Written in 57 minutes.
Morgan Penthouse: Master Bedroom
Jason woke abruptly later that night, though he couldn’t say why. The room was pitch dark, without even a glimmer of moonlight sliding through the curtains. The snow had moved in a few hours ago, though they’d never made it out for that ride.
He listened intently—had there been a door creak or footsteps that had jarred him out of sleep? But there was nothing. Just the sound of Elizabeth’s soft breathing. She was curled against his side, her arm hooked across his chest, the tips of her fingers brushing his shoulder.
She was still deeply asleep, though that didn’t mean anything. Elizabeth barely responded to an alarm clock blaring right next to her head.
But there was nothing in the penthouse. No sounds. No movements. Nothing outside beyond the whirl of the wind and the sleeting snow against the windowpane. There was no threat. Just his own thoughts.
He closed his eyes, tried to slide back into sleep. He’d done this before, in the studio, when he’d had pain or worry about the world outside. He’d focus on Elizabeth, sleeping just below him on the floor. Her breathing always lulled him back to sleep, and it was even better now. She was in his arms, and he could feel her soft skin everywhere, her breath warm against his skin where her face tucked into his shoulder.
He stroked her back, and she moved slightly. Her breath changed, and he winced now. Had he woken her?
She shifted, her hand sliding down his chest, away from his shoulders, towards herself, and then she slid up on her elbow. “Jason?” she asked, her words slurred. “Are you awake?”
“I’m sorry, go back to sleep,” he murmured. He touched her face, brushing her hair back, but he couldn’t resist sliding his fingers down her cheek to her neck. He couldn’t see her very well in the dark, but he knew she wasn’t going to listen.
“What’s wrong?” She shivered, and he reached for the blanket that had slid down. He tucked it around her shoulders, but he could see the white of her eyes now and knew she was awake now.
“Nothing,” Jason said, but Elizabeth didn’t accept that. She reached across him, straining for the lamp on his night table. He squinted when the soft light flooded the room and illuminated her face, worry etched into her features.
He laid back, stared at the ceiling, the way the light cast shadows above them. She tucked herself back into his side. “We have to do the reception.”
Jason frowned, but he didn’t look at her. Still stared at the ceiling. “How did you—”
“Sonny said yes. It’s why you were so angry.” She tilted her head up so that her chin rested on his shoulder, and now he met her eyes. “Once he said yes, it didn’t matter what you wanted. What I wanted. It was already done.”
And that was it, of course. That was why he’d woken in the middle of the night. Why he’d been restless and irritated all day. It didn’t matter. Sonny wasn’t asking Jason, and he hadn’t presented it that way. He’d just told him. This was how it was, and there was no choice.
“I don’t know why things are like this between you and Sonny,” Elizabeth continued, “but I know something’s wrong. You don’t have to tell me,” she added. “It’s just that I’m worried. Your job is to take orders from him, isn’t it?”
And it was that simple, wasn’t it? Would Jason be this resistant if that night in December hadn’t happened? If Sonny had already proven that he was no better than the Quartermaines or Robin or anyone else who thought Jason didn’t know how to think for himself—
“It is,” Jason said hesitantly. “But not about this. Not when it involves you.”
“But it’s not about me—”
“It’s—” Restless, Jason slid out of bed and reached for the briefs nearby on the floor. “I can’t explain it.” Didn’t want to explain it. Didn’t want to explain to Elizabeth that it all traced back to that horrible moment standing in Sonny’s penthouse, bleeding from a bullet he’d taken for Sonny, watching the woman he thought he loved saunter down the stairs in Sonny’s shirt.
How did he begin to tell her about any of that without making it seem like it was the sleeping together that bothered him? It had in the beginning, but then it didn’t anymore. And after watching Elizabeth’s face change that day in the church—
He didn’t want to go through it again.
“You don’t have to—” Elizabeth began, but for some reason that answer irritated him. He turned back towards her, some of his frustration bubbling up and out.
“Stop that,” he said, and it sounded harsher than he’d meant it to because she flinched, then swallowed hard. She dragged the blanket up more tightly, seeming to draw back inside herself.
Jason dragged his hands over his face. “Stop telling me I don’t have to explain myself,” he said, a bit more calmly but the damage was done. “This is about you. Don’t tell me what I’m feeling.”
“I didn’t mean to—” Elizabeth tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “I didn’t mean to. I just—I just don’t think Sonny sees it as it being about me, and maybe that’s the disconnect, you know? He’s seeing it as business, and you don’t—”
Jason just shook his head and walked away, went over to the window to shove aside the curtain. The bedroom sat over the living room, so the view from here was the same as the balcony, over the lake and the harbor though he could barely see either through the snow.
He heard rustling behind him and turned. Elizabeth had reached for the first clothing she could find—the gray sweater he’d discarded somewhere on the floor, and his mood softened. The collar slid to one side, and the hem hit her midway on the thighs. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“You don’t have to apologize—”
“No, I just—” He sighed. “This would be easier if I told you why Sonny and I are having issues, and I don’t want to do that.”
“Because it involves Carly.”
Jason drew his brows together. “How—”
“I’m not an idiot,” she said with a roll of her eyes. She folded her arms, tucking the ends of the sleeves into her palms. “You talked about Carly doing something that made you see who she was, and you cut them both out at the same time. Why else would you be so mad at Sonny over me? Because it’s not about me,” she said flatly. “It’s because of Carly. They slept together, right? The night you were shot.”
“Yes,” he confirmed with a slow nod, and she sighed. “I’m not mad about that. Not the way you think. I was for a while, but I meant what I told you the day we got married. That I see Carly for who she is, and I’m glad—”
“And I wouldn’t give a damn about it anymore if it hadn’t been for what Sonny said to me the day after,” Jason hurried to add and she frowned at him. “He came to the boxcar and told me that now I knew who they both were. He did it because he thought I was better off without Carly.”
She swallowed hard, looked away, and there it was. The hurt he hadn’t wanted in the first place, but— “He was right. I know that. But it wasn’t his place to prove it to me.”
“I thought he understood that. I thought—” Jason shook his head, looked away from her again, out the window to the blinding snow. It had snowed like this the night he’d gone to the boxcar. He’d laid out in the snow, waiting for the numbness to seep throughout his entire body. “I never expected much of Carly, but Sonny was supposed to know better. He was—” How did he explain this? How did he make her understand when he could barely put it into words for himself?
“You told me once that Robin and Sonny had taught you everything you knew,” Elizabeth said. He met her eyes. “And that you grew up in Sonny’s eyes, but not Robin’s.”
That was it. Exactly. He swallowed again. “Robin thought she knew what was best for me. She was right about Carly using Michael, but I didn’t care. I knew she was. But I wanted Michael. It was worth it to me. She took the choice away from me. Just like the Quartermaines,” he murmured.
“And Sonny did that again with Carly.”
“And now he’s doing it again with this reception thing.” Elizabeth reached for his hand. “I’m sorry.”
“I was wrong about Carly. I know that, and Robin and Sonny were right. And maybe the Quartermaines were right, too. I don’t know. But it wasn’t their job—” His throat tightened. “I’m not damaged. I’m allowed to make mistakes, and no one—” He couldn’t force out the words anymore. Couldn’t make himself finish.
“No one has the right to make choices for you.” Elizabeth clasped his hand between both of hers, bringing it to her chest, resting it against her heart. “Or tell you what you’re feeling. Or be angry when you don’t live your life the way they think you should.”
He nodded. Cleared his throat. “I don’t know if I can keep working for Sonny if this is how it’s going to be.” He met her eyes. “But I don’t know who I am if I don’t work for Sonny. I don’t have anything else.”
“You have me,” Elizabeth said. “I know it’s not a lot, but it’s nothing, right?” She chewed on her bottom lip. “That’s not where either one of us lives anymore. You told me that the day we got married. That I dragged you back into living.”
He dipped his head, kissed her, wishing there were words. Wishing he could make her understand just what she’d done for him.
She wrapped her arms around his neck, and he lifted her in his arms, marveling for just a moment that he could do this now. That she’d trusted him.
“Do you know why this morning happened?” She murmured against his lips, hooking her legs around his waist. He carried her back to the bed and set her down. “Because you gave me the choice yesterday. When you told me what Sonny had said about not needing the whole year.”
Jason blinked, a bit confused by that. He drew back, but Elizabeth just smiled. “You let me make the choice for myself,” she continued, tracing her thumbs over his cheekbones. “Trust me to keep making that choice, and I promise you I won’t ever make one for you. We’ll do this stupid reception. Not because Sonny said so,” she added, “but because it’s probably not the worst idea in the world. And then—when you know what you want to do, I’ll still be here.”
“Yeah?” He leaned down and kissed the shoulder left bare by his sweater. “For the whole year?”
“For however long you want me.”
Jason focused on her, on the way she’d said the words and what she might mean, then he kissed her again, losing himself in how she tasted and felt. He didn’t need anything but her.