’t get another chance at Elizabeth.”

Morgan Penthouse: Living Room

Elizabeth paced the area in front of the fireplace, twisting her hands, waiting for Jason to return from Sonny’s. She hadn’t even been able to tell him more than the content of the conversation before he’d had to leave.

Maybe she shouldn’t have stopped. Or maybe she shouldn’t have gone to the studio. They’d said it was okay, that there was security—

The door opened and Elizabeth spun around to find Jason quietly closing the door behind him. He leaned against it for a moment, meeting her eyes from across the room.

“Is, um, everything okay?”

“Yeah. Sonny just wanted to check in.” Jason flicked the lock, then approached her. “You okay?”

“I’m fine. I guess. I don’t know,” she added when he just raised his brows. “It was just…weird, I guess. I did what I’m supposed to do. You know, I just turned and left. I didn’t say anything to him until—”

“Until he reminded you of New Year’s.”

She winced. “Yeah. I don’t know why hearing him confirm made me feel jumpy. Or why it makes you so mad. We both knew he did it—”

“Yeah—” He slid his hands from her shoulders down to her elbows, then repeated. His touch calmed the jitters in her stomach. “But today, he made sure we didn’t have any doubt. He tried to kill you. Almost did.”

“Yeah. With everything that’s happened since then—” A month ago. That’s all it had been. A month earlier, she’d been worrying herself silly over sleeping with Jason and made a nearly fatal mistake in returning to the studio alone. What a lifetime it seemed now. “I never really sat with it. Carly started making her threats—”

“And then we got married,” he murmured, “and the PCPD—” Then Carly again, but they didn’t say anything about that. Better to think of Carly as something they’d already dealt with. Elizabeth knew Jason wasn’t going to say another word about the baby until those paternity results came in. And why Jason believed Carly would play any of this straight—

No room for that conversation today either.

“You did everything right,” Jason reassured her. “You followed Francis, you didn’t engage in conversation. Sorel wanted you to take a message. You did that.”

“I did kind of get snippy with him at the end,” Elizabeth reminded him.

“Yeah, well, he had that coming.” He kissed her forehead, but lingered, his fingers tightening at her shoulders. “I’m sorry.”


“I’m not sorry we’re standing where we are,” he said, drawing back for a moment. He took her hand in his, his fingers tracing over her wedding ring. “But Sorel is going after you because of me. And Sonny reminded me—” Jason’s eyes clouded over. “The reception might be his fault, but the rest of it—”

“It’s no one’s fault—”

“When I was going to leave town,” Jason told her, “it wasn’t just because of Carly. I knew if I were out of the picture permanently, Sorel would lose interest in you. I stayed.”

“I made you,” Elizabeth insisted. “And I knew—”

“You made a case,” Jason corrected, “and I agreed. I wanted to be here. With you,” he added, and she flushed at that, but managed smile. “But I knew that it meant you’d still in the middle of this. That Sorel might see you as someone to use. I could have stopped it. I didn’t.”

“The only way to stop it was to lose this.” Elizabeth leaned up on her toes to kiss him. “And I’ll never be sorry I fought to keep it.”

“Me either.” He tangled his hands in her hair and kissed her back.

Quartermaine Mansion: Family Room

AJ sipped some water and perused the day’s papers, reading the sections he’d skipped earlier that morning. The house was quiet for once—his grandfather at ELQ, his parents at the hospital, and Carly had gone shopping with Michael. It wasn’t often he got to sit by himself, with his own thoughts.

“Junior. I was hoping to find you in here.”

AJ looked up, grimacing as Ned sauntered in. “Why?” he wanted to know, folding the paper and tossing it aside. “What do you want now?”

“I’ve had some time to think it over.” Ned sat on the sofa, leaning back and crossing one leg over his high. “I wasn’t going to say anything,” he continued, “but the longer I sat with it, the more I decided I should at least tell you what I’m thinking.”

“If this is about the pharmaceutical proposal—”

“It’s about Carly.”

AJ got to his feet, shook his head. “I don’t want to listen to any more of how I’m letting Carly ruin the family—”

“If you go through with pretending you’re the father of this child, it won’t just ruin your family. It’ll ruin everyone else’s.”

AJ stopped at the doorway, turned back to Ned, then closed the door. “I’m not pretending.”

Ned stood with a shake of his head. “You are. And I don’t blame you. There’s karma in this, I get it. Jason took a year of Michael’s life away from you. And we both know he’s still the ghost in your marriage. For the last year, Carly’s schemed to get Jason back. If you hadn’t made her sign that prenup, she’d already be gone.”

AJ’s throat was tight. “Maybe. But she’s here. And we’re making it work.”

“She’s not a terrible mother, so I get why you’re doing this. I barely see my daughter.” Ned grimaced. “Divorce is hell, even when it’s civil. I’ll never be the father I wanted to be for Brooke Lynn, not as long as she’s in New York with Lois. I get that you don’t want that for Michael—”

“Get to the point, Ned—”

“Jason was a good father,” his cousin said softly, and AJ scowled. “It doesn’t matter that he didn’t have the right. He was good to Michael—”

“And if he were the father, which he’s not, it would mean he had an affair with my wife,” AJ bit out. “You think he needs to be rewarded for that—”

“You married Carly knowing that was probably going to happen. Jason doesn’t owe you fidelity or loyalty. Especially after you slammed his head into a rock—”

“Damn it—”

“Carly made you those promises. She’s the one that broke them. And right now, she’s the only one getting away with it. How is that fair to anyone?”

This entry is part 7 of 41 in the Mad World: Liberty

Song in Taggert & Portia Scene: Say Yes (Floetry)

This is a state of grace
This is the worthwhile fight
Love is a ruthless game
Unless you play it good and right
These are the hands of fate
You’re my Achilles heel
This is the golden age of something good and right and real

State of Grace (Taylor’s Version), Taylor Swift

Saturday, February 14, 2004

 Ward House: Kitchen

Justus slid his cell phone into his pocket as he strode into the kitchen and grabbed his wife around the waist, swirling her into an impromptu waltz around the room. Kimi, secure in her booster chair, laughed and clapped her hands together.

“Someone’s in a good mood,” Tamika teased. “You get those reservations?”

“I got those reservations,” Justus confirmed, dipping her then tilting her back up for a long, sumptuous kiss. “Mmmmm…and I got us a babysitter.”

Tamika drew back, her brows raised. “Oh, really?”

“Bobbie’s looking after Michael and Morgan while Carly is out of town,” Justus said, stepping back from Tamika and heading for the coffee pot. “She said she’d be happy to take of Kimi for a few hours.”

“It won’t be too much? Three kids?”

“No, I think she said one of Felicia’s daughters is going to come over and hang out, and Lucas is upstairs.” Justus rolled his shoulders. “I’d forgotten how many people I had here,” he said, more to himself. “I went to Philly to be with family, but—”

“But Faith and Keesha have their own things going on, and you were too busy to make friends.” Tamika wrapped her arms around him from behind, resting her chin on his shoulder. “Where’s Carly going?”

Justus paused, then stirred sugar into his coffee. “I can’t say for sure,” he admitted. “Bobbie didn’t, and I’m not supposed to know, I think.”

“But you do.”

“Ned and Alexis are also heading out of town this weekend,” Justus said. He sipped his coffee. “To talk to AJ about ELQ.”

“And Alexis is Carly’s lawyer.” Tamika nodded. “I see.”

He smiled at her. “But today, that’s not our problem. I’m all yours tonight.”

“Looking forward to it.” She kissed him again. “Love you, baby.”

“Love you, too.”

Kelly’s: Diner

Maxie slumped onto the stool and made a face. “I blame you for this,” she called into the kitchen. Lulu emerged, her face scrunched into a scowl.

“Doesn’t everyone?” she demanded. “What else is new?”

Maxie didn’t notice Lulu’s lousy mood and continued to complain, shredding a napkin. “Kyle can’t get away. He’s got this stupid paper, and, like, by the time he drove here, he’d have to go to sleep and get up tomorrow to drive back.”

“And that’s my fault?” Lulu demanded.

“No. But when I said I was thinking about doing long-distance, you told me to go for it. Now, look at me. Alone on Valentine’s Day.” Maxie huffed.

“Then break up with him.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Then why—” Lulu growled and made a choking gesture with her hands. “Do you just want to complain about having a gorgeous, smart boyfriend?”

“No,” Maxie drawled, then it must have clicked. “Oh. You’re still in a funk over what happened with Dante.”

“In a funk, she says,” Lulu muttered. She disappeared into the kitchen, and Maxie followed. “I did what I always do, and you didn’t even bother to remember—”

“I remembered, I just didn’t think it was a big deal. Dante’s a nice guy. He’ll figure out you meant well.” Maxie shrugged and hopped onto a counter, dazzling DJ, the line cook, with a bright smile. “And if he doesn’t figure out, better to know now that he doesn’t deserve you than waste months figuring it out.”

Lulu peered at her. “What does that mean?”

“You did something dumb for the right reasons and someone who really knows you would get that. He was hurting, and he was gonna keep hurting until someone did something.” Maxie jumped back to the ground. “He’s just mad because whatever was picking at him, he had to tell his mother. Or at least maybe. You never said what the problem was.”

She looked at her best friend expectantly, but Lulu turned away and went back into the dining room. “Oh, he’s not talking to you, but I still don’t get the gossip? Ugh. He really doesn’t deserve you. How am I supposed to bitch about him with you if you won’t tell me what’s going on?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Lulu murmured. She looked over at the door as the bell over it jingled, and Dante came in with Cruz. Their eyes met, then Dante looked away, taking a seat with his back to the kitchen.

“I should make a list of ways to destroy him,” Maxie decided. “Because if he’s gonna dump you—”

“He didn’t dump me. You can’t be dumped if you’re not picked up.” Lulu took a deep breath. “It never really got started, Maxie, so just let it go.”

“I’ll let it go, but I won’t forget.”

New Orleans, Louisiana

 Garden District: Chestnut Street

The house was set back from the street by a tall, imposing black iron fence, the structure hidden by clusters of trees and flowers. Carly debated leaping from the car as the driver stopped briefly at the gate to request entrance.

But she didn’t. She’d traveled all the way to New Orleans to beg the one man who likely hated her more than anyone else in the world. She needed to try, needed to knock on every door to save her boys.

Her resolve lasted until she trailed after Ned towards the front of the house, and she saw something in a window. A curtain moving back into place. He was watching. AJ knew she was coming—he’d agreed to it.

What if he’d let her come all the way here only to refuse to listen?

“This was a mistake.”

Alexis caught Carly’s elbow as the blonde whirled around and started back down the path towards the circular driveway where their car was parked. “Carly—”

“She’s not wrong,” Ned said, leaning against the column at the top of the steps. Alexis glared at him, her grasp on Carly slipping.

“You are not helping.”

“You didn’t ask for help,” Ned reminded her. “You asked for a meeting.” He turned at the sound of the door opening.

AJ Quartermaine stepped out onto the porch, his blonde hair waving slightly over his forehead, his eyes clear. He slid his hands into the pockets of his tan trousers and came to stand next to his cousin, his mouth grim. “Change your mind, Carlybabes?”

Carly tensed at the reminder of that terrible time, of that year living with the Quartermaines, trying desperately to push AJ into divorcing her and giving her custody. She turned and faced her ex-husband, flinching at the hostility he didn’t bother to hide.

He was going to say no. Of course he was. He would take everything she told him about the situation and then file for custody. He would take Michael from her—

“I don’t have all day,” AJ continued. He flicked his eyes at Ned. “We still have a meeting of our own.”

“I know, Junior.” Ned paused, looked at Carly and Alexis, the lawyer whispering to the client. He lowered his own voice. “Look, I told you some of what’s going on back home—”


“She came here with an olive branch,” he interrupted. “And if you play this right, kid, you have a shot at seeing Michael. A real shot this time. I’m asking you to give her a chance to explain things.”

“Why do you care?”

“I don’t,” Ned said after a moment. “But I won’t ever get a second chance with my daughter.” His throat tightened, and AJ’s eyes dipped. “I threw away a lot of chances to do right by Brooke. Michael needs you. Carly’s done terrible things, Junior. But none of us are shiny and brand new, are we?”

“No. No, we’re not.” AJ nodded. “All right. Fine.” He raised his voice. “Look, you might as well come in and talk about it, Carly.” He paused, flicked his eyes back to Ned. “We’ll negotiate what I want.”

“What you—” Carly approached the bottom of the steps. “You’re willing to help?”

“I’m open to it, but my help isn’t free, Carly.”

“Of course not.” Carly closed her eyes, took a deep breath. “All right. I’ll come in.”

Port Charles Park: Fountain

The snow crunched beneath his feet the way it had that night, and though the sun still shone in the sky, for just a moment, Lucky was back there. The bitter chill biting at his cheeks, his frustration, the quiet stillness of the night, the sound of the snow—

His irritation at silly little Lizzie Webber, lying about something stupid and worrying them all—

Then the whimper.

He’d turned and she’d been there. Just there. On her hands and knees, crawling out of the snow, her coat gone, her dress torn and dirty—

“I thought I’d find you here.”

Lucky turned now and found a different brunette standing just beyond the pathway, on the other side of the fountain, a bright red cap pulled over her hair, her hands in the pockets of her white coat. Kelsey met him halfway.  “Why?”

“Cruz said you had a look when you got off shift today.” Kelsey wound an arm through one of his and together they looked back at the bench. “He called,” she added. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” Lucky cleared his throat. “Yeah,” he repeated. “I couldn’t remember it the last few years. Not clearly. I tried to celebrate Valentine’s Day again with Elizabeth, and I think we did okay. But the day just hits different this year.”

“I know. I saw Scott at the office for a few hours this morning, and he brought it up. And of course—” Kelsey made a face. “The papers ran a story. I’m glad Elizabeth isn’t in town to see any of it.”

Lucky raised his eyes to the foliage that surrounded the area. “Six years ago,” he murmured. “I can’t believe I ever forgot that night. It hit me like a freight train when Dillon talked about what happened to Brooke. Looking at his face, the guilt, the worry, the anger—I felt all of it that night.”

“I know.”

“He was a customer,” he said softly. “A regular. So regular that I didn’t even remember him. How can someone walk in and out of your life and not register? He arrested us, Kelse. I didn’t even remember. He was the cop that grabbed me and Elizabeth when we went to my dad’s club. She never suspected.”

“It chills me,” Kelsey said. “To think that he was so close to her all of those times. To think that he kept trying to recreate it. I wonder if part of him was always coming back here. To her. Lucky, there was no way for any of us to know it. Not until we had the new cases. Until we had the new details.”

“Maybe. But we’ll never know for sure, will we?” Lucky cleared his throat. “How many more women are out there that never reported? Are there more like Brooke? Who couldn’t handle it and killed themselves?”

“We’re not going to know that.” She rubbed his arm. “We did the job. You got the evidence, and we got the plea. He’s in jail, and Elizabeth made sure that he was never going to get to do this to another woman. That’s all we can do.”

“Yeah.” Lucky forced a smile, then met her eyes. “Let’s get out of here. Dad got a great act from the city for tonight. You wanna go dancing with me?”


Lucky led her out of the clearing, away from the fountain, and out of the park where so many lives had been destroyed.

Chestnut Street: Study

AJ closed the door. If they were going to talk, it would be without her lawyer or his cousin standing over their shoulders. He turned to find Carly standing in the middle of the room. She’d shed the coat she’d worn, but her body was still braced as if she was ready to flee at any minute.

He hadn’t seen Carly in more than a year, not since he’d signed the divorce papers from Courtney and left Port Charles behind, not wanting to see his wife move on with his brother. The last time they’d been in the same room, Carly had been incandescent with rage because AJ had dared to speak to his own son on the docks. She’d treated AJ like he was some kind of monster who didn’t deserve to breathe.

“I don’t know how to start this,” Carly said after a long moment of tense silence. “I don’t know how to ask you for help.” She let her arms fall to her side for a moment, then crossed them again, as if she wasn’t sure what to do with them.

“Let’s start with something easy, then.” Ned’s words were still echoing in AJ’s mind — the sorrow at never having another chance with Brooke — AJ didn’t want those regrets. “I think until that night you fell, we can both agree I hadn’t really done anything to deserve the way you treated me.”

Carly’s face tightened, and she looked at the ground. “Until I lost my son.”

“Right.” His stomach twisted. “I can understand how you still blame me. I blame me. I didn’t push you. But I could have walked away. I chose not to.”

“That’s fair,” she managed. She lifted her eyes to his. “I know you didn’t push me. But it was easier to blame you. I couldn’t blame myself. I couldn’t admit—” The words broke off, and her voice broke. “I couldn’t.”

“If we’re ever going to be able to work together to help Michael,” he continued, “we need to let the past go. I don’t want to be Ned in fifteen years, wondering if I could have done more.”

“I—” She clutched a hand to her throat. “I don’t want that. The—it was horrible. What happened to Brooke. I—You know about the rapist case. That Elizabeth—”

“It was the same man, yeah. I know.”  AJ tilted his head. “I didn’t realize you were part of it. You and Elizabeth never got along.”

“We’re still not—” Carly sighed, looked away, her shoulders slumping. “It’s not fair to say we don’t now. I think we understand each other. After the panic room. She…worked really hard to rescue me. She almost died.” She closed her eyes. “And you know all of this because Ned and Emily—but I need to start there. With the panic room. Because it’s why I have to ask for help. Something—”

Her skin was pale, and she swayed slightly. AJ strode forward, braced a hand at the small of her back. “Sit down. Here—” He gestured at a small sofa behind them.

“I’m—” Carly began to protest but nodded. “Yes, all right. I’m sorry. It’s hard to talk about it sometimes. I was doing better for a long time, but all of this—it’s bringing it back.” AJ handed her a glass of water. “Thank you.”

“Ned told me that you’d had some trouble getting past what happened. That it created issues for you and Sonny,” AJ said. He sat in a chair near the sofa.

“Ned doesn’t know everything. And it matters. Not because I want you to feel sorry for me. I don’t. But it’s part of it. I had—” She closed her eyes. “Have,” she corrected softly. “I have Acute Stress Disorder, though I’m sure Kevin’s ready to call it PTSD since it’s still lingering. Panic attacks. Dissociative episodes. Though that hasn’t happened since December.”

AJ hadn’t known all of that, and it made him shift uncomfortably. He didn’t like to think of Carly vulnerable, as someone who could be hurt. “You’re doing better then.”

“I think so. I hope so.” She set the water aside. “After the panic room, I worked with Kevin to get most of my triggers under control. I was doing better. Then Scott offered Elizabeth and me a deal. With Ric. He was going to represent himself which meant we’d be cross-examined by the man—” Carly cleared her throat. “Anyway. Elizabeth and I wanted to testify. We thought it would help. Jason was on board because Elizabeth comes first for him.”

AJ’s fingers clenched. “But Sonny wasn’t.”

“No. He, ah, well, I’m sure you can imagine. Sonny wanted a deal so Ric could go to jail and have an accident. Jason stood up for us, and that was the end of it. But Sonny never forgave me. And he made threats against Scott. So I left. I couldn’t—I couldn’t stand it.” She paused. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to ramble. I just want you to understand what’s going on with Sonny. What Michael’s been going through.”

“It’s fine, Carly. I want to know whatever you think I need to know to help.” And he wanted to know what the hell had brought her so low she was here, asking him for that help.

“I left,” Carly repeated. “I wanted Sonny to understand that it wasn’t fair for him to keep taking what happened to me and making it about him. That he was out of control. But then Morgan was born, and I thought things were better. When Ric jumped bail, he wanted me to move back in for safety. I agreed. But he…” She rubbed her arms.

“Are you cold?”

“N-No, it’s just hard to talk about. Um, he fired Leticia and refused to give me a new guard or an access key to the elevator. I couldn’t get out of the penthouse. It was like being locked up again. I tried to explain it to him, but he couldn’t hear me.” She stared down at her hands. “Then the hearing. The federal one with the case. Ned told you about it, I’m sure.”

“The feds were trying to take over the case.”

“Yeah. Sonny and I went to support Elizabeth, and I was just—” Carly squeezed her eyes shut. “It doesn’t matter. I just—I wanted a change. So when we came back, I told Sonny I was leaving. And he locked me in the bedroom.”

“Locked you in the bedroom.” AJ was surprised to feel his hands fisting at his side. “He locked you in the bedroom.”

“I don’t really remember much after that.” Carly reached for the water again, but her hands were shaking. AJ reached forward to steady the glass, and she took another sip. “Um, that was the dissociative episode I mentioned. I just—I thought I was in the panic room again. Anyway, I got out of that, and I left again. I never went back.” Her voice was a bit stronger now. “That’s why I left him. I begged him to get help, but he’s just getting worse. He broke into the Brownstone and went after Lucas and his boyfriend. He’s screaming at Jason, treating Elizabeth terribly, and Michael’s seen some of it. Not that night in December,” she added quickly. “But he’s afraid of Sonny—” And this time, Carly’s voice broke, and the tears came with it. She covered her mouth with her hand. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I took him from you, and I had no right, and all I’ve done is hurt him—”

“You haven’t hurt him,” AJ said. He sat next to her, took her hand. “I’m not your biggest fan,” he added when her wide eyes met his. “So when I say that, you know I mean it. I don’t think you’ve ever done anything intending for Michael to get hurt. And it sounds like you tried to protect him. You left, didn’t you? You’re filing for divorce.”

“Don’t be nice to me.” She stared straight ahead, her lips trembling. “Don’t. I don’t deserve it. You were right earlier. You never did anything to deserve the things I did to you. I never gave you a chance with Michael, and then I used that fall to take him away for good. I’m the reason my baby died.”

“It was a tragedy, Carly, and it was no one’s fault. Yours or mine. Or if it was someone’s, it was both of us.” AJ had planned to hold on to his hostility and anger, but he had also expected to be doing battle with the woman who’d stormed into his home, convinced him to marry her, and then destroyed his life all over again.

He couldn’t hold up against this version of his ex-wife, this trembling, sobbing mess apologizing for all the wrongs. Maybe he was the biggest sucker in the world, but just maybe, they were both due for a second chance.

“And maybe I didn’t deserve what you did to me, but I definitely had some karma coming from the universe,” AJ said dryly. “I did terrible, selfish things before you came into my life, Carly. Let’s put it aside. You need me to sign on to that petition to revoke the adoption.”

“Y-yes.” Carly swiped at her eyes. “I know it means petitioning for your paternal rights to be reinstated. I’ll agree to that.”

“Good. Because that was first on the list.” AJ hesitated. “Ned’s down here to talk to me about ELQ,” he added. “Tracy’s in New York, and he can’t focus in Port Charles with being mayor. He’s stepping down, and I’m first in line to take over.”

“Oh.” Carly frowned at him. “But that’s good news.”

“It is. I’ll be moving back in a few months,” he continued. “And if I have my paternal rights, Carly, I don’t want it only on paper. I want my son.”

She closed her eyes. “I know.”

“But I’m willing to take this at your speed. Michael’s been through enough, and he doesn’t know me. Or if he does, it’s not kindly,” AJ said, and Carly flushed at the reminder. “We’ll take it slow because he comes first.”

“Okay. Okay. I can—” Carly swiped her cheeks. “I can do that. Um, we’ll sign papers. You’ll want that in writing. Alexis said you would, and I brought things. You can get a lawyer, too—”

“We’ll work all of that, Carly.” He rose to his feet. “Come on. You can go get washed up while Ned and I talk.”

“I—” Carly stopped him before they reached the doors. AJ turned back to her, and she swallowed hard. “Thank you. For listening. For helping.”

“Thank you for asking.” He squeezed her hand. “We’ll get Michael through this, Carly. Whatever he needs to be okay.”

Lucas & Felix’s Apartment: Living Room

“Hey, Mom—” Lucas tugged the door open, then went back to the table where he was shoving things into his backpack. “I was just around to run out. I’ve got an organic chem study group—”

“I won’t keep you.” Bobbie closed the door behind her, taking a moment to smile at her little boy, all grown up and living on his own — even if it was just upstairs. “I just talked to your father yesterday at work and he mentioned that you’d stopped by.”

Lucas stilled, then looked at her. “He did.”

“He didn’t get into the details, only asked me how Carly was. And he said it might be a good idea for me to touch base with you on how you’re feeling.” She tipped her head. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed how hard this last year has been for you—”

“Hardly,” he snorted, resuming his packing. “I met Felix, and I was able to come out without any real drama—”

“You came out after a friend of yours died,” Bobbie corrected, and Lucas sighed. “And I know you were scared for a long time. Plus, there was that tension with Georgie and Mac. And that’s not even talking about the elephant in the room with Carly and the boys—”

“The boys are fine,” Lucas said with a quick shake of his head. “I love them—”

“I know. You’re the best uncle they could ask for. And you’ve been an amazing brother to Carly. I just hope you haven’t felt pressured into it. If you’re really not ready—”

“I—” Lucas shook his head. “It’s not about that. It was just—I still have a lot of complicated feelings about her,” he admitted. “And some of that was just feeling like I was betraying Dad. He’s cleared that part of up, mostly. But it’s hard to let go of who she was when I was growing up. Feeling like she destroyed my family. I know she didn’t. At least not on her own,” he added when he saw Bobbie open her mouth. “But it’s easier for me to blame her than you or Dad.”

“I get that, baby. I do. I never meant for you to feel like I was choosing her—”

“A few years ago,” Lucas said slowly, “it did. It felt like Dad went crazy because he lost his real kid, and you’d forgotten about me because you had your real kid—”

“Oh, sweetheart—”

“And I was just in the middle, this adopted kid no one really had time for anymore—” He met his mother’s eyes. “I don’t feel that way now. I don’t, Mom. We all lost BJ, and it took us a while to reset. We’ve done that now, and I think we’re okay now. I’m glad you’re close with Carly. You’re a great mom, and she’s lucky to have you.”

“That means a lot to me, Lucas. It really does.”

“And I’m coming around on Carly. She’s different, I guess. Or maybe I’m different. I’m just—I seeing new sides to her. And maybe part of it is missing have a sister. I loved BJ.” His voice broke for just a moment and he swallowed hard. “I went from being a brother to an only child, and I didn’t like it. So I don’t know if it’s Carly I like or just that I like having someone. I had Maxie and Georgie, but it’s not the same.”

“I know it.”

“I’m sorting it through, Mom. Right now, Carly does need her family to stick by her, and I’m okay with being there. When this is done, when she’s on her feet again and things are—I don’t know—normal, we’ll see where we are. For now, this is okay.” He hoisted his backpack on his shoulder. “You don’t have to worry about me.”

“Maybe not, but it won’t stop me.”  Bobbie kissed her cheek and he smiled her. “I love you, baby.”

“I love you, too, Mom.”

Port Charles Hotel: Honeymoon Suite

Portia’s brows were raised as Marcus pushed open the door, revealing the sitting room to one of the hotel’s most luxurious suites. She eyed him over her shoulder as he closed the door behind him. “Something wrong with the Grille?”

“I wanted to have you all to myself,” Marcus said. He crossed over to a stereo and flicked one of the buttons.

There is only one for me

“Been a while since I had someone to spoil on Valentine’s Day.” He slid her coat off her shoulders. “Complaints?”

You have made that a possibility

“Now, I didn’t say that.”  She sighed as he disappeared from view for a moment, leaving to tuck their coats away, out of sight.

We could take that step to see

She wandered over to a table set with ruby red china and a set of wine glasses, a bottle chilling in a bucket to the left. There were red roses on the table, pink on the coffee table, white on each of the accent tables, and she had an idea she’d find more roses in the bedroom that was likely beyond the double doors.

If this is really gonna be

Her heart fluttered slightly when she heard his footsteps behind her, returning to the room. He’d removed his own coat in the other room, and now he wore a tuxedo, the clean, crisp white linen stark against his darker skin.

All you got to do is say yes

“You really went all out.” Portia straightened his lapels, sliding her fingers down his chest and smiling up at him. His jacket had already been perfect, but she’d wanted to touch him. To be sure he was real. “I only got you those cuff links—”

“I loved them, and I needed new ones. I’m in court more than I used to be,” Marcus assured her. He took her hand, slid the other around her waist, drawing her into a slow, lazy dance, gently swaying back and forth. “Gotta look right.”

All you got to do is say yes
Don’t deny what you feel, let me undress you, babe

“You always look right.” She tilted her head up, smiling when he flashed her another one of those rare grins. He was also so serious, always so focused on the job and doing every little thing right. She loved when he showed his other side. When he just let himself be Marcus, not Lieutenant Taggert.

Open up your mind and just rest
I’m about to let you know, you make me so

“I know it’s only been a few weeks,” Marcus murmured, drawing her closer so that his chin brushed her curls. He dipped his head down, his breath warm on her neck, her skin tingly. “But it’s been the best six weeks of my life. The night I met you—”

“I know.” She closed her eyes. “I never thought I’d believe it could hit like that. But bam. Like lightning.”

All you got to do is say yes
Don’t deny what you feel, let me undress you, babe

“Like someone slapped me upside the head with a hammer,” he told her, and Portia laughed. She drew back slightly to frame his face in her hands. His beloved face. Two months ago, she hadn’t known he existed, and now—

Loving you has taken time, take time

“I love you,” Portia said, the words tumbling out so fast that she almost didn’t believe she’d said them before they were out there, hanging in the air. In the universe. Where he could hear them.

But I always knew you could be mine

His eyes darkened, and a muscle twitched in his cheek as the humor slid out of his eyes, his body tensing beneath her fingers. Her heart was beating rapidly. Oh, God, it was too soon—she’d rushed it—

I-I recognize the butterflies inside me, ah

“I haven’t said those words to a woman that wasn’t my mother in a long time,” he finally said, his voice rough and a bit unsteady. “And I haven’t heard them in even longer.”

Her pulse picked up, but some of the nerves slid away as Portia leaned up to brush her lips against his. “I’ll say them as often as you want, but don’t leave me hanging here, Marcus.”

Sense is gonna be made tonight, tonight

“I love you,” he said, the words more of a breath than audible speech, but they slid inside of her, warming her from the tips of her toes to the marrow in her bones. “I love you,” he repeated, a bit louder now, and she gripped him by the lapels of that gorgeous tuxedo.

“I hope dinner’s not going to get cold.” Then she pushed the jacket off his shoulders and took hold of the bow tie around his neck, leading him to those double doors, his grin only spreading.

All you got to do is say yes

Lake House: Kitchen

Jason put the last dinner plate in the drying rack, then reached for a dishtowel. He heard Elizabeth in the living room, then the television. Part of their evening routine—dinner, then dozing in front of the television, one of her seemingly endless reality shows in the background. He didn’t mind the noise — he always brought a book or something to read, and he liked to listen to her laugh, the warmth of her against him reassuring.

Quiet nights like these were rare at home, and they only had one more before they drove home on Monday.

A commercial filtered in, and Jason blinked, turning towards the living room. He tossed the towel aside and wandered towards the doorway, frowning at the screen. A candy company was advertising their special, limited edition Valentine’s chocolate.

He hadn’t even thought of it as Valentine’s Day. The days had melded together over the last two weeks, and he’d lost track of the date. She’d never mentioned it. Was she angry that he hadn’t done anything?

Or maybe this year—

Jason sat next to her, surprised when the commercial ended and a movie came on instead of one of the shows. “What’s this?”

“Oh—” Elizabeth smiled at him, her eyes a bit heavy as she curled into his side, tucking her head into his shoulder. “I wanted something different. To get my mind off things. Why?”

“I—I heard the commercial. It’s Valentine’s Day.” As soon as he said it, he wanted to pull the words back. Her body tensed, but she didn’t move. “I didn’t think about it.”

“No, I guess not.” Elizabeth straightened and muted the television. “I didn’t really think about it, either—that’s not right. I didn’t want to think about it,” she corrected. “So I put it out of my head.”

“I’m sorry—I didn’t—”

“No, I should get it out of my head. I’ve been avoiding thinking about it mostly because—” Elizabeth turned slightly to face him. “I mean, there’s the obvious. It’s different this year,” she added.

“Okay.” Jason waited, and after a long moment, she continued.

“I mean, it’s a silly holiday anyway. You know, I don’t need a day to tell you I love you. It’s not a big deal. It’s just a date on a calendar.” She jerked a shoulder, then tucked herself back into his side, switching the sound back on.

They sat there for a little while, the movie playing in the background. She might have been paying attention, but he wasn’t. He liked sitting here, his mind drifting, listening to the sound of her breathing. It was still a bit shallow, but it was better and less labored than it’d been when they’d arrived, so he was all right with it for now.

“I was such a silly girl,” she murmured. “So excited for a date with the boy I liked. So sure that when he saw me in my pretty red dress, he’d be happy he was with me.” Jason tightened his arm around her, his chest tight as he stared straight ahead. “Gram was convinced Lucky would fall head over heels for me, you know. We spent over an hour looking for just the right dress, and she lent me a bracelet Gramps had given her.”

He stroked her shoulder, pressed his lips to the top of her head. And still said nothing. “Sometimes, I have dreams. Really vivid ones. I’m sitting there on the sofa, the box in my lap, so excited—and Lucky comes to tell me about Sarah. And I stop myself from lying about that stupid date. I tell him that it’s not okay to break plans with me. Or I go to the dance anyway, and I meet someone else, and I don’t go to the movies, and I don’t go to the park.”

Her breath hitched, but her words continued. “And then I wake up, and I wake up back in this body, in this life. Knowing I lied, knowing about the park, and it’s like it’s happening again, and I get so angry at that stupid girl for lying.”

“It wasn’t her fault,” Jason said softly, but he tightened his hold on her.

“I k-know that, but sometimes—” Elizabeth paused. “It’s a silly stupid holiday that we don’t need because we love each other, and we say it all the time, but I get so angry that I don’t get to have it. I tried to take it back, and I thought I did. I really did. But this year, it’s just—it’s in my head, and it’s worse. Because it wasn’t random. I was a stupid silly girl who didn’t even recognize the monster who raped me. For years, Jason. Years. I served him coffee. He arrested me!”

Elizabeth sat up, her breath still shaky, but it didn’t sound labored. Jason searched her eyes, waiting for a cue for what she needed. “And he raped those other girls in Buffalo on the same date. They called him the Valentine Rapist in the Buffalo papers. Did you see that?”

“I know they did.”

“He stole that day from all those girls. And it doesn’t matter that it’s a stupid, commercial holiday, okay? I never even got to have one with someone I loved before he ruined it forever—”

“We can pick another day,” Jason cut in, unable to handle her pain anymore. “Any other day. We’ll make it ours.”

She smiled then, but tears were sliding down her cheeks. “I know. I know we can do that. And maybe we will. But this year, I know what happened. I know it in a way I never did before. He targeted me, Jason. And he was still raping me every time he attacked someone else. Knowing he’s in prison for the rest of his life, if we’re lucky—it doesn’t take that away. Nothing ever will.”

Elizabeth sighed, then leaned back against him. He slid his fingers through her hair. “Next year,” she said, her voice stronger. “I know we’re not making a lot of plans, but I want this one. Next year, I want this day back. Even if we never celebrate it again or whatever. I want this day.”

“Then that’s what we’ll do.”

“I don’t want to think about it anymore. He’s stolen too many days from me. Too many nights.” She tightened her arm around his waist, snuggling closer. “We don’t have a lot of time before we have to go home and face everything we ran away from. I don’t want to think about him anymore.”

“Then we won’t.”

May 15, 2022

Update Link: Signs of Life – Part 33

News & Roundup

  • Hope everyone is having a good May.
  • This is has been a rough month for me — I keep hoping things will get better but the physical and mental burnout just continues. I’m in the middle of doctor appointments and just trying to keep my head above water for school.
  • We’ve got 23 school days left, but Memorial Day is in the middle of those. Nine days until then, and then 14 afterwards, some of which will be half days.
  • I definitely still love my job, but I am exhausted. I need to do a much better job protecting myself from this burnout next year.
  • Still, working on getting back on track. Had a good, productive weekend, most of which will be in the Patreon updates.

Patreon Updates

  • Added Mad World Early Access for Love, Chapter 82
  • Added Mad World Chapter 90 for Stalker
  • Added Counting Stars, Chapter 1 for Obsession
  • Added Flash Fiction Summer 2022 for all tiers
  • Added Flash Fiction Voting for Crimson Stalker tiers
  • Added Crimson Discovery #14
  • Added Crimson Check #17

This entry is part 33 of 41 in the Flash Fiction: Signs of Life

Written in 56 minutes.

Monday, January 14, 2000

Quartermaine Estate: Gardens

Jason paced the small clearing at the center of the Quartermaine gardens, an itch between his shoulder blades. He hated being on the grounds of this place and only rarely visited for Lila’s sake. He adored his grandmother, but he could happily watch this place burn to the ground.

But he couldn’t think of anywhere else to have this conversation that was safe for him. Or for her. He’d waited to send word until AJ was out of the house, and the only person at home was Lila who would never breathe a word to anyone even if she knew.

There was a rustling of branches and leaves as Carly stepped around the hedges, her eyes lit with excitement, her cheeks flushed. “I knew you’d come to your senses—” she said, hurrying forward.

He put a hand up and she halted, drawing her brows together. “Give me one good reason why I don’t tell everyone the truth,” he said flatly.

Carly swallowed hard, hurt flashing in her dark eyes. He ignored the twist in his gut. “What truth?” she managed.

“You’re pregnant,” Jason said. “And Bobbie’s looking at me like I’m supposed to do something.” He gritted his teeth. “She won’t be the only one who wonders—”


“Is it Sonny’s baby?” Jason interrupted. “And don’t lie to me, Carly. I always find out. For once in your goddamn life, tell me the truth.”

She exhaled slowly, closed her eyes. “I don’t know. It could be AJ’s.” Carly opened her eyes, met his eyes. “I need time, okay? A few months. Paternity tests are risky, and after everything with Michael—what’s the point in blowing up my life if AJ is the father?”

Months of everyone staring at him, thinking it might be his—Jason didn’t give a damn about himself, but he knew it would wear on Elizabeth. She might be smiling and bearing it now, but how long would that last?

But why would he destroy Michael’s life if he didn’t have to?

“I want the test,” Jason said finally. “When you have it done. I want the results, Carly. And if you pull the same crap on me that you did with Tony, you’ll regret it.”

“I know—” Relief flooded her eyes. “Thank you. Thank you. I know I don’t deserve this—”

“You don’t. But Michael does.” Jason shoved his hands in his pockets. “Stay away from me, Carly. The best thing for all of us is if we don’t have anything to do with one another.”

“Right. Right. Thank you.” Carly edged back. “I should go.” She disappeared around the hedge, and Jason put her out of his mind just as quickly.

He had another meeting to get to.

No Name Restaurant: Back Room

Sonny got to his feet when Jason strode through the doors, putting up his hand. “Before we go in—”

“I’m doing the talking,” Jason said. “The rest of you have had your chance to deal with this.” Elizabeth was walking better and she’d gone to work today, but she was still limping.

And he’d never forget coming to his senses in the middle of the park, laying partially down a hill, with her sprawled over him to protect him.

Sonny had nearly gotten her killed. The men in that room had played with her life.

Jason was done with the politics of it all.

“I know, but—” Sonny stepped in front of Jason. “They don’t need to know we have issues, do they?” he demanded in a hushed, but urgent voice. “They’ll smell the blood in the water.”

“You think they don’t already?” Jason demanded, but the guilt sank in for the secret he was keeping. Did Sonny deserve to know there was a chance Carly was pregnant with his child? Was it right to keep it all quiet?  “Fine. Let’s get this over with.”

Inside, a small cluster of men was milling around a table. It was early, but more than one of them was already drinking.

Daniel Vega broke away from Tagliatti and crossed to Jason. “I’m glad you could come. I wanted to apologize for what happened—”

Jason forced himself to accept the handshake. Nothing would be solved if he just punched everyone he saw today, even though he wanted to draw blood. The rage had ignited all over again just looking at their damn faces. Their smug expressions. They figured they’d smooth things over because that’s how things were done—

Not this time.

“Carlotta asked after your wife,” Daniel murmured, drawing closer. “She wanted to visit, but I thought you might not want to see anyone for a few days.” He smiled wryly. “Or ever.”

“She can come whenever she wants,” Jason muttered, remembering the kindness of Daniel’s wife and Elizabeth’s delight in meeting her. “The rest of you? No.”

“Fair enough.” Daniel stepped back. “We wanted to talk about Friday. What went wrong, and what we should do next—”

“Sorel is clearly a problem we need to resolve,” Tagliatti began.

“What went wrong is you thought you could play Sorel,” Jason interrupted, and there was a stony silence. “You thought you had him under control. He saw Friday coming. Why do you think he forced his way into an invitation? Why do you think he cut in to dance with my wife? He wanted to show us all that he’s the one in control.” And he had been, Jason thought. Because these men had been blinded by arrogance and Jason by rage. They’d made mistakes.

“We tried your way,” Jason said simply. “Now we’ll do it my way. I’ll take care of Sorel. A few weeks to let his guard down, and then I’ll make him disappear.” He lifted his chin. “Any questions?”

“Sonny—” Tagliatti began, but Daniel shook his head.

“The boy is right,” Daniel declared, and some of the other men who had looked irritated subsided. “He did what we asked, and nearly paid a heavy price. We owe him a chance to handle it.” He faced Jason. “But don’t wait too long. Sorel is too unpredictable to stay on the loose.”

Kelly’s: Kitchen

Elizabeth winced, shifting her weight from one foot to another. She would have called out today, but she’d already given her two week notice and it felt disrespectful to duck out on another shift in the middle of that.

She managed to get through the breakfast shift before limping into the kitchen and sitting on a stool. DJ, the cook, eyed her with some concern. “You good, Lizzie?”

“No, but I only have four more hours,” she muttered. She took the glass of water he offered. “I cut my foot over the weekend.”

“Okay.” DJ shrugged. “I’m on my break,” he told her, shrugging into his jacket. “Back in fifteen.”

“No problem. It’s just coffee drinkers right now.” The cook disappeared into the alley for his usual cigarettes, and Elizabeth wiggled her toes in her sneaker, trying to absorb the aches.

“Oh, I thought I’d find you in here.”

Elizabeth twisted to find Bobbie coming down the back stairs. “I didn’t know you were here.”

“I came early to do an inventory of the rooms upstairs,” Bobbie said. She furrowed her brow. “You all right?”

“Cut my foot,” Elizabeth said blandly. “What did you want?”

“I thought we should talk about this Jason thing on our own.” Bobbie pitched her voice lower. “Away from him. I know you think you need to follow his lead—”

“Bobbie, this isn’t my business—”

“It really is,” the nurse insisted. “Jason might be able to ignore it for now because the baby isn’t here, but what happens after it’s born? Do you really think Jason can walk away from his own child?”

“No, and I would never ask him to,” Elizabeth said carefully. “But that’s not what’s happening here—”

“I know it hurts you to think of him together with Carly only a short time ago,” Bobbie said, and Elizabeth’s chest tightened. “But ignoring it isn’t going to help. I don’t think her relationship with AJ turned until she went to the police. AJ made her do that, you know. I think he leveraged their marriage.”

Elizabeth blinked at her. “I don’t understand—”

“I just—I’m not as convinced as Jason seems to be that there’s a good chance this is AJ’s child. Yes, it would be easier for everyone everyone involved—”

“Wouldn’t AJ already know that?” Elizabeth interrupted. “I mean, Bobbie, you’re assuming a whole lot. AJ would know if there’s a chance and he hasn’t said anything—”

“Because raising Jason’s child would be a good bit of revenge,” Bobbie said softly, and Elizabeth closed her mouth. “Karmic justice. AJ could save face with everyone, keep his family together, and take Jason’s child from him.”

“Maybe,” Elizabeth said. “But—”

“Have you and Jason talked about Carly?” Bobbie wanted to know. “I hate to push you, sweetheart, but I think ignoring the fact that Jason was, until very recently, involved with Carly, is only going to be a problem down the road.”

Elizabeth stared down at her hands. “I know.”

“I married someone on the rebound, you know.” Bobbie tilted Elizabeth’s chin up. “I divorced Tony and married Stefan before the ink on the papers was dry. I had my reasons for thinking it would work out, but I know better than anyone. If you don’t resolve the past, you can’t go on—”

“Bobbie—it’s not like Jason and I got married for the usual reasons,” Elizabeth said with a forced shrug.

“I know that. But you can’t tell me you’re not married now.” Bobbie stepped back. “I just want you to be okay, Elizabeth. You and Jason. And I just have this terrible feeling about how this will end if we ignore what’s going on.”

“I’ll talk to Jason, but I’m not going to push him.” Elizabeth got to her feet, wincing again. “I’m not Robin. I’m not Sonny. I won’t force him into making a decision he’s not ready to make.”

Morgan Penthouse: Living Room

Elizabeth pushed open the door and smiled when she found Jason in the empty space behind the sofa by the balcony. “Hey. I didn’t think you’d be here.”

“I wanted to see how you were after work.” Jason strode forward and plucked her off her feet.

“Sore,” she admitted, sighing happily as he set her on the sofa, then plumped the pillow behind her head. “Were you measuring back there?”

“Wondering if a pool table would fit,” he admitted, sitting on the sofa. He tugged off her shoes and socks.

“Oh, don’t, they’re—” she sighed as Jason pulled out the first aid kit he’d left on the coffee table and started cleaning the last of her cuts. “I’m not going to argue anymore.”

“That’d be new,” he teased, and she smiled again. Then she closed her eyes, felt herself start to drift. It had been such a long, painful shift.

“I went to see Carly today.”

Elizabeth’s eyes snapped and she stared at him, suddenly alert. “You did?”

“I wanted to know if the baby was Sonny or AJ’s.” Jason hesitated. “She said she doesn’t know. Asked for time so she could do a paternity test.”

“And you believe her?”

“I believe she wants time,” Jason said slowly. “I don’t know if I believe that she doesn’t know. I just—” he shook his head. “I told her I wanted a copy of the paternity test, and I’ll find out if it’s real or not. So maybe she was telling the truth.”

“Maybe.” Elizabeth laid back, stared at the ceiling. Thinking of Bobbie’s words. She didn’t want to talk about Carly. She never wanted to talk about the toxic blonde again, but the universe wasn’t really giving her a break. “Bobbie was at Kelly’s today.”

Jason tensed, pausing for a moment, then finished replacing the last bandage on her foot. He closed up the kit. “Yeah?”

“She thinks there’s a good chance AJ is covering for Carly because he thinks it’s your baby. That he’d see it as a revenge for Michael.”

“He probably would,” Jason admitted. “But it’s not mine—”

“I know that.”

“Bobbie won’t be the only person who thinks it,” he said, echoing their conversation from a few days earlier. “I know that bothers you.”

“It shouldn’t. I know the truth.” But it was there. A little tug in her gut that twisted everything and made it feel sour. “It’s not just that.” He didn’t say anything, so she continued. “I know you want to protect Michael. I believe you. But…he’s only two. Do you really think AJ and Carly are going to last forever? Isn’t it more likely that they’re going to split later? Wouldn’t it be better now when he’s too young to really remember?”

“Maybe,” Jason admitted. “But that won’t be my fault. This would be—”

“It would be Carly’s,” Elizabeth insisted. She sat up, on her elbows. “And maybe that’s it. Maybe it feels like you’re protecting her more than Michael.”

“I’m protecting us,” Jason corrected with a flare of irritation. “If I blow up Carly’s life, she’ll just come after us again. At least this way, we get a break. I’m still dealing with Sorel—” He tensed. “If you think you can’t keep the secret, I need to know now—”

“I’m not going to say anything,” Elizabeth cut in, knowing he was thinking of Robin. “This isn’t about me. And because I know it’s not your baby, it doesn’t really affect us. It’s just—” She bit her lip. “Whatever you want to do, Jason, I’m going to support you. I know you don’t believe that—”

“I do—”

“You don’t, but that’s okay. You’ve been here before.” He met her eyes. “Everyone thought Michael was yours. And Robin managed to deal with it as long as Carly wasn’t around. It poisoned things with her, though, didn’t it? Asking her to keep the secret. To let people think you cheated on her.”


“That’s not what’s happening here. I’m telling you that I don’t agree with you keeping this secret, but that’s as far as it goes. I know why you’re doing it. Mostly. And you know why you’re doing it. Carly wants more time. We’ll give it to her.” She reached for his hand. “You get to make your own choices, Jason. Your own mistakes. And this is yours to make.”

“But you think it’s a mistake.”

“I do,” Elizabeth forced out. “But maybe I’m wrong. I could be.”

Jason exhaled slowly, looked up at the ceiling, then back at her. “I don’t know what the right thing to do is,” he admitted. “I just can’t blow everything up. Not yet.”

“Then you won’t. And we’ll see what happens.”