I will be the answer
At the end of the line
New Orleans, Garden District: Chestnut Street House
He found her sitting in an almost empty room, with nothing but a chair propped by a window that overlooked some the slightly overgrown gardens. “Hey.”
Elizabeth twisted in her chair and smiled wanly at him. “Hey. I was just trying to find the best room to…” She shrugged. “I don’t know…sit around in for long periods of time.” She got to her feet. “It’s going to be weird being all on my own here. Back home, I was alone a lot, but I could have called my grandmother or Emily.” She sighed and cast her eyes back to the gardens. “Not much of an option here.”
Jason stepped towards her. “You look better than the day I first visited you in Port Charles,” he told her. “Your color’s coming back.”
“After that horrible doctor’s appointment,” Elizabeth said slowly, “where Dr. Meadows threatened to admit me for observation unless I started taking care of myself, I don’t think I thought about what I was doing to my son.” She braced her hand against the small of her back. “I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping. There were days I stayed in bed and just stared at the ceiling.”
“I wish…” Jason hesitated. “I wish that you felt like you could have come to me on your own. That you could have talked to me about all of this.”
“I know.” Elizabeth walked towards the entryway, back to the furnished living room with Jason following her. “But I couldn’t tell anyone. You’re the only one who knows what happened that night in the hotel,” she admitted. She glanced back at him. “I only told Ric that Zander had the papers and threatened me.”
Jason shoved his hands into the pocket of his jacket. “Why not?”
She sank onto the sofa and clasped her hands in what was left of her lap. “I don’t know…Maybe I wasn’t sure Ric wouldn’t have agreed with Zander on a few things.” Her brow furrowed, she paused for only a minute. “About why I was with Ric in the first place,” she murmured.
Because she couldn’t be with him. Jason cleared his throat and sat across from her in an armchair. “I don’t want you to feel alone down here,” he said, noting that his change of subject released some of the tension in her expression. “I’m going to call you at least once every other day, every day if I can manage it without looking strange. If people in the town buy the story Ric and I tried to set up—that you left him, that I’m helping you to set up a new life somewhere far away from him, then it won’t look odd if I stay involved.”
“Okay,” Elizabeth agreed. She stretched her hands out. “How did it go with AJ? Can you talk about it?”
“Yeah.” Jason leaned back, letting his head fall against the chair as he looked at the ceiling. “Yeah. He looked…sober.” He scrubbed his hands across his face. “He offered me the contact information for his sponsor so I could verify that he goes to meetings often.”
“That’s good, then.” Elizabeth smiled hesitantly. “I know Emily and Monica will be relieved to know he’s doing so well.”
“He asked me if I was there to apologize for claiming paternity of Michael,” Jason said quietly. He looked at her. “I didn’t know how to answer him.”
“Are you sorry?” Elizabeth asked. “You never used to think about what-ifs.”
“I didn’t see the point in constantly wishing you had done something differently,” he answered almost absently. “Things were what they were. People did what they did, and they couldn’t take it back. You had to deal with what was in front of you.”
“That was always the major difference between us,” she said, almost wistfully. “I constantly think about what could have been. I’ll think of a moment and think…if I could just go back to that moment in time, there were a thousand things I could have done differently.” She sighed. “But I think you have the better outlook. There is no point in wishing you could change the past, you should take what you’ve learned and do better.” She wrinkled her nose, and for a moment, looked as young and carefree as she used when they’d meet on the docks and she’d show him paintings or they’d take rides. “Of course, that kind of stuff is always easier said than done.”
“So…what do you think you’ve learned?” Jason asked.
“I tihnk…” Elizabeth pursed her lips. “I think I’ve learned that it’s always better to trust your gut instinct, and not protect yourself from the truth, and to remember that just because someone lets you down once or twice, or even a few times, it doesn’t make them less reliable.” Her eyes found his and her expression was somber. “It doesn’t mean you’re not still friends, deep under the hurt and pain. I’ve learned that you should trust yourself first, and if you can’t…” She shrugged. “Then you should figure out why and do better.”
“That’s a lot to learn,” Jason said, almost amused. “I’m not sorry that I claimed paternity of Michael,” he said. “Because there’s no way to know if knowing about Michael would have kept AJ from drinking. He might have crashed a car with him inside, like he did with me.” He hesitated. “I amsorry that it created more problems than it solved, that it hurt Robin, it hurt Michael, I know it hurt Emily and Monica, and Lila.”
“And you got that wonderful year with him,” Elizabeth said with a smile.
“Yeah.” Jason’s smile was more genuine now. “And it was worth it.” He rubbed his hands on his denim-clad thighs. “I’m going to tell Carly she should work out a custody agreement with AJ, that Michael deserves the opportunity to make up his mind about his father without anyone else telling him what they think.”
“Do you think that will help matters with Sonny?” she asked. “I know it must be difficult to be so at odds with him.”
“I guess it’s because I thought…when I arranged for Carly and Sonny to have custody of Michael, to really remove myself from Michael’s life that way…” Jason paused. “I thought I was making the best choice, that he could have a real family, but Sonny and Carly have been apart more than they’re together, Morgan hasn’t known a moment’s peace his entire life…” He shook his head. “I hope this helps bring Sonny into reality. There isn’t a judge in the world that will give him full custody.”
“I hope so, too.” She hesitated. “So, what’s good to eat in New Orleans? I haven’t had dinner yet.”
I will be there for you
While you take the time
Carly sat gingerly on the sofa, clasped her hands together tightly. “So he was sober.” She nodded, more to herself than to Jason. “That’s good.”
“Carly.” He sat next to her and took her hands in his. “I think Michael should find out what AJ is like for himself, make his own decisions.”
“It’s not that…” Carly swallowed hard. “It’s not that I don’t see your point, Jason, I just…I’ve spent Michael’s entire life keeping him from AJ, and now I have to face the fact I may have…” She exhaled a laugh that sounded more like a sob. “No, I know the truth. I was wrong. The AJ that left town last fall…was not the man I knew when Michael was conceived. He was drunk that night, but he was sober for a long time afterward.” She rubbed her forehead. “But I was still so swept up in Tony and in you, and I was so goddamn selfish…”
“And I took Michael away. I gave him to you, I gave him to Sonny, as if he were this toy I could give to the man of the moment.” She shook her head. “But I never…I never once gave AJ the chance to see if he could be a good father.” She opened her eyes and looked at Jason, tears sliding down her cheeks. “I allowed a man who treats me like a child when things are good, and like a whore when things are bad…I allowed that man to be a father to my children.”
“I don’t…” Jason hesitated. “I don’t know what you want me to say, Carly. You made your choices. You can’t change them. You just…” He smiled, just a little. “You take what you’ve learned and do better.”
“That sounds so much like you.” Carly sighed and stood, pacing to the desk. She turned and looked at him. “It sounds like you used to. You always told me to stop planning, to stop plotting, to stop trying to think fifteen steps ahead of what was happening now. Well, Jase, I’m not planning or plotting anymore. I’m just trying to get up every day and do better than I did the day before.”
“So,” she continued after a long moment. “I think you should give me AJ’s contact information. I want to go down and see him. Not because I don’t trust you, but because there’s some things I think I should say to him and we should work this out between us—”
“Not that I don’t agree with you on that, Carly,” Jason interrupted, “but I think I should go down with you. There are…other things I have to see to.”
Carly tilted her head to the side. “That’s where you took Elizabeth.” When Jason just stared at her, she huffed. “Everyone knows she left Ric last week, and you told me there was something you needed to do. You disappeared for four days at the same time.” Se planted her hands on her hips. “So, you helped her get out, to get away from him. Why do you need to go back? Can’t she stand on her own two feet?”
“Carly, I really don’t feel like going another round with about Elizabeth right now.” Jason rubbed the back of his neck. “You know Elizabeth and I are friends—”
“I know you were friends,” Carly cut in. “I know that I watched her on those screens Ric had in the panic room. I’d say I know her pretty well, and it was just bad timing she had the embolism right after she found me. I felt sorry for her, for being manipulated by him, so I was glad when she divorced him.” She pursed her lips. “But she went back to him. She remarried him. She was going to raise her child with him—”
“Carly, are you perfect?” Jason said quietly.
She closed her mouth. “Jason—”
“You turned Sonny in to the Feds. You seduced your mother’s husband. When you just list all the mistakes a person’s made without any…” He stopped. “Carly, you don’t know what was going through Elizabeth’s mind. You should know better than anyone else in the world how easy it can be to justify actions inside your own head.”
Carly looked down at the floor and sighed. “It annoys the crap out of me when you have a point, Jason. It really does.” She rolled her shoulders. “Fine. You and Elizabeth are the unstoppable love story of the century. Whatever. I will never understand the attraction, but I guess..” She heaved an exaggerated heavy sigh. “I guess it’s not really my business.”
It wasn’t worth it to correct Carly about her assumptions of any romance between he and Elizabeth. Her agreement to stay out of his life—at least for the moment—was worth any misunderstandings. “Fine. About New Orleans—”
“Sonny and I are due back in court in two weeks,” Carly said. “So I’ll want to go down this weekend, to get AJ to agree to testify. If you would like to tag along to check on…whatever, that would be your prerogative.”
In the burning of uncertainty
I will be your solid ground
Garden District: Chestnut Street House
The room overlooking the gardens had become Elizabeth’s sanctuary. She had had one of the guards drag some of the furniture from an overstuffed living room, and reluctantly agreed to use some of the money Jason set aside to create a sitting room where she could feel a sense of peace. It was in the back of the house, overlooking a gorgeous garden that must have been carefully landscaped once, but now the tulips, lillies, roses and other assorted wildflowers had broken free of their assigned plots and she thought the overgrown view of it was…better.
It wasn’t perfect, and it was okay, anyway.
It had been nearly a month since Jason had shown up at her front door, since he had listened while details of that horrible night with Zander had tumbled from her lips, and still…he had never looked disgusted or annoyed, or angry. He’d only been concerned.
“Elizabeth, you obviously believe the things Zander said to you, and I don’t know if there’s anything I can say to you to change your mind, to see you the way I see you.”
She had clung to those words, hoping that one day, when she felt better, she could ask him what he’d meant. What did he see when he looked at her?
With the distance from Port Charles, Elizabeth could remember the fear that had coursed through her veins when Zander wouldn’t let her go. He had been out of control, she knew that, and maybe her emotions had been more ramped up because of the hateful things he had been saying, but still…she knew the next day, there had been bruises on her arm from where he’d held her.
Maybe it had not been fully self-defense, but maybe…just maybe, it hadn’t been just to make him stop talking. And if that was true, if it was both at once, where did that leave her? She was still responsible for his death, for his not being alive, but she hadn’t…she hadn’t wanted that.
Maybe she could find her way out of the guilt and the horror of the last few months, and concentrate on her child.
She turned to the stack of letters Jason had mailed her. Emily and Audrey had written her, relieved that she’d left Ric, worried about her and the baby, hopeful that she would get in touch with them soon. Lucky had written her as well, confused as to why she’d go to Jason for help. He and Nikolas would have gotten her out of town if that’s what she needed. She’d just had to say the word.
And then there was the last letter…from Ric.
She knew the people in her life hadn’t understood their marriage in December, had barely understood the first one in May. There were moments she closed her eyes, remembered the horror of finding Carly in that panic room, and then remembered she’d invited Ric back into her life again afterward.
And she knew it had been a mistake, even as she had done so. There had been no anticipation, no excitement as they had said their vows, only a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach that she was on her way to her second divorce before the first anniversary of their first marriage.
She slid the letter out of the envelope and read Ric’s declarations of love, of how difficult it was to listen to people speculate about Elizabeth leaving him, and going to Jason for help, but that it had worked. No one was saying her name and Zander’s in the same breath. The case was going cold again, Mac had made some weak attempts to solve it, but there was always another crime to solve.
He loved her and looked forward to her coming home, hopefully before the baby came. He hoped she could find a way to write him without ruining the ruse.
She set the letter aside, troubled. Everyone in her life wanted her to leave Ric, and honestly…she knew it was true, that while they did love one another, it wasn’t healthy. She had stayed with him to prove that she didn’t walk out when it got tough, had not believed the awful things people said about him initially because she had never believed what they said about Jason. People did not know the Ric she saw. They were different when they were alone.
She stood from the sofa and crossed to the windows, smiling wistfully. If this were actually her home, if she were planing to raise her son here, she’d put a bench in the garden, so she could sit out in the sunlight and sketch.
But this house was temporary, a place for her to gather her courage and her strength, and attempt to put the pieces back together. She was terrified of being alone.
But if that fear led her to stay with a man like Ric…
It was okay if people didn’t see the Ric she knew. Love could be private and still be real. It had been with Jason, though she doubted he ever knew the depth of her feelings, and she didn’t care to speculate if his had matched. The problem with Ric was that the man everyone else saw, the man who was capable of the worst kind of violence…
She could excuse Jason’s actions, understanding they were part of a life that people chose and if people were careful, there were rarely any casualties. But Ric…he had pretended to sleep with Carly, had convinced Courtney to marry him, had lured Sonny to Martha’s Vineyard, slept with Faith…
He kidnapped Carly and held her hostage. Had drugged Elizabeth so they could not conceive their own children while he was awaiting Sonny’s child to kidnap. And she wasn’t stupid—had Ric’s plan unfolded as he had wanted, Carly would have been disposed of after she’d served her purpose.
His list of crimes, of the devastation he wreaked was so terrible, that standing here, when she stopped ignoring them, she almost couldn’t remember why she’d loved him in the first place.
I will hold the balance
If you can’t look down
New Orleans, Uptown District: AJ’s Apartment
Jason watched as AJ took Michael’s overnight bag and directed him to a guest room. After Carly’s first visit to New Orleans, she had reluctantly agreed with Jason’s assessment. She had contacted her divorce lawyer to draw up papers so that AJ could testify in her case with Sonny and begin the necessary paperwork to reverse the termination of his rights.
Sonny had been devastated, and had offered Carly shared custody of the boys immediately, hoping to reverse her decision. But Carly had recognized what Jason had understood. Michael was growing up and they would all have to justify their actions. She told him if AJ was open to it, Sonny would remain a part of Michael’s life, but that she was going to do what she could do to resolve one of her worst moments. She was going to let AJ be a father to Michael.
AJ had flown to Port Charles long enough for the hearings and paperwork to be signed. Had met with Michael. They spoke on the phone a few times a week, and now, for the first time since Michael was a small child, AJ was going to have an entire week with his son.
Jason had agreed to do the drop-off, wanting an excuse to check in on Elizabeth. They spoke a few times a week on the phone and he had daily reports from her guard. Elizabeth’s health was good, her demeanor seemed better, but he wasn’t convinced, and he wasn’t sure she wasn’t pretending.
AJ reappeared. “He’s setting up his laptop and unpacking,” he said, trying to contain his broad grin. “I can’t…” he cleared his throat, and looked away, trying to maintain his composure. “I can’t believe he’s really here.”
“I’m glad he’s getting this opportunity,” Jason said after a moment. He was unsure what to say, how to act with this man who was his brother, but yet, a stranger. “AJ…”
“Jase…” AJ held up a hand. “I know. I won’t screw this up. I’ve dreamed about this for years and now that I have it, nothing is going to—”
“I know you won’t mess it up,” Jason interrupted. “I was going to say…” He hesitated. “When Michael began asking questions about you, I think I understood for the first time how it looked from the outside, how it would look to him, the way we had almost traded fathers around. From Tony, to you, to me, to you, and to Sonny, as if there was something wrong with him, that none of these people bothered to stay around.” He paused. “I realized that we were going to have explain those years to him in a way that made sense, and honestly, I couldn’t.”
AJ sank onto the sofa, his eyes still on his younger brother. “I know what you mean, because the time is going to come when I have to explain to my son that I was a fall down drunk that no one trusted enough to rely on. Had I been any other kind of man, from any other family, maybe Carly—”
“She thought you were going to screw up her chance with Tony,” Jason cut in. “And that the Quartermaines were going to take Michael away. What she did actually had very little to do with you as a person, but the reason I agreed…” The truth of it made him almost ill. “The reason I agreed is because I didn’t particularly give a damn about you, beyond being related to Lila and Emily.”
“Yeah, Jase…” AJ sighed. “Yeah, that doesn’t surprise me. I always figured you had agreed because Carly asked, and you didn’t care enough to say no. But I did that to you. I crashed the car and changed your life.” He stood. “We can’t ever go back and change it, but I should tell you…” He pressed lips together. “You were a good father to him, and I know the way he turned out is in large part because of you in his life, so in the interests of Michael, maybe we could just leave the past in the past.” He held out a hand.
And to Jason’s surprise, taking the offered hand didn’t feel odd or even wrong. Despite AJ’s many transgressions, Jason’s hadn’t been much better. Neither of them could claim superiority.
“I hope that you don’t…” Jason looked away. “That you don’t blame yourself for the accident anymore. I have a good life, AJ. It took a while to get there, but I did. So I don’t blame you.”
AJ closed his eyes. “Thank you,” he said quietly.
If it takes my whole life
I won’t break, I won’t bend
Garden District: Chestnut Street House
Elizabeth considered the distance from the floor to the table where she wanted to prop her feet. Any movement in her ninth month of pregnancy felt like a major decision, and all pros and cons needed to be weighed.
But her feet hurt, so she leaned back against the sofa and began the process.
Jason glanced up from the other end of the sofa where he’d been reading a travel book, his lips curved into a smile. “You want some help with that?”
“I want to say no because I think you’re mocking me, but…” she sighed, and closed her eyes. “If you could.”
He set the book down on the couch, and leaned forward, grasping her legs at the calves and gently lifting them so she was propped up on the coffee table. “You want a pillow?”
“No.” Elizabeth opened her eyes and looked at him. “You’re staying the whole week for Michael, aren’t you? In case he doesn’t want to stay.”
“Yes,” Jason admitted. He picked up the book—on Croatia, she noted—and flipped a page. “But I don’t think he will. Michael seemed to get along with him, and they were both excited about seeing some of the sights.” He eyed her. “And you’re about twelve seconds from labor, so I thought I’d stick around through your due date next week, if that’s okay.”
“Again, I want to say no…” Elizabeth rested her hands on her abdomen. “These last two months, away from Port Charles and all that baggage…” she blew out a breath. “This has meant the world to me, you know.”
“You look good,” Jason said. “You don’t look…I don’t know…” he hesitated. “Unhappy.”
“I think…I’m beginning to accept that what happened that night with Zander, when he died,” she said in a halting tone, “doesn’t have to define my life. I don’t have to punish myself for a single moment of fear.” Twisting her wedding ring on her finger. “I think I had let myself forget that, sitting back at home, constantly surrounded by memories of that night. I forgot that I was terrified, that he had this look in his eyes that I had never seen before, not even on his worst days.”
“The case is pretty cold,” Jason said after a moment. “You could probably come home if you wanted to.”
She closed her eyes. “People still think I left Ric. They must wonder if I’m filing for divorce.”
“I don’t…” He scratched the corner of his eyebrow. “I don’t listen to much gossip, but yeah, I guess people assumed you might have. To avoid your son being born into the marriage, which could complicate things.”
“Yeah…” Elizabeth pursed her lips. “It would complicate things.” She turned her head and met his eyes. “I haven’t just been trying to move past my guilt about Zander. I’ve been…” she licked her lips. “I’ve really been thinking about my marriage, and my choices to stay with Ric. To marry him both times.”
Jason tapped the page, and she could see him warring with the desire to ask her to elaborate, but not wanting to push. And she wondered if he really wanted to have this conversation.
“To be honest, Jason,” she said slowly, “the first time I married him, I used a lot of the arguments with myself that I had always used with other people about you.” When the skin around his mouth tightened, she continued. “I always figured that people had no right to judge you when they didn’t really know you, they didn’t see you the way I did.” She turned her back towards her views of the garden. “They weren’t there the night you sat with a girl who wasn’t much more than your little sister’s friend and let her pour out her heart over her dead boyfriend, or that you taught me how to live with my memories and not let them drown me.” She sighed. “So when Taggart or my grandmother would ridicule me for being your friend, I just told them to shove it, because you weren’t the man they said you were.”
“So, when I warned you about Ric,” Jason said after a moment. “You thought that you owed him the same loyalty—”
“In a way,” she agreed. “You have to understand something, Jason. Ric is…” She hesitated. “He’s charming in a way that doesn’t feel slick, which makes it hard not to believe him. And I was…I was vulnerable.” She looked at him. “I wanted to matter to someone, and it seemed like I mattered to him.”
Jason put the book aside, and sat up. “And you didn’t think you mattered to me anymore,” he said quietly.
“No,” she confirmed, never looking away from him. “And after I knew the terrible things he had done, I pulled away from him. Then I found out I was pregnant.” She closed her eyes, remembering the brief life that had been snuffed out. “I was waitress who lived in a crappy studio that didn’t even have its own bathroom, and I was so alone, you know. I thought I only had one choice, but Carly talked me out of it, so when Ric came around, promising that he was done with his hatred for Sonny, promising me that our child was important to him, that we could have a family…” A tear slid down her cheek. “I wanted it so much. I didn’t want to be alone.”
“I get all of that, I really do, Elizabeth.” Jason leaned forward. “But you knew the second time you married him what he was capable of, what he did to Carly—” He closed his eyes and shook his head. “Christ, what he did to you—”
“I know, but…” She struggled to sit up, and he leaned over to help put her feet on the ground. “Jason, I found myself in exactly the same position I had been before. I was pregnant again, this time by a man whose life was spinning out of control, and I was so…” her voice broke. “I was so alone, and Ric…he was always there. He kept…telling me how much he loved me, and that he wanted to get help, he wanted to be a better person. After everything I’d been through with Lucky…and…” Her voice faltered, “you…I just didn’t want to be alone.” She twisted the hem of her shirt in her fingers. “I can’t…I can’t explain it better than that, because most of the time, I don’t understand.”
“Elizabeth…” She glanced up, and instead of the disappointment she had expected, Jason’s eyes were filled with sorrow and concern. “There is nothing wrong with not wanting to be alone, with wanting someone to love you. You deserve someone who loves you.” He hesitated. “For the sake of argument, let’s put the things Ric did aside…I think that he does love you, Elizabeth. I don’t want to admit it, but he didn’t care that people would think you’d come to me for help to get away from him.”
“But?” she prompted, knowing it was coming.
“But you know you can’t trust him.” He took her hands in his. “If you could, you would have told him what Zander said to you. That Zander accused you of only being with men who reminded you of me. But you didn’t tell him.”
“No,” Elizabeth exhaled. “No, I did not. Partly because I don’t trust Ric. But also, because it’s true.” She looked down at her intertwined hands. “I do love Ric, but I started seeing him, I…was with Zander because they both have…qualities that reminded me of you, so I didn’t tell Ric what Zander said because I knew he’d see that it was the truth, at least a little.”
“Anyway,” she cut in swiftly. “What I wanted to tell you before I got maudlin was that I decided I should file for divorce.” She gently pulled her hands away. “And I should file immediately while Ric doesn’t know where I am.”
As if understanding the moment for deeper conversation had passed, Jason leaned back and cleared his throat. “Do you want me to contact someone back home and put you in touch with them? Carly interviewed a lot of attorneys before settling on Diane.”
Before she could answer, her belly tightened, and she gasped. The little twinges she’d been having off and on for a few hours…
“Jason…I think I’m in labor.”
Melissa, this was another awesome chapter – I am loving the way you are writing all of your characters. Your AJ and Carly are so real, something I haven’t felt for either one of them in a very long time and I am so seeing Sean Kanan’s original portrayal of AJ. Jason and Elizabeth are a treat to read as well, because this is so much what they were around this time period. I can’t wait to read more of this story whenever you write it.
I love your writing– so true to the characters. Ric has such a sense of twisted love for Elizabeth. She and Jason never were honest with each other about what they wanted. You made me like Carly. Makes me think what if– gh had played out differently.
This is so good. Jason and Elizabeth are being so open and honest with each other. I agree that Ric loves her but he can’t be trusted. Elizabeth is going to have her baby. It’s great that AJ is getting his chance with Michael.