Take back that sad word goodbye
Bring back the joy to my life
Don’t leave me here with these tears
Come and kiss this pain away
I can’t forget the day you left
Time is so unkind
And life is so cruel without you here beside me
– Unbreak My Heart, Toni Braxton
Friday, January 14, 2000
Morgan Penthouse: Living Room
He couldn’t have heard that right. It was impossible. She hadn’t—
“I know what I’m asking,” Elizabeth continued, her eyes searching his, those beautiful eyes. He’d seen them that morning in December when he’d heard a voice begging him to wake up, to look at her, to open his eyes and nothing had ever really been the same. “I just—”
“It’s not—” Jason exhaled slowly, resting his forehead against hers. He couldn’t stop touching her, sliding his hands down her smooth skin, and she was asking him — if he started, how would he ever be able to stop? How would he ever be able to walk away? “I don’t want you to regret—”
“I have too many regrets already.” She kissed him again, sliding her tongue past his lips. He loved the way she tasted—had he only learned it yesterday? Like chocolate and mint and sweet—
“If life were fair—” She fisted her hand in his t-shirt, her breathing raspy. “If life were fair, we could take our time.” Her lips curved. “We could go out on the bike. You could take me on the cliff roads. Maybe let me drive—”
He laughed, helpless now as he kissed her, angling her head back so he deepen it, so he could have every inch of her mouth. “You never give up.”
“Not when it’s something I want.” Her fingers slid beneath his shirt, dancing up his bare skin, the muscles of his abdomen tightening. “Don’t we deserve this?”
Why he was fighting this? Why hadn’t he just taken her in his arms the moment she’d asked? What had happened to the man he’d been once, who’d reached out for what he wanted and took it?
Jason slid his hands beneath the jacket she wore and shoved it off her shoulders, then helped her as she did the same to him. Then he curled his arm around her hips and dragged her against him hard. She gasped, then fisted her hands in his shirt again to force his head back down to her, for another searing kiss. He started to walk her backwards, towards the first surface he could find—the desk, the sofa—hell, the folding table in the kitchen might be good enough—
Then he felt a shiver slide through her, and he remembered—Jason hesitated, gently putting some air between them. Her face was flushed, her eyes heavy and lips swollen. “What—”
“I just—” He’d remembered that she’d never done this before. Not truly. Not in a way that mattered. And she deserved better. If she wanted it to be him, to be the first man she was with—then he was never going to let her regret it. “I know it might not look like it, but I actually have a bed upstairs.”
“A bed?” she repeated, then cleared her throat. “Oh. Oh, okay.” She bit her lip, glanced around. “Yeah, I didn’t think about that. Though—” He watched her look at the desk with curiosity. “That might be fun—”
Oh, man, she was going to kill him. He groaned, then lifted her in his arms, looping an arm beneath her knees. She laughed as he started for the stairs. “Can we try it later?” Elizabeth asked, tightening her arms around his neck.
If they were only going to have one night, he was going to make sure she never forgot it. “Anything you want.”
“You might regret that later,” she warned him as he started down the hallway. “I’ve had a lot of very interesting dreams lately, and there might be a checklist.”
He laughed again as he went inside the master bedroom, as sparsely decorated as the downstairs with a single bed, nightstand, and dresser. There was a set of white sheets and a gray comforter.
Jason set her on her feet, letting her body slide slowly down his. He didn’t dive right back in, just rested his forehead against hers. Why couldn’t they have more time? Why was he so convinced he had to leave?
“Hey—” Elizabeth nipped at his mouth, and he blinked at her. “We’re not going to think about that,” she said softly. “It’s just you and me, and we’re going to live in the moment. Let tomorrow take care of itself.”
“You always know,” he murmured, unsure when it had happened—when she’d clicked in and understood what he was thinking, almost before he did. “Just you and me.” He dipped his head down to capture her lips.
“That’s all I want.”
Slowly, reverently, he peeled the blouse over her head and slid her jeans past her hips, soaking in the shivers as his fingers brushed the soft lace underneath. She wasn’t as patient with his clothes, fumbling with the snap at his waist—
“You’re so beautiful,” he murmured, kissing down her jaw to nip at her neck, his hands back at her hips, gently steering her backwards towards the bed. He drew back for just a moment when the back of her knees hit the comforter, pressing his thumb against her lips, forcing her glazed eyes to focus on him. “If there’s anything you don’t want or like, you just have to tell me—I’ll—”
“I promise you—” She leaned up again to kiss him. “I will like it all.”
Morgan Penthouse: Bedroom
If only it were possible to stop time, to freeze it in a single moment so it would stay forever—Elizabeth wanted it to be this one. Curled up next to Jason, her heart still pounding, her body still pressed against his—
She wanted to curl up like a cat, all content and sated after a meal, to stay just like this forever—Jason’s fingers lightly stroking her spine. All the way up to her neck, then down again to her waist.
He was still breathing hard, his chest rising and falling just like hers—and she could smell the mixture of sweat and his own scent mingling in the air—this gorgeous, sexy man hadn’t laughed in her face when she’d brazenly asked him for one night. She’d never seriously thought he would—he was too kind for that—but she’d been so afraid she’d see it in his eyes—
She hadn’t really thought she’d be able to talk her way into his bed but if Jason was going to leave—she wasn’t going to let her fear ruin things. Not again. She’d pulled away with Lucky, she’d let the anxiety take over—and she’d never be able to change that.
No regrets. Even if Jason still left in the morning—
Her stomach rumbled slightly, and Jason’s hand stilled for a moment. Elizabeth bit her lip and raised her head with a sheepish smile. “I, uh, didn’t eat lunch earlier. And it’s…um…” She blinked, trying to focus on the clock beyond him, on the night stand.
He twisted his head, then winced. “Yeah, it’s almost eight. And I haven’t really—” Jason cleared his throat. “We could go out.”
Get dressed? Leave? Shatter the little bubble and let the rest of the world in again? She’d rather starve. “You don’t have anything downstairs?”
“I don’t…” He started to sit up, and Elizabeth scooted back, instinctively reaching for the top sheet that had ended up at the bottom of the bed, half hanging off. He squinted. “I don’t know. There might be something in the freezer.”
“Well, let’s start there before we do anything drastic like put on pants.” Elizabeth shrugged and slid her legs over the side, still clutching the sheet. It was one thing to lie next to him naked in the dark, but—
Jason reached down to the carpet and pulled on the black pair of briefs he’d worn earlier. She snatched up the t-shirt he’d worn and dragged it over her head. He grinned as she let the sheet fall, adjusting his shirt as it listed to one side. “I forget sometimes how little you are,” he offered, dropping his lips to her bared shoulder.
“Yeah, well, I make up for it in attitude, I think.” She wasn’t going to feel awkward. Wasn’t going to let nerves steal a single minute. She started past him for the door, but Jason stopped her, grabbing her hand and spinning her back to kiss her, his hands diving into her hair. “What was that for?” she murmured, drawing back.
“Because I could.” He smiled again and she just stared at him, fascinated by this shift in him. She’d really only known him for four months, she realized, and she’d never seen him like this. Full of smiles and flirting—
Had she done this? Was this because of her? She returned his smile, then lifted herself on her toes to kiss him.
Because she could.
“Let’s go see what we can find in the freezer,” Jason suggested. He laced his fingers through hers and gently tugged her out of the room.
Downstairs, she was relieved to find a few frozen pizzas, and Jason tossed one in the oven. She hadn’t felt awkward upstairs, but now, for some reason, standing in the middle of the kitchen, the only light from the dim bulb over the stove, she did. She’d seen the door and his jacket tossed over the bare desk. The same jacket he’d probably wear when he left—
Elizabeth blinked and focused on him, forcing a smile. “Hey.”
He drew her against him, framing her face with his hands. “What did you say to me earlier?” Jason asked. “To let tomorrow take care of itself?”
“I meant it. I still do, it’s just—” Her throat tightened. “It was easier then,” she murmured. “Before I knew. That sounds stupid—”
“It doesn’t.” Jason shook his head, his hands sliding down her shoulders to lace their fingers together again. “I was thinking maybe I could—I mean, I could make it work. I want to—”
“That’s not true—”
“Nothing’s changed that affects the world out there,” Elizabeth corrected gently, and he sighed at that. “You know I’m right. They’re still there. And I don’t want to talk about them. Because then I feel like that’s the rest of the night, and I just—” She met his eyes. “I never wanted to make you feel guilty about leaving. I came here to tell you to go—”
“I know. I know. I just—” He exhaled slowly. “It was easier before,” he said, echoing her words. “When we hadn’t said anything. And I don’t want you to think it doesn’t mean anything to me. You do. You matter, and maybe I should—”
She stopped him by pressing her fingers to his lips. “You were probably right yesterday. When you said you couldn’t and left. Tonight—” Elizabeth sighed. “It probably was a bad idea,” she admitted.
“But I’m not sorry,” she interrupted, dropping her hand. “And it does matter. I know how hard things have been for you—or at least, I’m trying to—and it matters to me that you’d be willing to stick it out for me.”
“But it’s not just…it’s not just her,” Elizabeth said, not wanting the name spoken. “Who probably wouldn’t be any better if she found out about me.” He winced at that, and she nodded. “If it was just her, I’m willing to take that on. She doesn’t scare me, Jason. But you told me weeks ago you weren’t sure you could do your job anymore. Have you changed your mind?”
Jason looked away, looked past her, into the open doorway and living room. “No.”
“Can you stay in Port Charles if you’re not doing that job right now?”
His mouth tightened, and he shook his head. “No,” he said again, his voice soft.
“So you have to go. If you tried to stay, to do the job and deal with everything else, just because of me—” Her voice faltered and his eyes snapped back to hers. “You might end up resenting me. Because I asked for this and it’s why you’d stay—”
“I don’t want to be someone who takes from you. I can’t stand it. So you’re going to go because it’s the right thing for you.”
“What about you?”
“Me?” Elizabeth repeated. She leaned up to brush her mouth against his mouth, lingering. “I’ll be fine. I’ll have tonight, and I’ll know that you’re somewhere, happy again. I like this version of you that smiles.” She touched his mouth. “But you only do that with me. It’s not fair. You deserve so much more.”
He sighed, and maybe he was going to argue with her more, but the timer on the oven dinged and she was saved. She wanted him to stay, and she didn’t think she’d be able to pass it up if he offered more time. She’d grab on to him and cling, just like Carly and Sonny. She didn’t want to be that person—could never forgive herself if that’s who she became just to keep Jason with her.
“When we’re done eating,” Elizabeth said, taking the slice he handed her, “I still have that checklist.”
Jason arched a brow. “Checklist?”
“Yeah.” She turned to look at the table in the kitchen. “How sturdy do you think that is?”
“Only one way to find out.”
Saturday, January 15, 2000
Morgan Penthouse: Bedroom
He considered leaving before she woke. It would be cowardly and she might be hurt, but for just a moment, Jason thought it would be the easiest. There would be no goodbyes. No tears. No last minute discussions of how to make things different.
But Elizabeth did, and would always, deserve better from him. It would be easier for him if none of those things happened, but it would hurt her. And that was the last thing he wanted.
So instead, as the weak winter sunlight peeked through and around the shades in the bedroom, Jason lay curled up behind her, one of his hands clutched in hers and held tightly to her chest as if she could hang on forever.
He could ask her to come with him. That had occurred to him not long after he’d discarded the idea of sneaking out. She could travel with him, couldn’t she? He didn’t really have a place in mind, not yet. He just knew it had to be away. He had plenty of money. He’d take her anywhere she wanted to go. Any place she wanted to paint.
He’d nearly woken her up then, filled with conviction that this was the right choice. They could still be together, but they’d be gone—
But then he remembered her fierce independence and refusal to take a single dollar from him while he’d been staying with her. They weren’t even dating. Not really. There were no promises. She might go for a while, just like he might stay for a while. But it wouldn’t last. And she’d be unhappy.
Even knowing that, he wanted to ask. Needed to.
She stirred, her breathing changing from the deep to more shallow. Her fingers tightened for just a moment around his. Jason propped himself up on his elbow as Elizabeth’s eyes opened and she moved, flattening herself to lay on her back. Her lips curved into a dreamy smile, the eyes closing again. “Hey,” she murmured.
“Hey,” he replied.
“I thought it was a dream.” Elizabeth’s voice was slurred, but then she cleared her throat, her eyes opened again. She reached up to touch his face. “I’m glad it wasn’t.”
“Me, too.” He kissed her fingers, then sat up. “You could come with me,” Jason said. He couldn’t look at her while he asked, but once the words were out, he turned back to her, wanting to see her reaction. “When I go. There has to be places you want to paint—”
“I could.” Elizabeth sat up, smiling wistfully. “I definitely have a list.”
He exhaled, looking away. “But you won’t.”
“Can’t.” She reached for his hand. “I want to. But I don’t have the money to travel. I know you do,” she added when he opened his mouth. “But it’s not the same. If I go with you now, what happens next? Do we just wander around forever?”
“Why not?” Even though he knew she was right, had known this would be her answer, he still wanted to argue. He couldn’t stay, but why couldn’t she go? “You could come for a little while—”
“It’s why you can’t stay. Even for a few more days. We’ll have more time, but it’s not going to change anything. There are things I want, Jason, that I’m not sure you do. At least not right now.”
He grimaced, looked away. “Like what?”
“A home. A place to belong. I have that here. I spent my whole life looking for it. My parents didn’t love me. I’m not sure you know what it does to a kid to constantly look for the love that’s supposed to be yours by birth. I shouldn’t have had to work so hard—”
“I—” He cleared his throat. “Does it have to be a place?” he forced out.
“I don’t know. I just—” She bit her lip. “It does for me,” Elizabeth murmured. “Right now. And maybe it’s—I wrapped my whole identity up in being with Lucky. The people I have in my life right now are there because of him. Laura, Bobbie, Emily, even you—” He shook his head but she continued. “If I leave with you now, without a way to support myself, without any other plans other than just to follow you around—how is that any different? And if we don’t work out—”
“We—” Jason sighed, irritated with himself for arguing with her. She had a right to what she wanted. But it just sounded like he wasn’t enough.
“You and I both know there’s no guarantees in life,” she said. “Didn’t you believe Robin would always be the one? Did you ever imagine a time when she wasn’t?”
No. And not being able to see that, not knowing who he was if Robin wasn’t there—it had led them both to continue clinging to the wreckage of their relationship until they’d nearly hated one another.
He scrubbed his hands over his face. “I knew you couldn’t go even before I asked,” he said. “But I had to—”
“I know. And I wish my answer was yes.” Her voice faltered and she swiped at a tear. “I wish I could throw everything away or that I was strong enough—”
“Elizabeth—” He drew her into his arms, then laid back down, tucking her into his side. Just once more. “I wish I could stay.”
“I couldn’t stand us hating each other one day. And I feel like that would happen if you stayed or I went.” She rested her chin on his chest, looking at him. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” He used his thumb to brush away another tear. “We knew this was going to be hard.”
She managed a smile, then pressed her cheek against his shoulder, closing her eyes. “I just want to lay here a little longer. Can we?”
“Yeah, we can do that.”
Morgan Penthouse: Living Room
Elizabeth froze, her jacket only half buttoned as Jason stepped off the bottom step, a black duffel bag in his hand. She stared at this, this concrete evidence that he was leaving.
He’d carried the same bag out of her studio only weeks earlier.
She opened her mouth, then snapped it shut, afraid something ridiculous would escape. What if she told him she’d changed her mind? That he should stay or she should go—all of the conviction, the wisdom, the maturity—it fled and now she could barely breathe.
This couldn’t be right. This couldn’t be the way it was. The universe couldn’t possibly be cruel enough to bring Jason into her life, let him care about her, too, only for him to go away. How many chances did a girl get in a life?
“I thought I’d take you home,” Jason said, a bit dully, his eyes also looking at the bag. Avoiding. “Then head for the airport.”
She cleared her throat. “You don’t have to—”
“I want—” He looked up then, his eyes swirling with regret and sadness. “I thought maybe if the roads were clear enough, we could go out near the cliffs.”
One last ride. He wouldn’t say it, but that’s what he meant. She’d all but begged him for last night, and he was asking her for just a little more time. The bike was something they shared, and had since the beginning.
“Okay. Yeah. Let’s, um, we can do that. I don’t have to work today. So—” She stopped abruptly, nearly biting her tongue in the process because she’d nearly suggested maybe they could have another day. Another night—
But it was delaying the inevitable, and every moment they spent together would just hurt more now. They’d had the night she wanted, and then they’d have the ride he wanted.
And then it would be over.
Jason tried to make the ride last as long as possible. The roads had been relatively clear, so they’d taken the turns Elizabeth liked best three or four times, but eventually—
Eventually, he turned back towards town and the waterfront. Quietly, he’d parked and they’d walked up the stairs to her floor. He scowled one more time at the lack of security—but when she opened the door and turned back to him, Jason forced himself to smile. “I’m surprised you didn’t ask to drive.”
Elizabeth bit her lip, leaning against the door frame. “Thought about it,” she admitted. “Would you have said yes?”
“Maybe.” He shoved his hands in his pockets to stop himself from reaching out to her. Say goodbye and go. Goodbye and go.
“I’m surprised you’re going to the airport,” Elizabeth said. She licked her lips. “I thought you’d drive somewhere. What are you going to do with the bike?”
“Have it shipped.” He’d decided on the airport while packing. If he drove, it would take a few days to get out of the state, nearly a week to get to Florida or far enough away he couldn’t just come back. And if he was close enough, he might just turn around.
He’d nearly changed his mind a thousand times since they’d woken that morning. Jason had stayed in Port Charles before when he’d had nothing. He could find a way to make things work. If he tried harder, maybe he could get through this with Sonny. Or maybe he didn’t need to do the job if he stayed—but he always came back. If Jason tried to get out now and leave Port Charles, he’d have a target on his back. Sorel would think he could be used.
And if Jason kept trying to get through this anger, kept trying to pretend things with Sonny were fine, he’d keep blowing up. He’d hurt Elizabeth already, but the lack of trust with Sonny would just spiral—
And without trust, Jason couldn’t do the job.
And that was without even weighing in Carly who would keep using Michael to drag Jason back. What was he supposed to do about that? Tell AJ? Who might divorce Carly and pull the kid into a custody battle that would never, ever end?
“You have to go,” Elizabeth said softly, and he sighed, looking past her, down the hall towards the bathroom on her floor. He’d liked living here, despite the lack of security. It had been basic and plain. And no one had known where to find him. He needed that again. She was right. He couldn’t stay.
“I know. I just—” He stopped, shook his head. “It’s just now—”
“There’s no way left to stall.” She smiled, though it was little more than a curve of her lips, her eyes sad. “Can’t take one more ride. Can’t ask for one more night. It would just hurt. At the penthouse, I nearly—” She closed her eyes, and a tear slid down her cheek. “I nearly broke.”
“Because it’s not fair—” A ragged sob escaped her lips and Jason reached out, dragging her against him and swallowing it with his mouth, kissing her like a drowning man holding on to a piece of driftwood. She curled her fists in his shirt beneath his jacket.
He drew back, kissing her eyes, then her cheeks, then one last brush of his lips against hers. One last taste. “Goodbye,” he murmured.
“No—” Elizabeth kept her hands on his shirt, stopping him from drawing back and he stopped, confused. Had she changed her mind? Would she come with him—
“I refuse to believe this is how it ends.” She met his eyes. “This isn’t goodbye. It won’t be. I’ll see you later, okay?” She kissed him again, wrapping her arms around his neck. He held her tight, then buried his face in her neck.
“Okay,” he whispered. He drew back, then kissed her one more time. “Okay,” he repeated, smoothing her hair back. “I’ll see you later.”
She didn’t let go for almost a minute, but then finally unlocked her arms and stepped back. Jason couldn’t turn away for a long minute, but then—
He went down the hall to the stairwell and left.
Miami International Airport: Terminal D
Four hours later, the wheels touched down and Jason disembarked, numbly tossing his duffel over his shoulder. He’d arranged to have the bike shipped and delivered to a local parking garage tomorrow, so for now he was on his own for transportation.
He’d chosen Miami because it was the next flight leaving, though he might have preferred it to be further away. California. Or even international. Port Charles was still only three hours away by plane—
But he wouldn’t go. He might as well have driven because he knew he couldn’t go back. Not after the studio. After Elizabeth’s tears—
She’d refused to say goodbye, but Jason didn’t know what else she expected. He’d had to leave, hadn’t she told him over and over again that she understood? And she couldn’t go. Even if he came back, it wouldn’t be the same.
She’d have moved on. Of course she would. She deserved nothing less. Someone would come along who didn’t have the dangers of his job or the insanity of Carly following them around—someone who she didn’t have to explain her art to—
He wandered down the concourse, towards the exit, but then stopped when something grabbed his eye. One of those tacky souvenir shops with a garish display of postcards. The bright colors reminded him of one the last paintings he’d seen Elizabeth working on before he’d moved out of the studio. He picked it up and read the text on the back—it was a painting by Alicia Leal. Elizabeth would like this. Maybe she’d able to explain the swirls of orange and pink and what was being created—
“Can I help you?”
A husky voice caught his attention, and he glanced up to find a dark-haired woman standing in front of him, a name tag clipped to her shirt, announcing her name as Marisol. She curved her lips, painted the color of red wine, into a smile. “Are you looking for something in particular?”
Jason looked back at the postcards—noted that they were four for a dollar. He selected three more that reminded him of Elizabeth. “Just these.”
Marisol frowned slightly, then led him to the cash register. She rang him up and he handed over a dollar. “Are you staying in the area?”
“Thanks,” Jason said, not answering the question, taking the small dark green plastic bag from her and leaving the store. He went over to a table in the food court and sat down. Then stared at the bag.
Why had he done that? What was the point of buying postcards Elizabeth would never be able to tell him about? He removed them from the bag, then eyed a nearby trash can. He should throw them out. Forget about the temporary insanity.
But he didn’t. Instead, he fished in the duffel and found a pen. He set the postcard that had attracted his attention to the side at first, not sure what he’d write. Absently, Jason rubbed his hand against the back of his neck. Hello? How are you? I miss you? No. Nothing that would make her feel bad. He wasn’t good with words. Not the way she deserved. And definitely not in writing.
He started to write about how much she meant to him—and then he found he didn’t even know how to put that into words, so he set aside the first attempt. On the second, he ran out of room. With the third, he tried just saying hi and asking how she was—but that didn’t sound right either.
Finally, on the fourth and final attempt, he just wrote his name and her address. He put the other three in his duffel bag. He left the airport and took a taxi to downtown Miami where he checked into a hotel.