And if, and if the night runs over
And if, the day won’t last
And if your way should falter
Along this stony paths
It’s just a moment
This time will pass
– Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of, U2
Monday, February 13, 2000
Elizabeth tossed her brushes into the sink and twisted the faucet knob, the rush of cold water swirling with colors as it circled the drain. Bobbie had forced her to take an entire day off from Kelly’s, insisting that working so much wasn’t good for her.
Working too much was all that kept her from going slowly insane. She’d dropped out of college, and though she remained convinced it was the right the decision, it left her with little else to do. Emily was in New York, settling into her first semester; and Nikolas was a dead end. After that terrible scene in Kelly’s, she wanted nothing more to do with the Cassadine prince.
She’d tried to spend the day working on various unfinished projects, but she hadn’t really accomplished much. Just a few half-finished canvases she’d been grappling with for weeks—her brain felt disconnected from her fingers. Nothing was working the way she’d planned. She’d stayed in Port Charles because it had seemed like the right decision, but every time she lifted her brush to the canvas, she thought about all the places Jason must be seeing — and everywhere he might have taken her if she’d asked.
She turned off the faucet and reached for the towel to dry her hands. Her eye caught the book she’d brought him from the library while he had recuperated — Egypt. She tossed the towel aside and lifted the book, the pyramids rising high against the sky on the cover. Was Jason still in the country? She hadn’t heard from him, not since that single postcard the week before — and he’d written that the day he left. He could be anywhere now.
The book dropped back onto the table with a thud. Had he written her that first day and forgotten it? Had she’d been shoved to the back of his mind, lost in that black duffel bag he’d carried? Maybe he’d come across it, and he’d felt bad, but not badly enough to write a new card with a more recent date. Or to pick up the phone.
She’d had to stay, Elizabeth reminded herself. Couldn’t follow Jason around the country or the world, not when she was still picking up the pieces of her shattered life. But was Port Charles really the answer? Could she find what she was looking for by staying here?
Elizabeth crossed to the board where she kept pictures pinned for inspiration. She plucked out the yellow pin holding the postcard from Miami, and took it down. In a few days, it would be a month since he’d left her standing by the doorway. It was silly, she told herself, to feel angry. To feel the harsh sting of rejection.
He’d offered to stay, hadn’t he? He’d said he would try to make it work. And he’d asked her to go. She’d gone to him to suggest he leave town. What had she expected? That she’d say it, and he’d proclaim his love, declare he wouldn’t be able to live without her?
She sat on the sofa, the postcard still in her hands. “Silly,” she murmured. “Stupid to think he would have come back by now.” And irrational to be angry because Jason had done exactly what they’d both agreed was best. He needed to go, and she couldn’t follow. She’d felt so sure that morning.
But all the days that followed had chipped away at that certainty. If he’d really cared, why hadn’t he given her a way to talk to him? Why hadn’t he called? Her throat felt tight. Why was there just this one postcard with nothing more than her address scrawled across it?
Why was it so easy to walk away from her? Her parents had left her with the neighbors, her sister had gone to Europe without a backward glance, her brother had barely called from college or medical school—
Elizabeth closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and got to her feet. She set the postcard inside the pages of the book on Egypt, then went to set her brushes on the drying rack. The ring of her phone startled her, and she nearly left it go to answering machine—
She snatched up the receiver, and blurted out a greeting—her breath escaping in whoosh when it wasn’t Jason. Of course it wasn’t.
“Elizabeth Webber? Is this Elizabeth?”
“It’s Professor Shiloh. You were in my Art History class last fall.”
“Right.” Elizabeth pressed a hand to her forehead. “Professor Shiloh. I—I remember. Um, can I help you?”
“Well, I saw that you’d dropped out of the program. I was sorry to hear it—your work was promising—”
She lifted her brows at that. She hadn’t done much art in her class beyond a final project. “Thank you. I just—I thought it was a bit—I didn’t feel like it was a good fit.”
“I understand. I was looking forward to seeing you in class this semester. I had a job opportunity that would have been perfect for you. If you’re interested in a freelance position, it still might be worth looking into. Are you?”
A freelance position related to art? “Sure. Of course. I’m definitely interested.”
Quartermaine Estate: AJ & Carly’s Bedroom
Carly sat at her vanity table, staring at her reflection in the mirror. At the diamond studs in her ear, the flash of more cold gems at her wrist and on her finger. She’d spent years plotting and manipulating to get here. To be wealthy, to be comfortable. To have everything taken care of with a snap of her fingers.
And she was miserable.
AJ stepped out of the walk-in closet on his side of the room, fastening his cuff, his head bent down. He stopped at the foot of their bed and looked at her, his mouth tightening for a moment before he smoothed it out. “What are you doing today?” he asked, and though his tone was pleasant she could hear the irritation beneath it.
“There’s a lunch at the country club,” Carly said. She closed her jewelry box. “Amanda Barrington is putting together a committee for a charity thing in a few weeks. I want to be on it.” She didn’t really want to do the work, but she wanted these rich bastards to see her as one of them. She wanted the power that came with her wealth.
“How do you expect to manage that?” her husband asked coolly. “Amanda Barrington can’t stand you.”
And neither could any of the other old biddies that met at the club every day, and Carly hadn’t done much to change their mind since she and AJ had married. She’d never planned to stay his wife forever—only to force AJ back to drinking and get custody of Michael so she could resume her life with Jason—
But that option was closed to her. Even if Jason returned. Even if he forgave her. Carly now saw the futility in the plan. AJ might be an alcoholic, but he was still a Quartermaine. The name carried power. No judge would take his son from him. Jason had been right when he’d told her the plan was ridiculous—
“No one likes anyone down there,” Carly said. She cleared her throat, twisted on the stool to look at him. “But respectability can be purchased.”
He arched a brow, and she felt the heat rising in her cheeks. “You’re interested in respectability? Since when?”
“Why do you care?” she demanded. She got to her feet and went to the walk in, sorting through her clothes. He followed her.
“I guess it’s finally sunk in that my little brother has left town for good,” AJ said, and she stopped, her fingers clutching the sleeve of a silk shirt. “Whatever you were planning to get him back failed. You realize you’re stuck with me. With this marriage.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about-”
“You still think I’m an idiot. That I don’t see you for who you really are.”
She ignored him, the hangers clicking as she furiously flipped through them. The problem with AJ was that he did see her. He’d known from the beginning she was a flight risk. He’d blackmailed her into marriage, and now he held Michael over her head. If he ever found out about that night with Sonny, she’d lose everything.
“Jason’s gone,” AJ said again. “I’m here. I’ve given you everything, Carly. What more do you want?”
“You don’t want me to answer that—”
“I told you that if we got married, we could give Michael a home with both parents. We both love him,” AJ said flatly. “You could have had Jason and Michael, but you would have to share. You didn’t want joint custody.”
“I didn’t want you,” Carly spat, whirling around, her temper frayed. “I wanted Michael to have Jason—”
“What kills you, Carly, is you know I’m right,” AJ said. “You panicked and acted without thinking. Just like you always do. Michael would have had Jason as a stepfather. A father figure. I’d have hated every minute of it, and you could have twisted the knife every time Michael called Jason Daddy.”
Her breath caught as she stared at him. “What are you—”
“You’d have to turn Michael over to me for visitation, and I’d spend my life knowing my son loved Jason more than me.” AJ smirked as her eyes widened. “Eventually, maybe I’d give up. Maybe I would have done what Jason did. Step back. Let my son go so he could be happy. We’ll never know, Carly. Because you couldn’t stand the idea of sharing. Now you have Michael all to yourself, but Jason’s in the wind. Did my brother even give you his new phone number?”
Oh, God. He was right. She could have—furious tears stung her eyes and her throat burned. And Jason had cut ties. He’d shoved her out of his life. She might have had everything if she’d taken a moment to think. If she’d had the patience to play the long game.
“I hope it was worth it,” AJ said. He stepped back, his smile cruel. “Enjoy lunch, sweetheart. I’ll see you at dinner.”
Thursday, February 16, 2000
Kelly’s: Dining Room
Elizabeth dumped her bag into the empty chair and sat across from Laura with a bright smile. “Hey, sorry I’m late.”
Laura dismissed her concern with a wave of her hand. “Don’t worry. I’m just glad we were able to meet.” She leaned forward, her eyes bright. “Especially since you said you had good news.”
“I do. It’s a bit bittersweet—” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “I just gave Bobbie my two weeks notice. I got a new job.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful.” Laura leaned back as a waitress approached to take their order. “Tell me everything,” she said when the waitress had left. “What will you be doing? Where is it?”
“That’s the great part,” Elizabeth said, nearly bouncing in her seat. “One of my art professors from last semester found out I was withdrawing from classes, and she told me she knew someone looking for a freelance artist. I’ll be working on a contract basis creating postcards and greeting cards.”
“Well, that’s perfect. You’ll be able to work at your studio?”
“Yeah, and I’ll be paid by the piece, and I’ll have a lot of creative control. They’ll just send me themes to work sometimes.” Elizabeth sipped her iced tea. “Gram is over the moon excited. I just got back from telling her. I think she had her doubts I could really make a living with my art. I still want to do my own thing and maybe a show one day, but—”
“—this is a great first step,” Laura finished, and Elizabeth nodded.
“Yeah, and it’ll keep me in my studio which is the goal. I love Kelly’s, and I’ll always be grateful to Ruby for giving me a chance. ” She looked around the small dining room where she had worked and spent so much time since moving to Port Charles. At the tables she and Lucky had pushed together that last night for dinner with Nikolas and Emily.
Barely a year ago.
“It was a great job,” Elizabeth continued, “but it’s time to move on.” She focused on Laura again. “And I think I’m finally ready.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” Laura squeezed her hand. “It’s been a few weeks since Jason left,” she said after the waitress had brought their orders. “Have you heard from him?”
Elizabeth thought of the postcard she’d received. Did that even count? How could it? “No. Not in any way that matters.” She took a deep breath “And I don’t expect to. We’re both moving on.”
Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room
“And you should initial here—” Alexis gestured with her pen. “And there—”
“I hate buying property,” Sonny muttered as he followed her directions. “How many trees had to die to make these contracts?”
Since this was the third real estate acquisition she’d handled since she’d taken over his representation, Alexis was used to Sonny’s complaints. She ignored them, sipped her coffee, and pointed where signatures and initials were required.
“Finally.” Sonny tossed the pen aside. “What about the permit for the coffee house? Is it on the agenda for the council meeting? Maybe I should have bought it through a holding company—”
“It’s on the agenda,” Alexis cut in smoothly as she reorganized the paperwork and slid it inside her briefcase. “There’s no hint that it won’t go through. That building has sat empty for almost a year. No other offers. It’s you or nothing. They’d rather have the revenue—”
The phone at Sonny’s desk rang, and Alexis stopped in the middle of her explanation, startled as Sonny launched himself out of the chair at the dining table and snatched up the receiver across the room.
His shoulders slumped and he turned away from her. “Yeah. Okay. Right. That’s what I needed. Thanks.” Sonny set the receiver down, then turned back to smile at her, though the humor had faded from his eyes. “Sorry. You were saying—”
“He hasn’t called yet,” Alexis said, and her client sighed, dipped his eyes to the ground. “It’s been a month.”
“In another day or so, yeah.” Sonny returned to the table, much more slowly than before. “A month.” He scrubbed a hand down his face. “I should be used to not hearing from him,” he said more to himself than to her. “The year I was gone, I only contacted him a few times.”
“Did he have a way to talk to you if he needed?” Alexis asked. He focused on her, furrowing his brow. “Did he?” she asked again.
“Yeah. Yeah,” Sonny repeated. “If he needed to. He knew how to get word to me so I could call in. He didn’t. Not until—” His throat felt tight. “Until Brenda,” he murmured. “He came to the island to tell me.”
“You’ve depended on Jason for a very long time. He’ll call,” Alexis said. “Eventually.”
“Maybe.” Sonny sat back. “He didn’t tell anyone how to get in touch with him. Not even Elizabeth. If anyone would have known how to reach him, it would be her.”
“He was hurting, Sonny. He’s been through a lot this last year. The end of his relationship with Robin. Michael.” Alexis paused. “Everything with Carly—”
“And then me. You don’t have to shy away from it.”
“I’m sure he just needed some time and space. It’s only been a month. He has family here, Sonny. Emily and Lila. And Elizabeth. He’s not the kind of man who could walk away forever.”
“Not from them, no. But maybe from me.” Sonny stared out the window for a moment, then focused on Alexis again. “Let’s finish these contracts.”
Saturday, February 26, 2000
Emily stared at the postcard with a scowl, then over at Elizabeth. “This is it? This is all you’ve gotten? He hasn’t even called?”
Elizabeth didn’t even look up from her sketchpad, continuing to work on ideas for her first assignment. “No.”
Emily made a face, then set the postcard back on the table. She flopped down on the sofa, causing the cushions to bounce, and Elizabeth’s pencil to slide across the page. “Em—”
“Sorry—” Emily sat up, wincing.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes and leaned over to look for an eraser. “We never promised to keep in touch,” she continued. “So don’t be mad at him.” Which was good advice to give herself, and she did. Every day the mail arrived and there was nothing from Jason.
“He dumped his phone,” Emily said. “I get that he didn’t want Sonny or Carly calling but—”
“He was leaving town,” Elizabeth reminded her friend, tossing the pad aside. “How could he have kept the phone number? You know they don’t work outside a certain area.” She got to her feet. “Did you come home to complain about Jason or to visit me?”
“I can do both,” Emily muttered. She folded her arms. “I just—at least with the cell phone, I could leave him messages. I could find a way to stay in contact. This—” Her hands fell to her lap and she stared down. “This is like after the accident. When he just left and we had to hear about him through word of mouth. Sometimes he came to see Grandmother, but he just disappeared from our lives. He called me once, Elizabeth. And he did it during the day when he was sure I wouldn’t be there.” She nodded at Elizabeth’s answering machine. “I bet if he knew your schedule, he’d have called you, too, and left a message.”
Elizabeth focused on the machine, wondering. Was that true? Was that why he hadn’t called? She cleared her throat, then looked back at her best friend. “Em—”
“He was fine,” Emily interrupted. “He was doing just fine, and then he wasn’t. I don’t know what they did to make him leave, but he’s gone. And he’ll never come back. Why aren’t you more angry about it?”
“I was.” Elizabeth calmly packed her colored pencils back in their container and stored them on her shelf. “But he’s gone for over a month, Em. He needed to go.” She faced Jason’s sister. “He needed to be away. The people tying him to Port Charles—we couldn’t be enough. I know you miss him. So do I. But he had to go.” And if she kept saying that, if she kept reminding herself to remember the way he’d looked that day in her studio, miserable and at the end of his rope, it would be easier to believe it.
She did believe it. He’d needed to go. But it didn’t change how much she hated it. Or how much she resented that he’d been able to cut her off so cleanly. If he missed her, why hadn’t he tried harder to call her? Why weren’t there more postcards? Why hadn’t he written anything on that stupid card from Miami?
Emily nodded. “All right. Okay. I just wish we could have fixed it. If I had been here—”
If Emily hadn’t left for school, maybe Jason would have managed a few more months, but— “It is what it is. And eventually, Jason will get in touch. He loves you, Em. He’d never leave you forever.” Elizabeth forced herself to smile at her friend. “Let’s talk about something else. Anything else.”
Tuesday, March 7, 2000
New Orleans, Louisiana: Bourbon Street
Jason had read about Mardi Gras and seen pictures, so he’d backtracked east, thinking it might be interesting and different. He wanted something different, didn’t he?
He was miserable.
The streets were crowded with drunk college students and adults who were old enough to know better — he’d been flashed by more women than he’d ever seen in his life, and had turned down several drunken propositions before noon.
Still, Jason had driven nearly halfway across the country to be here, so he continued down the street, promising himself he’d be tucked into his hotel room with the shades drawn when the sun went down in a few hours and the city went really wild.
He found a quiet street, little more than an alley off Bourbon Street, and he eagerly turned, wanting a break from the smell of liquor mixed with vomit emanating from the sidewalks and the street. How could anyone stand it?
The buildings were nice. They were old, and he liked that. The street was narrow, from a time before cars — but he probably could have driven the bike —
He saw a young woman perched on a stool in front of an easel, her back to him while she faced the person whose picture she was drawing. With lightning quick hand movements, an exaggerated person with a large head and small body appeared on the canvas. Elizabeth could have told him why it was like that—
Jason grimaced, then turned away, heading back to the smells and sounds of Bourbon Street. He needed to stop thinking about her. Had to stop. This was never going to work if all he thought about was going back.
Nothing would have changed. Carly would still be there, trying to use Michael to control him, and Sonny would still be pretending he knew best, and Jason would still feel like he was being choked from two sides—
He’d had to leave, but maybe he hadn’t gone far enough.