Written in 61 minutes.
With the cordless phone pressed against her ear, Elizabeth tucked a half gallon of milk under her arm and picked up the box of cookies with her free hand. “No, Em, I’m not mad at you—”
“Because I could have told Ned he was wrong.” Emily’s voice, thin and a bit faded over the connection between Port Charles and Berkeley. “Grandmother and I both thought about it—”
“And I told you that it was okay.” Elizabeth set the cookies and milk on the coffee table, then went back into the kitchen to find a wide mug to dunk her snack. Because a girl needed her comforts and she was out of tequila. And vodka.
She curled up on the sofa, folding her legs underneath her, then reached for a throw to throw over the legs left bare by her lounge shorts. “You told me how angry he was—we all agreed it might have made things worse. And…you know, I didn’t want to do that.”
“I know. I wish you’d told us about Dad keeping you out of the hospital. Grandmother is still furious—” Emily paused. “You really need to stop protecting us. We know how insane our family is. When they bother you—”
“I don’t want to cause problems,” Elizabeth said. She ripped open the plastic protecting the sleeve of cookies. “I still don’t. I can handle your family, Em. I’ve been doing it my whole life—”
“This isn’t like when we were in high school, Liz, and they gave money to the school so that you and I wouldn’t be in the same homeroom. Keeping you out of the hospital was really awful. I can’t believe they’d go so far!”
And Emily’s tears and the fights she’d had with her family had sealed the deal for Elizabeth — she wasn’t going to tell her best friend what new evil her family was up to. Emily and Lila were really the only members of the family she could count on. Ned was nice enough, but he was the gatekeeper. The protector. It was his job to clean up the messes — AJ had been quietly shipped off to a luxurious European rehab the day after the accident. She’d never been able to vent her frustration and anger at the alcoholic who’d destroyed what was left of her life.
And what could Emily do in California? What would Lila be able to do? Fume at Edward? Show disapproval? Lila had always taken Elizabeth’s side, and it hadn’t stopped Alan or Edward from doing worse the next time around.
“Well, where did you leave things with Jason? Did you even talk about what you’re going to do with the…I mean, you’re married.”
“I assure you—” Elizabeth sighed. “I didn’t forget that. And no, we didn’t get that far. I…pushed harder than I should have, Em. I’m just giving you some heads up in case you talk to Jason.”
“When I get home for spring break—”
“I know, I know. You’ll fix everything.”
“Call me, okay? When you talk to Jason again. Or no, beep me, okay? Because then I’ll call you and it’ll be my turn to take the charge.”
“You just had to go to college in California,” Elizabeth said with a sigh. “Yeah, I’ll call you next week—”
“And if I don’t hear from you, I’ll call on Saturday.”
Elizabeth tossed the phone on the other side of the sofa, then stared at the cookies and milk she’d set up for herself. It wasn’t the first time she’d gone to the trouble of putting together something to eat and lost her appetite before taking a single bite.
She returned the milk and cookies to the kitchen, set the mug in the sink, and stared at the drain for a long moment. The last six months had been such a strange fog, she thought. One foot in front of the other — and most of the time, she hadn’t really remembered anything.
Not since she’d opened her eyes in a hospital room last November, and Jason had told her about the accident. Since he’d told her Cady was gone.
She squeezed her eyes shut. Not for the first time, she wished she’d been in the car with Jason and AJ that night and that the memories had been taken from them both. Their first wedding anniversary had been two weeks earlier, and Elizabeth had worked through it — ignoring the date for as long as she could. Until she’d gone home and retrieved the mail to find a postcard from a well-meaning friend of Jason’s from college who hadn’t been kept in the loop. He’d wished them a happy anniversary and hoped to see them when he came to the area that summer.
Elizabeth didn’t have a lot of delusions about what came next. Jason would take the information she’d given him, and he’d go to court where any sane judge would see he didn’t need a conservatorship. He’d get it dissolved and he’d be free. The only question would be whether it would be before or after the divorce went through —
Or her eviction.
She swept her eyes around the apartment. It had been Jason’s before they moved into together. He’d signed the lease after graduating from Stanford as proof to her that she wasn’t some summer fling before he went back to California to medical school. He’d always planned to come home to Port Charles, and she’d just been a bonus to those plans.
But she’d made it hers over the last year — artwork, photos, splashes of color— it was theirs, and they’d made it a home. But it had always been in Jason’s name — and now she was paying for a rash choice not to renew the lease in both their names.
The knock at the door caught her attention, and she sighed, hoping it wasn’t Sonny or Luke to check on her. They’d already called a few times she’d a message that she and Claude were switching shifts that night.
She pulled the door open, then simply stared at the man on the other side — who had never, ever knocked on this door before.
Because it was his apartment.
“Lois, I don’t know why we have to argue about this—” Ned Ashton pulled open the door in mid-sentence, waved Justus inside, then turned back to his wife without missing a beat. “If you want to go on tour, go on tour.”
“You don’t have a single thing to say about me going off around the world for maybe three or four months?” Lois fisted her hands at her hips, tapped her foot. “Listen here—”
“Is this a bad time?” Justus asked. “Because—”
“No. This is a perfect time. I have to go to the Outback and talk to Brenda anyway. But we’re not done arguing.” Lois glared at her husband, then left, slamming the door behind her.
“I will never understand woman,” Ned muttered. “She wants to go on tour, I tell her, hey go on tour! And somehow that means I’m not committed to our marriage—”
“Well, you know there was that one time when you were married to someone else at the same time,” Justus said. “You can understand how she has trust issues.”
Ned scowled at his cousin. “Did you come over to make fun of me or—”
Justus set the file he’d retrieved from Jason on the desk by the window. “Remember when we agreed for the good of the order that telling Jason he had a wife could wait? And everyone, including Alan and Edward, thought it was a great idea?”
“Yeah, it rings a distant bell. Did Jason find out?”
“Yeah, but that’s not why I got involved. At the time, you and I both thought it was a little weird that Alan and Edward weren’t leaping at the chance to fill Jason’s head with all kinds of horror stories about Elizabeth. This was before they realized Jason was never going to listen to a damn thing they said.”
“Yeah, but then we found out Alan barred her from the hospital—I wish she’d told us. I’d have helped her fight it—” Ned stopped, looked at Justus. “What did they do?”
“Oh, you might want to sit for this.” Justus held up a piece of paper. “Elizabeth was barred from the hospital not on the power of the board of directors but through a power of attorney. Alan petitioned to be put in charge of all the decisions. And then, a week later, when Jason woke up without a memory…” He held up another piece of paper. “We get our first petition from the probate court asking for a conservatorship to be declared over the person and estate of Jason Morgan Quartermaine.”
Ned waited a long beat, then nodded. He crossed to the mini bar against the back wall, poured himself a glass of vodka and passed another to Justus. “Conservatorship. Christ. The damage they could do—”
“The damage they did do. First, they closed Elizabeth and Jason’s checking accounts. Joint and separate. They put all of the funds into Jason’s trust fund.”
Some of the liquid sloshed over the edge as Ned simply stared. “The hell—”
“I need to do some more forensic accounting, but I’m pretty sure they stole around three grand from Elizabeth that had nothing to do with Jason’s money. Then they filed for divorce—”
“And eviction.” Justus slapped this last notice down. “Since the second Jason woke up from that coma, Alan and Edward have been systematically stripping Elizabeth of every single resource she might use to fight them…or stay in Port Charles long enough to tell Jason who she is.”
“You were right. I need to sit.” Ned sank onto the sofa, then tossed back half the vodka. “Let me—let me get this straight. For the last two months—”
“Ten weeks,” Justus corrected. “Jason woke up ten weeks ago. They filed a conservatorship after he woke up. The next day, so there’s no argument they didn’t know.”
“Christ.” Ned pinched the bridge of his nose. “Why didn’t she come to us? Why didn’t she—”
“Has Elizabeth ever once asked for our help when it comes to this family? No. She doesn’t want Emily or Lila in the middle.” Justus exhaled slowly. “This is just the court documents she has access to. But I bet if we talk to Ruby and Jake —”
“I wish I could tell you that they’re not that conniving — that they wouldn’t try to bankrupt Elizabeth into leaving town but—” Ned grimaced, rose to his foot. “They wanted Jason to stay under their control long enough to keep Elizabeth away from him. He knows about this now? He knows about Elizabeth?”
“Yeah. He knows about enough of it. And I’m going to help him learn whatever else there is to know. Are you in?”
Ned finished the last of his drink. “Where do we start?”
He wasn’t really sure how or why he’d ended up at the apartment — only that he’d seen the address on one of the bank statements Justus hadn’t taken with him, and Jason had too many questions that he needed answered.
And Luke could only supply a few reluctant ones. The rest…
Elizabeth clearly hadn’t been expecting company — her face was wiped clean, and she looked younger without the makeup she’d worn every other time he’d seen her — the deep red lipstick, the liner around her eyes —
Her hair had been piled on top of her head, pieces falling loose, hanging down her neck and laying across her cheek. She wore a pair of pink cotton shorts and a t-shirt in a matching color, her feet bare with toenails painted the color of candy bubble gum he’d seen at Kelly’s.
“I would have called,” Jason said when she remained silent, only staring at him. “But I didn’t know your number. And Luke…wouldn’t give it to me.”
“Oh.” Elizabeth bit her lip, then stepped back. “Um, come in. I guess. If you want. I wasn’t—I mean, I didn’t—”
He walked past her, and she closed the door, turning and leaning against it. “I called Justus when you left. He’s going to look at everything.”
“Oh. Okay. That makes sense. Um, he probably knows more than I do. My lawyer is from the strip mall on Courtland Street, so I don’t know—” Elizabeth rubbed her arms. “I’d offer you something to drink, but I don’t really have anything.”
“That’s fine.” Jason shoved his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket. “Luke was paying you, did you know that?”
Her brows drew together over her eyes and she shook her head slightly. “What? When?”
“He never stopped,” Jason said. “You went on maternity leave. And Luke kept paying. You never missed a paycheck.”
“No, he—” Elizabeth squinted. “No. I didn’t—I didn’t really…I didn’t know that. I was…” She flattened a hand over her belly, almost curled protectively as if she were pregnant. “I was really tired by the end. And you, um, Luke said he’d take care of the details with you. I guess those were details. I didn’t know that.” Elizabeth walked past him, back towards the sofa. She picked up a yellow and orange throw blanket that had been tossed on the sofa and began to fold it, her expression still strained. “Does it matter?”
“Yeah. It does. Justus took some of the bank stuff, but he left some of it, too. I found one from June. You said there was a trust fund.”
“Yeah. Yeah—” Elizabeth exhaled, tossing the blanket over the back of the sofa. “Quarterly. I don’t remember what you said the amount was. You used it for tuition and bills—”
“It went into savings in June,” Jason said, and she looked at him. “And the July statement. There’s a payment for the university which took most of the money. You said the Quartermaines thought you were…”
“A gold digger,” she said faintly, her eyes trained on his face. “I know that you wanted to pay for medical school on your own. It was important to you not to use your parents’ money or take out loans. And you said something about using your trust fund, and that whatever was left over, we’d put into the joint account for us both. And I knew my paycheck was regular, so I just figured between the two of us, we were fine. And we were…”
“Justus looked at the bank statements. You were paying for almost everything, Elizabeth,” Jason said. “Why didn’t you tell them that? Why didn’t anyone tell them that? The money they took when they closed that account in January? It was yours. The trust fund was never released at the end of December. They stopped it because of the accident.”
“I don’t—I never paid attention to the money. You did all of that. Maybe that’s stupid,” she muttered. She sank onto the sofa. “It was, of course, it was. And it makes me madder that they took my money, but that’s my fault for not knowing what was mine or yours, or I don’t know. I didn’t care.” She glanced up at him. “I didn’t care then, and I don’t care now. We were married. We took care of each other. Maybe I was carrying the everyday bills, but you were going to a doctor. It would even out later—and—I don’t—”
Elizabeth rose to her feet. “I don’t care about that,” she repeated. “But you came all the way over here because you do. Why? Why does it matter to you? It was my money. You don’t even know me. So what are you doing here?”