Written in 62 minutes.
Put my name at the top of your list
Jason stood just outside the double doors to the chapel, lingering in the anteroom of Queen of Angels, a bit unsure of himself as he watched the pews fill rapidly with members of the hospital staff and distant branches of the Quartermaine family. The front two pews had been left empty out of respect for the close family. Tracy had already passed by him, her arm in her father’s.
Edward looked as if he’d aged decades since Jason had seen him last, and it was hard to find the ruthless and cold man he’d battled after the accident. Monica had squeezed his hand and glad been glad to see him. She’d gone in with Ned and his ex-wife, Lois, and their daughter, Brooke.
But Jason couldn’t bring himself to sit down. To take a place in those front pews. To publicly proclaim a position of family, of relation, that he’d never taken when Alan was living.
“Hey.” Emily came around a corner, her eyes red. “I thought I saw you over here.” She touched a tissue to her eyes, forced herself to smile. “I was just washing my face. I can’t—” She swallowed, looked through the doors, and the tears were glimmering again in her eyes. “I could put it away for a while. The last few days. I made some calls for Mom. But mostly I just…” She closed her eyes. “I pretended he was at work, maybe. That it wasn’t real.”
Jason reached for his sister, drew her against him in a loose embrace. He wanted to tell her he was sorry, that he understood. He’d spent the last few days thinking about other things, but then Monica had called him with the time of the services, her voice hesitant. Would he come? All the confusion, the swirl of grief and numbness returned just like that. As if no time at all had passed since that terrible night in the hospital.
“I know you and Dad didn’t see eye to eye,” Emily said, drawing back so their eyes met. “But he loved you, Jason.”
“And somewhere, inside of you, I think you must have felt it.” Her smile faltered. “He didn’t always do the right thing. And he pushed too hard. He said things that hurt you. Especially after Michael was born—”
“I wish we’d had more time. I wish he was here to meet your child. I think it would have changed things. Or maybe that’s just me wishing again.” She inhaled sharply, her breath shaky. “You’ll come in with me, won’t you?”
“Yeah.” Jason nodded. “Yeah. But I know Monica saved you a seat in the front. I’ll—” Stand in the back? He looked down the aisle, to the empty space in the second pew.
“Oh, good.” Emily stepped back, turned towards the door. “I wasn’t sure if she’d make it.”
Jason turned and everything felt steady inside again. Elizabeth was climbing the stairs, a black coat pulled over an equally dark dress, one hand over her belly. He broke away from Emily, thinking he’d help her up the stairs—
But she was already there. “Sorry. Cam had a hard time going down for his nap. He didn’t want Gram to read him a story. It had to be me.”
“You’re just in time. We’re going in.” Emily hugged her. “I’m with Mom, and you and Jason can sit behind us.”
“Oh.” Elizabeth bit her lip, looked at him and he knew what she was thinking. The news of their child’s paternity had spread, but this would be the first time most people had seen her since the hostage crisis—and it would be at his father’s funeral? Sitting with him?
He nearly told her she didn’t have to—he didn’t want her to feel obligated or pressured—but then he did something he rarely did when Elizabeth was involved. He spoke what was in his mind. “I’d like that,” Jason told her.
“Oh.” Her eyes widened, but there was a warmth there, and he knew he’d made the right choice. “Okay. Of course.”
He took her hand and they trailed behind Emily as his sister walked down the aisle to join Monica and Edward in the front pew. Jason waited while Elizabeth sat down, and then sat at the end of the second pew.
There was a casket in front of them, and belatedly, Jason realized it was an open one. Alan lay there, his eyes closed. Beside a podium, there was a large photograph of his father, smiling as he hugged Emily at her medical school graduation.
Alan had wanted that future for him, Jason remembered, thinking of a conversation long ago, mere weeks after the accident. In the Quartermaine gym. Alan had opened up to him about what it meant for Jason to follow him into medicine, and Jason remembered feeling close to him in that moment, a fleeting emotion that he’d buried.
He swallowed hard, as he thought of that moment and others over the last eleven years—there were more harsh than good, but they were all he’d ever had. There was no turning back the clock. No time, no chance, no extra time.
For just a second, Jason wished he could go back to that day, to the moment he’d almost connected with his father, and be softer. To be kinder to the family that was grieving the boy who had never come home.
Elizabeth slid her hand into his, and he looked at her. Her eyes were damp and he wondered if she was thinking about regrets the way he was. If she was thinking of all the maybes and what ifs. The roads not taken. The choices he’d run from.
Her fingers tightened around his and the tightness in his chest eased as he looked forward again as Father Coates stepped up to begin the services.
This is the last time I’m asking you why
He didn’t run after the service, though he thought about it. He sat and listened as Father Coates delivered a eulogy, as Monica wept through the memories of her marriage—the good, the bad, and the ugly—as Emily broke down in front of the casket as she tried to talk about her father—and as Edward went up to the casket after the services had ended, and Jason had wondered if the old man would be able to walk away.
He offered Elizabeth a ride to the mansion and she accepted, though they didn’t speak in the car. He didn’t know what to say, and maybe she could sense that because she remained quiet, too.
When he’d parked in the driveway, and helped her out, he finally broke the silence. “Go inside,” Jason said. “I, uh—” He looked away, towards the gardens. “I wanted to take a walk.”
“I’ll go with you.” Elizabeth closed the car door and wound her arm through his. “If you don’t mind.”
He didn’t. He didn’t want to be alone, but he didn’t want to be around people. Not just yet. And not here. But Elizabeth wasn’t just anyone.
They walked through the quiet, dormant rose gardens, and Jason tried to remember the last time he’d been here. Not after Lila had passed, no. But surely he’d made time before that—
“I haven’t been here since I came home,” Jason said, suddenly, stopping in the middle of a path.
Elizabeth had walked a few extra steps before realizing that he had stopped, and she turned to look at him, questions in her eyes. “After you were gone for that year?” she wanted to know. “You came to see Lila—”
“In the house. But not here.” He paused, looking around, wishing he was better at picturing things. That he had Elizabeth’s artistic gifts. He couldn’t remember what it looked like, bright with life. What Lila looked like, sitting amongst her beloved roses. “She loved it here.”
“I know. She used to invite me to tea even after Emily left.” Elizabeth smiled faintly. “She was special.”
“She was the first person I ever loved,” Jason murmured. “The first person who felt like family. She taught me what that was. Then Emily. Robin and Sonny, that was different, but Grandmother—” He shook his head. “I keep thinking about the weeks I lived here after the accident. We were all so angry.”
“I destroyed his—my—” he corrected gently. “I destroyed my room. Evidence of a life I didn’t remember, and Monica lost her temper. She was furious with me—I destroyed things she couldn’t replace.” He turned to look back at the house, wondering what that room looked like now. “They were strangers to me, and they kept looking for someone else. I couldn’t see they were grieving—”
“It’s easy to be hard on yourself with hindsight,” she reminded him. “Yes, they were grieving the boy they’d raised, but you were doing the best you could. I didn’t know you then, but I know that you’re not cruel—”
“You’d be surprised,” Jason murmured, but she shook her head. “I did things I knew would make them angry—”
“And your father and grandfather attempted to have you declared an unfit parent to take custody of Michael,” Elizabeth said. Jason exhaled slowly. “You’re looking back with regret, Jason, and that’s good. But don’t pretend that your family didn’t do things that hurt you, too. You hurt each other.” She tipped her head. “At the end, did Alan blame you?”
“No.” Jason struggled to speak, to force the words out. “No. He blamed himself. It’s a parent job to keep trying. To make their child feel loved. He was sorry for giving up.”
“My parents gave up, too, but I’m not sure they’ll have regrets on their deathbed.” Her smile was faint. “I was scared when I got pregnant the first time. What kind of parent would I be? All I knew was what I didn’t want to be.”
“You’re an amazing mother,” he told her. “Cameron adores you.”
“And you’re an amazing father. Michael was lucky to have you. This baby—” Elizabeth reached for his hand, rested it on her belly. Jason smiled as he felt a strong kick against his palm. “This baby,” she continued, “will be lucky to have you.”
“I’m sorry,” Jason said. She drew her brows together. “For asking you to marry me because you were pregnant. You’re right. Marriage is more than that. And I don’t want you to ever think that all I care about is the baby.”
“I didn’t think that,” Elizabeth assured him. “I know you want to be involved. To be a full-time father. I don’t know what that looks like, but I promise, we’ll make it work.”
“I know.” Reluctantly, he let his hand drop to his side, though he could have felt their child kick all day long. He thought about his conversation with Carly, what he knew Elizabeth wanted before she’d consider marry him. Love. Could he offer that? Was he ready? He didn’t know that answer, but she deserved to know how important she was to him. How did he put it into words?
“Last year,” Jason began slowly, and she looked at him, their eyes meeting. Holding. “I don’t know exactly how it happened—how we got our friendship back—but I’m glad we did. I couldn’t have made it through any of this without you.”
A tear slid down her cheek, but she smiled. “My life is always better when you’re in it,” she said, and he returned the smile. “There’s no one else I want to raise this baby with.”
You break my heart in the blink of an eye
Emily felt her mother tense next to her, and she twisted, thinking that Monica had over heard Tracy saying something—
But it was nothing so dire—only her mother watching as Jason came through the front door, turning slightly to make sure Elizabeth made it over the threshold without slipping. They ignored the eyes on them as he removed her coat, then handed it to Alice, along with his own.
Then they made their way across the foyer to Emily and Monica. “I’m so sorry,” Elizabeth said, offering a hand to Monica. “Alan was such a wonderful chief of staff. I didn’t think anyone could live up to Gramps, but he stepped in like the position was made for him.”
“He was so honored to be asked to take over for Steve.” Monica squeezed Elizabeth’s hand. “And your grandfather would be proud of you carrying the Hardy/Webber legacy into the future.” She looked to Jason. “Thank you so much for coming today. I know it’s not your favorite place in the world, but it meant a lot.”
“Thank you for asking me,” Jason told her.
“Alan’s will is being read in the next few days,” Monica continued. “He left you something, so I hope you’ll come.”
Jason shifted uncomfortably, but then nodded. “Yeah—Yes. I’ll be there.”
This is the last time you tell me I’ve got it wrong
The house was stuffy and crowded, so Jason made sure that Elizabeth was settled with Emily who promised to make sure she’d get her something to eat—and he escaped back into the fresh air on the terrace.
He realized too late that his grandfather was standing by the railing, looking over Lila’s gardens. He nearly went back inside, but Edward turned, and they stared at each other for a long time.
“Monica says you were there at the end,” Edward said, finally.
Jason nodded cautiously. “Emily and I were both able to talk to him.”
“Good. Good. I’m glad. He, uh, had a lot of regrets. You get older, and you start—” Edward slid a hand down his suit jacket, his voice trembling for just a moment before he continuing. “You start to think about the things that you could have done better. My list is—well, it’s endless. No surprise there.” He waited a beat. “You’ll be a father soon, won’t you?”
“Yes,” Jason said. “In May.”
“Spring.” Edward closed his eyes. “It’s a good time. Fresh starts.” He turned back to the gardens. “I shouldn’t be here,” he said abruptly. Furiously. “Burying a son? Preposterous. It should have been me. It should have been me instead of my Lila.”
Edward’s hands gripped the railing tightly and he bent over. “I shouldn’t be here. None of us should.”
“No,” Jason agreed, coming to stand next to him. His grandfather looked at him with surprise, and Jason was startled to see the old man’s eyes were damp. “But Grandmother wouldn’t want you to say things like that.”
“No, she wouldn’t,” he murmured. “I often wish I’d had an ounce of her heart. Of her grace. I’d have been a better man.”
“I think we all would be if we could be like her.” The silence drew out between them. “But she loved us anyway.”
“Yes, she did. Even when we didn’t deserve it. I rarely did.” Edward cleared his throat. “We—we pushed too hard. After the accident. We thought—” He shook his head. “I don’t know what we thought. I never expected you to stand up the way you did, to walk away. To stay away. You never would have before.”
“No, I guess not. But I’m not that different now,” Jason found himself saying. “I just found another family to be loyal to.”
“I suppose there’s truth in that.” Edward sighed. “I took my family for granted. I thought I could never push them too far—that I could always bring them back. But there’s no bringing my boy back, is there?”
It wasn’t a question that needed answering, so Jason didn’t bother. “We can’t bring him back,” he said slowly, “but I’d like my child to know who he was. Will—” Edward stared at him, hope in his eyes. “Will you help me?”
“Of course. Of course.” His craggy face broke into a smile. “Try and stop me.”