If I could make it rain today
And wash away this sunny day
Down to the gutter, I would
Just to get a change of pace
Things are getting worse
But I feel a lot better
And that’s all that really matters to me
– Amy Hits the Atmosphere, Counting Crows
Wednesday, January 5, 2000
Quartermaine Mansion: Foyer
AJ heard the door from the second floor, and jogged down the stairs to see who would be coming by at this time of the night — Reginald had already opened it and admitted Taggert before AJ reached the landing.
“Is your wife here?” Taggert wanted to know. “I thought she might want to know how the search went.”
AJ lifted his brow, rested a hand on the raised post at the bottom of the railing. He waited for Reginald to disappear before answering. “What search? Why would my wife be involved—”
“Don’t play stupid, Quartermaine.” Taggert folded his arms. “She left her name. Now either you don’t know she tried to have your brother investigated for murder, or—”
“Carly isn’t available,” AJ replied. “And I already heard from a contact with the department. No arrests were made—”
“That’s not what I asked.” Taggert stepped closer. “Do you want to know what happened during the search? Why there were no arrests?”
AJ hesitated. “I assume because you found nothing—”
“You know, maybe this will make you happy.” The detective folded his arms. “I don’t know why Carly decided to throw Jason under the bus tonight, but if she thought he’d ever forget it, she’s shit out of luck.”
“What happened?” What could be worse than siccing the cops on Jason at home—
“One of the cops got handsy with Elizabeth. Destroyed her wedding dress, tried to arrest her—you know, I don’t much like your brother, but he’s pretty protective of his new wife. Did you put Carly up to making that statement?”
“I don’t think it’s any of your business—”
“It is when your personal drama gets in the middle of my case. I should have known Carly was trying to get to some revenge, trying to poke at the newlyweds—” Taggert shook his head. “You tell her to keep away from me. And she might want to avoid Jason for a long time, because he’s pissed off. And he couldn’t punch a cop to make himself feel better.” He lifted his brows. “And you know, Jason can’t really hit Carly, either. He’s not that kind of guy. You? He finds out you put her up to it—”
“We’re done here,” AJ said flatly. “My wife reported a crime. It’s not our fault you messed it up—”
“Your wife reported a crime a month after it happened on the day her ex got married.”
“And you took her seriously,” AJ shot back. “Who looks worse?” He stalked to the front door, yanked it open. “Get out.”
AJ slammed the door behind him, took a breath. There was a swift pang for what had happened to Elizabeth, but Taggert wasn’t wrong. If Elizabeth had been mistreated during a search that Carly had instigated—
He smirked and headed upstairs to share the news.
Jason wanted to get Elizabeth out of the penthouse while the place was cleaned up and the furniture replaced. Her face lit up when he suggested they take the bike out. It was the first time in days when he’d felt like himself, leaning into corners, the wind roaring past his ears, Elizabeth’s arms tightening when he took the turns just a little too fast.
He parked the bike at the observation deck parking lot, and Elizabeth stumbled off, pulling the helmet over her head. Her cheeks bright red, eyes sparkling, and hair tumbling around her face—
This was how he liked her best, smiling and laughing, even shivering a bit from the cold and the wind. Not silently crying or explaining with that air of somberness that she wasn’t scared of his life.
Unable to resist the temptation, Jason reached for her, sliding his fingers into the pockets of the leather jacket he’d given her for Christmas, then taking her mouth, swallowing that smile and laughter as if he could take it into himself, tasting the wind on her lips—they were chapped and cold but he didn’t care—
The helmet clattered to the ground, and Elizabeth’s hands were on his face, leaning into him, nearly crawling into his lap as he still sat on the bike.
She pulled back. “I like when you do that.”
“Smile.” Her thumb brushed over his bottom lip, sweeping across it. “You don’t do it enough.” Elizabeth paused, her smile fading slightly. “But that’s good, you know. You don’t smile or laugh when you don’t feel like it. I always know it’s real.”
Not like the smiles she’d pasted on for months, he knew. The way they’d never reached her eyes and no one had noticed or cared. “You never have to pretend with me,” he reminded her. “And I’ll never lie to you.”
“I know.” She kissed him again, then rested her forehead against his. “I want to paint the wind again. It’ll be even better this time. You can help, you know.”
Jason squinted. “You’re not driving.”
“Oh, come on, you let me before.” Elizabeth pouted, planting her fists at her hips.
“Weak moment,” he argued. “You closed your eyes!”
“Because I knew you were right behind me—” Elizabeth wrapped her fingers around the edges of his jacket, her expression determined. “Please.”
Jason made a face, then sighed. “All right.”
“Yeah, but you have to promise to keep your eyes open,” he reminded her. He slid back on the seat, and Elizabeth beamed. She scooped the helmet off the ground, shoved it back on her head and climbed in front of him. He reminded her where the controls were, even though he knew he’d be steering the entire time. They wouldn’t be able to take the turns nearly as fast, but it was worth it to see her smile.
Morgan Penthouse: Living Room
“You got all the pictures you needed from the upstairs?” Sonny wanted to know as he stepped out of the way of one of the men carrying out the broken pieces of the coffee table. He grimaced at the insides of a sofa cushion on the floor. “Fucking animals.”
“Yes.” Alexis tucked the camera in her bag, then set the garment bag and destroyed painting on the desk. The garment bag had a torn zipper, and a long rip down the front. She removed the dress. “Do you see what I see?”
Sonny’s jaw clenched. “A foot print. Jason must have missed it, too. There’s no way Capelli gets out of that room alive otherwise.”
“He was in such a hurry to get to the dress that he destroyed the bag around it — then tore it off the hanger by grabbing the skirt—which ripped the strap—” She held that up, “as well as the dress itself. And then he tossed it on the floor and ground his foot into it. The painting he might be able to push off as an accident, but this? No.” She put it back into the remains of the bag. “I took pictures of how it was hanging in the closet. They have to take reasonable care. And none was taken.”
She touched a piece of the delicate tulle visible through the rip in the bag. “She tried on all four the dresses I picked out, you know. She was smiling, enjoying herself. She said it was almost like it was all real.” Alexis looked at Sonny. “Like she was really getting married and picking out her dress.”
“That was a good call, getting more than two,” Sonny said. He grimaced. “Can it be repaired?”
“The strap could be sewn, the skirt replaced. I could make some calls, but it would never be the same. And I doubt Elizabeth would be able to look at it the same way again. I’ll ask her. She might surprise me.”
“She usually does.” Sonny looked around the empty penthouse. “Furniture can’t be here until a bit later. But at least it’s cleaned out. Goddamn bastards. Coming after Jason, that’s one thing, but—”
“I’ll draft the papers for a lawsuit tonight. With the pictures, and these—” She gestured at the painting and dress. “Mac will be begging me to make this go away. Jason might have a reputation, but he’s got a clean record. And Elizabeth would be very sympathetic on the stand. This was a clear case of witness intimidation.”
Alexis picked up the garment bag again. “She put this on last — I think she saved it. I could see when she looked at them — this was the one she really wanted. But she wanted to try them all.” She paused. “And as soon as she did, she just lit up. And I thought, you know, maybe—maybe I’m doing a good thing. Maybe my ridiculous suggestion will turn out for the good.”
“This wasn’t your fault anymore than it was Elizabeth’s.”
“No, I know that. I just—she made a beautiful bride, Sonny. But she hasn’t been able to actually be one. Carly crashed her wedding, the PCPD destroyed her dress, and we had to force the prenup on her.”
“Jason will take care of her. You and me, we’re going to make sure the rest of it can’t hurt her again.”
Quartermaine Estate: AJ & Carly’s Room
AJ found his wife standing at the window. “The PCPD served a search warrant at the penthouse and the studio.”
Carly turned, her eyes narrowed. “And?”
“And nothing. No arrests.” He paused, considered telling Carly the full story of what had happened. But if Elizabeth really had been the target of the PCPD’s wrath, Jason would be furious. And if he wanted to confront Carly — maybe it would be more interesting for Carly to be blindsided.
Carly’s lips thinned. “I don’t understand—why didn’t they arrest him or take him in for questioning?”
“I see you’re disappointed because your little pet didn’t do what you were expecting.”
“Did you really think the PCPD would be able to do anything with your statement?” AJ leaned against the closed door, amused. “Your word with no evidence?”
“Jason would have a scar—”
“Sure. If they could get a physical examination,” AJ replied. “Sounds like they didn’t. Your word means nothing, Carly. Without evidence to back it up, no district attorney is going to put you on the stand as a credible witness.”
Carly fisted her hands at her side. “So what was this? A test?” she demanded. “Making me choose between my son and Michael?”
“No, this was me showing Jason one last time who you are.”
“And you’re married to me,” she spat. “What does that say about you?”
“You’re what I deserve,” he said simply. “I killed my brother and destroyed my family. Even if I never take another drink again, there’s no redemption for that, Carly.”
“I am nobody’s punishment! I deserve more than that!”
“No, you don’t.” AJ pushed away from the door and approached her, her eyes, damp and furious, focused on him. “Neither of us deserve more than we’ve got, Carlybabes, so maybe you suck it up. I married you, I gave you all the money you wanted, and we’ve got a beautiful son. I’ve got my job at ELQ. What do you really have to complain about? That you don’t have the man you really love?”
Carly hissed, then looked away. “You don’t love me, either.”
“No, I don’t.” He tipped his head. “So what’s it gonna be? Are you going to keep fighting this and planning your escape? Or are you ready to be realistic?”
She narrowed her eyes. “What does that mean?”
“I mean—” AJ tipped her chin up and nodded to the bed behind them. “New start, Carly. And last chance.”
She pursed her lips, glancing at the bed, her eyes calculating when she looked back at him. Then she pushed him hard so that he sprawled across the bed. She crawled across him and ripped his shirt open.
“Could be worse,” she said with a shrug. “You could be ugly.”
AJ smirked, hooked a hand around her neck and dragged her down to him for a kiss. And when in a few weeks she announced she was pregnant, he’d let her believed she’d beaten him.
It might even be fun.
Morgan Penthouse: Living Room
Jason went in before Elizabeth, dropping his keys on the desk. He flicked on the light, then grimaced.
Elizabeth sighed — the bottom floor had been completely emptied — the sofa, armchair, coffee table — all that remained was the little metal shelf that was empty now. Jason’s small collection of travel books had been destroyed—save the one about Egypt that he kept upstairs.
She tossed her coat over the back of the chair. “Well, we were talking about getting new stuff anyway.”
Jason looked at her, then nodded. “Yeah. I’ll make some calls in the morning. Unless you want to pick—”
“Oh, I don’t care about any of that. I just need somewhere to sit.”
Jason nodded, then picked up her jacket — probably to put it away like he always did. But then he noticed the photographs poking out of the manila envelope. “Is this what Sonny brought over?”
“Oh. Yeah.” She slid them out. “Just a few he said the photographer developed — I’m glad they didn’t get to these. I mean—” Elizabeth bit her lip. “I guess the PCPD has already been here, so maybe we don’t need them framed after all.”
Jason frowned, reached for one. He wasn’t that great with two-dimensional abstract images, but photographs were easier for his brain to process. This photo was just of Elizabeth and Alexis, just before the ceremony. The photographer had captured Alexis adjusting Elizabeth’s dress, fluffing out the skirt. Elizabeth was beaming, the flowers in her hand—her head tilted back, with her curls cascading over one shoulder.
“They—they came out nice,” he said, handing it back to her. “That’s a good one of you and Alexis.”
“Yeah.” Elizabeth’s smile was wistful. “She—she was kind of like a maid of honor, you know? Like Emily would have been. Or maybe if my mother—” she shook her head. “It’s stupid.” She started to put the photos back.
“No, it’s not. Which—we should put them up,” Jason said, and she frowned at him. He remembered what she’d said upstairs, the way she’d looked at the remains of her dress, and how she’d talked about it almost being real. She’d sounded sad. And he didn’t like that.
Maybe he hadn’t gone down on one knee like the movies Robin had liked to watch, and they hadn’t had a church full of family and friends—but they were married. Even if this ended in disaster, even if both of them married other people down the road — though the thought of it was irritating — she’d never get to have another first wedding day. The ceremony had been interrupted, her dress had been destroyed—
But they were married. It was real. And he didn’t like the way she kept stopping herself from enjoying when she clearly wanted to. And maybe she wanted to have a photo of her wedding day displayed where anyone could see it.
“Which one do you want?” he asked. He took the envelope from her and emptied it onto the desk. There were six photos. “Or do you want more than one? We can get frames tomorrow.”
“You don’t—we don’t have to—” Elizabeth’s cheeks were red. “Sonny just thought the PCPD—”
“Elizabeth.” She stopped, looked at him. “You looked beautiful yesterday. I—I don’t know if I told you.” He should have, but — “When you got to the church,” he added. “I meant to, but everyone was there, and—” He cleared his throat, unsure why he was stumbling over his words or what he was even trying to do. “You always look beautiful, though. I just don’t say it—”
“You didn’t—” Elizabeth paused. “You didn’t have to. You looked at me.” Their eyes met, held, and he saw something different in her expression now. “Before. When I got there, you brought me the bouquet. And I felt beautiful. Even before you saw my dress.” She licked her lips, then drew the bottom one between her teeth. “I got so nervous when I was supposed to walk down the aisle, because the doors opened, and you were there, and you were looking at me. And I got so scared, because it was all so real. You looked so handsome—” She touched his chest, as if picturing the tuxedo he’d worn the day before. “And Father Coates was waiting, and it just overwhelmed me for a minute that it was really happening to me.” Elizabeth smiled at him again. “I didn’t know how I was supposed to move, but you came and it—it was all so nice.” Her lashes swept down as she looked down. “Until it wasn’t.”
Until Carly. He didn’t say her name, but it hung between them.
“I was nervous, too,” he told her, and her eyes flew back to his, startled. “I’ve never been married before. I was waiting for you, and I kept thinking you’d changed your mind.”
“I thought you would.” She let out a breath that almost sounded a laugh. “But you didn’t.”
“Neither did you.” Jason reached for her left hand, brushed his thumb across the ring he’d given her. “This is real. You should get to do all the things you want to do. Like choosing one of these for—” He glanced around. “The shelf over the fireplace. Or wherever else you want it.”
“Oh.” Elizabeth cleared her throat, looked back at the row of photographs. “Um, I like this one.” She showed him one where they were standing at before the altar, Father Coates behind. Jason had Elizabeth’s hands in his, and they were smiling at each other. During their vows, Jason realized. “Is that okay?”
“Yeah. I like that one, too.”
Elizabeth smiled again, and he smiled back, relieved that he’d found the right words to make her feel better. He put the photo back on the desk and took her hands in his, the way he had yesterday—and suddenly, he remembered what they’d been doing before the terrible scene with the PCPD—
They’d been standing in this spot—
Elizabeth’s cheeks flushed and she looked away — he wondered if she’d remembered as well. He nearly asked her, but stopped. It needed to be her making the first move, he thought. Even if he knew she was still a little shy and nervous. She needed to be in control.
So Jason kissed the inside of her palm instead, and just drew her closer so he could kiss her. She sighed and melted against him, her lips soft and sweet. He cupped her jaw, his thumb brushing her cheek. When he drew back, her eyes remained closed for another moment, her lashes a dark sweep against her pale skin. Then they fluttered, her eyes were a bit unfocused. “I like when you do that,” Elizabeth said, her hands fisted in his shirt.
“Yeah?” He kissed her again, lingering a little longer this time, then rested his forehead against hers—his own breath a little unsteady.
“We should get some sleep,” Elizabeth murmured. She drew back, almost reluctantly. “I have to go to work in the morning.”
“And—” Jason’s gaze swept over the empty penthouse. “I have to get some us somewhere to sit.”
She laughed, started for the stairs. “Don’t forget to get a pool table.” She turned on the bottom step. “You’ll have to teach me to play.”
He lifted a brow. “You don’t know how?”
“Nope. But I bet we could have fun.” And he blinked as her smile turned into a smirk. “I’ll see you upstairs.”