“Stay in here, baby, I’m gonna run in and get some bread for your lunch tomorrow, okay?”
Olivia nodded and pulled out her etch-a-sketch and started to fiddle with it. “Yes, Mommy.”
Elizabeth put the car in park and left the ignition on because Olivia liked to listen to the radio. She grabbed her purse and headed into the convenience store.
“Hey, Mrs. Morgan,” Georgie Jones chirped as she started to ring up the bread and the candy bar Elizabeth had grabbed for Olivia. “Is this it?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth remarked. She started to count out the change when she heard a high-pitched scream. Her head snapped up. “Olivia!”
She dashed for the door and got outside just in time to watch her gray Mercedes crash into a tractor trailer. She screamed, horrified.
“Oh my God!” Georgie shrieked, heading back inside to call 911.
Elizabeth rushed towards the car and nearly passed out when she realized that the entire front of the car had been crumpled in, trapping her little girl inside. “Olivia!”
“Mrs. Morgan!” Georgie cried, jogging down towards her. “I called 911 and they’ll be in here in a second and they said you shouldn’t try to move her or anything–”
She was numb now. She couldn’t even feel her legs as they gave out and she crumpled to the ground.
“Mrs. Morgan, your daughter’s spinal cord was severed in the accident. We managed to repair most of the damage, but only time will tell if she’ll be able to walk.” The doctor frowned when he realized that his patient’s mother was sitting, blindly staring into space. “Mrs. Morgan, is there someone I can call? Your husband?”
At the word husband, Elizabeth blinked and licked her dry lips. “I’m…I’ll call him. Is there a payphone?”
“Just down the hall.” He helped her to stand and he led her there. “I’ll be in my office when you’re ready.”
Elizabeth shakily put some quarters into the phone and started to dial the direct line to Jason’s cell phone.
A soft voice answered. “Hello?”
She was shaking violently now, her voice hoarse. “Is Jason there?”
“Yes, he is. Who’s calling please?”
This must be Elise, she thought idly. “It’s…it’s Elizabeth.”
“Oh. Um. Let me get him.” She heard the voice call for him and then she heard his voice asking–he was irritated—who it was.
“I know. What’s going on?”
She closed her eyes at the curt tone. “It’s, uh, it’s Olivia.”
There was silence for a moment. “What’s wrong?” Jason asked, the tone gentle and alarmed.
“There was an accident and she was hurt pretty badly,” Elizabeth whispered. Her voice hitched. “You have to–you should get here.”
“Jesus, what happened? Is she okay?” he demanded.
“The car rolled down a hill and crashed into a tractor trailer,” Elizabeth replied. She felt dizzy again. She needed to sit down. “A-and the doctors…her spinal cord was severed…Oh, God, and she hasn’t woken up.”
“She was in the car?” he asked. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine–I wasn’t in there. I was–” Elizabeth broke off abruptly, bracing her hand against the wall. “I have to go sit down. Will you come?”
“I’ll be on the next plane.”
Olivia had been moved to a private room by the time Jason arrived. Elizabeth was curled up in a little ball on a nearby chair, her face pale, her hair limp and her eyes wide open and blood shot.
Jason stopped just inside the room and had to grip the doorway when he saw his daughter lying prone in a hospital bed. Her face was translucent, her long dark hair limp against the white pillow. There were all kinds of machines hooked up to her and her tiny delicate face had bruises and cuts.
“Jesus,” he breathed.
At the sound of his voice, Elizabeth blinked and looked over at him. “Jason.”
“What happened?” he asked numbly. He entered the room completely, not taking his eyes off the bed.
“I stopped at a convenience store to get some bread for her lunch tomorrow,” Elizabeth whispered. “It was only going to take a minute or two and it takes twice as long to get her unhooked from the seatbelt and inside. So I just left her in the car like I have a dozen times.”
He stared at her. “You left a five-year-old little girl in a car by herself.”
“I put in park but I left it on because she likes the radio and it keeps her occupied,” she continued, closing her eyes to ward off his accusing stare. “I went inside and it couldn’t have been more than thirty seconds when I heard her scream.” Her voice hitched. “She’d put the car in drive and it started rolling down the hill. She was screaming because she couldn’t get it to stop and she couldn’t get her seatbelt unhooked.” She broke off on a sob and had to take a moment to get her emotions under control. “There was a tractor trailer at the end of the hill and the car barreled right into it, and she was trapped inside.”
“Jesus.” He lowered himself into an empty chair. His hands started to shake. “What do the doctors say?”
“They reattached her spinal cord,” Elizabeth replied. “But they won’t know anything until she wakes up.” Her voice was tiny and incredibly hoarse from hours of crying but he heard her next words clear as day. “If she wakes up.”
“If?” Jason repeated sharply.
“She hit her head on the dashboard,” Elizabeth said painfully. She covered the mouth to try and control her sobs. “She’s in a coma.”
“You left a little girl in a running car by herself,” Jason remarked incredulously. “I can’t believe this.”
She closed her eyes. “I’m sorry. Oh, God, I’m so sorry.”
“Sorry isn’t going to make her live,” Jason told her angrily. He lunged to his feet. “If she dies, this will be your fault.”
Elizabeth stared at the floor blankly. “I know,” she said bleakly. “It should have been me. I should have been in that car.”
Shaken by the idea of Elizabeth lying in the hospital bed rather than Olivia, Jason started to pace before ending up at a window across the room. The last time he’d been in a hospital room had been the day he brought Olivia home from the hospital. She’d been so tiny–so delicate. He was afraid to hold her for fear he’d break her.
Elizabeth had been born to be a mother, Jason thought reluctantly. The moment Olivia had been born, there’d been no one else more important in Elizabeth’s life. And motherhood had agreed with her, Jason remembered painfully. She’d been so beautiful in the months after Olivia’s birth. Not that she hadn’t been stunning before but there was something that just ignited in her when she became a mother. She glowed–she sparkled. He’d thought he was going to die when he was told she had to wait six weeks after childbirth to make love again.
From the moment he’d seen her across the hotel room in Spain, she’d been his whole world. He’d be at Yale and would spend whole classes thinking about her–about her smile, her laugh, her voice. He’d known almost immediately he wanted to spend his whole life with her. And then that Christmas when she’d told him she loved him–he thought he could fly.
He could still picture her the day she walked down the aisle in a church in Paris, dressed in a simple white silk dress with flowers twisted in her hair and lilies in her hands. He’d never wanted anything else but her. He hadn’t been lying when he told her she was his home. Elizabeth Webber was the first person that he’d ever really trusted–depended on.
They’d come to Port Charles so he could make a business deal and they’d been out to dinner when she’d suddenly fainted. Jason could still feel the terror he’d known then as he’d rushed her to the hospital.
He’d barely survived their divorce and part of him wondered if she was right. If maybe he’d been too unwilling to compromise. He could understand her love for their daughter. God knows, he thought the sun rose and fell on Olivia. And until he’d met Elise, Jason had been working out ways to prove to Elizabeth how much he loved her.
If Jason wanted to be honest with himself, he’d admit that Elise was just another version of Elizabeth. She was a petite brunette with porcelain skin and blue eyes. They were almost the same height and Elise reminded him a lot of Elizabeth the first years he’d known her. They’d gone into the marriage knowing there was no love on either side. Elise liked the money and the influence Jason wielded in his world and he liked having someone to hold at night–he’d gotten too used to that during his marriage.
Elise never argued–picked up and went where he wanted to go. And the only time she’d complained was when she’d gotten sun poisoning in Egypt. She’d put her foot down and told him she wasn’t going to go on any of those trips anymore. When he was going out on his so-called adventures, she’d be in a spa, thank you very much.
He couldn’t blame her–but he couldn’t help but compare her reaction to Elizabeth’s during the first year of their marriage.
“I’m sorry, baby,” Jason remarked, lathering hydrocortisone cream over Elizabeth’s boiling skin. She just moaned and buried her face in a pillow. “Maybe you should stay in the hotel tomorrow.”
Elizabeth abruptly lifted her head and looked at him oddly. “But you’re going to the pyramids tomorrow.”
“I know.” He took out an anti-histamine tablet and handed it to her along with a glass of water. She took it and swallowed it quickly.
“It’s just a case of sunburn. I can go.”
“It’s sun poisoning and I don’t think it’s a good idea,” he told her stubbornly. “You could get heatstroke or pass out.” He brushed her hair off her face and smiled at her tenderly. “Listen, I’ll skip the tour group and we can hang out here.”
“You’re not skipping just because I’ve got some sunburn,” Elizabeth protested. “You’ve been looking forward to this for weeks.”
“You’re more important to me than some stupid pyramids. We can come back.”
“No, you go tomorrow. I’ll be fine in the hotel.”
He leaned down and kissed her softly. “If you’re not going, I’m not going.” He kissed her again. She moaned and tried to pull him closer but his skin brushed a particularly sensitive area of her sun poison. She broke away and winced.
“I guess I’m not getting any tonight,” he remarked amused.
She laughed and kissed him lightly. “Jason, please go tomorrow. I’ll be right here waiting when you get back.”
“You promise?” Though he meant the question to be light, it came out serious and his eyes were sad. As if he’d been disappointed by people before–and he had. His parents had missed a lot of birthday parties, his middle school graduation, his high school graduation and his college graduation. The only person who’d never let him down was her.
And she knew that.
She threaded her fingers in his hair and smiled up at him. “I’ll always be here waiting for you,” she replied softly before pulling him into another kiss.
The memory faded and he turned to look at her. She was still curled up in a ball, her arms wrapped around her knees, her eyes trained on the hospital bed. God, he’d loved her. She’d been his first thought when he woke and his last before he went to sleep. Even after his daughter had been born, he’d lived for his wife. For her smiles, for her laughs, for her happiness.
But he’d failed. The most important thing he’d ever had in his life–he’d failed. She’d been miserable with him and he could see that during that horrible week she’d begged him for a divorce. Such misery and loneliness in her eyes. He’d just wanted to take her in his arms and forget the rest of the world. They’d had that ability once. To just crawl under the covers and make love until nothing else existed.
And in that week, he realized that somewhere, they’d lost that. He’d spent a lot time trying to figure out exactly when and he thought it might be after that first fight about her not traveling. Before he brought up the spring trip to Paris, they’d still had the illusion of happiness. He still kissed her on the neck when he came up behind her. They still made love every moment they could find. He’d thought at one point Olivia brought them closer together. God, she was the mother of his child. Elizabeth was perfect, Olivia was perfect–he’d thought their entire life was perfect.
But after that fight–after he’d left for three weeks in Paris, things changed. If they made love, it was perfunctory and almost an afterthought. He’d slip into bed with her, she’d turn into his embrace during her drowsy period between dreams and reality and as usual, just the touch of her–the smell of her–it would arouse him and he would initiate it. If they kissed, it was quick as he was leaving the house or when he came home. Things were just different.
He’d noticed it then but he’d thought it was an adjustment period–that eventually they’d get into a new rhythm and things would be like before. She had probably thought the same thing. And maybe it would have worked itself out on its own.
But that picture…that damn picture. Nearly five years later, he couldn’t remember the woman’s name or even what she looked like but there was a picture of her on his arm at some fundraiser in Paris and it’d gotten printed in a French paper–Elizabeth’s favorite to read. And then just like that, he’d lost her. She’d stopped trusting him somewhere along the way and the picture had been the last straw.
It still tore at him that she didn’t believe him–that she thought he’d touch another woman while he had the perfect one at home. Nothing had hurt more than the look in her eyes when she’d showed him the clipping. He’d thought he was going to die when she’d asked him to sign divorce papers. He’d literally felt like she’d reached in and tore his heart out. She wanted a divorce. The best thing that had ever happened to him was meeting her–loving her–and she wanted to end it.
He’d argued against it–he would have promised her anything at that point. If she’d never wanted him to set foot outside the house again, he’d have done it gladly. But she didn’t want that. She didn’t want to compromise. She just wanted it over.
And in the end, the only thing he’d ever wanted was to make sure she had everything she wanted.
So he agreed.
A rustling sound roused him from his thoughts and he looked over to see Elizabeth standing next to Olivia’s bed, adjusting her sheets, tucking her in. She smoothed Olivia’s hair away from her face and kissed her forehead before sitting back in her seat. She sat forward, her elbows digging into her knees, her shoulders hunched.
“I shouldn’t have said it.”
His voice broke the tense silence and she looked up at him, startled. She cleared her throat. “What?”
“It’s not your fault.” He drove his fingers through his hair and exhaled slowly. “I know you’d walk through fire for her and that you’d trade places with her in a second.”
She stared at him, surprised at his words. “Where is this coming from?” she asked softly.
“And that thing I said last month when I dropped Olivia off about being better off if I’d made my own martini–I didn’t mean that.”
Elizabeth stood and rounded the bed to stand in front of him. “Jason–”
“You were the best thing that ever happened to me,” he found himself telling her. “You have to know that. Tell me you know that.”
Her eyes softened. “Jason–”
“I’m glad I asked you for that martini, I’m even more glad that I stayed in Spain and most especially I’m glad I asked you to marry me,” he continued. Her eyes were bloodshot and if she hadn’t already exhausted her poor body of tears, she would have cried at the tenderness in his eyes. He hadn’t looked at her like that for so long–she didn’t realize how much she’d missed that look.
“I’m glad I said yes,” she said tremulous.
“Do you remember that day?” he asked. He reached out and tucked her hair behind her ears. “We hadn’t even known each other for a year, but I think I knew that day in Spain I wanted to spend my life with you.”
“I think I knew the second you kissed me,” she whispered.
“We were in Ireland,” he continued in a hushed voice, his hand lingering at her cheek. “Outside one of those small villages you used to love to visit. It was my spring break from Yale and I’d convinced you to skip the week of classes with me. God, I wanted to spend every moment with you.”
“The feeling was entirely mutual,” Elizabeth breathed.
“I bought the ring after winter break, after we said I love you, after the first time we made love. I carried it around for weeks, practicing the way I would propose.” He closed his eyes and shook his head. “But in the end, I did it outside a little village in Ireland. A gust of wind blew your hair in your face and you pushed it back. You were laughing and you just…you took my breath away. I’ve never known someone as beautiful as you–inside and out. I knew in that moment I could never love anyone the way I loved you.”
“You just blurted it out,” Elizabeth remembered with a soft smile. “One second we were just walking and the next you were asking me to marry you.”
“You didn’t even hesitate. I was terrified you would say no–that you’d look at me like I was nuts. Because, God, you deserved a romantic proposal. I even made reservations at a restaurant in Dublin. Violins and candlelight. It was going to be perfect. Instead I stumbled over the words I’d practiced a-and I fumbled like I was a ten-year-old idiot. But I got it out and the second I closed my mouth, you jumped into my arms and you were saying it over and over again. Yes. I thought nothing would ever top that moment.” He opened his eyes to find her staring at him, tears streaming down her face. “God, I loved you so much, Elizabeth. All I ever wanted to do was make you happy.”
“You did,” she whispered painfully. “You did.”
He still loved her. Right this second–in this moment, he loved her. God, he wished he could say it. He wanted to tell her and pull him to her and kiss her. He wanted her back. He wanted turn back time to that day he’d tried to make her to go Paris and tell her that of course he understood how she felt and he wasn’t going to Paris either. Because what if Olivia rolled over and he missed it? Or what if Elizabeth smiled and he missed it?
Jason cleared his throat and looked away. “I need to check in at a hotel. I came straight here from the airport.”
She opened her mouth to offer him a guest room at the house but then she saw that the wall was down in his eyes again. Like the past ten minutes they’d spent reminiscing about the day he proposed hadn’t happened.
Elizabeth blinked and took a few steps away from him. “I got the penthouse as part of the settlement–you know we never sold it even after we moved out. The keys are at the house.”
Jason nodded. “Just let me know where they are and I’ll get them. I want to go and get back.”
She went back to the other side of the bed and fumbled in her purse for her house keys. She found them and gave the ring to him. As he took them from her, he gripped her hand for a moment. “You, ah, you still wear your wedding ring.”
She flushed and stared down at the golden band around her ring finger. It was accompanied by the delicate diamond ring he’d given her that day in Ireland. She cleared her throat. “I tried taking them off after it was final, b-but my hand felt different–it just…” she faltered. “Olivia would think I didn’t love you anymore.”
His grip tightened for a moment before letting it drop. His throat felt tight and he had to look away for a moment. “Is there anything you need from the house?”
“Could you grab some of her stuffed animals?” Elizabeth asked, casting a look at the plain room. “And some of her picture frames. It looks…it’s too white in here–too sterile.”
“I was thinking more along the lines of clothes for you but I can grab some of Olivia’s things, too.” He hesitated. “You still keep your luggage pieces in the closet in the hallway?”
“Yeah,” Elizabeth replied softly. “Thank you. The, ah, keys for the penthouse are in my desk in my bedroom–they should be in the first drawer on the left.”
“I…I’ll be right back.”
It felt surreal to be standing in the bedroom where he’d once made love to her–where he’d known some of most intimate moments of his life. During those nights Olivia would cry to be fed or changed, they would often be making love or just talking softly. He always held her at night–whether they were both on their sides or he laid on his back–he held her tight as if scared she’d slip away during the night.
He would watch her get up–no matter what they were doing, the second Olivia began crying, she was out of bed and on her way to her. She’d slip out of bed and reach for the turquoise silk robe her mother had sent her after the baby was born. She’d knot the tie and leave the room, his eyes trained on her every step of the way.
And now, four years later, he was standing in a bedroom that was no longer theirs but hers. He was in a house that he didn’t have keys to. He was married to a woman that wasn’t Elizabeth.
He sighed and rubbed his forehead. All this regret was coming a little too late, he decided. Besides, he had to get this done, drop his things at the penthouse and get back to the hospital to see his daughter.
He pulled open the first drawer on the right and it was halfway open before he remembered the keys were in the first drawer on the left. But his eye caught a couple of photographs and he pulled them out.
They were of him and Elizabeth. The one on top was taken just after they’d returned from their honeymoon cruise in the Greek Islands. They’d gone to some party that his parents threw and she wore this red dress with a slit to her mid-thigh and a corset top. Her hair was in messy curls, her makeup smoky and her mouth was open in mid-laugh.
The rest of the photos brought back other pleasant memories. One taken on their Ireland trip, a picture of an Elizabeth with sun poisoning, smiling proudly at his side as they stood in front of majestic Egyptian pyramids and then one taken at the San Francisco Opera. This one was a newspaper clipping. They were smiling–truly ecstatic smiles. The caption read Jason Morgan, the son of Wall Street financier Chad Morgan, announced at a performance of La Bohème that his wife of a year is expecting their first child.
He closed his eyes, picturing Elizabeth in his mind the moment she’d announced her pregnancy. She’d been so scared he wouldn’t want the baby–that he’d be upset. He’d never loved her more than in the moment she told him they were going to be parents. That their love had created another life.
He coughed, clearing his throat. He set the photographs back in the drawer and shut it tightly. He grabbed the keys from the other drawer, threw some things in a bag for Elizabeth before moving to Olivia’s room.
He put some of her stuffed animals into her pink suitcase before heading for the shelf full of picture frames. He found one of himself and Olivia as well as one of Elizabeth and Olivia. He put those in the bag, added the picture of the three of them the day they came home from the hospital and left the room.
Elizabeth bit down on her nail nervously as her watched her little girl sleep. The doctors had been in and told her that as long as Olivia continued to breathe on her own that it was a good sign. She was still alive–she still had a very strong chance to pull out of the woods.
The door clicked open and Jason entered. He set Elizabeth’s bag by the door and put Olivia’s next to the bed. He had a two paper cups in his hand. “I got coffee but I know you hate it so I got you a hot chocolate,” he said, handing her one of them.
“Thanks,” she said softly, taking it. It warmed her cold hands. “The doctors came by while you were gone. They said that it’s a good sign she’s breathing on her own.”
“Good. That’s good.”
After a moment, Elizabeth took a deep breath and looked down into her hot chocolate. “Did, ah, did Elise come with you?”
He shook his head. “No. She stayed back in Spain.”
She winced at the mention of Spain and bit her lip. “You don’t normally go to Spain this time of year. It was always too hot.”
“Elise likes it. She’s got a favorite spa.” He didn’t want to talk about Elise. He wanted to talk about her–to tell her that he still remembered the look in her eyes right before he’d kissed her for the first time. He didn’t tell her that but he didn’t talk about his wife either.
He unzipped Olivia’s suitcase and took out the picture frames first, arranging them on the table next to him. Then he took out the stuffed dog he’d given her on her third birthday. He set it next to her on the bed before reaching in for a soft brown teddy bear. He set it next to the dog and slid the suitcase under the bed.
“Did the doctors say when she would wake up?” Jason asked.
Elizabeth shook her head. “It could be five minutes from now, it could be tomorrow…”
He exhaled slowly and sat back in his chair to wait.