I burn, burn like a wicker cabinet
Chalk white and oh so frail
I see our time has gotten stale
The tick tock of the clock is painful
All sane and logical
I want to tear it off the wall
I hear words in clips and phrases
I think sick like ginger ale
But my stomach turns and I exhale
– Inside Out, Eve 6
Friday, January 14, 2000
No Name Restaurant: Lobby
Jason kept a hand at Elizabeth’s waist as he ushered her past the guards at the front of the restaurant and inside. The No Name was decorated much like Sonny’s penthouse, with dark wood and muted colors.
He hesitated just before they went inside the main room, and Elizabeth leaned in close to him. “It’s going to be fine,” she said, and he glanced down at her, their eyes meeting. She smiled, a bit tremulously. “I can do this.”
“It’s not you I’m worried about,” he muttered. No matter what Elizabeth thought, he knew she’d be able to hold her own. But Joseph Sorel was in this room, and he’d already tried to kill Elizabeth once. The bomb in her studio hadn’t been fake or a dud. It had been a live explosive that had only failed because of a faulty wire.
He never would have reached her in time, and there was no guarantee she wouldn’t have been killed in the explosion, no matter how much she’d tried to protect herself in the closet.
But there was no going back. He took her hand in his, squeezed, and guided her into the room where Sonny was waiting.
“There’s the happy couple,” Sonny said, with a grin that didn’t reach his eyes. “Elizabeth, I want to introduce you to some friends.” He gestured at an older couple, both of them elegantly dressed. “This is Daniel Vega and his wife, the lovely Carlotta. This is—”
“Michael, you’ve forgotten your manners,” Carlotta interrupted smoothly. “I believe Jason should be introducing his new wife.” Sonny tensed, and Jason enjoyed a moment of satisfaction. In his eagerness to get the evening underway, Sonny had forgotten one of his stupid rules. She flicked her dark eyes to Jason. “Unless, of course, he’s forgotten our names.”
“No, of course not, Mrs. Vega.” Almost relieved, Jason shook the hand Daniel offered, and kissed Carlotta’s cheek. “Sonny likes people more than I do.”
“My left foot likes people more than you do,” Daniel Vega said dryly. “I hope your new bride is an exception.” He quirked a brow, as if daring Jason to disagree with him. After all, the syndicate didn’t really know anything about Elizabeth or their relationship. She’d come out of nowhere and was now married to one of their junior members.
“Daniel, Carlotta, this is Elizabeth, my wife,” Jason said, finishing the introductions, hating how awkward it felt, and unsure really what to do after that.
“It’s nice to meet you both. I’m relieved to be on the very short list of people Jason can stand to be around for long,” Elizabeth said, flashing him a smile. “Unless I’m asking him to let me drive his bike.”
Carlotta shivered. “You can’t possibly enjoy that death machine.”
“I absolutely love it.” Elizabeth smiled at him again, but this time was smile was a real one—reaching her eyes and radiating out to anyone who could see it. “It’s one of our favorite things to do together. I love the way the wind rushes past and it’s loud—” She broke off. “It’s hard to describe,” she admitted.
“You did a good job painting it,” Jason said, brushing her knuckles with his lips. “She’s a gifted artist,” he told Daniel and Carlotta.
“Really?” Carlotta studied him for a long moment, then looked at Elizabeth. “Come. I will introduce you to the others. Let the men do their nonsense.”
Elizabeth took a deep breath and went forward, letting Carlotta take her arm and guide her away. Jason followed them, his heart picking up pace when she slipped out of sight.
“I do believe that my wife likes yours,” Daniel said. “Let’s get you a drink.” He looked at Sonny. “Corinthos, I believe we have some business to discuss.”
Of all the women that she knew would be attending to night, Carlotta Vega had made Elizabeth the most nervous. She’d been married to her husband longer than any of the other wives, making her the undisputed leader of the motley group of wives, girlfriends, and mistresses that the older woman introduced her to.
At each group, Elizabeth saw the same looks—the ones she’d remembered from Kelly’s — taking in the fit of her dress, the fabric, and her lack of jewelry, dismissing her as a unimportant.
“Who designed your dress?” one of the women asked breathlessly, her large breasts practically bursting from the low-cut bodice of her cocktail dress every time she drew a breath. Around her neck was a rope of pearls studded with diamonds, flashing every time it caught the light.
“I have no idea,” Elizabeth said truthfully. “It was on sale at Wydham’s, and it fit.”
“It’s off the rack? Oh, you poor dear,” a dark-haired woman said, though the malice in her eyes belied the sincerity of her words. “Hasn’t your husband given you a credit card?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth said, and then added nothing. The other woman narrowed her eyes. Elizabeth didn’t know who she was — she hadn’t been important enough, she supposed, to merit a biography.
“I’m sure Jason will take care of it before long,” the first woman said. What was her name? Elizabeth couldn’t remember. “Carly was always so well-dressed and put together.”
“Which jeweler do you shop at?” the second woman asked. “I think that Bradford on Central Avenue is the best.”
“I don’t wear a lot of jewelry,” Elizabeth said. She flashed her left hand with its diamond wedding ring. “Just the ring Jason gave me on our wedding day. Can I see yours?” She pressed her hand to her lips. “Oh. I’m so sorry. I’ve forgotten. You’re not married, are you?”
Something akin to hatred flashed in the other woman’s eyes, and she opened her mouth.
“Well, this has been lovely,” Carlotta cut in. “But I must finish introducing Elizabeth to the others.”
“Yes, you must,” the dark-haired woman said sourly.
“I’m sorry, that was a little mean of me, wasn’t it?” Elizabeth asked as Carlotta ushered her away.
“Yes. Which is why it was perfect.” Carlotta patted her hand and escorted to a table with other, more sedately dressed women. “Elizabeth, let me introduce you to a few of my closest friends. I think you’ll fit right in.”
Jason craned his neck to check on Elizabeth, who was wiggling her fingers so that one of the younger women could admire her ring. That same woman touched the long rope of jewels around her neck with a smirk, as if Elizabeth wasn’t valuable enough to him to drape her in gems. Carly had been like that, he thought. He hadn’t cared what she bought with his money, but—
Then Carlotta escorted Elizabeth away from the cluster of young women to her own private table. He shook his head in disbelief. He wasn’t sure exactly what had happened, but inviting Elizabeth to sit with her was the stamp of approval none of them had expected tonight.
“She’s quite a charmer, your Elizabeth.”
Jason turned to Daniel who offered him a glass of wine. He hated wine, but he could live with it. “Yes, she is,” he said shortly, and the older man laughed, clapping him on the back.
“I know you hate every minute of this. You always looked like a fish out of water when you took those meetings.” Daniel sipped his wine. “But you do the job and you give enough respect that we can live with it. You know what I always liked about you?”
Jason didn’t care, but — “What?”
“You’re not in it for the power. I am,” Daniel added. “Which means I value partners like you. You have my promise that no harm will come to your wife. I don’t—” He glanced over at the bar where Sorel was chatting with Sammy Tagliatti. “I don’t like this new generation willing to use the families. I don’t like collateral damage. He made a fatal mistake on New Year’s,” Daniel murmured. “I wonder if he fully realizes it yet.”
Jason sipped the wine which didn’t suck. “He’ll find out,” he said.
“He thought to hurt you. To break you. He’s done the opposite. We’re not so different, you and I. A threat to my Carlotta—” Daniel’s dark eyes flashed, icing over. “I will put the grief aside until I’ve scorched the earth. ”
No, Jason supposed they weren’t. There was a reason Sonny was still struggling for the respect and power within the Five Families. Daniel Vega had been the unquestioned power for more than a decade because he didn’t allow emotions or personal vendettas to rule. He’d let Sonny take over for Frank Smith, just as he’d allowed Jason to take over when Sonny became a liability. He hadn’t been behind the threat to Brenda that caused Sonny to run — but Jason had always suspected Vega hadn’t minded it either.
“It’s time for dinner,” Sonny said, touching Jason’s elbow. “She’s doing great.”
He’d been thinking the same, but Jason didn’t need Sonny’s approval. “I know—”
“I’m just—you don’t have to worry. This was the hardest part of the night—”
“I’ve got it,” Jason snapped, striding forward to greet Elizabeth as she returned from Carlotta’s table.
“I think I like her,” Elizabeth murmured, sliding her arm into Jason’s. “Is there a reason I shouldn’t?”
“No.” Jason pulled out a chair at the head table, hating that they were about to be put on display for everyone to gawk at the rest of the night. Dinner, some dancing, and then they could leave. He could handle that. “She was always nice to me. Lily liked her.”
“Lily?” Elizabeth asked, blinking in surprise. “Sonny’s first wife?”
“He was married to her when I met him.” Jason’s lips curved into a slight, sad smile at the memory. “She taught me to dance.” And then she’d been gone, stolen in an explosion of heat and flames. Nothing had really been the same since, he thought. But he’d liked her. She’d sweet and kind to him.
“Well, then I’m grateful to her. I know from experience you’re not bad at that,” Elizabeth teased and his smile spread a bit more. She grinned, then reached for the glass of wine that had been set in front of her, a stark reminder that these people did not care for rules or regulations. Something as petty as a legal drinking age wouldn’t concern them.
Dinner went smoothly, and Elizabeth could feel some of the tension sliding from Jason as the evening continued. Then he scowled when Sorel got to his feet to give a long, rambling speech about love and promises that no one listened to. Then he clinked a spoon against his wine glass, an action joined in by others in the room.
Jason fought the urge to grimace because it wouldn’t reflect on Elizabeth, when his chief complaint was that he didn’t want to be on display like an animal at the zoo. He turned to her. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m not.” She leaned in, with that smirk on her lips that made him wish they were anywhere else. “I like kissing you, and the way some of those women have been staring at you tonight—I want them to go home miserable.”
He laughed, a sound that definitely caught those who could hear it off guard because no one had thought him capable of humor. He leaned in and kissed, curving his hand around her neck, threading his fingers through the tendrils of hair she’d left loose. “Is that enough?” he murmured against her mouth.
“Mmm—maybe—” But Elizabeth drew back, catching that dark-haired woman’s eye, who had questioned Elizabeth about credit cards and jewelry. She wore a sour scowl, and Elizabeth felt pretty good about it. They might have married for reasons that weren’t about forever, but Jason was happy to go home with her and no one else. That would be enough for now. He didn’t care that her dress was off the rack or that she didn’t bathe in jewels.
Dinner was cleared away, and all that was left was dancing. A group of musicians came into play some boring music that was slow and mind numbing. But it gave him an excuse to keep Elizabeth close and look around the room to see how it was being taken in.
“Almost over,” she murmured, and he looked down at her. “Hasn’t been so bad, has it?”
“Well, I like you,” he said, echoing her words earlier, and she laughed. “But I could do without the rest of it. Unless—I mean, I know you like stuff like this—”
“This?” She wrinkled her nose. “I mean, it’s not terrible. But it’s not our friends or family. Maybe if our grandmothers were here. If Emily or even Alexis—” She sighed. “I might even settle for my sister.”
She hadn’t had any of that, he remembered. Just a quick wedding ceremony that had been interrupted by Carly and a wedding dress destroyed by the police the next day. He tugged her a bit closer. “I like this part.”
“Me, too.” She laid her head against his chest, the way she had that first night. “You know, the first time we danced, I was trying to pretend you were someone else, but it didn’t work. I wish—” She tilted her head back to meet his eyes. “I wish we were somewhere else.”
Somewhere where they weren’t on display. He’d do that for her, he decided. He’d find a moment where he could dance with her that wasn’t about anyone else. He’d done that first dance for her, and now she was doing this for him, but it still wasn’t right. She deserved better. Maybe they both did.
The song drew to a close, and Jason exhaled in a rush of relief. Just one more dance. He’d hand her off to Daniel Vega who wasn’t someone to worry about, and he’d get through dancing with Carlotta, and then he could get Elizabeth away from this place.
Daniel and his wife were approaching with wide smiles. “I hope you’ll allow us to cut in,” he said. “I don’t move as well I as did once,” he told Elizabeth, “but I can hold my own.” He whirled her away, which Jason hated. But it was necessary.
He reluctantly started to dance with Carlotta, feeling stiff and uncomfortable. He hated dancing. “I find myself feeling quite protective of that young woman,” Carlotta told him, and he frowned, focused on her. “When Daniel told me of tonight, I was upset.”
Jason tilted his head. “Why?”
“He knows I dislike these events,” Carlotta muttered. “Why do you think we never hold them? I’ll do what’s necessary to keep the peace, but I won’t be used. Some of these women—they don’t mind. I do.” She focused on him. “And I respect the men who use women even less.”
Jason’s throat tightened. He was using Elizabeth, but—
“But then I met her and I’ve seen you. And the obvious affection—” Carlotta glanced at her husband and Elizabeth as they circled past. “She’s not like the others. I realized that the moment I saw her. She’ll be an asset to you in the best way.” She squeezed his upper arm. “I hope you see the value you have in her.”
“I do,” Jason promised. “And I’m not the one using her tonight.”
“No. I can see that.” She started to say something else, but then Jason saw Sorel out of the corner of his eye, striding across the dance floor. He cut in between Daniel and Elizabeth.
Jason tensed, but Carlotta tightened her hands on him. “That’s what he wants,” she breathed. “Don’t let him win. He can do nothing in this room, Jason. And she can handle herself.”
“She shouldn’t have to,” he bit out. “This isn’t her fight—”
“Ah, that’s where you’re wrong, my dear.” Startled at that, Jason swung his eyes back to the older woman, her eyes fierce. “It became her fight the moment she made her vows. Don’t diminish her by suggesting less.”
Somehow, Jason managed to complete the dance without pummeling Sorel into the ground for going near Elizabeth. Sonny’s face was tense as he approach the dance floor once the song had ended, and other couples had come out to dance.
Carlotta kept Jason at his side, forcing Sorel to bring Elizabeth to him. “Joseph,” Carlotta said with a lift of her chin. “You’ve broken traditions. You know how that disappoints me.”
“I apologize, Mrs. Vega.” Sorel smiled at Elizabeth who managed a polite curve of her lips though her eyes were blank. “I couldn’t resist the chance to give my congratulations to the lovely Mrs. Morgan.”
“I’m sorry to hear you are so very impulsive.” Carlotta sniffed, wound her arm through Elizabeth’s, dislodging her from Sorel’s grasp. “You are such a lovely bride,” she told Elizabeth who beamed. “And I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet you. I will invite you to tea.”
“That would be great.”
“But now, it’s time for the newlyweds to enjoy their privacy.” Carlotta handed Elizabeth off to Jason, who gratefully tucked her against her side, creating more distance between her and Sorel. “Joseph, you will take me to peruse the dessert table.”
Sorel scowled, but did as Carlotta directed. And just like that, the woman had dissolved the tension and averted crisis.
“I like her,” Elizabeth told Jason. “I wanna be just like her.”
Jason kissed her fingertips. “You already are,” he told her, and her smile broadened. He turned to Sonny. “We’re leaving.”
“I already have the car pulled up. It went well—”
“We’re leaving,” Jason repeated. He put a hand at Elizabeth’s waist and headed for the entry way, leaving the private room and winding through the dining room until they reached the lobby. Just a few more feet. He didn’t stop to say goodbye to anyone — didn’t care about it.
Sorel had had his hands on Elizabeth, and Jason wanted her as far as way as possible — as quickly as they could make it happen.
Outside, the limo was at the curb as Sonny had said. Jason didn’t even bother to wait for Max to get out of the front seat to open the door for them. He opened it himself, ushered her inside the backseat, and followed.
“It’s over,” Elizabeth said, leaning her head back against the seat. The car started to move, picking up speed as it left the quiet street where the No Name was located.
Jason wouldn’t feel that same rush of relief until he got the word from Sonny that Sorel was gone, but he wouldn’t begrudge her. “You’re better at this than I am,” he admitted with a bit of surprise.
Elizabeth opened her eyes, and met his. “I’ve had a lot more practice pretending,” she murmured. She reached for his hand. “You hate that part of it, I know. But I think I’m going to be good at it.”
“Carlotta Vega invited you for tea,” Jason told her. “There are guys in there whose wives have been around for years that haven’t gotten that invite.” He shook his head, a bit in shock. Even Lily had to work longer for Carlotta Vega’s approval.
“That’s probably the first time I’ve charmed someone on sight,” Elizabeth said dryly. She sat up. “Usually, I’m an acquired taste.”
“Well, most people are idiots—” Jason stopped, his heart beginning to pound as he saw the privacy screen lowered. Not all the way down, but cracked.
Max would never do that. And it had been firmly up when they’d gotten in the car. In He’d checked.
Jason took Elizabeth’s hand and drew her close, pulling her in for a lingering kiss, angling himself so that his back was to the window. He broke the kiss but stayed close enough for their lips to brush. “Can you do something for me?” he asked, carefully to keep his voice nearly inaudible.
“What’s wrong?” she breathed, following his lead to pitch her voice low. “I can tell—”
“The window. Press the button and roll it down,” he murmured, then slowly kissed her again. “The driver is listening,” he breathed against her mouth. He could feel the pulse in her neck pick up. “I need to know where we are.”
He felt her hands slide up and down his back, slowly stroking, and then one moved away. He heard the light whirring of the window. “What do you see? Can you—”
“Buildings.” She swallowed hard and her startled eyes flew to him. “They shouldn’t be there.” She kissed him again, drawing her legs up, knowing her dress would slide higher on her thigh. If someone was listening, they might be watching, too, Jason realized, even though he hated that she was trying to use her body to distract them.
She was right. They should be on the highway back into downtown Port Charles, but there was a long stretch of woods between the No Name and the ramp back into town. There shouldn’t be buildings for another ten minutes. Which meant whoever was driving wasn’t taking them home.
He cupped her face, sliding his thumb over her lips. “We need to run,” he murmured. Then he kissed her again. “We’re in a different part of the city—”
“Traffic light or stop sign,” she breathed. She draped her legs over his lap. “Heels. Take them off.”
Christ. She was right. She was wearing shoes she couldn’t possible run in, but then she’d be stockinged feet—if she tripped and fell in the shoes, she might hurt an ankle. He reached for the straps and let the shoes drop to the floor of the car.
“I’m going to make this okay,” he told her with one more hard kiss. “You’re going to be okay.”
She kissed him back, feeling the car slowing down. “We’re going to be okay,” Elizabeth said.
Then the car stopped. Jason shoved the car door open, flew out, Elizabeth’s hand in his, and ran.