Written in 40 minutes.
Elizabeth left the room to the bedroom cracked in case Cameron woke, but she was relieved that he’d slipped into a much deeper sleep. She had quite enough problems without adding a cranky child into the mix.
She paced the minuscule sitting room, the skirts of her calico dress brushing against the chaise lounge. What would she do if Jason Morgan returned and told her he’d changed his mind? How would she manage? This wasn’t like New York where she could find a factory job—
She stared down at her hands, the tips of her fingers heavily calloused from three long years working in the textile looms. At the missing tip of her left index finger. She’d been fortunate not to lose the entire hand—flashes of that terrible day hovered in her dreams, the searing pain, the deep fear of what would happen to her little boy—
Elizabeth couldn’t return to factory work. It was too dangerous and left Cameron unprotected. She turned towards the ajar door, biting her lip. Had it been one thing to read about her son in the letters, another to be confronted with the reality? She could have lied. Could have called herself a widow. Who would ask questions?
That’s what she’d do in the next place, Elizabeth vowed, beginning to pace again. And if she was ever fool enough to pursue marriage again, she’d maintain the lie. No one thought badly of a widow—and wasn’t that exactly what she was? Why did it have to matter that Alexander had died before their vows? She’d planned to marry him—
A choking sob rose in her throat, and Elizabeth swallowed it, closing her eyes. It would do no good to become hysterical. She didn’t even know for sure that anything was wrong. Perhaps Jason was just…uncertain. And hadn’t he written to her of his reserved nature? He was a quiet man.
When the knock came, less than thirty minutes after their arrival, Elizabeth hurried to unlatch the door. Jason stood there, his hat in his hands, and a look in his eyes — The pit in her stomach only grew.
“There are a few things we need to discuss,” Jason said, his voice pitched low. “Can we—”
Her lip trembled, and she nearly lost her composure—but then something strange happen. The hysteria dried up, and all she could find was rage.
“Of course,” Elizabeth said flatly. She stepped back and allowed his entrance, closing the door behind him. “You’ve come to tell me you’ve changed your mind, haven’t you?” She turned to face him, and he opened his mouth. “Was it my son? Did you take one look at my little boy and decide you’d promised too hastily to overlook my past?”
Jason’s sandy brown brows drew together. “No—”
“Because I’ve decided I have no need of someone who has to forgive me for what I’ve done,” Elizabeth retorted. She lifted her chin. “I don’t understand a world that punishes women and children for the lack of a silly piece of paper. You’re no better than my family, than everyone I left in New York.” Then the tears threatened again, because that wasn’t entirely fair.
She sank onto the chaise lounge, some of the rage fading. “No, that’s not true,” she murmured. “They were worse. They knew Alex. They knew of our plans.” Her hands fisted. “We would have been married the day he died, and no one would have blinked when Cameron came along seven months later. But a horse threw him, and now I must be punished for the rest of my life.” She took a deep, but shaky breath. “Their rejection is worse, but that doesn’t make you any less cruel for knowing the truth, promising me it would not matter, and then changing your mind after I’ve given up everything—” Elizabeth lunged to her feet. “Well, you don’t have to change your mind and reject me because I’m changing mine, and I’m doing it first—”
“There’s been a mistake,” Jason cut in, his tone gentle. He set his hat on a nearby table, then raked his fingers through his hair. “I never wrote any of those letters, Miss Webber. I didn’t advertise for a wife.”
Elizabeth stared at him, the mounting horror settling in. She slowly sat back down, trying to understand the words he’d spoken but they weren’t making any sense. “I—I didn’t just show up here. There were letters—I can get them—and there was an advertisement—I kept it—”
He stopped her as she pushed past him, intent on fetching their correspondence. “I don’t doubt any of that. I said I didn’t do it, but my cousin did.”
“Your cousin—” Elizabeth closed her eyes, swaying slightly. His hands moved to her shoulders, keeping her up right. “How—why?”
“Sit down. I’ll attempt to explain—but let me make it quite clear, Miss Webber—” He waited until she’d sat down again, taking a seat of his own in one of the wooden chairs at the tiny square wooden table. “I don’t care about your son’s birth or whether you were married to his father. You’re correct. There’s nothing to forgive you for, and I apologize if my cousin used those words when he wrote.”
“He—” She took a deep breath. “I think you need to tell me what’s going on.”
The plan had been to calmly explain the terrible misunderstanding, apologize for the idiocy of his cousin, and arrange for her transportation where she wished to go. And then Elizabeth Webber had opened the door, with that dreadful look in her eyes. She’d known why he was there—but had supplied her own reasoning—
And it had changed something in him, listening to her blast him for judging her past, then recounting her past with that haunted look in her eyes. Jason’s family had had its issues, and there were reasons he’d left the family home in her in town and bought his own land, but he’d never felt rejected—
“A year ago, my grandmother made it clear that she wanted my cousin and I to marry and settle down,” Jason told her. “And I agreed. We both did. But Dillon hoped that if I were to marry first, she’d give him a bit of space. So he…”
“He arranged for a mail order wife,” she finished. “Why—”
“Because we love our grandmother and we understand why she’s asking.” Jason cleared his throat. “Cholera swept through the area about two years ago. And it decimated the town. My family—” Even now, he could hardly speak of it. “My grandfather. My parents. My brother. His wife. My aunt—Dillon’s mother.” He forced himself to finish. “My sister and my nephew were the last.”
“I’m so sorry,” Elizabeth breathed. “How devastating.”
“We nearly lost my grandmother. I—” Jason shook his head. “Dillon and I are all she has left, and she wants to see us settled before she goes. I also think—” He sighed. “She’s lonely. The house was filled with her family before, and it’s just her and Dillon now. I moved back to my place around the time she started asking.”
“Your cousin wrote all the letters posing as you,” Elizabeth said. “Did he really think this would work?”
Dillon, Jason thought, was smarter than he looked. He’d thought she was lovely the moment he’d laid eyes on her at the train station, but Port Charles had its share of physically attractive women. That didn’t mean he had to marry any of them.
Then she’d let her fury fly, her eyes sparkling with righteous rage at even the hint of insult to her child. Now, she sat in front of him, those same wide blue eyes damp with tears and sorrow for his family’s losses.
“I think,” Jason said carefully, “that he thought you were always planning to marry someone you didn’t know very well, so you wouldn’t notice that I didn’t say much about the letters. And that he thought my promise to my grandmother would convince me.” He paused. “I am very sorry about what he’s done. He’s put you through so much trouble—
“And I’m sorry,” Elizabeth cut in, her face flushed. “I said such terrible things to you—”
“You believed I had ill feelings towards your son. I expect nothing less. The thing is, Miss Webber—” Jason hesitated. “I think, despite Dillon’s actions, that the best way forward is to marry.”
“What?” Elizabeth shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
He didn’t understand it either—he’d come here, quite firm in his decision, but — “You had planned to marry someone you didn’t know,” he reminded her, “and I told my grandmother I’d marry this year. I think—” He nodded. “I think Dillon might have done us both a favor. I’d like to make the arrangements as soon as possible—”
“That’s very kind of you—” Elizabeth held up her hand and he stopped. “But I must refuse.”