And I can’t see that thief that lives inside of your head
But I can be some courage at the side of your bed
And I don’t know what’s happening and I can’t pretend
It’s a long, long get away, it’s a long, long get away
Make it home again, make it home again
It’s a long, long get away, it’s a long, long get away
– Thief, Our Lady Peace
Wednesday, January 19, 2000
Kelly’s: Dining Room
“You know, why don’t you take a seat at the counter?” Tammy suggested, as Elizabeth limped towards the cash register. “Those feet have to be killing you—”
“Better than the weekend.” Elizabeth separated her cash tip from the money left on the table and slid it into her apron. “And it’s down to a dull throb. There’s just one cut that was deeper than the rest.” She winced, shifting her weight from that foot. “The rest are pretty much good.”
“I’m okay.” Elizabeth handed Tammy the receipt from the table she’d just cleaned. “And I’ll be more careful trying to cook in the kitchen.”
“Mmm-hmm.” The manager eyed her critically, and Elizabeth knew that her cover story for the injury hadn’t fooled her. But Tammy didn’t ask any other questions. “How were your classes yesterday?”
“Good. Better since I cut back to only four,” Elizabeth admitted. She started another pot of coffee. “I only have to be on campus two days a week which gives me more time for other things. Jason said my studio was almost finished being renovated.”
“And I, for one, will be very happy when you have a safe place to work. Doors that lock. Heating that works.” Tammy hesitated. “Have you given any more thought to what we talked about last week? About maybe leaving the nest?”
“You trying to fire me?”
“No, no. Of course not. I just know how loyal and stubborn you can be.” Tammy shrugged and pulled out the ledger book to enter in the sale from the day. “So is that a no?”
“It’s actually…I was going to give you my two week’s notice at the end of the shift,” Elizabeth admitted. “Jason and I talked about it, and he agreed with you. Of course he did.”
“I knew it. As soon as you told me you were gonna maybe travel some this summer.” Tammy nodded. “Good. You’ll have time to work on your art, finish your education, and give your marriage a good chance. You gotta put the work in, you know. The first few months — well, you can ride high on the heat and the sweet. But eventually, you see each other on a bad day, and that’s when marriage becomes a choice.”
“The heat and the sweet,” Elizabeth repeated. “That’s an interesting way to put it, but I guess you’re right. Everything has been…” So fast, she thought. A whirl wind. She and Jason had been friendly before that night in November when she’d asked him to dance. How could so much have changed in less than two months? It seemed almost impossible that she was standing here, giving her two week’s notice because she had Jason’s support.
Her husband’s support.
“I gotta say, I had my doubts when I read the news — I knew he’d only been sniffing around for a little bit,” Tammy continued. She picked up a tub of dirty dishes and went into the kitchen. Elizabeth followed. “I thought maybe you were moving too fast. Or maybe he’d, uh, gotten you in trouble.” She lifted her brows, and Elizabeth flushed.
“No. No, definitely not.” And she’d gone to the doctor like they’d talked about. And hopefully, in another week or so, she’d get the confirmation that their rush a few nights ago wouldn’t have any lasting consequences. “We just…I don’t know. It seemed like a good idea.”
“Well, it’s been almost three weeks,” Tammy said. “Do you still think it was a good idea?”
Elizabeth considered the question. The threat from Carly was a fading one, though she had her worries about the secret Jason was keeping from Sonny on Carly’s behalf. There was the more worrying threat of Sorel going after her again, but she wasn’t that concerned. But had they really needed to get married to solve either of those problems? Probably not.
“I do,” she said finally. “In fact, I think it was a great idea. And I’m really happy.”
“Good. Consider your resignation accepted. We’re going to miss you around here.” Tammy hugged her. “And you’re always welcome back if you miss the smell of grease and chili.”
Thursday, January 20, 2000
Quartermaine Estate: Master Bedroom
Carly poured over the staff directory from Mercy Hospital, but wasn’t surprised when she learned that Lorraine wasn’t still working there. And the nurse had already been an unreliable ally the last time Carly had worked with her. But it hadn’t been Lorraine’s fault the truth had come out — that had been AJ.
No, she just needed a paternity test that would stand up to whatever Jason would do with it. Would he investigate it himself? Carly tossed the staff directory back into the drawer and found the phone book. Maybe Lorraine was working at a different hospital — she had money now. Lots of it. And AJ never asked about how she spent it.
She’d pay Lorraine whatever she wanted this time if she could just guarantee a paternity test Jason would believe. Oh, but what if the kid came out looking just like Sonny? Jason would never believe it then—
Carly scowled and paced the room, a hand at the small of her back. She could try to get to Lorraine, that was definitely an idea on deck. But she needed an exit plan. A way to guarantee that she could keep herself out of a bitter custody dispute with Sonny and out of divorce court with AJ.
She exhaled slowly, met her eyes the mirror. There were only a few ways out of this mess, Carly thought. And none them ended particularly happy. She just had to choose her poison, commit to it, and hope for the best.
She’d track Lorraine down and hope like hell her genetics won the day and gave her a blonde-haired baby. The universe owed her that much, at least.
Friday, January 21, 2000
Morgan Penthouse: Living Room
Jason emerged from the kitchen as Elizabeth limped through the front door. His brow creased. “It’s still hurting?”
“Not as bad as a few days ago.” She sighed with relief as Jason slid her coat off her shoulders, took her backpack, and then carried her to the sofa. “I could have made it on my own.”
“Yeah, yeah—” He slid off her ballet-shoe shaped flat and sighed. The cuts were basically healed — just thin lines at the bottom of her feet. “It’s just this foot now, right?”
“Mmm. The deepest cut. Your medical guy said it would take another few days the last time he looked.” She sighed and stretched her arms over her head.
“Richie also said that you should stay off of it,” Jason reminded her. She cracked open one eye.
“What’s your point?”
“Nothing.” He couldn’t help but smile at the grumbling in her voice. While it frustrated him at times that she was so stubborn, he also respected her more for it. She’d promised Audrey she’d finish college, so she’d gone to her classes. And she had refused to call out of Kelly’s, knowing she would leave Tammy short-handed. Not when she was already planning to leave her job.
It would be so easy for her, Jason thought, to have lounged around the penthouse the way Carly had. To go shopping and use the bank account he’d given her. Not that he’d ever look, but he doubted that she’d even touched any money that she hadn’t earned.
“I can feel you looking at me.”
“I was thinking about how much I wish I didn’t have to go out again tonight,” he said with a sigh, and now she opened both her eyes and sat up on her elbows. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize.” Elizabeth sat all the way up now, folding her legs beneath her. “We don’t have to talk about where you’re going,” she added, “because I know it. And while it’d be great if it was just over already, it’s not that easy.” She leaned forward, kissed him. “When do you have to go?”
Jason pulled her across his lap and kissed her again, deepening the embrace. It had been days, he thought, since they’d had time for each other. It seemed like she was always coming in as he was going out. “I have to deal with a shipment first, and then—” Then he’d do his round of the places Sorel might be, looking for the opportunity to make this over. Sorel had been cagey the last week — avoiding public places — and the last thing Jason wanted was to chance breaking into a private property.
No, this had to be a clean kill with a guaranteed disposal. He wasn’t going to take any chances that he couldn’t come home. Or that he’d leave Elizabeth unprotected.
“I probably have an hour or so.”
“Mmm, that’s enough time—” Elizabeth sighed when his cell phone rang. “Or not.” She shimmied off his lap, and he grimaced at the interruption. He went into the kitchen to answer it since it was one of their guys at the warehouse.
When he came back, he went to the closet for his lockbox. “I have to go now,” Jason said, with some regret. “I’m sorry.”
“What did I say about apologizing?” She leaned over the back of the sofa, watched him. “I should learn how to use a gun. I can hold one,” she continued when he looked at her, startled. “But I don’t know if I can do more than aim and hope for the best. Do you think I should know?”
“Do I get in trouble if I say I wish I could say no?” Jason asked. He slid a magazine into the the gun, then pulled out the holster that sat at the small of his back. He tucked the gun securely, then closed the lockbox. “But you should probably know how to aim,” he said. “And to hit something.” He looked at her, considering. “Do you really want to know?”
“That feels like a trick question.” She sat back on her heels. “No. But wanting and needing are two different things. And I don’t want to learn in the moment, if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I do.” He returned the box to the closet. “I’ll take you out to the range,” he said. “And you can get a permit.” He came back to the sofa, leaned down to kiss her. “But stay out of trouble while I’m gone.”
“No guarantees,” she called as he left, and he grinned as he pulled the door shut.
Elizabeth was already bored out of her mind an hour after Jason had left, flipping through the channels and contemplating pizza for dinner. When the phone rang, she was almost pathetically excited for something to do. She grabbed the cordless from the coffee table. “Hello?”
“Mrs. Morgan, I have Carlotta Vega in the lobby, hoping you have some time today.”
Carlotta Vega? Elizabeth straightened, her brows furrowed. “Ah, she can come up.” Why would she come here? Hadn’t she said she’d send Elizabeth an invitation? And was she supposed to let the woman come upstairs without Jason being here?
Yes, she thought. The front desk guards wouldn’t have even bothered to call — Jason would have given them a list of people to admit or to keep out. And he’d liked Carlotta Vega, hadn’t he?
Still a bit bewildered, Elizabeth opened the door a few minutes later when she heard the elevator outside the door. Francis had his hand already poised to knock. “Mrs. Vega is here,” he said.
“Yeah, um, yes, thank you.” Elizabeth felt a bit dowdy in the jeans and sweater she’d worn to her classes and her feet bare, except for the heavy wool socks she’d put on when Jason left. “Mrs. Vega—”
“Please…” Carlotta sailed in, perfectly coifed in a coffee and cream skirt set, her hair just precisely set, and pearls at her ears. “I’ve been thinking about you all week, my dear.” She kissed Elizabeth’s cheek. “But Daniel insisted I give you some time to recover.”
“Oh.” Elizabeth closed the door. “I’m fine.”
“After we heard what happened, I hope you know we were both quite upset. Daniel was already regretting the reception by the time you arrived last week—” Carlotta ushered Elizabeth back to the sofa. She sat in the armchair. “And what was attempted — Sonny told us how brave you were.”
“Well, I don’t know about brave. Just—just stubborn. I guess.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “Do you—I could make some coffee?”
“I’m only here for a moment, my dear. I don’t intend to put you out at all.” Carlotta patted her knee. “Sonny told us you’d hurt your feet?”
“Oh.” Elizabeth curled her toes. “Yeah, well. We had to—I couldn’t run in heels. And stockings don’t really offer a lot of protection. But I’m okay. Mostly all healed.”
“Well, that’s good. You don’t have to be nervous—” Carlotta’s eyes crinkled at the corners as she smiled. “Unless Jason’s been filling your ears with terrible tales—”
“Oh. No, no, no. The opposite, really. Just that you’re kind of…” Elizabeth hesitated. “He said he liked you. And I did, too. I do, still. I mean. I think—” She paused. “When Sorel cut into that dance last week, you stopped Jason from murdering him on the spot.”
“To my everlasting regret,” Carlotta muttered, and Elizabeth smiled, a bit more at ease. “It’s best to tread lightly, Elizabeth, when you’re in a room filled with men who claim to be your ally with one breath, and stab you with the next. You’ll learn this as you go along, but just because it appears everyone was on the same side last Friday, that does not make it true. Sorel has allies. Ones we know about, and the ones we do not. Jason knows this, but I worried he might forget in the moment. He’s quite protective of you.”
“I know. I guess I just—you handled Sorel so well that night. And he…he was intimidated by you.” Elizabeth paused. “I guess I wish I could do that. Or at least know to handle that better. I don’t want to be a liability for Jason.”
“I would hope that if I were in a limo with my husband,” Carlotta said, “and we learned that we were in the process of being kidnapped, that I would have the strength and courage to leap out and run away with him. Sonny told us that Jason had been injured. That it was you who kept Joseph’s men from accomplishing their goal.”
“I—yeah, I guess.”
“That is precisely the opposite of a liability. But I understand your concern. It’s not a world for the weak, Elizabeth. And if you choose it, you must really choose it.” She tilted her head. “Have you made the choice with your eyes wide open?”
“I think so. I mean, yes.” Elizabeth nodded, thinking of the gun shot wound she’d tended, the bomb in her studio — the chances she’d had to walk away. “Yes. I knew who Jason was when I married him. And I wouldn’t want him to be different. Not unless it’s something he wants.”
“Good. Good. Well, I won’t keep you any longer, my dear. Expect an invitation to tea. Thank you for letting me impose on you.”
“It was nice to see you.” Elizabeth followed her to the door. “Um, tell Mr. Vega I said hello.”
“I will do that.” Carlotta smiled at her, then left. Elizabeth exhaled on a rush of air, a bit relieved. She genuinely liked the other woman, but it had felt like a visit from the president or some other visiting dignitary. She was just relieved it was over.
Saturday, January 22, 2000
Morgan Penthouse: Master Bedroom
Jason tiptoed into the room, having already kicked off his boots downstairs. It was just past five in the morning, and the sleepless nights were starting to wear on him.
Elizabeth was curled up on her side of the bed, her hands tucked under her chin, the comforter pooled around her waist. He waited an extra moment, to be sure her breathing was deep and even — he hadn’t woken her.
He tossed his clothes in the hamper, pulled on a pair of sweats and crawled into the bed, inching towards her. He didn’t want to wake or disturb her, but he also — he just missed her.
Jason stretched himself out at her back and kissed her shoulder before laying his head on her pillow, content to just be close.
“You’re home,” her slurred words barely audible.
“Go to back to sleep,” he murmured in her ear. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Not awake. Dreaming.” She sighed, then snuggled against him. He relaxed, laid a hand over her waist, which she found and laced together with her own, holding it against her abdomen. Jason closed his eyes and let himself drift to sleep.