Reminder: This is a beta chapter. It’s been edited for typos, but some may still exist. This is not the final edit.
I know just what you’re saying
So please stop explaining
Don’t tell me ’cause it hurts
I know what you’re thinkin’
I don’t need your reasons
Don’t tell me ’cause it hurts
– Don’t Speak, No Doubt
Tuesday, January 11, 2000
Elm St. Pier
“Let me—” Sorel clawed at Jason’s hand, but the words were choked out. He couldn’t breathe. Elizabeth looked around frantically. Oh, God, what if someone saw Jason—he’d just been trying to help—would they believe Sorel had threatened her? Had he really? Technically?
“What happened to Moreno,” Jason said, his voice quiet but firm and very nearly terrifying, “will happen to you. If you speak to her again, if you even look in her direction—there will be no negotiations. I will find you, and I will end you—”
Her eyes bulged at that, but Sorel nodded rapidly, and Jason released him. Sorel clambered to his feet, and rushed up the steps and around the corner, Jason waiting until he was gone before he whirled around, his eyes still angry, his chest heaving.
“Are you okay?” he demanded.
“I—” Elizabeth swallowed hard. The entire exchange had taken maybe a minute, and she couldn’t quite catch her breath. “I—yes—”
“Why the hell were you talking to him?”
Her mouth dropped open and she took a step back. “Excuse me?” Her shock was fading, and fury was rapidly seeping in. “What did you just say to me?”
“He was responsible for the bomb, Elizabeth! You should have walked away! This isn’t a game—”
“Did it look like I could walk away?” she snapped and he closed his mouth. “He grabbed me, Jason, okay? I’m sorry we can’t all be that quick on our feet. I didn’t know if I could get away or if there was someone waiting—” Her voice faltered. A game. He’d accused her — Tears stung her eyes and she couldn’t force another word out. How many ways did he have to show her how little he thought of her?
He exhaled slowly. “I’m sorry, I—”
“I’m not an idiot, and I know this isn’t a game. I’m the one that found you in the snow and tore apart my entire life to keep your secret—”
“I know—” Jason dragged his hands through his hair, then scrubbed him across his face. “I know,” he repeated and now he sounded like himself again. “I’m sorry,” he said again, meeting her gaze. “I was—when I saw you—and his hands on you—I just—I reacted. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. Any of it.”
She folded her arms tightly, dropped her eyes to the gray, weathered planks of the pier. “He approached me,” Elizabeth said. “I was just standing here, minding my own business. I didn’t talk to him—”
“What’s the point of all of this? I thought you said if we didn’t see each other—” A scalding tear slid down her cheek, and she closed her eyes. God, she didn’t have the energy for this today. Or any day. “I care about you. I don’t know why I have to pretend like I don’t.”
“I’m not asking you to—”
Her eyes flew open and she scowled at him, angrily swiping at her years. “Of course you are! Or maybe it’s different for you. Maybe you can decide not to be friends with someone and you can just stop caring about them—” Maybe he never had—maybe it had always been in her mind—
“You know I’m staying away because I do care,” Jason cut in sharply, taking a step towards her. He reached out, lifted her chin so their eyes met. “It would be easier if I didn’t.”
“It’s not working,” Elizabeth said. “He still knows who I am. And after this, I don’t think he’s going to believe that I don’t matter.” Her eyes searched his. “So the only thing that’s changed is I don’t get to see you.” She licked her lips. “Do you miss me?”
His hand dropped to his side. “Elizabeth—”
“Do you?” she demanded, desperate for something. For some indication that she mattered to someone—
“Yes.” The word was barely audible, barely more than the escape of breath from his lips but she could hear it and it was like a rush of cool water. “Yes,” he repeated, a bit more strongly. “But it’ll never stop. There will always be another Sorel—”
“I miss you, too,” Elizabeth told him and he closed his mouth. “And I think it should be my risk to take.”
He swallowed hard, looked away, then nodded. “You’re right,” he murmured. He took a deep breath. “It’s your choice. I just—” His hand hovered over her shoulder, the tips of his fingers just barely brushing her hair. “I just don’t want to see you hurt.”
“There’s a lot of ways a person can be hurt, Jason,” she replied. “I don’t want to pretend anymore. Or live a lie. Please don’t ask me to.”
“All right.” He nodded. There was another roll of thunder, and Jason looked out of the water, taking in the same storm clouds she’d seen earlier. “That’ll be here in a few hours,” he said. “And if the forecast is right, it’ll be a few days before the weather clears again.” He tipped his head towards the stairs. “Why don’t we take a ride while we can?”
Elizabeth beamed, all of the misery and despair dissipated like the sun had broken through the clouds. “Can I drive?”
“Oh come on—” She pouted as she followed him up the stairs. “Just for a few blocks.”
Quartermaine Estate: Nursery
Carly closed the door, then lifted Michael from his toddler bed to cuddle with him in the rocking chair by the window. “Hey there, Mr. Man.”
“Mommy…” He snugged closer. “Is it time for my bed time story?”
“Just like every night,” she told him. She reached reached into her pocket for the small photograph she kept on her body at all times—she couldn’t have anyone else finding her. “Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess named Carly who was in a lot of trouble. She was saved by a handsome prince who rode to her rescue and fell in love with her.” She handed Michael the photo. “The princess wanted to live forever with her prince, but the world was mean and she had to leave with her son. But she promised the prince she’d come home one day.”
Carly tapped the photo. “The prince waits for his princess and his son to come home.” She kissed the top of his head. One day, the story would have a happy ending, she was determined. Jason would forgive her—he always did. And she’d find a way to make their family whole again.
Until then, she’d tell Michael his story, and make sure he never forgot who really loved him.”Who’s that in the picture, Michael?”
“My other daddy,” Michael said, a bit drowsy, his words slurred. His eyes fluttered. “Me and Daddy.”
“That’s right. You and Daddy. He misses you all the time,” Carly said. “And just like the prince, Daddy hope one day I can bring you home.”
Spencer House: Living Room
Laura was restless after Luke had gone, unsure whether to believe this new leaf he’d promised he was turning over. Since the moment he’d learned of her affair with Stefan on the island all those years ago, he’d treated her like a stranger.
Even during those terrible days after Lucky’s death, when he’d held her and they’d grieved together, there had still been a distance between them. A coldness that she couldn’t bring herself to understand. How could the man who’d been wracked with guilt over their past just that summer turn away from her so easily?
Laura went to the desk by the front door and started to sort through the mail, tuck away bills and throw out the junk mail, happy to have found a chore for her idle hands and pained heart. Underneath the pile, at the very bottom, she found a copy of a legal document.
The divorce papers she’d had drawn up when Luke had missed Lulu’s birthday that summer, and their little girl had cried at her party, asking why everyone left her. She’d waited nearly a year to file—
But Luke hadn’t been around to serve with the papers. Was it time now? Maybe. She took the papers with her to the sofa, to review the contents. She’d asked for the house and nothing else —
As she sat down, her eye caught the framed photograph Luke had picked up earlier. It was tilted away. Laura abandoned the divorce papers and went to straighten the frame, sliding her fingers over Lucky’s beloved face. How happy he looked in this photograph—Laura hadn’t been at the Christmas party that year, but Bobbie had taken this photo, sure that Laura would love it—Lucky holding Elizabeth in his arms, the two of them listening to Alan Quartermaine read to the children.
They looked so happy, Laura thought. How could it be that her little boy had only been allowed barely eighteen years in this world? And poor Elizabeth, to find such happiness so young, and to have it so cruelly stolen? How much more would the universe throw at her?
Laura hadn’t seen Elizabeth in a few weeks. Maybe even months, she thought. That wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. She had loved Elizabeth, had looked forward to welcoming her into the family—
Laura set the photo back on the mantel, straightening it so that Lucky faced the room. It was time to start living again, she thought. To move on and start the next chapter. And she’d begin by looking in on Elizabeth and filing her divorce papers.
Nikolas hissed with some irritation as he left the diner. Elizabeth wasn’t scheduled until the next day, Tammy had told him, and if the snow storm didn’t weaken overnight, her morning shift might be canceled.
He wanted to honor his promise to Emily to resolve matters with Elizabeth, though he wasn’t entirely sure how he would manage that if she insisted on keeping Jason Morgan in her life—
Nikolas strode away from Kelly’s and crossed the street, heading towards the waterfront and Elizabeth’s studio. He couldn’t understand, after the year she’d just had, why Elizabeth would want to be around someone who was responsible for Lucky’s death — it had been Jason’s enemies who burnt down the garage—Sonny must have paid off all the authorities to make sure it was buried, but Nikolas knew the truth—
And despite that, despite everything she knew, Elizabeth had let Jason touch her. His blood began to boil at the memory of Elizabeth and Jason in the studio, her leaning over his bare chest—
She’d forgotten Lucky so quickly, used him as excuse push Nikolas away, but Jason—the reason Lucky was dead—he was good enough?
He turned the corner of the stairs to lead down to Elm Street Pier, then stopped when he heard voices. Familiar voices.
Elm Street Pier
He didn’t even know how it had happened—he hadn’t started the day intending to end it with Elizabeth on the docks, sipping coffee while she drank hot chocolate. The night was bitterly cold, and he knew that he should walk her home.
He just didn’t want to.
The last few hours, on the bike, with Elizabeth screaming in delight behind him, holding on tight—it was the best he’d felt in weeks. And every time he wasn’t with her—
“Are you all right?”
Jason looked over to find her staring at him. She was biting her lip with her eyes narrowed. “What?”
“You just seem…quiet isn’t the right word,” she said, “because you’re always quiet. Which is okay, I guess, I talk enough for five people. Um, I don’t know. It just feels like you’re distracted. Do you have to be somewhere?”
“No,” he said quickly, almost tripping over her words. “No, I don’t. I was just—I’ve missed this,” he admitted and she smiled again. “Even though it’s really too cold to sit out here.” He tossed his empty cup in the nearby trash. “We should get you back to the studio. That storm is going to be hitting in a few hours.” He got to his feet.
Elizabeth sighed. “Yeah, I guess. I’m supposed to open tomorrow—unless the storm closes everything.” She pulled herself to her feet and tossed her cup away. “Are you going to come in tomorrow for coffee like you used to?” She started for the steps and started the climb.
“I—” He grimaced. “Probably not,” he admitted as he followed her. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
She stopped and whirled so suddenly that it took him an extra step or two to realize it. He crashed into her, then snagged her by the waist to keep her from falling down the steps, instinctively pulling her against him.
Startled, Elizabeth rested her arms on his biceps and blinked up at him, her lips slightly parted, just inches from his own since she was a few steps above him. He could feel her breath, warm against his skin. Their eyes met, held for a long moment, before he dropped his gaze to her mouth. She licked her lips, and he nearly—
Jason cleared his throat and set her firmly on her feet, his hands falling away from her waist. “I’m sorry,” he said, his voice sounding rough and strange to his own ears. Her eyes were wide. “I didn’t mean—”
“Why isn’t it a good idea?” she asked, and he had the oddest feeling that she was asking about more than just coffee at Kelly’s.
“It’s not you,” Jason told her. “I need to lay low for a few days.” Away from Sonny and Carly. Not her. Nothing about how messed up and confusing his life was had anything to do with Elizabeth.
At least it hadn’t until thirty seconds earlier. He’d nearly kissed her. What a colossally stupid move that would be, and she wouldn’t want that—
I care about you. I don’t know why I have to pretend like I don’t.
“Okay,” Elizabeth drawled, clearly unsure. She shoved her hands in the pockets of her jacket. The leather jacket he’d bought her for Christmas. She’d worn it even though she’d been angry at him— “Um, should I just—I can get back to studio on my own—”
“No, I can walk you.” He wanted to. And maybe he needed to. To cling to this one piece of his world that didn’t hurt. “It’s okay.”
“If you’re sure.” Clearly bewildered, Elizabeth turned around and started back up the stairs. Jason closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then followed her.
When they had disappeared, Nikolas stepped out from the shadows and glared after them, all thoughts of resolving matters vanished.