Closing time, open all the doors
And let you out into the world
Closing time, turn all of the lights on
Over every boy and every girl
Closing time, one last call for alcohol
So, finish your whiskey or beer
Closing time, you don’t have to go home
But you can’t stay here
– Closing Time, Semisonic
Monday, January 17, 2000
Quartermaine Estate: Gardens
Jason paced the small clearing at the center of the Quartermaine gardens, an itch between his shoulder blades. He hated being on the grounds of this place and only rarely visited for Lila’s sake. He adored his grandmother, but he could happily watch this place burn to the ground.
But he couldn’t think of anywhere else to have this conversation that was safe for him. Or for her. He’d waited to send word until AJ was out of the house, and the only person at home was Lila who would never breathe a word to anyone even if she knew.
There was a rustling of branches and leaves as Carly stepped around the hedges, her eyes lit with excitement, her cheeks flushed. “I knew you’d come to your senses—” she said, hurrying forward.
He put a hand up and she halted, drawing her brows together. “Give me one good reason why I don’t tell everyone the truth,” he said flatly.
Carly swallowed hard, hurt flashing in her dark eyes. He ignored the twist in his gut. “What truth?” she managed.
“You’re pregnant,” Jason said. “And Bobbie thinks it’s mine.” He gritted his teeth. “She won’t be the only one who wonders—”
“Is it Sonny’s baby?” Jason interrupted. “And don’t lie to me, Carly. I always find out. For once in your goddamn life, tell me the truth.”
She exhaled slowly, closed her eyes. “I don’t know. It could be AJ’s.” Carly opened her eyes, met his eyes. “I need time, okay? A few months. Paternity tests are risky, and after everything with Michael—what’s the point in blowing up my life if AJ is the father?”
Months of everyone staring at him, thinking it might be his—Jason didn’t give a damn about himself, but he knew it would wear on Elizabeth. She might be smiling and bearing it now, but how long would that last?
But why would he destroy Michael’s life if he didn’t have to?
“I want the test,” Jason said finally. “When you have it done. I want the results, Carly. And if you pull the same crap on me that you did with Tony, you’ll regret it.”
“I know—” Relief flooded her eyes. “Thank you. Thank you. I know I don’t deserve this—”
“You don’t. But Michael does.” Jason shoved his hands in his pockets. “Stay away from me, Carly. The best thing for all of us is if we don’t have anything to do with one another.”
“Right. Right. Thank you.” Carly edged back. “I should go.” She disappeared around the hedge, and Jason put her out of his mind just as quickly.
He had another meeting to get to.
No Name Restaurant: Back Room
Sonny got to his feet when Jason strode through the doors, putting up his hand. “Before we go in—”
“I’m doing the talking,” Jason said. “The rest of you have had your chance to deal with this.” Elizabeth was walking better and she’d gone to work today, but she was still limping.
And he’d never forget coming to his senses in the middle of the park, laying partially down a hill, with her sprawled over him to protect him. Waking up, sobbing in the middle of the night, because she’d been so scared.
Sonny had nearly gotten her killed. The men in that room had played with her life.
Jason was done with the politics of it all.
“I know, but—” Sonny stepped in front of Jason. “They don’t need to know we have issues, do they?” he demanded in a hushed, but urgent voice. “They’ll smell the blood in the water.”
“You think they don’t already?” Jason demanded, but the guilt sank in for the secret he was keeping. Did Sonny deserve to know there was a chance Carly was pregnant with his child? Was it right to keep it all quiet? “Let’s get this over with.”
Inside, a small cluster of men was milling around a table. It was early, but more than one of them was already drinking.
Daniel Vega broke away from Tagliatti and crossed to Jason. “I’m glad you could come. I wanted to apologize for what happened—”
Jason forced himself to accept the handshake. Nothing would be solved if he just punched everyone he saw today, even though he wanted to draw blood. The rage had ignited all over again just looking at their damn faces. Their smug expressions. They figured they’d smooth things over because that’s how things were done—
Not this time.
“Carlotta asked after your wife,” Daniel murmured, drawing closer. “She wanted to visit, but I thought you might not want to see anyone for a few days.” He smiled wryly. “Or ever.”
“She can come whenever she wants,” Jason muttered, remembering the kindness of Daniel’s wife and Elizabeth’s delight in meeting her. “The rest of you? No.”
“Fair enough.” Daniel stepped back. “We wanted to talk about Friday. What went wrong, and what we should do next—”
“Sorel is clearly a problem we need to resolve,” Tagliatti began.
“What went wrong is you thought you could play Sorel,” Jason interrupted, and there was a stony silence. “You thought you had him under control. He saw Friday coming. Why do you think he forced his way into an invitation? Why do you think he cut in to dance with my wife? He wanted to show us all that he’s the one in charge.” And he had been, Jason thought. Because these men had been blinded by arrogance and Jason by rage.
“We had a deal. We tried your way,” Jason said simply. “Now we’ll do it mine. I’ll take care of Sorel. A few weeks to let his guard down, and then I’ll make him disappear.” He lifted his chin. “Any questions?”
“Sonny—” Tagliatti began, but Daniel shook his head.
“The boy is right,” Daniel declared, and some of the other men who had looked irritated subsided. “He did what we asked, and nearly paid a heavy price. The deal was made and must be honored.” He faced Jason. “But don’t wait too long. Sorel is too unpredictable to stay on the loose.”
Elizabeth winced, shifting her weight from one foot to another. She would have called out today, but she wanted to give her two week notice and it felt disrespectful to duck out on another shift in the middle of that. Not to mention, classes were starting in the morning and she had to learn how to walk with the pain anyway.
She managed to get through the breakfast shift before limping into the kitchen and sitting on a stool. DJ, the cook, eyed her with some concern. “You good, Lizzie?”
“No, but I only have four more hours,” she muttered. She took the glass of water he offered. “I cut my foot over the weekend.”
“Okay.” DJ shrugged. “I’m on my break,” he told her, shrugging into his jacket. “Back in fifteen.”
“No problem. It’s just coffee drinkers right now.” The cook disappeared into the alley for his usual cigarettes, and Elizabeth wiggled her toes in her sneaker, trying to absorb the aches.
“Oh, I thought I’d find you in here.”
Elizabeth twisted to find Bobbie coming down the back stairs. “I didn’t know you were here.”
“I came early to do an inventory of the rooms upstairs,” Bobbie said. She furrowed her brow. “How’s the feet?”
“Better today,” Elizabeth said. “Did you need something?”
“I thought we should talk about this Jason thing on our own.” Bobbie pitched her voice lower. “Away from him. I know you think you need to follow his lead—”
“Bobbie, this isn’t my business—”
“It will be,” the nurse insisted. “Jason might be able to ignore it for now because the baby isn’t here, but what happens after it’s born? Do you really think Jason can walk away from his own child?”
“No, and I would never ask him to,” Elizabeth said carefully. “But that’s not what’s happening here—”
“I know it hurts you to think of him together with Carly only a short time ago,” Bobbie said, and Elizabeth’s chest tightened. “But ignoring it isn’t going to help. I don’t think her relationship with AJ turned until she went to the police. AJ made her do that, you know. I think he leveraged their marriage.”
Elizabeth blinked at her. “I don’t understand—”
“I just—I’m not as convinced as Jason seems to be that this might be AJ’s child. Yes, it would be easier for everyone everyone involved—”
“Wouldn’t AJ already know that?” Elizabeth interrupted. “I mean, Bobbie, you’re assuming a whole lot. AJ would know if there’s a chance and he hasn’t said anything—”
“Because raising Jason’s child would be a good bit of revenge,” Bobbie said softly, and Elizabeth closed her mouth. “Karmic justice. AJ could save face with everyone, keep his family together, and take Jason’s child from him.”
“Maybe,” Elizabeth said. “But—”
“Have you and Jason talked about Carly?” Bobbie wanted to know. “I hate to push you, sweetheart, but I think ignoring the fact that Jason was, until very recently, involved with Carly, is only going to be a problem down the road.”
Elizabeth stared down at her hands. “I know.”
“I married someone on the rebound, you know.” Bobbie tilted Elizabeth’s chin up. “I divorced Tony and married Stefan before the ink on the papers was dry. I had my reasons for it, but I know better than anyone. If you don’t resolve the past, you can’t go on—”
“Bobbie—it’s not like Jason and I got married for the usual reasons,” Elizabeth said with a forced shrug.
“I know that. But you can’t tell me that hasn’t changed.” Bobbie stepped back. “I just want you to be okay, Elizabeth. You and Jason. And I just have this terrible feeling about how this will end if we ignore what’s going on.”
“I’ll talk to Jason, but I’m not going to push him.” Elizabeth got to her feet, wincing again. “I’m not Robin. I’m not Sonny. I won’t force him into making a decision he’s not ready to make.”
Morgan Penthouse: Living Room
Elizabeth pushed open the door and smiled when she found Jason playing a game of pool. “Hey. I didn’t think you’d be here.”
“I wanted to see how you were after work.” Jason strode forward and plucked her off her feet.
“Sore,” she admitted, sighing happily as he set her on the sofa, then plumped the pillow behind her head. “Oh, don’t, they’re—” she said as Jason pulled out the first aid kit he’d left on the coffee table and started cleaning the last of her cuts. “I’m not going to argue anymore.”
“That’d be new,” he teased, and she smiled again. Then she closed her eyes, felt herself start to drift. It had been such a long, painful shift. Thank God she only had two classes the next day and could sit during both.
“I went to see Carly today.”
Elizabeth’s eyes snapped and she stared at him, suddenly alert. “You did?”
“I wanted to know if the baby was Sonny or AJ’s.” Jason hesitated. “She said she doesn’t know. Asked for time so she could do a paternity test.”
“And you believe her?”
“I believe she wants time,” Jason said slowly. “I don’t know if I believe that she doesn’t know. I just—” he shook his head. “I told her I wanted a copy of the paternity test, and I’ll find out if it’s real or not. So maybe she was telling the truth.”
“Maybe.” Elizabeth laid back, stared at the ceiling. Thinking of Bobbie’s words. She didn’t want to talk about Carly. She never wanted to talk about the toxic blonde again, but the universe wasn’t really giving her a break. “Bobbie was at Kelly’s today.”
Jason tensed, pausing for a moment, then finished replacing the last bandage on her foot. He closed up the kit. “Yeah?”
“She thinks there’s a good chance AJ is covering for Carly because he thinks it’s your baby. That he’d see it as a revenge for Michael.”
“He probably would,” Jason admitted. “But it’s not mine—”
“I know that.”
“Bobbie won’t be the only person who thinks it,” he said, echoing their conversation from a few days earlier. “I know that bothers you.”
“It shouldn’t. I know the truth.” But it was there. A little tug in her gut that twisted everything and made it feel sour. “It’s not just that.” He didn’t say anything, so she continued. “I know you want to protect Michael. I believe you. But…he’s only two. Do you really think AJ and Carly are going to last forever? Isn’t it more likely that they’re going to split later? Wouldn’t it be better now when he’s too young to really remember?”
“Maybe,” Jason admitted. “But that won’t be my fault. This would be—”
“No, it would be Carly’s,” Elizabeth insisted. She sat up, on her elbows. “And maybe that’s it. Maybe it feels like you’re protecting her more than Michael.”
“I’m protecting us,” Jason corrected with a flare of irritation. “If I blow up Carly’s life, she’ll just come after us again. At least this way, we get a break. I’m still dealing with Sorel—” He tensed. “If you think you can’t keep the secret, I need to know now—”
“I’m not going to say anything,” Elizabeth cut in, knowing he was thinking of Robin. “This isn’t about me. And because I know it’s not your baby, it doesn’t really affect us. It’s just—” She bit her lip. “Whatever you want to do, Jason, I’m going to support you. I know you don’t believe that—”
“You don’t, but that’s okay. You’ve been here before.” He met her eyes. “Everyone thought Michael was yours. And Robin managed to deal with it as long as Carly wasn’t around. It poisoned things with her, though, didn’t it? Asking her to keep the secret. To let people think you cheated on her.”
“That’s not what’s happening here. I’m telling you that I don’t agree with you keeping this secret, but that’s as far as it goes. I know why you’re doing it. Mostly. And you know why you’re doing it. Carly wants more time. We’ll give it to her.” She reached for his hand. “You get to make your own choices, Jason. And this is yours to make.”
“But you think it’s a mistake.”
“I do,” Elizabeth forced out. “But maybe I’m wrong. I could be.”
Jason exhaled slowly, looked up at the ceiling, then back at her. “I don’t know what the right thing to do is,” he admitted. “I just can’t blow everything up. Not yet.”
“Then you won’t. And we’ll see what happens.”