Heaven help me for the way I am
Save me from these evil deeds before I get them done
I know tomorrow brings the consequence at hand
But I keep livin’ this day
Like the next will never come
– Criminal, Fiona Apple
May 5, 2011
When Jason had asked Elizabeth if he could be with her the day Jake’s stone was installed, Elizabeth hadn’t asked him if he’d planned to bring Sam. She hoped he know that the last person she wanted to see at the resting place of their son was the woman that had caused Elizabeth so much pain when her son had been alive—
And the woman Jason had chosen over a life with her.
Still, she realized now as she stepped out of her car and felt the dizzying relief of seeing Jason standing by himself.
That relief evaporated almost as soon as she registered it and the numbing reality sank back in. They were here because their little boy’s grave would finally have a stone marking his short time in the world.
They stared at one another for a long moment, and Elizabeth knew he was waiting for her to say something. To set the tone for how today would go. Hanging back. Letting her control everything.
Like he always did. The only time Jason had made an active decision was when he walked away from her.
All the times he’d walked away.
She didn’t have the energy to hold his hand today. She barely had the energy to keep breathing. If it hadn’t been for Cameron and Aiden, she would still be in bed today. And all of the days.
So without a word, Elizabeth turned and walked towards the path that led to her son’s grave.
Her son. Her beautiful baby was six feet beneath the ground in a coffin. In the cold, in the dark—
She stopped abruptly, her lungs seizing as it hit her again. Every day, she had to remember all over again he was gone. Every morning, he died again as she woke up and found his room empty.
Jason stepped up beside her, gently placed a hand at her elbow—just the brush of his fingertips. He said nothing.
She wanted to sink into the ground. She wanted to disappear.
She wanted to be with her son.
“What do you need from me?” he asked her, his voice hushed and nearly inaudible as she stared blindly at the patch of flowers beneath a nearby tree. How could spring be here? How could anything grow?
How did the rest of the world keep turning?
What did she need from him? What an absolutely stupid question. Once, she’d needed everything. Now—
“Nothing. I just needed a minute.” Elizabeth took a deep breath, then looked ahead to the patch of dirt that still looked out of place. It was newer and fresher—the grass was just starting to sprout over the ground. And the stone was there. She could see it now— It hadn’t been set into place just yet, but it was sitting there, next to the men who would set it into place.
Jake’s smiling face, the pearly white baby teeth, and the shock of blond hair and bright blue eyes. The image of his father as a child. She wanted his image on the stone—she’d wanted his memory not to fade—for him never to be just words etched into the rock—but she hadn’t anticipated how it would hit her—
Jake’s face on a grave stone. Because he was dead.
“It’s my fault,” she said. She looked at him. “I looked away from him—”
“No.” Jason shook his head. “You loved him. It was just a second, Elizabeth.”
“The third time I looked away, the world took him back.” Her voice faltered. “First Maureen, then the Russians, and now—now I never get another chance.”
“It’s mine,” Jason said. She blinked and looked up at him, their eyes meeting for the first time since that terrible night in the hospital when he’d asked her for their son’s kidney to save one of Carly’s children. “You looked away for a second, Elizabeth. I was never there. Blame me.”
He would say that, and some days, she did blame him. But Jake had been hers. Her baby. And she hadn’t protected him. Her lips curved into a faint smile. “There’s room for both, don’t you think?”
“Yeah.” Jason exhaled slowly. “I loved him. You know that.”
Not enough to stay, to raise him, but she nodded. Neither of them wanted to have that conversation. “You did what you thought was right.” She faced forward, then squeezed her eyes shut, took a deep breath. “He was a gift to both of us,” Elizabeth said softly. “And we wasted it.” She paused. “This is the last time we’ll do anything together for him.”
She drew out a motorcycle from her purse. It was a small yellow toy that Jake had adored. Jason blinked at it. “I know you gave it to Cameron,” she said, “but he gave it to Jake at Christmas, and he loved it. I should have—I should have—” Her chest squeezed. “I meant to put it with him, but—”
“It’s okay. We’ll take care of it today.” Jason put an arm around her shoulder. “Are you ready?”
“No.” But she walked forward anyway. She knew she should go over to talk to the men who had been waiting patiently, but she couldn’t. She was afraid if she said one more word—
Instead, Jason took care of it. He spoke to them, his voice quiet and then joined Elizabeth. They both watched slowly as the stone was gently settled into its final spot. Her baby. Gone forever.
She waited for the tears. For the shaking. For the trembling. But maybe there were no more tears. Maybe she’d finally reached the bottom of the well and all that was left was nothing.
The workers left, and finally they were alone, standing in front of Jake’s grave, his precious face staring back at them, almost mocking their failures to be good parents.
She gently knelt down and with shaking hands, she dug into the dirt to bury the motorcycle. Jason knelt next to her and helped fill the hole back in.
This was it. The last item on the list of burying her son. Arranging for the services, the burial, the coffin, the stone—
There was nothing else to do.
Jason stood and held out a hand. She thought about ignoring it, about pulling herself up. After all, she’d raised Jake alone. How dare he come in here at the end and pretend—She swallowed the hateful thoughts, the angry, bitterness that always threatened to overwhelm her.
She took his hand and let him help her. He kept one hand at her elbow, and the other at the small of her back, his body turned towards her, nearly holding her. And being this close to him—feeling the slight shake in his hand as it had wrapped around hers—
Elizabeth looked up at him. “He was beautiful, wasn’t he?”
“He would have grown up to look like you,” Elizabeth told him, and he blinked at that. “But I think he would have smiled more.”
Jason’s lips curved. “I smile.”
“Not enough.” She sighed, then looked back at the image of her son—their son. “Thank you. For giving me that beautiful little boy.”
“I didn’t—” Jason exhaled slowly. “We gave him to each other. Thank you for being his mother. I’m sorry I didn’t hold on tighter.”
“So am I.” Elizabeth stepped away, and his hands fell to his side. “Thank you for being here today. You were here the day he came into this world—and—it’s right that you’re here when we—” Her voice broke but she forced herself to finish. “When we say goodbye.” She looked at him, this man that she’d loved for so long—would always love. “I have to get home to the boys.”
“If you need anything—” Jason hesitated. “You know where to find me.”
“I’ll see you later.” She turned and started back down the path, his response nearly inaudible.
“See you later.”
Friday, November 3, 2017
Metro Court Hotel: Restaurant
Jason stepped into the restaurant, scanned the tables, grimacing when he didn’t see his mother anywhere. He wasn’t much for eating out, but Monica had asked him to lunch, and he’d wanted to know more about the last few years for her.
Now she was late, and he was stuck waiting for her—
He turned to find Ava, a hesitant smile on her face, standing by one of the entrances. “Ava.”
“I saw in the papers that the identity situation is cleared up,” she said, gesturing with a hand that had a black clutch in it. “I’m relieved it could be so quickly. I thought it might take weeks to figure it out.”
“Not with fingerprints and DNA,” Jason said, the echo of Michael and Elizabeth’s cautionary words in his ears. He shoved them aside — he was sure they had their reasons not to trust Ava, but he couldn’t bring himself to cast her aside. She’d risked her life, and he was back with his family because she’d done so. Whatever her crimes, Jason couldn’t—and wouldn’t—forget that. “How are you?”
“Oh, fine.” Ava flashed him another smile. “Are you waiting for someone? We could—” She started to turn towards the tables, a hand out when a hand wrapped around her wrist and turned Ava almost violently to face the angry blonde who had come out from the stock room without warning.
“Over my dead body,” Carly snapped. “What the hell is wrong with you, Ava? Trying to sink your claws into someone else in my family? Morgan wasn’t enough for you?”
Jason exhaled slowly. “Carly—”
“No! No! I don’t care what Michael and Sonny said,” Carly retorted, not even sparing him a glance. Her eyes burned into Ava’s. “You need to know what this piece of trash did to my son!”
Ava lifted her chin, almost defiantly. “Go ahead,” she said. “Tell him.”
“Oh, I will,” Carly declared with relish. “I’ll tell him about the brilliant young man who was troubled and taken advantage of by someone without a soul, without a single care for the damage she was doing to him—you killed my son!”
“What?” Jason demanded, his eyes widening as he whipped his head around to look at Ava, who just closed her eyes, a flush staining her cheeks. “I thought it was a car accident—”
“It was,” Ava said with a sigh. She opened her eyes. “Morgan stole a car with a bomb meant for someone else,” she continued.
“And why did he do that?” Carly snarled. “What did you do to him—”
“I made a mistake—” Ava turned to Jason, her blue eyes pleading with him. “I thought he needed more help. He needed to go back to Shadybrooke to get more therapy. I thought if others could see it—”
“You switched his medication,” Carly interrupted. She dug her hand into Ava’s shoulder, forcibly bringing the other woman around to face Carly again, away from Jason. “He was vulnerable! He was in trouble! And you only thought about yourself!”
“I see you’re telling your own life story again,” a new voice said dryly, and the trio turned—as well as everyone else in the restaurant who had long ago stopped pretending to listen.
Monica stepped down from the elevators as the three of them stared at her. “A brilliant young man who was troubled,” she echoed as she drew towards Carly and Ava. “How terrible for you—”
“Monica—” Jason began with a wince because he was sure he knew where this was going — but then—
“It wasn’t enough that you drove my son to the brink of sanity time and time again,” Monica said, ignoring Jason. “You and that husband of yours—it was never enough for you. You drugged my son. You made him think he was drinking again. And you lied to him over and over about Michael. You stole his son from him and threatened to kill him—” Her voice broke. “And you—”
“Monica—” Carly began, with a worried glance at Jason that confused him. “You don’t understand—and you should just—Jason doesn’t—”
“And just when he was getting it together—when he was finally with Michael again, with his son, and building a new life—” Monica hissed. “You and your husband—and you—” She said to Ava with another murderous glance at the blonde who just stared at the floor. “You framed him for murder—and both of you helped Sonny get away with killing my son!”
“What are you talking about?” Jason demanded. “AJ died after he went after Alan, after I—” And then he stared at his mother, at Carly and Ava as the realization sank in. “He didn’t die in 2005.”
“No,” Carly said dully. “He didn’t. He came home after you…were gone. And told Michael things. It’s not—I know how it looks, Monica—”
“Sonny shot my son in cold blood!” Monica raged. “He and Ava left him to bleed to death on the floor—if it wasn’t for Julian, I never would have been able to say goodbye—and you—you knew who killed him! You knew, and you lied to me about my son’s final words! You let Sonny walk around for months, pretending he gave a damn about what happened to AJ—what Michael was going through—”
Jason stared at Carly, dumbfounded. “Is that true?”
“It’s not—” Carly hissed. “It’s not that simple. I just—”
“Ava is a terrible person without any moral compass,” Monica snarled. “Who took advantage of someone who was struggling and trying so hard to do better! Well, how does it feel, Carly? To watch your son destroyed by someone he trusted? You destroyed AJ long before Sonny and Ava finished the job! You couldn’t stand that Michael loved AJ—that he’d found a place in my family—”
“No! I wanted him to be happy—” Desperately, Carly turned to Jason. “Jason, please—”
“Michael knew AJ,” Jason said slowly. He felt numb. Like he was sinking in water and couldn’t swim. He couldn’t get his brain to focus, to really process what was happening—what was being screamed at him. “That’s why he’s working at ELQ. At the mansion. Because he’d decided to get to know his biological father.”
“Yes, but—it wasn’t like Sonny was going to kill him—like he planned it!” Carly stepped towards Jason. “It wasn’t like that! He didn’t mean it—”
“But then he lied about it!” Monica raged. “He sat by Michael’s side and pretended to give a damn for months! And you covered it up! You let an innocent man go to jail—another innocent man was arrested—”
“Julian and Carlos are hardly innocent,” Carly scoffed.
“And what about the lies to Michael?” Monica demanded. “How many times did you lie to him and break his heart? Kiki and Morgan lying to him—everyone in his life lying to him—”
“But it’s okay now!” Carly said, her voice rising high with desperation. “Michael forgave us—Jason—” She looked at him again, then stopped to blink in confusion at the empty space where Jason had been standing. “Jason?”
“He left,” Ava said. She looked at Monica. “For what it’s worth, I am sorry—”
“Save it,” Monica retorted. “Both of you deserve to make each other miserable for the rest of your lives.” Then she turned and left.
Carly closed her eyes, pressed a fist to her mouth, then glared at Ava. “This is your fault!”
“Really? Because I was minding my own business before you attacked me. Stop pretending you’re any better than I am.” Ava tossed her hair over her shoulder. “Because we both know you’re worse.”
General Hospital: Hallway
Elizabeth made a face, reaching the elevator just as it slid closed. “Figures,” she muttered. She reached out to press the button to bring it back up to the floor, but a hand wrapped around her wrist.
She scowled, turning to find Franco standing behind her. “Let me go,” she said, her teeth gritted.
“Your savior isn’t here,” Franco said pleasantly but released her wrist. He arched a brow. “I read that everyone knows which twin is which. I wonder if they’re planning to share Sam—”
Elizabeth walked away from him in mid-sentence, deciding to take the stairs, but she should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. He followed her.
“I don’t understand how you can just shove me aside this easily,” Franco demanded. “I made a mistake—”
“You’ve been making mistakes for months,” Elizabeth seethed, “and I’m tired of pretending that they don’t matter. You lied to me about the painting, and then you lied to me about what your mother said—you wanted me to lie to Jason—”
“Well, in my defense—”
“It does not matter — you thought he was Jason,” Elizabeth cut in before he could finish that ridiculous excuse. “I let all of that go, Franco. Even as you humiliated me repeatedly by lying and making me look like an idiot. I let it go. I thought I knew another side of you—I thought you were a better man—”
“You’re not. You put your hands on my son,” Elizabeth retorted. “End of story. You don’t get another chance.” She pushed past him and turned back towards the hub, not wanting to be near stairs or an elevator with this man. Not ever again.
A hand slapped down on the counter, and she jumped, looking up to find Franco in front of her. “What now?”
“You keep walking away from me, Elizabeth.” Franco leaned in. “Nobody walks away from me.”
Something inside her trembled as her stomach rolled. Oh, God. She’d let him touch her. She’d let him into her life, into her home, her children’s life, into her bed—
How the hell had this happened to her?
“You lied to me,” Elizabeth said slowly. “You hurt my son. And you tried to make it my fault when I confronted you. I deserve better—”
“Do you?” Franco scrunched his face as if he was thinking it over. “Do you really? The selfish bitch who slept with her brother-in-law and destroyed his family? How about the woman who lied to a man for months about who he was supposed to be, keeping his kids from him—”
Elizabeth kept her lips pressed together even as the familiar crimes washed over her in new humiliating waves of shame. “I made mistakes—”
“There’s mistakes, and then there’s you, Elizabeth.” He smirked. “But that’s your entire life, isn’t it? Just one giant mistake. You were a mistake to your parents. To your family. No man has ever stayed with you, and judging by your history — the minute your kids don’t need you—they’ll leave you, too.”
He leaned in closer. “Because isn’t that the truth, Elizabeth? There’s something wrong with you. No one stays. Haven’t you figured that out yet? All these people running as fast they can from you? You keep telling yourself you deserve better. Keep telling yourself they’re the ones with the problem.”
He smirked again. “We both know better. And when you figure out I’m the only person damaged enough to want to stay, you’ll be back.”
Franco sauntered away as Elizabeth closed her eyes. Didn’t matter if parts of what he said were right. That was how emotional abuse worked. She knew that. She’d read the books. She’d had the training. Take something small and make it her fault.
Maybe she was too damaged for anyone else to love. But that didn’t mean she should settle for someone who had nowhere else to go. She didn’t deserve a lot, but she was almost sure she deserved better than Franco.
As long as he kept to his little games of torturing her with words and left her boys alone, Elizabeth could deal with anything he threw at her.
ELQ: Michael’s Office
Michael stared at the intercom on his desk, then pressed the button again. “I’m sorry, Sarah. Who’s here to see me?”
“Uh, Jason Morgan, sir. Should I tell him you’re not available—”
“No, no—” Michael shoved himself to his feet. “No, send him in.” He picked up his cell phone and stared at the six voice mails from his mother that he’d ignored, then two more from Sonny. He exhaled slowly, wondering what he had missed.
Jason stepped into the office, then glanced around the dark interiors with a squinting look. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket. “I should have called,” he said.
“No, you’re always welcome—” Michael came around the desk and gestured at the seating area in the corner of his office. “You never turned me away when I just showed up and wanted something.” He frowned when Jason didn’t make any attempt to sit. “Jason?”
“You told me not to trust Ava,” he said slowly. “And Elizabeth agreed with you when I asked. But neither one of you told me about Morgan.” Jason looked at Michael, their eyes meeting. “And I knew there was something you were both keeping back. It was AJ, wasn’t it?”
Michael closed his eyes. “I knew that talking about Ava and her part in what happened to Morgan might open the door to AJ. We’d start talking about Morgan and Ava’s past—and AJ was part of it.” He leaned against his desk. “How did you find out? Who told you?”
“Monica walked in on Carly screaming at Ava about Morgan,” Jason told Michael. “I don’t—I’m still not sure what happened.”
“Well, then let me give you a crash course.” Michael folded his arms, wincing because all of this was probably the worst way for Jason to find out that his brother had been alive, then murdered. He’d warned his mother, but Carly could never manage to focus on the big picture. “After you went into the water, it only took a few days before PCPD gave up the search. Spinelli and Sonny—they looked as long as they could, but we all thought—” His throat tightened. “We thought your body had been pushed out to the river or was just too deep to find. Grandma made a call at that point—she wanted to tell AJ that you’d died.”
“So she knew he was alive?”
“She and Steven Webber faked AJ’s death and got him out of the country,” Michael told him. “Grandma didn’t want him to come back, but—” He shrugged. “AJ was worried about her. And I think—maybe part of him thought with you gone—he might finally be able to talk to me.” When Jason said nothing, Michael nodded. “He made contact on Halloween and told me that my mother had drugged him to make him think he was drinking again.”
“That’s true,” Jason said slowly. “AJ had been living across the hall from Carly and Tony. They were friends. And after the night they slept together, AJ got sober. He told her if he ever relapsed again—”
“He’d leave town forever,” Michael finished. “Yeah. Mom tried to lie to me at first, but it made too much sense. So she drugged him, then lied to him for months. Lied to Tony Jones, too.” He paused. “Anyway. She and Sonny didn’t handle AJ being back well. Mom even turned him into the police. AJ got the charges dropped, and I decided I wanted to get to know him. So I did. And for about six months, AJ was good. He was in charge of ELQ, he and I were working together to make the company a success, and he was even—” Michael managed a smile. “He dated Elizabeth for a minute.”
“Of course he did,” Jason muttered, looking away. Then focused on Michael. “What happened?”
“Connie Falconieri happened—don’t ask—” Michael said when Jason frowned. “Long story short — Connie was working at the Sun and published a story revealing that Kiki Jerome wasn’t Franco’s daughter, which meant the deciding vote she’d cast to give AJ control of the company was invalid. AJ lost ELQ.” He sighed. “And he blamed himself. He spiraled, made threats against Connie, and then she turned up dead. AJ was the prime suspect.”
“Ava killed Connie and framed AJ,” Michael said. “But AJ was blackout drunk and didn’t remember. He nearly pled guilty, but I convinced him to go to trial. I didn’t think he was guilty, and it took everything I had to convince Sonny not to hurt him. Sonny agreed and left him alone. AJ was acquitted, and eventually—” He closed his eyes. “Eventually, he remembered Ava had done it. When he confronted her, Sonny came in, saw him yelling at Ava, and shot him. Then left AJ to bleed out while he and Ava worked on their alibis.”
Michael looked at Jason. “And then while I was agonizing over AJ’s medical care, making decisions, Sonny sat with me and lied to me. He looked at me, and he told me he hadn’t done this. And I believed him. Because he’d raised me. Then AJ died. For months, I thought someone else had killed him. I thought that I had justice for my father.”
“Mom knew from the beginning that Sonny had done it. AJ told her at the end. And instead of telling me, she lied. She was with Franco at that point, and they covered it up. And Franco found out the truth about AJ, and to get back at Mom for her affair with Sonny, he played it on a video at the Haunted Star so that I could see it.” Michael turned away from Jason and walked across the room. “Sonny murdered my father, and my mother helped him get away with it. He went to prison and got pardoned. I spent a long time being angry about it, but—” He sighed. “I had to let it go. It was killing Joss and Morgan, it was killing me—”
Michael turned back to his uncle, who was standing silent, as quiet as he’d been since he’d arrived. He hadn’t said more than a few words. “I let it go. And I lied to Mom and Sonny. I told them I forgave them. And sometimes, I think I have. But then I look at my grandmother and think about how much she’s lost. How much has been taken from her, and I remember. So I pretend to keep the peace, Jason. It’s easier.”
“I’m sorry,” Jason said after a long moment. “I wish—I wish I could have been here—”
“Why?” Michael said. “What would you have done differently?” He shook his head. “You helped them keep me from AJ all my life. The day I found out the truth, it was the first time—” He pressed his lips together. “It was the first time since we’d lost you that I was glad you were dead. Because you just would have helped them get away with it, too. ”
Jason stared at Michael. His face didn’t change—it never did—but there was something in his eyes—Michael grimaced. “I’m sorry. That’s not—I didn’t mean that—”
“I always—” Jason swallowed hard, looking down at the carpet. “I always told myself that I would tell you the truth one day. That I just wanted you to be able to make your own choices.”
“I’m glad you did.”
But by the time Michael had crossed the office, his uncle had left, and he wasn’t able to stop him before the elevators closed. “Damn it,” he swore, slapping his hand against the wall. “Sarah, cancel the rest of my day. I have to deal with something.”
Morgan Penthouse: Master Bedroom
Drew stepped into the bedroom just as Sam emerged from the bathroom, towel drying her hair. “Hey.”
“Hey.” She waited, then sighed when he said nothing else. “Is this how we’re going to live now?” Sam asked. She sat on the edge of the bed. “Just not talking to each other? You in the guest room?”
“No,” he said. He sat down next to her, leaving a foot of space between them. “I don’t know how to handle this,” Drew said finally. “I’m angry at you for not being honest about what you believed—and I’m angry at everyone else who didn’t even bother to pretend—”
“Ja—” Sam stopped. “Drew,” she said slowly. “Would it have been easier for you if I had told you that I had doubts? I wanted to protect you. And I wanted to protect myself. To protect the kids.” She stared down at her hands, at the wedding ring—Lila’s ring—that he’d put on her finger the year before. “We were so happy before all of this. Finally happy.”
“I know. And maybe that’s why I fought so hard,” he said quietly. “I always knew something felt wrong, and I ignored it. Because I wanted this. I wanted you and the kids. I wanted it to be mine. With the memories—it was something. Before they came, it was just that year as Jake Doe. And now—I know neither of those identities was mine. But I still don’t know who I am. Not really.”
“Your name does not matter to me,” Sam insisted. “I don’t care what anyone else says. I love you. I married you. Scout is our little girl. And, look, Elizabeth gets to do whatever she wants with Jake—she always does—but Danny is my son. Jason was never a father to him. He didn’t even want him—”
Drew winced, and Sam knew he wanted to argue based on his memories, but she was relieved when he didn’t. “He loves you. You’re his father. Jason being alive—that’s great for him. Really. And he’ll get to be with Jake. I’m—that’s good for him. But it has nothing to do with either of us.”
“But I’m not alone,” Drew said after a minute. “There’s a past. A wife and son that I don’t remember.” He stared ahead at the closet doors. “When I was Jake Doe, Hayden showed up, telling me I was her husband. And I went to be with her. I thought I should live that life. That I was obligated because that was who I had been.”
“It was different,” Drew said finally. “That was almost three years ago. The accident, the lack of memories, it was fresh. And I thought I’d only been gone a few months. That if I went back to my real life, I’d get my memories back.”
“But the accident wasn’t why you lost your memories,” Sam murmured.
“No. They were stolen from me. And I might never get them back. That doesn’t change the fact there’s a woman out there who married me. That I have a son.”
Sam hesitated. “So what do you want to do? Do you—do you want me to leave? Do you want to leave?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I guess I should start by talking to Kim Nero and finding out…I don’t know.” Drew looked at Sam. “I know that I still love you. That hasn’t changed for me.”
“And I love you,” Sam insisted. “We’ll figure everything else out. As long as we remember that we love each other, it’ll be okay.”
“Maybe,” Drew said with a faint smile. He glanced over at the baby monitor when they heard sounds. “Scout’s awake. I guess I’ll go check on her.”
General Hospital: Hub
“I am so ready to be done with this shift,” Elizabeth told Lucas and Felix as she handed the last of her paperwork over to Felix. “I’m going to go home—”
“Elizabeth, thank God—”
With a wince, Elizabeth turned to find Michael rushing up to her, slightly out of breath. His dress shirt was rumpled and his hair disheveled. “Michael—what’s going on? What happened—”
Michael took her by the shoulder and pulled her away from Felix and Lucas, towards a seating area. “Have you talked to Jason in the last few hours?”
“No, I figured he’d be busy with Spinelli and I think he said something about lunch with Monica.” Elizabeth frowned. “What’s wrong? What happened?”
“I—” Michael grimaced. “He apparently got in the middle of Mom screaming at Ava, and Grandma took the opportunity to remind Mom about AJ—”
Elizabeth made a face. “Oh, no. He didn’t know—”
“No. And then he came to see me—and I didn’t—” Michael dragged his hands through his hair. “Damn it. I didn’t mean it. I was just—talking about all of this always brings it back, and I start to feel guilty all over again that I let Mom and Sonny back into my life, and I think about—”
“Michael, just calm down—” Elizabeth put out a hand. “Tell me what happened.”
“I told him that I was glad he’d been dead when it all went down,” Michael admitted, “because he just would have helped Mom and Sonny get away with it, too.”
Elizabeth’s mouth dropped open slightly as she stared at Michael in disbelief. “You didn’t! Michael!”
“I didn’t—I didn’t mean it to the sound the way it did—” Michael sighed. “He left before I could apologize, and then he didn’t answer my calls. He doesn’t have that tracking app on his phone yet, and Spinelli, Mom, and Sonny haven’t heard from him. I thought for sure—”
Elizabeth sighed. “No, he didn’t get in touch with me, but—” She bit her lip. “I think I know where he might go. And it’s not going to make anything easier.”
“What? Where? Elizabeth—”
“Go home,” Elizabeth told him. “I’ll take care of it.”
Floating Rib: Parking Lot
They’d renamed the bar six months before Jason had been shot and shoved into the frigid waters of the harbor, but somehow he’d let himself forget that fact. Even so, the interior had always looked the same, and Jason just wanted to go inside and lose himself the way he’d used to—
But someone had redecorated it, and the dingy color and broken down furniture had been replaced by newer and brighter colors. It wasn’t the same. It wasn’t Jake’s.
Nothing was the way it was supposed to be, and Jason just stared at the building for a long time, feeling more lost than he had a right to be. It was just a bar. Just a place.
But it had always been his safe place. The one spot in the entire world he could count on—
His phone rang again, and Jason looked down at it, expecting to see Michael, Sonny, or Carly’s name flash across the screen. Spinelli had given up almost an hour ago, but the other three had called every few minutes.
He didn’t know what to say to any of them. How to handle it. How to process what had happened or why it had hit him so hard—he’d never liked AJ, that was no secret. Why did it twist something inside of him so hard to learn that AJ had been alive all that time, that he’d returned to rebuild his life—
That Sonny had killed him, and Carly had helped to cover it up?
But the call wasn’t from Sonny, Carly, or Michael. It was Elizabeth. Thinking it was about Jake—if he could see his son, maybe—
“Hey. Are you busy right now?”
Jason looked at the sign over the bar, then shook his head. “No. I’m not.”
“Great. Can you meet me at the corner of Van Ness and Arnold? There’s something I need to do, and I could use your help.”
Relieved at the distraction, Jason agreed, “I’ll see you in a few minutes.” He hung up the phone, then got back into the SUV.
When he arrived at the street corner Elizabeth had given him, he pulled up behind her car, then stepped out to find her leaning against a chain-link fence. “Hey. What’s up? Is everything okay?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth said. She gestured towards the building behind the fence—the building he hadn’t noticed before now. And the parking lot out front. Jason took in the lines of motorcycles, swallowing hard.
She’d brought him to a motorcycle dealership.
“It’s been a long time since we went nowhere fast,” she told him, “and I had a really bad day. I thought maybe you might need a ride, too.”