Written in 62 minutes.
This is the last time I’m asking you why
Elizabeth’s eyes fluttered and her head moved slightly, the first signs that she was finally waking just as streaks of sunlight dawned over the city outside the hospital room. Jason straightened, wiping the grit from lack of sleep from his eyes with the heel of the hand not holding hers.
Her head turned, one cheek pressing into the soft white pillow beneath her head, her tangled curls sliding across her face. Her lashes fluttered again and then her eyes were open, the deep blue glassy at first, then gradually focusing. “Jason?” The tip of her tongue swept across her dry, cracked lips and she said his name again. “Is that you…are you—”
“I’m here.” Jason squeezed her hand, bent closer so he could hear better, her voice hoarse. “Right here.”
“I’m—” She closed her eyes and her free hand slid down, covering her belly. Jason rested the other hand, still clasped within his, over the curve of their baby. He’d felt the baby kick off and on in the last few hours, and now she could feel it, too. A tear slid beneath her lashes. “He’s okay.”
“Kelly came to check again an hour ago. He’s perfect,” Jason told her. He released her hand, then swept her hair off her face, their eyes meeting. “You both are.”
“You came back,” she said softly. “I made you leave.”
“Kelly did, and she was right,” Jason added. “I’m not sorry everyone knows,” he continued, “but you didn’t need that last night. I’m sorry for that.”
“You…” She swallowed again. “I lied. You don’t…you’re not mad anymore.”
“I never really was,” he confessed. Whatever flush of anger and disappointment in her had swept away as quickly as it had sprung up. She’d tried to tell him so many times, and he hadn’t made it easy. It didn’t matter. Not anymore. “I’m here. And I’m not going anywhere.”
You break my heart in the blink of an eye
He said he wasn’t leaving, but Elizabeth kept expecting him to. Jason still wore the dark sweater and pants that had allowed him to blend in as one of the hostage-takers, his hair disheveled, his eyes red and tired from the lack of sleep. She wouldn’t have blamed him if ‘d made excuses to go home. To shower and change.
But he didn’t. He stayed, leaving only to let the nurse’s station know Elizabeth was awake and to get some water.
In the elevator, when she’d been so tired and worn out from the long night, from the interminable months of lying and holding in everything so tightly — when he’d asked her to marry him, she might have said yes.
But in the cold light of day, as the fluids helped her regain her energy, they also returned her perspective. Nothing had changed since she’d told him of the baby all those months ago, when he’d offered to marry her, only that he knew for sure now that it was his child.
And now her answer would have to be the same, no matter how much it hurt to turn away the dream.
Kelly was smiling as she came into the room an hour or so after Elizabeth had woken. “I hope you finally got some rest,” she said, checking the vitals one of the other nurses had written down. “Everything looks good—fetal heartbeat back in the right change—the only vital sign I’m nervous about is the blood pressure.”
Jason folded his arms. “I thought you said last night—”
“It was high last night,” Kelly said, unwinding her stethoscope and pressing one end against Elizabeth’s belly. “But I wanted to see what would happen with fluids and rest. It’s still high, but it’s back in the normal range.”
“But?” Elizabeth prompted, looking at the monitor that she knew measured her child’s heartbeat, reassured by the spikes.
“You nearly went into premature labor,” Kelly said. “I’ve been reading reports from the scene — Emily said you couldn’t any movement for a while?”
Oh, she’d been so scared when her precious baby stopped kicking, and she couldn’t feel those flutters — no sharp kicks against her ribs. “Yes, but I—I felt him again after the explosion.” Her eyes found Jason’s. “Remember?”
“Yeah.” Jason nodded, smiling at the memory. “Awake and definitely moving. You said his heartbeat was good—”
“And it is. By all accounts, he’s in good shape,” Kelly continued. “I want to keep him that way. I’ll release you, Liz, but you have to promise me you’ll take it easy. Not strict bed rest, but I’m going to talk—” She stopped swallowed. “I’ll get you taken off the schedule,” she said finally. Elizabeth frowned at her, confused by the way she’d phrased it.
“Kelly, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Kelly said, darting her eyes at Jason, then back at Elizabeth. “I’ll get your discharge papers ready.” Then she left.
Jason exhaled slowly, sat back down at her bed side. “I want to help,” he told her. “Whatever I can do to make things easier. I mean, I know you’re already worried about not being at work—” He paused. “Before we were rescued, we were talking about how to do this, and I’m still—I want to—”
“Before you ask that question again,” Elizabeth said, and he closed his mouth, “I want to remind you that it’s not the first time we’ve talked about this. And I haven’t—” She forced the words out. “Jason, you’re engaged to another woman,” she said gently. “And my divorce isn’t final from another man. What you’re suggesting, what you’re asking, it’s not reality. It can’t be.”
He shook his head. “It can be,” Jason insisted. “If you—we could make it work—”
“You and I have done this before. Marriage. To other people,” she clarified. “How many times did I tell myself I could make this work. If I just ignored this, or didn’t ask that. You know what I’m talking about, Jason. You’ve been through it with Courtney. You didn’t say that then?”
“I—” He pressed his lips together. “It’s different. We’re not—that’s not what—”
“My answer is no,” she said gently, even as it ripped her in two because it was all she wanted. All she dreamed of.
But he didn’t love her, and eventually, it would destroy them both.
“I want you to be in this baby’s life, and I know there are things we need to talk about. We will. But that needs to be off the table, Jason.” Her voice faltered. “You’re asking the same question but nothing else has changed. I can’t keep saying no. Please don’t do ask again.”
You find yourself at my door
Lucky knocked gently on the door frame of Emily’s bedroom, drawing her attention from the window seat where she sat, curled up in a ball hugging a pillow against her. “I thought about climbing the trellis,” he told her.
She smiled sadly. “The way you did when we were kids.”
He sat down next to her on the window seat. “I’m sorry about your dad.”
“Yeah.” Emily closed her eyes. “I’m glad I was able to say goodbye. That Mom and I—that Jason—at least we had that. Grandfather didn’t make it in time.” She looked back out over the gardens. “I knew he was getting older. He was already older when they adopted me. And parents should go first. Right? It’s just…it’s how the world works when it’s fair. And yet—”
She dragged in a deep, shuddering breath. “I didn’t get—I meant to go see Liz last night, but I never made it, and then Dad—I just—”
“It’s okay. Um, she’s okay as far as I know.” Lucky paused. “But I’m not the person to ask. Not anymore.”
“You’re going to be an aunt,” he said, then paused because the bitterness, the grief threatened to swallow him whole. “And I’m not going to be a father.”
She stared at him, her brown eyes wide. “But—”
“And I’m only telling you that because you need something to cheer you up.” He forced a smile. “And-and I’m sure it’s helping Jason—” Lucky squeezed his eyes shut. God, he just wanted to this go away. He wanted to disappear into nothing. Into the sweet oblivion. He wanted the world to simply stop.
“Lucky,” Emily sat up, her eyes kind, but unsurprised. “I didn’t know—I thought the test ruled him out.”
“Apparently not,” Lucky said, absorbing the fact that Emily had known the possibility had existed. And had said nothing. Everyone had lied to protect him, holding his hand like he was a child who couldn’t be trust.
And it shamed him to know it was the truth.
“Anyway, that’ll be good for you guys,” Lucky said again, looking for the good. Looking for the words to make things okay for his oldest and dearest friend. Elizabeth might have had a thousand reasons not to tell him, but if Emily of all people had kept the secret — well that was just proof that it had been done because no one thought Lucky could cope with reality. “You’ll have something to look forward to. Right?”
“Right.” Emily smiled at him, but it was sad. “I’m so sorry, Lucky. I know you wanted this to be different.”
“I made my choices,” he told her. “And Elizabeth made hers. I’m going to find a way to be okay with that. Right now, I want you to know I’m here. And that I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Just like all those times before
Please don’t ask again.
It shouldn’t have hurt like this. Nothing Elizabeth had said was a lie. He was engaged to another woman. Someone he genuinely loved and cared about, someone who had been struck a blow before all of this had started when Sam had learned she couldn’t have children of her own, and then she’d learned in the worst way possible that he was going to be a father.
He left the hospital because Elizabeth had asked him to, and because he needed to. He needed a shower. Rest. Because then he would be able to figure out how to explain to Elizabeth what he meant when he said they could make it work. He would find the words to make her understand why he wanted this. He wanted to be a father. He wanted to take care of her. Why wasn’t it allowed to be that simple?
He remembered, of course, the biggest reason why it wouldn’t be that way when he pushed open the door to the penthouse, and Sam was there, sitting on the sofa, a mug of coffee in her hands.
They eyed each other warily as she set the coffee on the table, then rose to her feet. Twenty-four hours earlier, Jason had seen a future with her that was mostly what he wanted, and now, the days, weeks, and months stretched in front of him and he didn’t see her any more. How could one day change so much?
“I’m sorry,” Sam said. “About Alan. I waited in the ICU for you to come back. I thought you’d spend the night with your family.”
He had, but if he said that now, would that hurt her? Would it make her leave? And if she went, could he ask Elizabeth again because now something had changed? What kind of man did that make him? He wanted the woman he’d asked to marry him to leave so he could start a life with someone else.
Jason swallowed hard, because nothing kind was coming to mind and he really didn’t know how to deal with any of this. His father was dead, a father he’d never let into his life, and now Jason would live his life with those regrets in his heart. What ifs haunting him for the rest of his life, and he didn’t want that anymore—
“Did you know before last night?” Sam asked. “Did you know that the baby was yours?”
“No,” Jason said. “I didn’t.”
She folded her arms. “She lied to you. For months. To you, to Lucky, to the world.”
There was truth in those words, but not enough of it, and so Jason said nothing. How could he begin to articulate what was swirling in his head. Yes, Elizabeth had technically lied, but it hadn’t felt like dishonesty. And how did you explain the difference between the two? Could you? All he knew was that her lie hadn’t felt malicious, hadn’t been designed to hurt him, and so he didn’t care.
He was going to be a father. It was all that mattered at the end of the day.
“What are you going to do?” Sam broke in, her eyes burning, her cheeks flushed. “You’re just standing there, and you’re not saying anything.”
What did she want from him? He’d spent hours on the edge of disaster, carefully plotting to extricate the people he loved from a ruthless man who had nearly killed Robin and whose deeds had left to Alan’s death? Then he’d spent even longer, trapped in an elevator, unsure if he or Elizabeth — or their child — would be rescued. And then his father had died.
He had nothing left for anyone, much less Sam who seemed to be angry about something that had nothing to do with her.
“I’m not doing this,” Jason said finally. “I did nothing wrong—”
“Nothing—” Her nostrils flared. “How can you say that? Where were you? With her, weren’t you? Instead of grieving with your family, working this out with me, you went and held her hand, didn’t you?”
“My father died,” Jason said, testing out the words, and finding he didn’t like the way they tasted. The way it felt to say them, and have it be a truth wrapped inside a lie. “My child and his mother nearly died. My sister had to choose between them. If you want to have this argument, if you really want this right now—” His words were flat, unfeeling, empty as he spoke them. “If this is the conversation you want to have this morning, then there’s nothing to say.”
“I did nothing wrong,” he repeated. “Nothing. You and I were not together the night this baby was conceived. And I never lied to you about it. I told you it was a possibility, and I told you what I knew when I knew it.”
“Jason, okay, maybe I was just—”
“I did do something wrong,” he corrected, and she stopped talking, her eyes wide. “But you didn’t know about it, so it can’t be the reason you’re doing this. But I’m not sorry.” And he’d do it again. “I asked her to marry me.”
Sam fisted her hands at her side. “Do I get an invitation?” she bit out.
“No,” he said shortly. “She said no.” He went to the stairs, climbed them. Sam followed as he went into their bedroom, went into the closet and pulled out a duffel bag.
“What are you doing? Jason, wait, I’m sorry. Let me—I can do this right. I was going to be okay, and then you didn’t come home—”
He yanked out the top drawer of the dresser harder than he meant, and the dresser shook. He shoved clothes into the bag, not caring really what he packed until it was stuffed. He looked at Sam again, at the woman he’d expected to share his life with. Her face was stained with tears, her dark eyes pained. “I’m sorry,” Jason said, and this he meant because he’d done nothing wrong, and maybe she really hadn’t either.
But that was the world sometimes. Two people could do no wrong, and still they could end up here. At the end of the road. He’d reached it abruptly, without warning. Without understanding. And he could only hope it would make sense to the both of them one day.
But if he spent one more minute in this room, struggling through a conversation he didn’t want to have, he’d go insane.
He picked up the bag and left.