Jason jerked his eyes open as he felt Elizabeth begin to struggle.
He tightened his arms around her, and rubbed her back. “Shh…it’s all right…I’m here. No one’s going to hurt you.”
After a few more minutes, her forehead smoothed and she relaxed. Jason sighed and looked around the room. Sonny was curled up in the chair that Carly had sat in the night before. Emily and Carly were on the floor, wrapped in blankets. He turned his head and checked the clock. It was just after six in the morning. He’d been up until almost three before dozing off. It had been the worst night of his life. Elizabeth had woken no less a dozen times. Once, she hadn’t been struggling—she’d just bolted up in the bed, screaming.
Jason was running out of ideas. As long as she was asleep, he could help. He could hold her and make her feel safe. But sooner or later, she’d wake up. And once that happened, Jason would be lost.
He couldn’t believe that Sonny, Carly and Emily had all camped out last night. Sonny and Emily had made a casserole—which they’d eaten upstairs. Conversation had been at minimum—almost none.
It was Monday and Jason knew he should wake Carly and Sonny for work—but they’d been up with Elizabeth most of the night as well. If Carly wasn’t in, he didn’t see Laura getting worried and Sonny ran the warehouse after all.
He felt Elizabeth shift again. He looked down to see her eyes open. “Hey,” he said cautiously.
She licked her lips. “Hi,” Elizabeth replied softly.
“How you feeling?” he asked.
She shifted again. “Like a truck hit me.” She rolled to her side and noticed Sonny on the chair. “Why’s Sonny here?”
“He was worried about you.” Jason moved his head to gesture at Emily and Carly. “So were they.”
Elizabeth followed his head to look at her friends wrapped in blankets on the floor. “Oh.” She raised her eyes to meet his. “I’m sorry.”
“Why?” he asked.
“Because I freaked out,” she whispered. “Because I let him get to me.”
“Hey, you have nothing to be sorry for here,” Jason said, touching the side of her face lightly. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
She shook her head. “I took a hundred steps back. I’m right back where I was two years ago.”
“No, you’re not.” He shook his head.
“Yeah, I am,” she whispered. “I couldn’t even function and all I could do was fall into that routine—the perfect father, perfect daughter act that I thought I’d left behind.”
“Do you want to tell me what happened?” Jason asked.
She shook her head. “Not right now.”
“All right,” Jason agreed. “Whenever you’re ready.”
“Did I wake up a lot?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Jason replied. “But you’ve pretty much been asleep the last three hours.”
“I’m sorry—I know this isn’t what you signed up for…” Elizabeth looked away.
“Hey,” he said softly, cupping her chin and forcing her to look back at him. “I told you—I love you.”
She bit her lip. “I know, but I don’t think you want to spend your time coddling me-”
“Well, you’re wrong.” He brushed her hair out of her eyes. “Because I’m in this—for better or worse, you’re stuck with me.”
She curled up against his side and laid her head on his chest. “That doesn’t sound that bad.”
Sonny jerked away when the elbow his face had been resting on slid off the arm of the chair. He blinked his eyes, feeling the ache of sleeping on a chair come through. He looked around. Elizabeth and Jason were sound asleep on the bed, and Emily and Carly were still wrapped in blankets. He checked the clock on the nightstand—eight in the morning. He stretched and stood, studying Elizabeth.
She looked peaceful—one would never guess that she’d woken up constantly, haunted by nightmares. Sonny would never forget the sound of her terrified screaming. But now, curled up against his best friend’s sleeping form, one would think he was intruding on a sleeping couple.
He went downstairs and pulled out his cell phone. He placed two quick calls—one to Laura saying Carly wouldn’t be in and the other to his secretary at the warehouse. None of them were going to work today.
After putting his cell phone back in his pocket, he made his way into the kitchen and began cooking again.
Emily rolled over and smacked her head against the bed. She kept her eyes closed for another few seconds, grumbling. Even starting on the floor was getting her nowhere. Remembering her reason for being on the floor of Jason’s bedroom, she sat up. She was relieved to see Elizabeth sleeping peacefully.
Carly was still asleep, but Sonny was gone. Emily sniffed the air—he was cooking again. She unwound herself from the blankets and shoved herself to her feet. She ran a hand through her messy brown hair and straightened her shirt and smoothed her khakis. She should make a quick trip down to the apartment for a change of clothes for the two of them.
Emily made her way down the steps and into the kitchen. “Hi.”
Sonny glanced over his shoulder from where he was scrambling eggs. “Morning.”
“Anything I can do?” Emily asked, washing her hands.
“Toast,” Sonny suggested.
Emily got a loaf of bread out of the cabinet. “Do you think the nights Beth has spent here have been like last night?”
Sonny didn’t even pause in his scrambling. “I don’t know. I didn’t realize she spent nights here.”
Emily put two pieces of bread in the toaster and pushed the lever down. “Yeah. She’s spent a lot of nights here.” She looked at Sonny. “I know it was strictly platonic until Friday.”
Sonny shrugged. “I hope it wasn’t as bad,” he said. He pulled a plate out of the cabinet an started spooning the eggs onto it. “I’d hate to think Jason had to handle it by himself.”
Emily pulled a package of bacon out of the fridge and handed it to Sonny. “Beth told me what happened a few weeks ago…but once she told Jason, she started going to him. I guess it came easy to her—going to Jason for support. I tried to help the best I could, but the only nightmare that I saw before tonight was that first one. Any of others, I didn’t hear or she was with Jason.”
“He loves her,” Sonny said quietly. He flipped a few piece of bacon in the pan.
“Yeah, I know.” Emily put another two slices in the toaster. “And I know he’ll stick this out—because he doesn’t give up. And he won’t let her give up either. I think Beth needs that. Otherwise…she might just try and curl up in herself.”
Sonny looked away. “Sometimes that seems easiest. You don’t want to burden the people you love, so you don’t tell them.”
“But in the end, you only end up hurting yourself and the very people you’re trying to protect,” Emily remarked bitterly.
Carly shifted in her sleep and frowned. This wasn’t her bed—her bed was soft and warm and comfortable. Whatever she was sleeping on now wasn’t soft and it sure as hell wasn’t comfortable. She sat up and rubbed her eyes.
And remembered that she’d spent the night in Jason’s bedroom. She sighed and looked up at the sleeping couple on the bed. Elizabeth was curled up next to Jason, her arms clutching at him. Even in sleep, Elizabeth was afraid to be alone. Well, at least she was sleeping.
Carly rolled her shoulders trying to work out the kinks. What a long night—she’d thought her nightmares had been bad. She’d never forget the bone chilling sound of Elizabeth’s shriek as she bolted up in bed. She shivered remembering the glazed look in her eyes. Elizabeth hadn’t been there in the room—she’d been fighting some monster only she could see.
She idly wondered how much sleep Jason got when Elizabeth spent the night. She hoped the nights weren’t as bad as last night had been. She didn’t want Jason to have to deal with this by himself. She made a promise to herself to pay much closer attention to Elizabeth from now on.
She sniffed the air and smiled. Sonny was cooking. She unwound herself from the blankets and made her way downstairs, following the scene of eggs, bacon, sausage and toast. Maybe she could make some orange juice.
Jason heard the third click of the door and opened his eyes. He’d been waiting for everyone to leave so he could have a talk with Elizabeth without worrying about anyone else to overhear. He wanted to give her space—but he had to know what had happened the previous night. It was a selfish reason—he’d wanted to be sure there had been nothing he could have done to prevent it from happening. He knew he should have gone into the diner with her—he’d offered but she’d turned him down. He should have gone in anyway.
He flicked his eyes down to Elizabeth, but her head was turned away from him, her curly hair blocking her face. He could hear her breathing deeply and evenly—she was still asleep. He’d stay in bed all day if it meant she’d have a restful sleep, free from nightmares.
But Jason knew he couldn’t guarantee her sleep would ever be free of those dreams. And he knew he couldn’t keep her safe. He’d been right outside Kelly’s and Jeff had gotten to her anyway. He didn’t know why she turned to him—he’d done nothing for her.
He’d been hoping she’d wake up, but she didn’t and he didn’t have the heart to do it. No matter how strong his curiosity was—her health was more important.
The door clicked open softly and Sonny came in, bearing two plates. “I wasn’t sure if you two were up,” he apologized.
“She’s still sleeping,” Jason said quietly. “And I don’t want to wake her.”
“You’re going to have to get up sometime,” Sonny said. Jason shrugged the shoulder Elizabeth wasn’t attached to.
“I’ll get up when she gets up.”
Sonny set the plates down the dresser. “Carly and Em went home to get showered and changed. They’ve both decided to camp out here—they’re determined not to let you help by yourself.”
Jason managed a weak smile. “Maybe they can do more than me.”
Sonny knitted his eyebrows together. “What do you mean?”
“I was outside the diner when she saw him…he was that close and I let her go in a lone. I should have gone in—”
“Why didn’t you?” Sonny asked.
“Because Elizabeth told me she wouldn’t be long,” Jason answered.
“Then it’s not your fault,” Sonny said simply. “This is no one’s fault except Jeff Webber.”
“I can’t protect her…” Jason looked away, his hand absently stroking Elizabeth’s hair. “That’s all I want to do and I can’t do that.”
Sonny sighed. “Look, don’t blame yourself. Remember, she needs someone to talk to and you seem to be it, so try not to let the blame come in.”
Jason nodded. “All right.”
“I’ll put these in the oven,” Sonny said picking up the plates. “I’m going home to change and shower, but I’ll be back. Oh, and you need to replace one of your kitchen chairs.”
Jason frowned. “Why?”
“Emily broke it.” Sonny hesitated. “She was upset last night and needed to vent. The chair got in her way.”
“Not a problem,” Jason replied.
“I’ll see you when I get back.”
While at the apartment, Emily placed two quick calls to AJ and Nikolas. She cancelled their Law and Order date for that date and told AJ that if it was at all possible to hurry home soon. She decided to pack a few changes of clothing for each of them—she had no idea how long Elizabeth would stay with Jason this time and Emily had decided to stay there.
While she was in Elizabeth’s room, she came across a photo album that she hadn’t seen before. Frowning, she pulled it out of the drawer and sat on the bed. She opened it to the first page and smiled immediately. There was a picture of seven-year-old Elizabeth and nine-year-old Jason…at some party. Flipping through the book, she realized it was full of pictures of Elizabeth and Jason. Most Emily hadn’t seen before. She frowned wondering when her best friend and brother had found all this time to take pictures.
The last picture in the book was a recent one—Emily grinned. Elizabeth was still putting pictures in the book. Emily had pulled her camera out at the reunion dinner while still eating and snapped a bunch. Elizabeth had picked them up from the developing place and she’d obviously confiscated a picture of her and Jason sitting next to each other, talking. They were smiling at each other and Elizabeth looked really happy.
Emily closed the book and put it inside the bag to take to Jason’s. Maybe some of the good memories would help. Remembering her new knowledge of Elizabeth’s love of writing, she packed her laptop and disks and left the apartment.
She was determined to help Elizabeth whether Elizabeth liked it or not.
Emily stepped off the elevator just as Carly passed by. Both women smiled—they were both lugging bags.
“Guess we’re all moving in.” Carly’s smile was weak.
Emily nodded firmly. “Beth has been trying to keep this to herself—she’s really only let Jason comfort her. I want to help her.”
Carly nodded. “I know,” she said quietly. “But I don’t think there’s much we can do.”
Emily sighed. “The only thing I can think of is probably not any help.”
“If it involves Jeff Webber, a rope and a long ride in the country, it might help me,” Carly muttered.
“Actually it was Jeff, a candlestick and a conservatory,” Emily replied weakly. Carly laughed a little.
Emily squared her shoulders and stared at the penthouse door. “Do you think she’d mind if we sicced Jason on him?”
Carly shrugged. “When she calms down, I’m gonna ask.”
“So, what do I do when I go in there?” Emily asked softly.
Carly put her arm around Emily’s shoulder. “Go and cook with Sonny in the kitchen.”
“What’re you gonna do?” Emily asked.
“Sit on the couch and stare into space going slowly insane.”
“So, if we’re not actually going to do anything to help, why we going?”
“Because at this point, we need to show her that we’re there for her. That nothing can make us turn away.”
Emily smiled. “That I can do.”
Elizabeth emerged from the bathroom, wearing one of Jason’s shirts that fell to her knees. She was towel-drying her hair. “Hey.”
Jason stood. “Hey.”
She twisted the towel in her hands. “They’re all downstairs aren’t they?” Elizabeth asked quietly.
“Yeah.” Jason’s mouth upturned in a half smile. “Carly and Emily came with luggage. Emily brought you some things.”
Elizabeth sat on the bed. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she whispered. Jason crouched in front of her. “I was so happy yesterday—I loved you, I had good friends, great family. I felt like my life was finally coming together.” She raised her watery eyes to meet his. “Why did he have to come back? Why couldn’t he just have stayed away?”
“I don’t have any answers,” Jason said, regretfully.
“That makes two of us,” Elizabeth whispered. She sighed. “Do I have to go down there?”
Jason shook his head. “No. But if I bring you up dinner, you have to promise me you’ll eat. You haven’t eaten anything all day.”
“I know I’m being a burden-” she started.
“You’re not a burden,” Jason cut in swiftly.
She smiled. “You know…I think I believe that.” Elizabeth tightened her hands on the towel. “I don’t know how long it’ll be before I can get to where I was before I walked into that diner. Maybe it’ll be days, weeks…or another two years.” She met his eyes. “I want to know if you’d…if you…” she trailed off.
“Wait?” Jason finished. She nodded numbly. “You’re not just the woman I’m in love with…you’re my best friend. I’d be here whether we were together or not.”
“Thank you,” she said quietly.
“I’m sorry, Elizabeth,” Jason said. “I wish I’d gone into the diner with you.”
She sighed. “It wouldn’t have done any good, Jason. I still would have seen him. So, believe me, this isn’t your fault. And, I think I almost believe that it’s not my fault. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault. Maybe…I needed to realize that I can think I’m past this all I want…but until I can face him—and tell him exactly what he did to me…it’ll never be over.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “It might be a good long time before I can do that…” she paused and took a deep breath. She wiped her eyes and gave him a weak smile. “But I will do it. One day, I will tell him what a monster he is.”
“I know you will,” Jason said firmly. “You’re strong.”
Elizabeth nodded. “But I still need you anyway.”
“You have me,” Jason promised her, grasping her hands in his. “Always.”
“Good,” Elizabeth said quietly. “Because I love you and one day I’m going to love you and be with you the way you deserve.”
Jason took a deep breath. “Just being here…in this room…with you is more than enough for me.”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth breathed, touching his face. “For being there last night.”
“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
feel for Liz. glad that she has a great support system in her friends