Written in 64 minutes.
Friday, January 14, 2000
Morgan Penthouse: Master Bathroom
This is your life, not mine. And I don’t want it anymore. I’m done.
With those words echoing in the air, Jason stalked upstairs and left Sonny alone in the living room. He didn’t want to think about the man anymore tonight. Not when he had his own guilt twisting in his stomach.
For all that he blamed Sonny, Jason knew he was the real culprit. Sonny had put them in a dangerous situation, but it was Jason’s mistakes that had led to Elizabeth nearly being kidnapped and dragged through the park until her feet had been sliced into ribbons.
He knocked lightly on the ajar door, then smiled faintly when he pushed it open. Elizabeth was still soaking in the bubble bath, her feet propped up at the end on a pile of towers. Her head was turned to the side, cushioned by another folded towel, her eyes closed, the steam of the water flushing her pale skin. The tendrils of curls that had escaped from the pile she’d gathered on top were damp, clinging to her cheeks.
He could breath a little easier. She was safe, tucked away where nothing could hurt her. Everything else could wait.
Jason knelt down next to the tub. “Hey,” he murmured, brushing the back of his knuckles down her cheek. “You awake?”
“Barely.” Elizabeth’s eyes fluttered and she turned her head back, smiling at him. “How long was I out?”
“Not long. You wanna soak longer, or—”
“No. I’m going to end up wrinkled like a prune.” Elizabeth’s nose scrunched up as she tried to sit up, but remembered her feet which needed to stay dry. “Ugh.”
“I got it.” Jason found a plush bath towel in a cabinet and within a few minutes, he’d lifted her from the water, wrapped it around her, and then deposited her on the bed. He crossed to the dresser. “What do you want to sleep in?”
“One of your shirts?” she asked hesitantly. He turned back to her, and Elizabeth smiled ruefully. “They’re comfortable.”
He liked her in his shirts, so there was no argument from him. He grabbed a blue one from a drawer.
“Um, are things okay?” Elizabeth asked, tugging it over her head. Jason didn’t answer first, disappearing into the bathroom to dump the used towels in the laundry hamper and drain the tub.
When he returned to the bedroom, she’d scooted back against the headboard, the comforter folded back. “They’re okay for tonight,” Jason said finally. He didn’t want to talk about it anymore. Didn’t want to tell her how much of the terror she’d experienced was his fault.
It burned him, like acid searing holes inside. It could have been so much worse—so much more tragic—what if the man driving had shot and killed them both—what if there had been a bomb—
He’d been stupid. Foolish. His anger had clouded his judgment, and Jason had thought he was better than that. He’d learned to harness his emotions. To turn them off and focus. Then Sorel had cut into the dance and put his hands on Elizabeth—
He’d just wanted her out of there.
“We can talk about it tomorrow,” Elizabeth offered. “I mean, we don’t have to at all. I don’t know what I’m supposed to ask or not. I mean—” She bit her lip. “I was part of it tonight, but I know I can’t know everything. I don’t want to—”
Jason crawled into bed next to her, having changed into a pair of sweats. “Hey.” He tugged her into his arms and she snuggled next to him, tucking her head under his chin. “You can ask whatever you want whenever you want. I might not always be able to answer, but you get to ask, Elizabeth. And this—this isn’t normal. It won’t be. I promise.” He wouldn’t let it be.
“I just don’t want to think about it anymore tonight.” She was safe, the worst of her injuries were the cuts on her feet and he still had a nagging headache, but he’d escaped a concussion. They’d been lucky.
No thanks to him.
Saturday, January 12, 2000
Morgan Penthouse: Living Room
“I could probably manage it myself,” Elizabeth said with a grumble as Jason stepped off the bottom stair and carried her over to the sofa. “One of my feet almost feels normal, so I could—”
“And with more rest,” Jason said patiently, arranging a pillow behind her back, “you’ll have both of them.” He raised his brows at her. “You nearly fell over trying to get to the bathroom—”
“Yeah, but—” Elizabeth made a face. “I can take care of myself,” she muttered, picking at a loose thread on her sweater.
“I know you can—” Jason lifted her legs so that he could sit down. “Why is it so hard for you to accept help?” he asked, a thread of irritation lacing his tone. She blinked at him. “You’re injured. It’s hard for you to walk comfortably. Why can’t I just carry you around for a few days until you feel better?”
When he put it that way— “I just…” Elizabeth shrugged one shoulder, a bit embarrassed. She shouldn’t have said anything. She sounded like an insane person, protesting someone taking care of her, but— “I’m not good at relying on people,” she said finally. “And the last time I trusted someone would be there…”
Jason exhaled slowly. “I’m sorry,” he said after a long moment. “I don’t like asking for help either,” he reminded her. “I know I wasn’t the most cooperative patient last month either.”
Last month felt like an eternity now. Had it only been six weeks since that terrible morning she’d gone to the boxcar and found Jason bloody and frozen in the snow?
“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth echoed. “I’ll try to enjoy the benefits of being injured. I mean, it’s not like I don’t like when you carry me,” she added and he grinned at her. “I’m just being a baby.”
“You’re not.” He squeezed her ankle. “You want something to eat? Hot chocolate or something?”
“Yeah, but first—” Elizabeth bit her lip. “I know you didn’t want to talk about it last night and we really don’t have to right now, but Max—the guard who drive us last night—I was wondering if he was okay.”
“I’ll go make some calls and get you something to eat.” He rose to his feet and kissed her forehead. “I’ll be back.”
A short time later, Jason brought out a mug of hot chocolate and a bagel, along with a cup of coffee for himself. “Max is recovering at our clinic,” Jason told her, settling himself back on the sofa, her legs draped over his lap again. “Doc says it’ll be a full recovery. He got lucky.”
They didn’t talk about it again until she’d finished her food and set the empty plate on the coffee table, but she knew he was thinking about it. She didn’t know what to say to him—if it would be better to push him or to let him bring it up on her own—he’d told her it was okay to ask, but maybe it was just going to hurt him—
Elizabeth blinked at Jason’s unexpected apology. “For what?”
“Last night.” He traced the edges of her knee through her sweatpants, not meeting her eyes. “It was my fault.”
“I want to blame Sonny. I do,” he added, “but he’s not the reason last night happened.” Jason cleared his throat. “I didn’t check the car.”
Elizabeth pressed her lips together, taking in Jason’s words. Remembering the night before as he’d hustled her out of the club and into the waiting limo. “You mean to make sure it was Max driving.”
“Yeah. If I’d done that—if I’d done the sweep I’m supposed to do—” Now Jason met her eyes. “That’s what happened to Lily, you know. They were celebrating at Luke’s and Sonny had too much to drink. She took the keys. No guards. Sonny would have checked the car. He would have known to. But he didn’t. He was too tipsy. And Lily died.”
And so did Sonny’s unborn child.
“I didn’t do a bomb sweep,” Jason muttered. “I didn’t check the driver. I didn’t do anything. I just want you out of that restaurant. Away from all those people.”
“Away from Sorel.”
She exhaled slowly. “You know that’s why he cut into the dance, then Jason frowned, met her eyes. “Well, I mean, other than to be a pain. He had to know it would irritate you. He waited until we were supposed to leave, and got you mad.”
“And I got careless,” he bit out. He shoved himself to his feet, careful not to jostle her feet. “I let my anger take over. You could have died. You almost did.” He stalked over to the balcony doors, staring out into the gloomy and overcast January morning.
“You almost did, too,” Elizabeth pointed out. She set her feet down, wincing as she stood and hobbled over to him. “On the trail—”
Jason turned, scowling to find her standing behind him. “You should be—”
“I’m fine—” Elizabeth put her hands on his forearms as they reached out to her. “Look, I’m not going to lie to you. I was scared last night. When we were in the park, and you were unconscious—I might have nightmares about what would have happened if I hadn’t been able to get you down that hill. And thank God you didn’t hit a rock when you feel. Or another one on the way down.” Her throat burned from the memory. “I got you out of sight, and then I plastered myself over you so they wouldn’t see you—”
“You would have done the same for me,” Elizabeth interrupted with a shake of her head. “So don’t argue.”
“And it’s not going to do either of us any good to pretend you’re not right about last night.” She took a deep breath. “You made a mistake. Letting Sorel to get you like that. Not checking the car.”
Jason fell silent, his expression stony, his body tense.
“But I made mistakes, too. I didn’t ask about things going wrong. I didn’t ask about security protocol. Not all of it. I know now that cars should be swept. Checked for drivers.” Elizabeth paused. “I’m new at this, and I’m not alway going to get it right—”
“None of this is your fault—”
“If you get to take responsibility for what you did wrong, then I get to take it, too. I was so relieved to be out of there, I didn’t think either. But it makes sense. We just got into the car that was outside because Sonny told us it would be pulled up. We’re both smarter than that, Jason. But Sorel got to us both.” She tightened her hands on his arms. “So we learn from those mistakes, right? We get to be grateful that we get another chance.”
The tension eased from his body then, and Jason sighed, meeting her eyes. “I wouldn’t blame you if you walked away,” he admitted.
“I’d blame me. I knew who you were, Jason, when we got into this. When I signed that marriage license—nothing here is new.” She made a face. “Except that you were right. I shouldn’t be standing.”
Jason scowled, then scooped her into his arms to take her back to the sofa. “I told you so.”
“Yeah, yeah,” she grumbled, settling back against the pillow. There was a knock at the door, and she sighed, letting her head fall back. He went to answer it.
Jason’s scowl deepened when he found Sonny on the other side. “What?”
“Uh, I wanted to see how Elizabeth was feeling this morning—” Sonny tipped his head around to look at Elizabeth. “Her feet looked pretty bad—”
“I don’t want to deal with this right now,” Jason told him, his fingers gripping the edge of the door tightly. “Because last night was my fault, too.”
“You put us in the middle of everything, but I’m the one that put her in the car.” Jason lifted his chin. “We tried dealing with Sorel your way. Now we’re going to do it mine.”
“I want a meeting,” Jason cut in again. “Tell me when it’s scheduled.” Then he closed his door and went back to Elizabeth.
There was another knock a few hours later which Jason saw almost as a relief since Elizabeth was starting to get a little stir crazy and bored by television. He hoped it wasn’t Sonny, but he definitely wasn’t expecting—
“Do you have a minute?” Bobbie asked. Jason nodded, and let her enter. Bobbie hesitated, spying Elizabeth on the sofa, her feet bandaged. “What happened?”
“Broke a glass last night and sliced up my feet.” Elizabeth shrugged. “You know I’m a klutz.”
Bobbie pursed her lips, then turned back to Jason. “I don’t know if you’ve heard about Carly—”
“About her being pregnant?” Jason wanted to know. He slid his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “Yeah. Emily said something a few days ago.”
“I—” Bobbie cleared her throat. “I debated whether I even wanted to do this. If Carly was right, and I should leave well enough alone. It’s better the way things you are,” she continued. “Michael gets to have his parents, and you get to move on.”
“Bobbie—” Jason began, his brow furrowed.
She turned away from him to Elizabeth, who was also frowning. “And I wouldn’t want to hurt you for the world. But I can’t go through this again. I can’t hold this in and wait for another grandchild’s life to get blown up in a year or two.” She turned back to Jason. “You need to tell AJ he’s not the father.”
Jason squinted, then shook his head. “I don’t—”
“And you need to step up. I know it might hurt Michael in the short-term, but it’s the right decision for the truth to come out. It always does,” Bobbie added. “Demand a paternity test, tell AJ it might be yours. I don’t know. But we can’t just pretend. You can’t do this again, Jason.”
Jason closed his mouth, a bit helpless. Bobbie thought Jason was the father? How— He glanced at Elizabeth who had dropped her eyes, staring at her lap. If he told Bobbie there wasn’t a chance it was his, would she believe him? Would she keep investigating? Damn it—
“I’m not going to say anything. Not right now. I know that you don’t want to rock the boat. I know that you’re happier without her. Believe me, Jason, I don’t want this for any of this. But this is where we are. And I want to know what you’re going to do about it.”
“This isn’t something you and I are going to talk about,” Jason said finally. “It’s something I need to deal with. Okay? Elizabeth and I will deal with this.”
“Then do it.”
When Bobbie had left, Jason looked at Elizabeth with some worry. “She’s wrong. It’s not mine. I promise—”
“I know,” Elizabeth said. “You told me that already, and I believed you then.” There was a half smile tugging at her lips, but it was a sad one. “It could have been. You know that. Things go differently that night.”
“It wouldn’t—” Jason winced, then looked away. He didn’t want to touch that conversation with a ten foot pole. “I still meant what I said before. There’s no point in blowing anything up until we know if it’s Sonny’s or AJ’s, and whatever Bobbie thinks, there’s a chance it’s AJ.”
She didn’t sound particularly convinced, and that irritated him. “If it’s AJ, what’s the point in getting everyone upset?” he wanted to know. “It’s none of my business.”
“Do you think Bobbie’s the only one wondering?” Elizabeth asked. “You think no one is going to say anything to AJ? I just—” She shrugged. “It’s your choice at the end of the day, and I’m not telling you what to do.”
“I’ll figure something out. I promise,” he added. “It doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks, does it?” he asked, sitting back on the sofa. “You and I know the truth.”
“I know.” Elizabeth forced a smile. “You’ll handle it. And whatever you do, I’ll support. We can drop it.”
Jason knew they weren’t really dropping it, but there was nothing left to say if he didn’t want to get into the murkiness of his relationship with Carly or the way he’d felt about her only a short time ago.
And he had no intention of ever opening that door.