Picks up six months after the Second Epilogue in Bittersweet. This is the first scene.
Light up, light up
As if you have a choice
Even if you cannot hear my voice
I’ll be right beside you dear
And we’ll run for our lives
I can hardly speak I understand
Why you can’t raise your voice to say
Run, Snow Patrol
Monday, May 5, 2003
Palazzo Barzizza: Foyer
Jason Morgan opened the front door and set the bag of groceries on the table just inside, wincing when the old, heavy door creaked. He went through the living room, out to the terrace, hoping that it hadn’t woken her. Since she’d been released from the hospital almost two weeks earlier, Elizabeth hadn’t been able to manage more than a few hours at a time. When she’d finally drifted asleep earlier that morning, he’d gone out to run errands.
He rested a hand on the arch that separated the terrace from the living room, his chest easing when he saw her curled up on the chaise, still peacefully sleeping. He should probably wake her up — the sun would soon wash over the area as the world rotated towards night, and she burned so easily—
But he didn’t have the heart. Or the courage. Everything he said since the accident seemed like the wrong thing—since she’d woken and he’d had to tell her because he didn’t want some strange doctor or nurse she didn’t know to be the one.
There were dark, deep half moons beneath her eyes, her pale skin nearly translucent. The bruises had faded in the month since the accident, but the evidence of her injuries remained in the cast that encompassed her entire right hand and stretched just below her elbow. She couldn’t write. Couldn’t draw. Couldn’t sketch. The accident had stolen everything she loved about herself, everything that had given her beautiful eyes that spark—
And it was his fault. He was the reason she was like this, existing instead of living. He’d been driving and had walked away with nothing more than bruises and scratches, long since healed.
He stepped back inside the house, resolving to wake her in another twenty minutes if she didn’t on her own. He retrieved the groceries, then unpacked them in the kitchen—passing the studio just off the living room, taking advantage of the view of the water. The door was closed now, as it had been since they’d left for Rome. She hadn’t stepped foot inside since she’d come home. What was the point? She’d asked in that dull flat tone he hated so much that he’d stopped asking questions.
Before the accident, before Rome, it had been so different.
Their home overlooked the Grand Canal, and for the first few weeks after their arrival, Elizabeth had filled page after page in her sketch pad, soaking in off all the sights. She’d dragged him all over the city, to the Piazza San Marco, the glass market on on the island of Murano, then toured all the other small islands in the area.
Then, after the New Year, they’d gone to Sicily because he’d never been, and she painted so much on the island, he’d had to arrange for the canvases to be shipped back to Venice because they couldn’t carry them all.
She’d worried more than once that she was ruining his travels, his escape from Port Charles, but Jason had reassured her that he was having fun—that his joy came from being with her.
He went back the living room, to the terrace, just to be sure she wasn’t starting to burn—but she’d already woken, though her position hadn’t changed. She was still curled up, her casted arm held against her chest.
“I went to the store,” he found himself saying. Elizabeth looked at him, her expression blank. “If you’re hungry.”
“I’m all right.” Her voice was rusty, and she cleared her throat, sat up. “Um. How long did I sleep?”
“Maybe forty minutes.” A month ago, he’d have sat on the edge of the chaise, lifted her legs to rest in his lap. She’d have smiled at him—
Today, he stood under the arch, the sounds of Venice swirling around them.
Elizabeth got to her feet, swayed slightly, and instinctively he reached out to steady her, his hands brushing her hips. Startled, her eyes flicked up to his. “I’m okay—”
“I—” He stepped back, his hands falling back to his side, though he itched to hold her, to sweep her hair off her face to promise it would be okay.
But he didn’t want to make promises he couldn’t keep.
She opened her mouth, but then a sound drew their attention. Below them, on the sidewalk, a postal worker was getting back into the delivery barge, moving onto the next residence. He could see a manila envelope sticking out of the gilded box on the front of the house. They rarely received mail—
“I’ll get it,” Jason said, heading to the entry way. He opened the door and reached for it — it was just the one envelope with a return address in Rome.
The world—the sights, sounds, and smells—fell away as he registered the street number. The name on the address label.
“What is it?” Elizabeth wanted to know. She’d wandered in from the terrace, still holding her arm against her chest. “Jason?”
“It’s—” He couldn’t form the words. How could he tell her? His fingers tightened around the edges. “It’s from Rome.” He looked up, met her eyes, still puzzled. “Doctor Marini.”
She was so perfectly still, she might as well have been made from stone. Her eyes filled, tears clinging to her lashes. She dropped her gaze to the envelope. “Burn it. I don’t want to see it.”
“Okay.” But he still stood there, as frozen as she was.
She sucked in a harsh breath, the sound stark in the otherwise empty room. “No. Don’t.” She closed her eyes, and somehow, seemed to shrink into herself. “Don’t,” she said again. “I just—I don’t know what to do.”
“We don’t have to do anything.”
“Would it—” Elizabeth opened her eyes and met his gaze. “Would it be better to ignore it? Is that what I’m supposed to do? Throw it away like it never happened? Would that make it easier?”
“I don’t know.” He wish he could answer even one of those questions—he’d give anything to be able to make this easier for her. For himself. But he couldn’t.
“I want—” She stepped forward, stretched out her hand, her fingers resting on the manila. “Should we keep it? Maybe one day, it won’t hurt so much.” The tears slid down her cheeks down—one splashed on his hand. “I don’t know.”
“I’ll put it away,” Jason told her fervently. “And you can decide later. When you’re ready.”
“Will I ever be ready? It just—” She swiped at her cheeks, impatiently. “It feels like I’m standing in the middle of an empty room, screaming, and there’s no one to listen. Nothing can fix this. Not burning it, not forgetting. Not sleeping. It’s just there, like this—” Her voice broke, her shoulders started to shake.
Jason set the envelope on the table, intending to reach for her, hoping that somehow this would be the moment where he could finally do something more than just hurt her—
But if it had ever existed, it was over. Elizabeth stepped away, folding her good arm around her waist, closing her eyes. “Put it away,” she murmured. “Or watch it. I don’t care.”
She brushed past him and hurried up the stairs to the second floor. A moment he heard a door slam.
Jason exhaled slowly, picked up the envelope. He ripped the side open and drew out the letter, the photograph, and the DVD. The letter was handwritten — an apology from the office for not sending it sooner and hoping that everyone was happy and healthy.
The DVD was encased in a plastic case with nothing more than Elizabeth’s name scrawled across it, and the date of her appointment.
The photograph was actually a print, a black and white scan. He stared down at it, remembering that day in the office, the bubbly excitement and light in Elizabeth’s eyes as she’d held his hand, listening to the doctor explain what they were seeing.
And he’d watched the heartbeat of their unborn child, listening to its pulse, the sound more beautiful than any he’d ever heard.
The heartbeat that was gone now. Killed when their car had flipped into a ditch, nearly crushing Elizabeth to death because it had landed on the passenger side. A single car accident, the investigator’s side. Jason couldn’t remember the crash, couldn’t remember anything other than a drive full of excitement and dream spinning—
And then pain. Blood. Crying—his own—as he’d fought to get Elizabeth out of the car before the flames engulfed him—pleading with her to wake up, to just open her eyes—
Jason swallowed hard, put the contents back into the envelope. He opened a drawer, slid it inside.