Written in 67 minutes.
He hadn’t wanted to hear their daughter’s names from her lips, but to read them for himself. It was that fact that swirled around in Elizabeth’s mind as Jason looked at her expectantly, still holding the one photo of her before life she allowed herself to carry around.
Elizabeth curled her palm around the identification bracelet, took a deep breath. How could she tell him all that had happened while he’d been in that terrible coma? How a tragedy begun the clashing of steel in the rain in November had just kept expanding like a black hole until it had swallowed everything in their lives whole—until there was nothing left today that had come before.
How did she tell Jason what his family had done to him, and how it could all be traced back to a night he’d walked into Luke’s and refused to leave, smiling and charming her into at least one date. If she’d just sent him away, oh, how different it would be now—
She swallowed hard, opened her mouth—but then stopped at the sound of footsteps from the back of the club. A moment later, Luke appeared, though he hesitated at the end of the bar, maybe sensing the tension in the air.
“Everything all right?” he asked cautiously.
Elizabeth lowered the hand with the bracelet to her side, then brushed at her tears with the other. “It’s—um, he knows Luke. Who I…was. Who—” Her voice trembled slightly. “He knows about Cady.”
“Cady?” Jason asked. “Is that…that’s what we called her?”
We. Oh, to hear that word from his lips—the tears spilled over again and she had to take a step back because he didn’t mean it, he didn’t. It wasn’t we the way it had been once, them against the world, but we as a historical fact that had ended. They’d had a daughter with a nickname they’d used—and now they didn’t.
“I need a minute. I need—” She darted past Luke, and away. Because this was so much harder than she’d ever imagined, and they’d barely scratched the surface.
Jason took a step forward, almost thinking of running after her, but Luke stepped in front of him, holding up a hand. “Let’s give her a minute to get sorted, all right? It’s been a hell these last six months. You got questions, maybe I can answer some.”
“Okay. Why did you give me this job?” Jason said. “You knew who I was. Who Elizabeth was. Was that part of it?”
“Not the question I was expecting, but all right.” Luke came behind the bar, went for a bottle of Jack Daniels. “You want something?”
“Tough crowd.” The brown liquid sloshed inside a short, clear glass and Luke took a sip. “All right. Lizzie was always mine, and if you tell her I called her that, I’ll deny it. But that’s who she’s been since she was a kid.” He held up a hand, using his index finger and thumb to make a gesture of measurement. “Since she was this big. Her dad is connected to my wife, Laura. Laura’s stepdad is Lizzie’s uncle, and that’s what we called her. Elizabeth was too long a name for a kid that was miniature from the moment she was born.”
“This isn’t answering my question—”
“You don’t like how I’m doing it—” Luke tipped his head. “There’s the door. Because you need to understand how this happened—”
“I just want you to tell me why—”
“And I’m doing that. Because she’s family to me, and Spencers take care of family. She came up with my boy, dated him for a while, but it didn’t work out. Her first job was at Kelly’s, the worst waitress the world has ever seen. But she kept going, and found she had a knack with people. Not with the actual delivering and taking of orders, but people? Lizzie could charm almost anyone.” Luke took another sip, then grimaced. “Not your family. But nearly everyone else. She came to me for a job because bartending was more people. As soon as she was legal, we hired her on. That was two years ago. So I was here when you came into the picture.”
He stared at the contents of his glass for a long moment. “I won’t talk about any of that. It’s not for me. But what happened in November hit us all. That little girl—well, as hard as hit me, it decimated Elizabeth. And you, if you want to know that.”
Jason didn’t like hearing that—didn’t like being told how he’d felt when he couldn’t remember it for himself. But he dropped his gaze to the photograph, saw the way his old self was holding the baby, and it stung a little less. Because it was an emotion that made sense. Someone who loved a baby—well it would hurt when they were gone, wouldn’t it?
“And just when I thought maybe Lizzie was starting to get herself together, maybe there’d be a light at the end of the tunnel, you got in that damn car with your brother. I cursed you for that, you know. Whatever faith in a higher power I ever had, well, that obliterated it. But you didn’t die. No, you didn’t have decency to make break clean,” Luke muttered, then took another sip. He wasn’t looking at Jason now, and Jason found himself appreciating this view of the accident. He’d been told how much he loved his brother, how much he’d wanted AJ to stop drinking, how he’d wanted to protect his family —
But Luke’s view seemed right. It was such a stupid decision. Who would be dumb enough to get into a car with someone too drunk to drive?
“I won’t get into what happened then. That’s for her to handle, and it’s her story. But it makes me furious. I’ll be interested in what you think of it once you have the facts.” Luke finished his drink. “But Lizzie wasn’t dealing with it. She was hiding here, maybe hoping she’d never have to look at you. And I knew—Sonny and I both knew it wasn’t the right choice. When Ruby told me that the Quartermaines had forced you out of her place, that you’d gone to Jake’s, I looked into it. And I knew it was time.” Luke finally faced Jason again. “So if you want to know if this was a setup, sure. Sonny and I knew exactly what you’d been to Elizabeth, and we brought you here on purpose. Doesn’t mean we didn’t mean our promise to hold up against the Quartermaines to protect your job and room. But Elizabeth wasn’t part of it. If she’d known what we’d planned, she might have gotten in the car and kept driving.”
In the bathroom, Elizabeth leaned over the porcelain sink, splashing cold water on her face. She reached for a strip of paper towels to dry it, standing up and looking at herself in the mirror.
She didn’t need a doctor or a well-meaning friend to tell her she’d lost weight she couldn’t afford over the last few months. She’d always been slender, but her cheekbones were more prominent than they should have been, and her collarbone was more visible. She wasn’t doing well, and somehow, it was easier to admit that to herself now.
The day she’d craved and dreaded with equal ferocity was upon her now. Jason knew who she’d been to him, he knew that their daughter had existed—and now she had to decide what came next.
I don’t want anyone to tell me anything else.
His words, tinged with a bit of anguish she realized now, echoed in her memory. He’d looked at that photo, and he’d seen something Elizabeth hadn’t. Or it had triggered something in himself — he’d wanted Cady’s name, but he hadn’t wanted her to say it. He’d wanted to find it for himself.
What must it be like for all the facts you knew about yourself to come from someone else? His name, his birthday, his history—who his family was, what kind of person he’d been—what would that feel like?
He’d been angry and hostile to nearly everyone he’d talked to. Even Emily, who could make anyone smile, had struggled a little. She and Ned had told Elizabeth to wait. That telling Jason more right now — telling him everything would only make it worse, and she could see they’d had a point.
But Elizabeth had also used their worry as an excuse to hide from reality, and now that wasn’t an option anymore. How could she tell Jason everything that had happened since his accident? How could she make him understand the choices she’d made — the actions his family had taken—
And then she knew. She slid her fingers into her pocket, looked at the bracelet with their daughter’s name and Jason’s promise inscribed, and realized that she knew exactly how to handle this terrible story.
“I believe that Elizabeth didn’t know,” Jason said. Now anyway, he knew it to be the truth. Her reaction the day before and today didn’t fit with someone who had plotted to lure him in with her sad story. “I didn’t at first but now I do.”
“Good—” Luke broke off when he saw Elizabeth returning. “Hey, honey. You good?”
“Yeah. Yeah. Um—” She came in, her skin a bit flushed and eyes tired from her tears. “I know you have a lot of questions about why I wasn’t at the hospital, and I want you to know them. It’s just—it’s a long story. And—and I want to get some things together to make it easier. Can you…can we just work tonight, and I promise—” She bit her lip. “I promise I’ll try get you everything tomorrow. Or at least as much as you want.”
He furrowed his brow. “But—”
“It’s complicated, and I’m afraid I’ll leave parts out or I’ll do it in the wrong order—” She dragged a hand through her hair, then past her shoulder to rest in a clutched fist in front of her chest. “Please. I promise I’m not trying to hide anything. It’s just…not easy.”
“Yeah. Okay. Okay.” Jason didn’t really have a choice but to agree. He realized he still had the photo in his head, and he held it out. “Do you…want this back?”
She dropped her eyes to it, then looked at him. “Unless you want to keep it.”
His fingers tightened instinctively. He did want to keep it. It was the first time he’d been able to see a photograph and understand all of it, but it was also painful. But maybe that was okay. Maybe it was supposed to be. “Maybe for now.” He looked down again at it, then slid it into the back pocket of his jeans. “You…never said. Was Cady…was that what we called her?”
“Yes.” Her smile was faint, just the slightest curl of the corners of her lips. “The name was my idea, and I thought it was so pretty, but when she was born, she was so small—you said it was a lot of name for someone so little and precious.” She slid a more mischievous grin. “The same reason Luke still calls me Lizzie and thinks I don’t know.”
“Not to your face,” Luke said, though he smirked.
“It was my idea,” Jason said, and tested this information. It was something he was being told about himself, and that almost always pricked at him, feeling out of place and wrong. But there was something in the way she’d related the story, the way she’d connected it to herself, and made it feel like a story she was sharing, not another piece of knowledge about himself that he would never remember on his own. “Okay.”
“Okay.” Elizabeth hesitated, then held out her bracelet to Luke. “Um, I can’t…I can’t get it to clasp again. My fingers…” She held out her hand, fingers spread out, and Jason realized they trembled slightly.
“I’ll do it,” Jason volunteered, stepping in front of Luke who backed up. Elizabeth bit her lip, then handed him the bracelet and extended her wrist. It was a small, delicate metal clasp but a simple one, and it took less than a minute, his fingers brushing over her cool skin. He’d given her this bracelet in another life, he thought, and the fact didn’t bother him. After all, it was a one he’d read for himself from the inscription.
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said, looking away from him, her cheeks flushed. “Um, I better get the bar inventory done before we have to open tonight. I can show you how to do it if you want.”
“Yeah, okay.” Jason stepped back, and she moved back towards the other end of the bar, stooping to grab the wallet he’d let drop to the ground when he’d removed the photo. She stowed it back in her bag — along with the telephone bill that had started everything.
“Okay. So here’s where you start.”
They managed to get through the shift, and Elizabeth focused on training Jason this time, not avoiding him. Just like before the accident, Jason was quick to pick up on most things, but she realized he had trouble with some of the liquors with decorative fonts on the label. The letters swirled, he told her, just like some of the pictures. He could get them with some time, but it wouldn’t be fast enough during the service. They focused on colors, and Elizabeth tucked this fact away when she went home to gather the materials for the next day.
Nervous, clutching an overflowing bundle, Elizabeth climbed the steps to the second floor of Luke’s where there were a few rooms. Luke had always thought about renting them out, but Jason was the first tenant. She knocked lightly, and Jason yanked it open so quickly she knew he’d been waiting.
“Hey. Come in.” He wore a white T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans, his feet bare. He gestured towards the kitchenette where she saw a tiny circle table with two chairs made from the same dingy wood. “There’s not much, but, um, do you want water or something?”
“Yeah. Okay.” Elizabeth set the bag down next to the table and sat. She tugged out the first stack, and watched him grab a plastic cup from one of the two cabinets. It was one of those cheap plastic cups you’d see in a discount store, but the water was cold and it kept her mouth from being too dry.
It was almost too fantastical to accept that she and Jason were alone together again, in a room that wasn’t much different than where she’d been living when they’d first started dating — that had been at Kelly’s back then — it was almost like being back at the beginning.
Except for everything she’d brought that reminded her just how much history there was.
“I thought about what you said yesterday, about wanting…about not wanting to be told things. Facts,” Elizabeth added when Jason finally sat across from her. “So, I, um, went home and got all these together. Documents and things. I thought…I don’t know, I could show them to you and maybe you could ask me questions.”
Jason’s gaze was intense. “You…you brought things to look at?”
“Yes. Um. Is that okay? Unless you just want me to tell you, I just—”
“No. No. This is—” He seemed flustered, shifted in his chair. “No. This is good. Where…what do you bring?”
“I didn’t know where you wanted to start, so I thought, well maybe the beginning?” Elizabeth slid the first few documents towards him — their marriage certificate and Cady’s birth certificate. He scanned them, furrowing his brow. “She was born in September, but we were only married in March?”
“Yes. Um, I didn’t…we didn’t plan to get pregnant. Or married. Not then,” Elizabeth added. She fiddled with the ring on her finger. “It was the worst time, honestly. You were going into medical school and we both knew your schedule would be insane. But it also…felt right. I was scared until you told me you were happy. I, um, don’t have anything to prove that. Other than…” She slid a photograph towards him. She’d tried to find one that had them in a similar pose as the photo he already had, hoping it would make it easier. He was smiling in it.
“We signed a lease—” She slid that towards him, and he only glanced at this, which bolstered her. She reached into the bag again, her fingers shaking slightly as she took out a book with a baby holding a teddy bear. Across the top, there were pink letters labeling it as “My Baby Book.”
Jason took it from her, staring at the cover for a long moment. He started to flip through it, reading through her pregnancy, the photos they’d taken every month—there were two sets of handwriting—they’d both written in it.
Then Cady’s birth, and photos of her—doctor’s first appointment—
And then the pages were blank. There was nothing on the pages describing her second month. Jason stopped on these pages, raised his eyes to hers. “You said it was six weeks.”
“Yes. I, um, there are newspaper articles about it, but I didn’t—” She stared at her hands. “You can get those, I guess. I never read any of it. If there was, um, a death…” Elizabeth closed her eyes. “I don’t know. I never saw any of it. You handled it. I can get them—”
“I know what to look for now,” Jason said, his tone gentle, and she looked at him. “It’s okay. Thank you. Can…can I look through this? I want to know more. Read it.” He touched the book. “I won’t lose it or damage it, I promise.”
“Okay. Yeah. That’s…yeah.” Elizabeth reached into the bag again and drew out a new folder, a thicker manila file folder. “And this is where the hospital story begins.” She slid that over to him.
Jason took out the first letter, frowning as he read it. “This is from your lawyer,” he said slowly. “Telling the hospital that you are asserting your legal right as my wife to visit me in the ICU. That you have the power of attorney and should be in charge of medical treatment, or at the very least, consulted. That wasn’t happening?”
“No. I never—I came to the hospital, but you can’t just go to the ICU, you know. They, um, the hospital never let me upstairs. I never got past the security desk. So I went to a friend, and…” She sighed. “And it just got worse from there.”
Jason nodded. He looked at the next document. “This is a notice from the court that—” His face tightened. “Alan Quartermaine is acting power of attorney. How…”
“They went to court. I didn’t—I wasn’t part of it. They cut me out from the beginning.”
Jason exhaled slowly, then picked up the next legal notice. He stared it for a long moment, and she could almost hear the question before he asked it. “How exactly is Edward Quartermaine petitioning for a divorce on my behalf?” he demanded. “What the hell is this?”
“The power of attorney wasn’t enough,” Elizabeth said slowly. “It only gave Alan medical power. They wanted…they wanted me cut off from everything. I found out when I went to get money from the ATM, and I found out they’d cleaned out the bank account. They went to probate court and petitioned for a conservatorship. Alan controls the medical side, and Edward…everything else. That’s why Ruby and Jake and everyone else pushed you away. Because you legally don’t have the right to enter into a contract without Edward. And the first thing Edward did with this power? He filed for divorce and closed our bank accounts.”