Written in 62 minutes.
“It was stupid,” Joss said, her voice a bit tired and dull. “We were only going to be there for like an hour. Maybe two. I could have stuck it out.”
Elizabeth remained silent, listening to the teenager punish herself enough for the both of them.
“It’s just…everyone had a date or a best friend, you know? They were all paired off. And it’s not like I want anyone to be miserable. I don’t.” Joss paused. “Okay, maybe I enjoyed Cam and Emma fighting more than I should have. Mostly because he called me, and we hung out a few times.” She looked out the window. “We don’t do that anymore. Just us. We were best friends. And now we’re not.”
Elizabeth made the turn to Carly’s house, and Joss sighed again. “And I know that makes me a bad person. That I wanted my best friend to be sad and alone because I am—”
“It does not make you a bad person. It makes you human.” Elizabeth drew to a stop in front of Joss’s house, switched off the engine. “I know what it’s like to be in a crowd of people and feel completely alone. I give you a lot of credit, Joss, for going in the first place.”
“Really?” Joss frowned. Looked at her. “Why?”
“Because I didn’t. I couldn’t. When I was your age, and the boy I liked went to the dance with my sister, I couldn’t face it. I wasn’t brave enough to go alone. We were supposed to go as friends, but I was so…” Elizabeth smiled ruefully. “I was so hurt and embarrassed that I had gone all out on this night. I’d bought a new dress, and I’d had these silly little day dreams that when he saw me all dressed up, he’d forget all about Sarah. I lied to him. I told him I had a different date, and then I just didn’t go at all.”
“You think it’s brave I went to the dance alone?” Joss asked skeptically. “It’s pathetic—”
“It’s brave,” Elizabeth repeated. “And you stuck it out as long as you could. Were you going to walk all the way home?”
“No, just to Grandma Bobbie’s. Is that…um, is that how you knew? Why you came back?” Joss wanted to know. “Because I looked miserable? Did everyone else notice?”
“I can’t answer that, but I just—I worried what might happen if you couldn’t stand it and walked out. You matter to me, Joss. You’ve been such a good friend to my son. I’ve watched you grow up, and I know it’s been hard. But you’re a great kid. The next time you just want to get out, when you just want to walk away—” Elizabeth held up her cell phone. “Call me. No questions asked.”
“Thanks, Aunt Liz. I was only a few blocks away from Grandma’s, but—” Joss shivered. “I heard these footstps—probably nothing but my own mind,” she added, “but it was scary. I’m glad you came to find me.”
“Always. And if you don’t call me, call your mother. You know she’d show up in a heartbeat for you.”
“Yeah, but then she’d go to war against someone. Sometimes it’s not worth the drama.” Joss grinned at her. “But yeah, you’re right. Next time, I’ll make sure I have a ride. Bye, Aunt Liz.”
Morgan House: Master Bedroom
Elizabeth was still thinking of Joss when she got ready for bed, the teen’s words echoing in her mind as she rubbed lotion into her hands.
Footsteps. Joss had heard footsteps behind her. Had she just been imagining things? How many times had Elizabeth heard people who weren’t there? In the days and weeks after, she’d been haunted by sounds that didn’t exist.
Behind her, the door opened and Jason came in. “Hey.” He came up behind her at the vanity table, dropped a kiss on top of her head, his hands warm on her shoulders. “Everyone’s home.”
“Did Cam have a good time?” Elizabeth asked.
“Yeah,” Jason said, sitting on the edge of the bed, kicking off his shoes. “He walked Emma to her door.”
“Good.” Elizabeth looked down at her hands, still rubbing in lotion that had long ago dissolved. “Did he even notice Joss was gone?”
Jason frowned. “What?”
“Did Cameron notice Joss left Kelly’s?” Elizabeth twisted on the stool. “Because her phone never rang the entire time I drove her home.”
“I didn’t ask,” Jason admitted. “I knew you’d picked her up—” He tipped his head. “She’s all right. You were there.”
“Yeah, I guess. I just—” Elizabeth sighed, twisted her wedding ring. “It was so much the same,” she murmured. “A sad, miserable girl feeling left out. Walking in the dark. I suppose I wanted to know—Lucky noticed. I never came to the dance, and he noticed. He went looking for me.”
Tears stung her eyes. “I don’t know what would have happened if he didn’t find me. I didn’t know where I was—I was so outside myself—” She rubbed her arms. “A complete mess. I never found my coat—my shoe was broken—I don’t know how Gram didn’t see. I used to hate that he knew. In the beginning. When I didn’t want anyone to see me. I hated that he knew. But now, even after everything we’ve been through, thank God he found me. I don’t know if I would have survived. I might have just stayed in the park.”
“Hey,” Jason said softly. He reached for her hand, and drew her to sit next to him. “It’s okay.”
“I used to have nightmares about it,” Elizabeth confessed. “Laying in the snow, letting it numb everything, and just drifting away. I was so cold, it didn’t hurt yet. But I heard my name. I heard his voice. And I started to crawl towards it.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to keep going back—”
“You never, ever have to apologize,” he said roughly, bringing her hand to his mouth, kissing the inside of her palm. She smiled at him, even as the tears slid down her cheek. “Ever. You’re right. If you’d stayed there all night, you might have died. So, yeah, Lucky gets the credit for finding you. For helping you that night. But that’s where it ends. You know that, right? Because you heard his voice. You made the decision to go towards it. Not him.”
She sighed, leaned her head against his shoulder. He put his arm around her, held her close. “I know. I just—and you know, I don’t think about it anymore. Or at least I didn’t until a few months ago. But that feeling—laying in the cold, waiting for it to make everything go away—I never lost that.”
“I know.” He tipped her chin up. “I’ve been there, too. Remember? You dragged me out of the snow. Made me open my eyes and drowned me in soup.”
“I—” Her eyes widened. “I didn’t even—”
“I was nearly dead when you found me. I don’t feel the cold,” he reminded her, “but I can still freeze to death. If you hadn’t come that morning, if you’d been even a day later, I would have.”
“It’s just…I don’t want to think about any of these things anymore. I don’t want to be that girl, crawling out of the snow. I want to be stronger. And before you tell me I am,” Elizabeth added, “I know. But it can come back so fast. In a moment, and tonight, it just felt so real again. If anything ever happened to Joss, to Emma, or Trina—or even the boys—” She shook her head.
“It didn’t. You took care of Joss just the way you take care of everyone.” He brushed his mouth against hers. “Let me take care of you.”
“You always do.”
Port Charles High: Library
Cameron dropped his books next to Joss’s and sat down. “You’ve been avoiding my calls since Friday night,” he declared. “And you skipped the game on Saturday.”
Joss wrinkled her nose and went back to her geometry homework. “Sorry I got busy.”
“I texted you when I saw that you left. I was worried,” he added. “I almost went looking for you.”
“It’s fine. I just went home early. Your mom was still hanging around and picked me up. No big deal.”
“Joss—” Cameron scowled. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing. I just—I was like the fifth wheel all night, and it kind of sucked. I thought it’d be fun to go alone,” Joss continued, “because I figured Spencer and Trina were solo, too. So it wouldn’t be weird. But I guess Emma was right about them, because they got all paired off, and I just…” She tapped her pen against her notebook. “I didn’t mean to worry you.”
“It’s fine,” she repeated, this time with an edge to her voice. Then she forced a smile. “I’m glad you and Em are okay again. I know she still totally hates me, but we’ve got a truce going mostly, and I know you, like, worship her. I just…I need to find that, and then we’ll be good.”
“You’re still my best friend, Joss.”
“Sure.” Joss jerked a shoulder. “Now let me finish my homework before homeroom, okay?”
General Hospital: Cafeteria
Elizabeth eyed the food on her tray with suspicion. “Why did this look better before I bought it?”
Patrick rolled his eyes, took her salad and switched it with his burger. Then, noticing Robin’s arched brow, took the salad and switched it with Robin’s chili. “There. Everyone’s happy now.”
Robin sniffed, but snagged the dressing packets from Elizabeth’s tray while Elizabeth took the ketchup from Patrick.
“This is why I keep him around,” Robin said.
“Same.” Elizabeth grinned at him, then her smile faded. “I’ve been thinking about the kids.”
“The dance was fine,” Patrick reminded her. “And everyone got home safely—”
“No, I know. But I’m worried about Joss. I know she and Emma haven’t always gotten along,” Elizabeth continued. “And some of it’s been deserved.”
“Emma gives as good as she gets. The blue hair dye might have been in defense of Trina, but I know my daughter came up with it. And the pool party last summer—” Robin stabbed a fork at Patrick. “You know Emma started that fight.”
Patrick frowned. “Who was arguing with you?”
“I know we can’t force them to be friends. I don’t want that. I guess—” Elizabeth ripped her French fry apart. “I don’t know. I keep thinking that she’s going to end up like me, and that’s not fair. I’m just overreacting, I guess.”
“Parallels, I told you,” Patrick said. “And you were right to hang out. Joss probably would have been fine, but you were there, and she’ll remember that. They’re kids, Webber. Teenagers. We were horrible, but we turned out okay.”
“I just want them to be okay without trauma,” Elizabeth told him. “Your mother died, and you spent ten years being a man whore before Robin slapped you upside the head.”
Patrick made a face. “I don’t know why she’s getting all the credit—”
“And I—” Was raped and grief-stricken. “Well, we know what I went through.”
“They’re going to get hurt, Liz,” Robin reminded her gently. “And our kids have had plenty of trauma already. Cam lost Jake for two years, Emma lost me. Joss has Carly for a mother. Trina’s parents are always at war. And Spencer is an entire mess. People get hurt. It’s a fact of life. All we can ever do is hope that we gave them all the tools to get through it. So far, I think we’re good.”
“What she said—” Patrick said. “And they’ve got something we didn’t get. Family who gives a damn. No drunks for a dad, no dead parents, no parents off helping other people and forgetting they’ve got kids—we’re right here. To annoy them and ground them. So don’t worry. We got this.”
PCPD: Commissioner’s Office
Jordan scowled at the latest surveillance report, then looked up at the detective who delivered them. “How is it possible that it’s been two months since Baker got out and he’s still alive?”
“Uh—” Nathan West squinted. “Clean living?” When Jordan’s scowl just deepened, he rolled his eyes. “I don’t know, Commissioner. Maybe Morgan and Corinthos just aren’t interested in revenge. If they’d wanted this guy dead, they would have done it. He spent all those years inside, didn’t he? Alive and kicking.”
“Maybe Morgan just wanted the satisfaction of doing it himself.” Jordan shoved away from her desk and started to pace. “I can’t justify the expense much longer,” she muttered. “If they don’t make a move—”
“We know that they’re criminals,” Nathan said slowly, “but this is personal. When was the last time either of them were accused of committing a crime for personal gain?”
“Oh, don’t give me that—” Jordan whirled on him.
“I’m not saying they’re good people,” the detective said, holding up his hands. “I’m saying they’re not idiots. You start letting personal grudges take over, it’s the start of the end. I grew up watching mafia movies. They’ve been in power a long time, Commissioner. You don’t survive all those hits without some sort of intelligence.”
“Luck,” Jordan muttered. “Just luck.” She dragged her hands through her hair. “All right. I can authorize this for another month. Maybe. But I’ll have to pull the guys watching Baker himself. Keep the others on Jason and Sonny’s guys and at the warehouse. We don’t need to watch them both. Baker has to report to parole every week, and he wears an ankle monitor. We’ll know if he gets grabbed or goes anywhere he shouldn’t.”
Port Charles Park
Elizabeth avoided this area of the park like the plague and had for years, but today, as she headed towards Cameron’s soccer’s practice, she took the path towards the fountain at the center of the park.
It was different in the daylight, she thought. In the fall, with the harvest color leaves flooding the tone path, laying in the water of the fountain. The stone bench covered in a blanket of them.
She slid her hands over the slight bulge of her belly, her pregnancy just beginning to show. She couldn’t wait until the baby quickened inside, when she could feel the flutters and kicks. Being pregnant was mostly a miserable experience, but when the baby was inside of her—
They were safe. Protected. No one could hurt them.
She didn’t want to think about it constantly. Had always hated when Jason used that terrible word. He’d wanted her safe from the dangers of his life when she wasn’t even safe from the danger of the real world. It was nothing more than a four letter word.
She exhaled slowly, then went past the bench, took another turn, then another—then stopped when she saw a movement. When she saw someone in front of her taking a turn. Elizabeth walked in that direction, moving slowly, careful not to step on any leaves.
And just in front of her around, the curve, she saw him.
Tom Baker, crouched behind a bush, his camera in his hands. Her heart began to pound and she looked in the direction he was pointing his camera. She couldn’t see what he was looking at, but she knew there were tables there.
Knew that kids from the high school sometimes hung out there to do homework while practice was held on the field attached to the park.
Elizabeth turned and ducked down another path, one that would wind around towards the other side of clearing.
The only teens there today were hers. Trina was laughing, showing Emma her phone while Joss sat across from them, concentrating on her homework.
Tom Baker was watching her girls. With a camera.
She didn’t think through the next step, didn’t even register what she would do until she was already in the clearing. “Hey, girls!” she said brightly, hoping she sounded somewhat normal. “It’s getting too cold to hang out here, isn’t it?”
“Definitely by Thanksgiving,” Joss said, looking at her in relief. “But we like to hang until Cam and Spencer are done—”
“Well, I’m here to pick them up, and we’ve got plenty of room for you guys.” Elizabeth avoided the bush. Didn’t want to tip her hand. “Come on. You can come to my place. We’ll get pizza or something for dinner.”
“Sounds good to me,” Trina declared, standing up. “I’ll text Dr. Rob in the car. Thanks, Mrs M.”
“Thanks, Aunt Liz,” Emma said, shoving her things into her bag. “You’re the best! I didn’t want to walk home anyway.”
“You really are,” Joss said, smiling shyly at Elizabeth. “Thanks.”
Elizabeth waited until the girls had gone ahead of her, then followed them.
She never looked back.