Written in 63 minutes.
Elizabeth would have made a clean exit from the building if not for Mike Corbin leaving the storage room. She crashed into him and nearly went to the floor but the older man took her by the elbow and kept her upright.
“Whoa, honey. What are you in such a rush for?”
“I—” Elizabeth pressed her lips together, shook her head. She couldn’t speak. Didn’t want to. The rush of righteous anger had evaporated, and everything was swirling, crawling up her throat, and if she opened her mouth, it would just pour out and she might never close it all up again—
“Come here. Come on. Come into the kitchen.” Gently, Mike ushered down the back hallway into the club’s kitchen. Though Luke’s wasn’t known for its cuisine, it served the basic bar dishes and the burgers weren’t half bad, especially after a few drinks. Mike was the kitchen manager — a position Luke had given him to keep Mike and Sonny, his son, from coming into contact all that much.
Mike pushed her onto a stool in the prep area and went to the sink to pour a glass of water. “You were coming from upstairs, so I guess you had a run in with Jason.”
Elizabeth nodded, sipped the water, but still didn’t trust her voice. Mike sat across from her, folded his arms, and looked at her kindly. “I argued with Luke, you know. And to the extent Michael listens to me when I have something to say, I argued with him, too. I don’t think it was fair to push you or Jason into dealing with each other until you were ready.”
She closed her eyes. “Jason didn’t have any idea about the conservatorship,” she admitted, and was relieved when her words were steady. “I mean, I figured as much, but it was…I did too much, Mike. I pushed too much on him, just like the Quartermaines, and I told myself I wouldn’t, but I just—”
She pressed the heel of her palm into her eye, the other hand gripping the glass tightly. “He was looking at the picture of us. We took one photo of us, one professional one, I mean. Just before the accident. I wanted it for our Christmas card. The first one as a family, and I had in my wallet, and I shoved it at him to prove what I was saying — and he just stared at it—”
“I know the picture, honey.” Mike reached into his back pocket, retrieved his own wallet. “We all carry it, you know. I was proud when you gave me a copy. To be included.”
Elizabeth took the photo he handed her. “It’s just—he stared at it, and I thought he wanted to know her, and then I realized he didn’t want to be told things. He wanted to know them. And so…I gave him so much—” She smiled wanly. “Marriage and birth certificates. His medical school stuff. Bank statements. Legal records. The baby book. I wanted him to know her. I just—” She bit her lip. “I wanted him to love her again, and it’s selfish because I know it’s not possible—”
“Why not, honey? Why couldn’t he look at all of that, and feel how much he’d loved that little girl?” Mike asked. He put a hand on her wrist. “It’s not selfish to want to share that—”
“It is selfish, Mike. Because I’m alone with it all now—I know you…I know you all cared and loved her. You’re my family. But it’s not the way Jason and I—and now it’s just me, so it’s selfish to drag him back into it. But I just thought…” She sipped her water. “He only asked about the hospital. Why I wasn’t there. I should have given him the legal stuff and left, but he was asking questions, and I just—I thought for a minute…”
“No. Yes. No. I know it’s not possible. It’s not amnesia. I know he’s not the same. I can see it, you know? The way he holds himself, the way he looks — it just isn’t the same.” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “And he can’t…the labels on the bottles, and pictures. I know he has injuries that aren’t going to heal. Processing, I think. And the memories — they’re not locked up waiting to be found. They’re gone. I know that. But I just—”
She shook her head. “I wasn’t ready for what it would be like. To sit across from him, to have all that history, and know I’m the only one who carries it now. It was harder than I thought, and I went too far. I tried too hard to make him know who he used to be, and now he’s angry at me, and I feel terrible.”
“Then you let him have a few minutes,” Mike said, patting her hand again. “A day maybe. You let him be, and let him come to you. You gave him a lot to process, honey, and now you need to let him do it. Patience. Which isn’t something you’re good at.”
“No.” And now she smiled faintly. “I know that. It’s why we were such a good match, you know? I was impulsive and reckless, and Jason was contemplative and patient, and we balanced. Now…we’re nothing, and it’s…losing him all over again.” She sighed, gave him back the photo. “But you’re right. I gave him a lot of information. What he does with it—that’ll be his choice. Thanks, Mike.”
While waiting for Justus Ward, another one of the cousins, Jason ignored the papers Elizabeth had brought, leaving them piled on the small kitchen table. Instead, he sat on the tiny twin bed and paged through one of the magazines he’d found in Luke’s office. He liked to read, he thought, because the letters were in simple, clear, print and they made sense to him.
Maybe he’d get a library card. Or did he have one? Probably. He’d be able to do that now that he had an address. He didn’t know why that mattered, only that it did. One of those mysterious pieces of knowledge he didn’t always understand, but knew to be true.
The only thing he’d kept away from the table had been the baby book. It sat on the little square table next to the bed next to a brass-plated lamp. Jason had already read it twice, and knew there wasn’t anything more to find in it, but there was something about it that he didn’t quite want to let go of.
He’d have to return it to Elizabeth at some point — she remembered the baby, and he didn’t, so it was hers. But for now—
The knock came almost two hours after the phone call, and Jason hurried to pull open the door. Justus stood on the other side, a few inches taller and a handful of years older. He’d graduated from law school, Jason remembered. Had practiced for a few years. He’d understand the documents.
“Sorry, I had a meeting with a client.” Justus stepped in, his dark suit rumpled. He pulled at the tie around his neck. “You said you had something for me to look at?”
“Yeah. Yeah.” Jason closed the door. “But first, I need you to answer two questions.” He turned to look at the cousin. His cousin, Jason tried to remember, though he wasn’t sure if he was ready to claim that. There was the legal and biological relationship, which he understood. Justus’s father had been Bradley Ward, brother to Alan and son of Edward. Which made him a cousin.
But being a cousin didn’t mean Jason to claim him as his, and the distinction mattered in his head. He didn’t really know why, only that it was more comfortable to think about the relationships in clear terms.
“What’s up?” Justus looked around the room. “Luke really could have done more with this place, but I’m not surprised he didn’t.”
“It’s fine. I don’t need much. My questions.” Jason considered the wording. He didn’t want to be angry. He’d been angrier earlier, more angry than he should have been, and he didn’t like that. He didn’t want to be out of control. To hurt people, and Elizabeth had been hurt. He needed to try harder. He would try harder. “Why didn’t you tell me about Elizabeth and did you know Alan and Edward went to court and got a conservatorship?”
Justus’s eyes widened and his nostrils flared. “A conservatorship? What the—Are you kidding me? What the hell?”
The reaction felt sincere, so Jason decided to believe him. He crossed to the table, sifted through the pile until he found the folder Elizabeth had given him. “Elizabeth. She got divorce papers from the court. Filed on behalf of the conservatorship.”
“You’ve got to be joking—” Justus cross to him, yanked the paper from Jason’s hand, though the action and words didn’t feel directed as Jason, so he didn’t take offense. “Holy fuck,” his cousin said, scanning the opening lines. “This—yeah, okay. That’s what this document is saying.” He looked at Jason. “No, I sure as hell didn’t know about this! And I can guarantee no one else in the family does either! Ned would have roasted their nuts for this!”
Some of the tightness eased in Jason’s chest. He hadn’t liked most of the family, but he’d understood them. The cousins. The sister. They’d all been nice. And the grandmother. He wouldn’t have minded calling them his, except they were connected to the father and the grandfather, and Jason didn’t want them.
“You didn’t know.”
“No. And neither did Lila or Emily. They never would have gone for this. Or kept it from you—” Justus hesitated. “Though considering we didn’t talk about Elizabeth, maybe you don’t believe that.”
“I don’t know what to believe,” Jason said. “It’s been three months, and no one said anything about her until yesterday. There was a letter and it had my name on it. Hers, too. Together.”
“Yeah. Yeah.” Justus rubbed his jaw, then sat in the chair. “Yeah, well, it was kind of…it was a decision after a certain point. But not at first. I—” He set the paperwork down. “The first few days, you were in the ICU, you know? And we couldn’t get in. Visitors were limited, and when Emily didn’t hear from Elizabeth, she just figured Liz was living there. Camping out. And dealing with the family,” Justus muttered. “Which was never easy for her, but she would have done it. We didn’t know until you woke up that Elizabeth had never been allowed in the ward.”
Jason frowned. “Why didn’t she tell you? If she’d told you and the others—”
“We would have gone straight to Lila who would have shamed Edward,” Justus said immediately. “To the extent that Edward, Alan, or Monica ever accepted or tolerated Elizabeth, it was because of Lila. And Lila never would have allowed this. I know she seems sweet and gentle—and she is, but Lila rules with an iron fist. But, like I said, by the time we knew, you were awake and you didn’t remember anything. And things were bad. You seemed to hate any mention of before the accident.”
Jason made a face, sat down in the other chair, stared at his hands. ‘That’s still mostly true,” he said. “But—”
“Ned was worried, and I agreed—we talked about it first. We were both worried about Liz. I know you don’t like talking about before, but if you know about Elizabeth, then maybe you know…that she’s not the only, uh, family you had.”
“I know about…” Jason paused. “Cady. That’s…we called her Cady?”
“Yeah.” Justus smiled now, though it was sad. “I don’t want to get into all of it right now. But losing her pretty much decimated Liz, and she was only just kind of coming around, you know? No, you don’t know. Sorry.” He paused. “We were worried you’d be angry. That telling you that you’d been married, that you had a daughter—it would be like pressure. And you had enough of that. But you were lashing out in the beginning, Jason. At Emily, Lila—anyone who talked to you.”
“And I’m not blaming you for that. I’m not. I can’t pretend to understand what was happening or what you were going through. I wouldn’t have the first clue. But Ned and I felt protective of Liz after everything she’d already been through, and then she told us that Alan had pretty much kept her out of the hospital—she didn’t tell Emily because she didn’t want to cause problems. I don’t know, I think we just…decided that it was better to leave it alone. Emily and Lila agreed—reluctantly. I don’t know if it was the right decision, Jason, and I’m sorry if you feel like it wasn’t.”
“I don’t know,” Jason said slowly. “I don’t know if there would have been a good time. I don’t know. And it doesn’t matter now. I just wanted to hear it from you. I—” He looked back at the table. “Edward and Alan have this power that I didn’t give them. Control. I’ve been kicked out of places to live, lost jobs. I don’t even know how Luke or Sonny are going to keep them from doing the same now—” He grimaced. “And Elizabeth said it was her fault. That they started it to keep her away.”
“That would track,” Justus murmured, picking up the divorce papers. “They were furious when you didn’t make her sign a prenuptial agreement.” At Jason’s mystified look, Justus added, “a contract you sign before marriage. How to distribute property and money after a divorce. You didn’t have much except your trust fund, and you figured that wasn’t your money anyway. You’d use it because it was there, but it didn’t matter to you. But it mattered to Edward. He tried to force it through ELQ, and failed. You didn’t talk to him for three months.” Justus set the papers down again. “Anyway. A conservatorship isn’t easy to get — or it’s not supposed to be.”
“Can you get me out of it?”
“I don’t…I’d have to look at how it was structured. It’s…you’re fine. You shouldn’t be in one—” Justus furrowed his brow. “And how can they pursue a divorce…” He continued to sift through the folder. “Or an eviction?”
“An eviction?” Jason sat up. “What?”
“Elizabeth’s being evicted from the apartment, according to this—” Justus skimmed. “The conservatorship is petitioning to break the lease which they can do since it’s your name. And she’s technically your tenant. I’d have to look into that, but that doesn’t exactly feel right since she’s…huh…” Justus flipped to another document. “They closed your joint bank account?”
“That’s what Elizabeth said.” Jason leaned forward. “Why?”
“No, it’s just…that’s strange. You don’t have an income other than a quarterly allowance from the trust fund. You’ve been going to school,” Justus added. “But Elizabeth’s always been working. She makes good money at Luke’s—” He rifled through a few more documents, found the stack of bank statements. “Oh, good she brought you these. Yeah, look at December.” He tapped the paper. “I remember you telling me that you were putting the trust funds away — it was tuition and big expenses, but you were mostly putting it into savings. Elizabeth was paying for the monthly stuff. The rent, the utilities — Luke and Sonny pay her a manager’s salary. A generous one, but she also cleans up in tips.”
Justus handed the paper to Jason. “Luke paid her through her maternity leave, and kept on paying her even after…in December, she didn’t work. But he paid her salary anyway. All the money coming into this account — it matches her income. Not the trust fund. But they closed it anyway and took the money.”
Jason’s stomach felt strange. There was a swirling ache that was uncomfortable and almost twisting. “They really…but she told me that I was taking care of the bills. That she wasn’t working.”
“No, these are her paychecks—” Justus showed him the entry. “See? Do you think she didn’t know Luke and Sonny were still paying her full wages? I mean, you handled the finances because you like numbers and she doesn’t. Maybe she really didn’t know. She just knew there was money in the account.”
“Yeah. Maybe.” Jason looked at the statements. “She talked about Luke and Sonny offering to loan her money for lawyers, but she never said if she took it.” He had questions now, but the only person who could answer any of it was Elizabeth. “Will you help me sort it out?”
“Yeah. Yeah, this is diabolical. Can I take this stuff? I’ll go through it, get a better sense. I can get the case numbers, all of that.”
“Yeah. That’s fine. Whatever you want. I just…I want to be able to control my own life. And Elizabeth…I want them to leave her alone. I don’t—” She was the wife, Jason thought. Not his wife, but someone’s. And Alan and Edward were using Jason to make her miserable when she’d been trying to leave Jason alone. She hadn’t pressured him until he’d forced her to. They were trying to take her home the way they’d taken his place to live, too. And maybe they’d stolen her money. “Make them leave both of us alone.”
“I’ll do what I can, Jason. Let me look into this. Give me a day or two, and I’ll tell you what’s going on.”