Written in 29 minutes.
“Did you know her?”
Elizabeth lifted Cameron out of the booster seat and set him on the floor to scramble out of the kitchen and towards his toys in the living room. She looked over at Jason, perched on one of the stools, Jake in one arm and the bottle in the other. Like he did this every day.
Her stomach twisted. Like he should have been doing every day. “The nurse? Yes.” Elizabeth gathered Cameron’s lunch dishes and moved to the sink, happy to have something to occupy her mind and her hands. “Leyla Mir. She’s a student nurse. Just started last month. She was on my floor, but Epiphany—” She exhaled slowly. “I didn’t even see her, not really. But Emily said she had strangulation marks around her neck.”
Jason frowned. “She was strangled? Do they know if it was by hand, or—” He winced, and she smiled faintly. He’d never liked talking about violence with her, which she found almost sweet considering she’d just testified at a trial where he’d been accused of a murder she knew he’d committed.
“The police didn’t say, but Em has her thoughts,” Elizabeth finished. “I don’t really know the difference, but Emily does. She took, um, a domestic violence training last year.” After she’d learned about that night at the apartment when Lucky had shoved Elizabeth and she’d fallen. “She said it looked manual, not ligature. Something about the—” She rubbed her temple. “They said the girl at the college was strangled, too.”
“I know. Spinelli—he knew her,” Jason said. “They had classes together last year.”
“It’s scary,” Elizabeth admitted. She went to the doorway of the kitchen so that she had a clearer view of Cameron in his play area. There was a room upstairs, but she’d made sure there was something to keep him busy in every room so he’d be less likely to wander.
Jason set the bottle on the counter, then set Jake against his shoulder to burp. “It might not be the same person—”
“I don’t know which is worse,” Elizabeth admitted. “Strangulation is a terrible way to die, but with your hands—you have to be really angry to do that. To finish the job, you know?” He probably did know, she thought.
“Yeah.” Jason didn’t say anything else, and she stopped herself from asking how he knew. What Jason did for a living, the business and world he lived in—it had a different set of rules and laws. She’d always known and accepted that, and what had happened to Leyla and the other girl just proved that violence came from everywhere.
You couldn’t protect yourself from what hid in the dark. Not forever.
Jake burped, and Elizabeth hurried forward to grab the towel from Jason’s shoulder where he’d spit up. Jake’s head was still a bit unsteady, but he could hold it without support and he smiled, batted his hand at Jason’s face. Elizabeth smiled, then sobered slightly. “I’m sorry for all the time you’ve missed—”
“You don’t have to keep apologizing,” Jason said. “We both agreed—”
“No. I asked you something I had no right to ask, and you said yes. It’s not the same, Jason. You never in a million years would have asked me to give him up.” Elizabeth stroked Jake’s downy head, the white-blonde hair coming in more thickly now. “I don’t have some special right to him because I’m his mother—”
“You have the right to want him safe—”
“Safe—” Elizabeth picked up the bottle and went to wash it. “It’s just a four letter word. It doesn’t mean anything. Would we have had a guard that day in the park?” she asked.
Jason hesitated. “Elizabeth—”
“Tell me,” she insisted, turning back to him. “If the world had known about Jake, and you were in lockup, would we have had a guard?”
“Maybe.” Jason winced. “Yes,” he said. “I would have wanted one.”
“And a guard would have seen Maureen Harper. She never would have—” Elizabeth broke off. “I don’t get to be in charge of what safe means, okay? I’m terrible at it. And you don’t get to be either, for matter. We both forgot that danger can come from anywhere. And maybe—” She wrinkled her nose. “Now that the truth is out, I guess I can tell you that I’m a massive hypocrite. I asked you to give Jake up so Lucky could raise him, but part of it was jealousy.”
“Jealousy—” Jason said. He stood, readjusting Jake on his shoulder. “About—”
Elizabeth smiled wistfully. “The car accident I had at New Year’s. When you found me? Just like you always do.”
“I remember, but—”
“While I was unconscious, I dreamt about you,” Elizabeth confessed. “About being pregnant and sitting on the sofa in the penthouse. You were reading to Cameron, and we were a family. And then I had a nightmare about struggling with two kids and Lucky still having an affair—” Her voice broke. “And I chose the nightmare. I knew what it would be, and I still chose it.”
“And I feel so stupid because it was such a selfish, petty thing to do. To choose Lucky, to choose the lie because—” She scrubbed at her face, exhausted.
“You were jealous,” Jason finished with a squint that told her he still wasn’t sure what she was trying to say.
“Because I wanted that dream. The first one. If I told Lucky, I’d be alone. With the kids.” She took a deep breath, confronting the cowardly truth. “If we told the world, you wouldn’t pick the dream. You’d stay with Sam, and she’d get to have that with you. And I wouldn’t. So I lied, and then I asked you to lie. Because I was too scared to be alone with the truth.”