But I swear there’s still some good in me
And I think if you stuck around you’d see
All the honest attempts at integrity, I was had
Maybe if you helped me, I’d get it right
– Missy, The Airborne Toxic Event
Monday, February 14, 2005
Morgan Penthouse: Living Room
Jason dropped his duffel bag on the floor next to the playpen, set a wrapped canvas carefully against the wall, and glanced over his shoulder at Nora. “Why don’t you go put her in the nursery and let her finish her nap? You can take the rest of the day off. And tomorrow, too. To make up for Sunday.”
“Sure,” the blonde responded, keeping her voice level for once. With the carrier in one hand, she swung her own bag over her shoulder. “And if you think spending the weekend in one of the most amazing hotels in New York with practically the entire day to myself was work…” Nora snorted as she started up the stairs. “I am one lucky girl.”
Jason just shook his head when his nanny disappeared past the first landing. She accepted the strange hours of his job without a fuss and Evie’s last two months had been much better than the first, but…
Sometimes her voice hurt.
And he missed his desk.
He dropped his keys on the coffee table, looking back at the canvas leaning against the wall by the playpen. He’d have Emily help him hang it in Evie’s nursery. He hadn’t mentioned to Elizabeth he had bought one of her paintings, but he supposed it would come up at some point. She’d already read Nikolas the riot act for paying full price without telling her, and then found out Steven had bought one of her landscapes as well.
He wasn’t sure how Elizabeth expected to buy a house and take Cameron on trips without people actually paying money for her work, but he was in no hurry to be on the other end of her annoyance.
He felt the corner of his mouth quirk up as he pictured it. Even if she did look pretty when she was fired up.
Nora stepped off the bottom stair. “I’m heading out now, Mr. Morgan. If you were serious about having tomorrow off—”
“Yeah, yeah.” He straightened. “You were a big help in New York this weekend. Elizabeth…told me you wouldn’t let her pay for taking care of Cameron.”
Nora smiled and shrugged. “He was sleeping when his uncle dropped him off, and sleeping when she picked him later that night.” She lifted a blonde eyebrow. “You already pay me twice as much as I asked for. At some point, it’s just overkill.” She offered him a wave and then closed the door behind her.
Nora was great, but he was looking forward to having the next two days to himself in the penthouse. Without her music playing and her bright laughter occasionally broken up by snorts.
There was a light knock on the door and Jason rubbed his hands over his face. “Yeah?”
The door opened and Sonny stepped in. Jason immediately tensed and rose to his feet. His partner looked calm at the moment, but Jason hadn’t told him much about this weekend beyond his leaving town. “Sonny.”
“You’re back.” Sonny stepped forward and closed the door behind him, sliding his hands into his pockets. He nodded. “Where did you go?”
Though he chaffed at having to report in like this, it wasn’t a state secret either. “I-I took Evie to New York City. Elizabeth had a gallery opening on Friday night. Her family went, Emily and Nikolas—”
“Ah. Elizabeth again.” Sonny glanced around, not having been in the room since Jason had made some changes. He looked at the pink and purple playpen. “You spending a lot of time with her?”
“Not…a lot,” Jason said, keeping his voice light, as if the last time they had discussed Elizabeth Sonny hadn’t accused him of settling for Courtney because of her. “She was at Emily’s birthday party last month. You…know how hard she always worked on her art.”
“Yeah,” Sonny replied. The stillness in his posture radiated danger to Jason, but he just…didn’t know what was going to happen here. He couldn’t read him, couldn’t see the point of this conversation. “Yeah. Her studio was always littered with…” He waved his hand, almost dismissively. “Canvases and paints. Never thought she’d do anything with it.”
“I guess…” Jason hesitated. “She didn’t have a chance before now.” He cleared his throat. “Is…there something you need? I…took Nora with me to New York, so she’s off. But I can….do…something from here. Or I could call Emily, maybe.”
“Nah.” Sonny wrinkled his nose, as if the thought was ludicrous, as if they were still friends and Sonny was merely welcoming him home after a weekend away. “Just…wanted to see where you took Evie.”
Jason squinted at that, because there was something in the wording of that. Something in the question itself. “Okay. Well.”
“Because you know, you didn’t tell me you were taking her,” Sonny continued. He took another step into the room and then raised his chin, looking around. “Where is she, anyway?”
“Upstairs, taking a nap.” Jason took a deep breath. He was used to this, used to Sonny demanding information about Evie as if…he had a right. Didn’t he? Evie was his daughter.
Why does it matter whose blood is in her veins? Does that make him the better man?
He shook his head, clearing Elizabeth’s words from his thoughts. Sonny was going through a bad time right now. He would come around. They would work this out.
Even though Jason knew this would end the way his relationship with Michael had once. A year maybe, at best, to be her father, and then watching another man raise her while Jason played the role of uncle.
How else could it end? Sonny was going to give in to his guilt eventually, and he’d ask for Evie. He’d cajole Carly into coming around, and then Jason would have to give Evie to him.
When does Evie’s best interests come into it?
“I guess I’m just concerned about you and Elizabeth.” Sonny stepped back from the steps, where he had been looking up, as if toying with the idea of going up them. “Has she seen Evie since the Christmas party?”
“Ah.” Jason frowned now. “Yeah. I guess. At Emily’s party. And we…had lunch with her, Cam and Emily at the hotel yesterday.”
“What does Elizabeth know about this situation?” Sonny pressed.
He rolled his shoulders, getting annoyed now. He hated answering questions like this—he’d felt more comfortable in an interrogation room with Taggart or Capelli than he did right now. “Sonny, is there a point?”
“Because I saw her last week at Kelly’s,” Sonny said, and Jason tensed. His partner held up a hand as if to ward off any complaints. “I said nothing to her. You told me not to, so I didn’t. But she looked at me, and I wondered what she knew.”
“She’s not going to tell Carly anything,” Jason said after a moment. “She doesn’t like Carly.”
“What does she think about it?” The older man narrowed his eyes. “I bet she hates it.”
Jason turned his head slightly, still trying to gauge where this was going. “Sonny—”
“She always hated your loyalty to me and Carly. If you’re thinking of getting involved her again, I’d be careful,” Sonny cautioned. “I’d hate to see her getting attached to Evie, and then…” He shrugged as he trailed off.
“Attached,” Jason said, the word like dust in his mouth. “Like me, you mean. Sonny, I don’t…know what you want from me. You didn’t want to tell Carly the truth, didn’t want to contest the guardianship or termination. Evie didn’t ask for this. Sam wanted me to raise her—”
“You do not have to remind me that the whore picked you,” Sonny snarled, and Jason closed his eyes. Because it was that attitude that reminded him why he was doing this.
Sam did what was necessary to protect her daughter from this man—she had never planned on dying and leaving Jason alone in this mess. He knew that. If she were here right now, the situation would be exactly like this. Sonny on the outside, looking in. Except Jason wouldn’t be the one making the decisions anymore.
He took a deep breath. “Sonny, yes, Elizabeth knows the truth. No, I guess she’s not thrilled about it. But it has nothing to do with you or Carly. She just…” Hated to see him in this situation again, he supposed. Because she had been there through the aftermath with Michael. “She just worries. It’s fine. Like I said, she’s not talking to Carly.”
“No, I guess she wouldn’t do that to you.” Sonny dipped his head. “You know, take a kid away like Robin and Carly did. She’ll just…go find a man to sleep with or something.”
His hands fisted at his sides and Jason found himself taking a step forward before he caught himself. “Do not talk about her like that. You can be pissed at me, you can do what you want to me. But I swear, Sonny, if you keep going after Elizabeth…”
“What?” Sonny lifted his chin in the air, his dark eyes boring into Jason. “What’re you gonna do, Jase? You know I’m right. You always circle around her, she gets spooked and runs to the nearest waste of space she can find. First, it was Lucky, then it was Zander, and then it was Ric. I wonder who it’ll be this—”
“Shut up.” Not because it was true, because it wasn’t. Sonny was boiling it down, making something sound simple when it just wasn’t. It had always been more complicated than that.
And besides, this time it was different.
He took a deep breath. There wasn’t a this time. Not…yet. And maybe there wouldn’t be.
But he was not going to stand by and let this man tear her apart like that.
“I don’t know what you want me to say, Sonny,” Jason said when Sonny said nothing to him, only looked at him. “You had a chance to make this different months ago. When I changed those results, you could have spoken up. When Sam died, you could have said something. You chose to keep it this way. I’m just doing what Sam wanted me to do. I get that it’s going to make things difficult between us, but you made it this way, Sonny.”
He stepped forward. “I take your abuse, I take your calls in the middle of the night for things that can wait a few more hours, I do that because it’s price I’m willing to pay to keep my promises.”
“But…” Jason stepped even closer to him, and first the time in their friendship, he intended to remind the older man why Jason was his enforcer. “You go after Elizabeth—either to my face or to hers—maybe I’ll go across the hall to Carly and tell her about the affair last summer.”
Sonny pressed his lips together. “You’d betray me for her? You’d destroy my marriage for her?” His voice was a low hiss.
“At the end of the day, Sonny, I didn’t steal your daughter,” Jason said, ignoring his pointed remarks. “I have legal custody of her. You terminated your rights, and Sam left her guardianship to me. Keep pushing me. Keeping demanding things I’m not willing to give. I gave Elizabeth up for you once. I’m not doing it again.”
“So it’s like that, is it?” Sonny pursed her lips. “That’s where you’re drawing the line? Over some bitch—”
Jason had to physically stop himself from striding forward, grabbing his former friend by the collar and shoving him against a wall. Sonny was in one of those moods, and a week or a month from now, he’d be sorry he said these things. Sorry he pushed the boundaries of this situation.
“Get out, Sonny. Before I throw you out. We’re done here.”
“Just remember when you’re picking out a new mother for my daughter,” Sonny snarled, “that you’re picking a little girl who can’t handle your world. But that seems to be your type. First Robin, then Courtney, and now Elizabeth for the thousandth time. When are you gonna learn?”
He stormed out, slamming the door behind him. Evie’s startled cries came over the monitor, and Jason just lowered his head, resting his hands at his waist.
…you were always the better man.
He’d felt good walking through that door this morning. His weekend had been peaceful, even enjoyable. He liked spending time with his sister, seeing her happy and glowing in her relationship with the man she planned to marry. He didn’t even mind that he’d been stuck with Lucky Spencer, as the other man was less annoying than he’d been once.
And it went without saying that he’d liked spending time with Elizabeth.
But after a ten minute battle with Sonny, he just felt hollow inside. He knew he was reaching a point where he’d have to make a decision. Most of the time, he accepted that he wouldn’t raise Evie forever, but days like these, watching Sonny’s rage boiling over at a woman who had never done anything to him…
How could he send Evie back to that? Forget his promises to Sam, how could he watch that happen to a little girl who trusted him?
But if he kept her, if he fought a custody battle over her, and won…what would that do to Sonny?
Could he live with himself if he chose to keep her?
Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room
Sonny slammed the door behind him and stalked across the room, reaching for a tumbler of bourbon. What the fuck did he care if it was barely eleven in the morning?
He needed the burning of liquor sliding down his throat.
He downed two tumblers in less than a minute and then pressed the glass to his forehead.
The rage was climbing up from his gut, up through his throat and it would spill over again if he had to talk to one person. It had already spilled over once this morning, and Sonny just knew…
He just knew the next person he went after wouldn’t walk away.
His stomach rolled, and now he felt shaky. He set the glass down and lowered himself gingerly into the armchair, leaning forward with his elbows propped on his knees.
God. Had he just…had he really done that? Stormed across the hall? Demanded to know where Jason was with Evie all weekend?
Had he attacked Elizabeth again?
Had he, though? Because now it felt fuzzy. Like it had happened to someone else. He wouldn’t have said those things about her. He liked her. She’d been good to him once. Had always been good to Jason, and Sonny knew she’d saved his life more than once.
He liked Elizabeth, didn’t he?
No. Sonny shook his head. He didn’t say those things. He must…he must have imagined it. He just…the idea of Jason hooking up with her again. She was a good woman, and she’d make him happy if they would let each other be together. But she would bring her son to Jason and Jason would bring Sonny’s daughter to her.
And the more Jason built a life for Evie that had nothing to do with Sonny, the more Sonny realized how much he was losing.
He wanted his daughter. He was coming out of his skin knowing she was across the hall and didn’t see him as her father. That she looked to Jason with her smiles and her laughter.
It should be him.
It would have been him, but Sam stole that chance from him. Because he wouldn’t be with her, wouldn’t give in to her ultimatums. The little god damn con artist had probably been playing him all along, but maybe she’d seen Jason across the hall and went for a bigger mark. He was lonely. Liked kids. Dealing with a divorce.
It was Sam’s fault. She’d played them both, and then she had destroyed their friendship by making Jason feel guilty, making him take Sonny’s daughter.
None of this was Jason’s fault. He had to remember that. Sonny had walked away from his family, started up with Sam, and shoved her back out in favor of Carly. Jason had been trying to protect the boys. He was trying to protect Evie.
Because that’s what Jason did. He protected Sonny’s family, even from Sonny himself.
He had to remember that. Had to remember Jason wasn’t the enemy. That he had a right to be with someone else. Even if it meant Evie had another parental figure in her life.
Sonny closed his eyes and took a deep breath. That…fight earlier had been…it had just been a gigantic mistake. He’d only gone to say hello, to put them on a normal path. But he’d heard Elizabeth’s name and a red haze had come over him.
Why did it bother him so much?
He glanced over to find Carly stepping off the bottom stair, her dark eyes questioning. “Morgan’s napping—you woke him up with the door slamming.”
“Sorry.” His voice sounded rusty, as if he hadn’t just been arguing with Jason. “I…was with Jason.”
“Oh, then he’s back.” Carly stepped forward, and he looked at this woman for whom he had given up his daughter.
God, he couldn’t remember why anymore. He had trashed his friendship with Jason over this woman years ago. He’d fallen in love with her, hadn’t he?
He was almost sure of it.
“Where was he?” Carly lowered herself onto the sofa adjacent to him. “He’s not one for going out of town.”
He had been once. When he’d had his own life. He’d gone out of town with Robin more than once. Sonny shook his head. “I, ah, he went to New York City. Elizabeth Webber’s…I think he said she had a show at a gallery.”
“Oh, he’s not getting wrapped up in her again is he?” Carly demanded, her voice like daggers in his brain. “He can do so much better. Now that the whore is dead, I think Courtney should move back home. She’ll love Evie, and they can fall in love again over her—”
“No.” Sonny snapped his head around to glare at her. “No. Courtney and Jason are done. He doesn’t love her.”
“Well he doesn’t love the twit either,” Carly retorted. “I’m going to have to keep him—” She closed her eyes. “No. No, It’s not my business.”
Sonny frowned. It wasn’t, but it wasn’t like Carly to admit something like that. “When has that stopped you before?”
“Jason has done enough for me.” Carly blew out a huff. “He’s devoted himself to me and my boys.” Her mouth twisted into something he might have called a sneer. “To you. He has a daughter now, Sonny. He should…be happy. Even if it’s with some little girl who doesn’t deserve him. He has his own family, Sonny. We should worry about our family. The boys.”
“Right.” God, she was right. Hadn’t Jason sacrificed enough for him? Hadn’t he given up his son, allowed him to be raised by Sonny when he could have just taken custody back after they’d blackmailed AJ?
There was a sweet justice in this. They had traded children. It was fair.
Carly leaned forward, and he should have been suspicious of the light in her eyes. He was too tired to care. “Sonny, I saw Dr. Meadows a few weeks ago-”
He exhaled slowly. “Carly, I know…you think another baby…and I agreed if it happened naturally, we’d…do it, but I’m thinking it’s not a good time.” He hesitated. “Unless you’re already pregnant.”
“No.” Her back snapped straight. “No,” she all but snarled. “Dr. Meadows says she doesn’t know what’s wrong with me. If I want a baby, I might…have to do in vitro. Or something.”
“No.” Sonny shook his head. “No. There’s…no rush, Carly. We…have enough going on as it is.” He didn’t want another child with this woman. He’d only agreed to keep her here to keep the boys with him. It was about the boys. They were his boys.
She had betrayed him too often, and he could never be sure if she would betray him again. And every time they split up, he had an affair with another woman that just seemed to make it worse. He couldn’t do that again. Something in him called to Carly, called to this selfish, destructive woman.
Because she was just like him. He’d seen that in her once, and it had repelled him. Had excited him.
And now it just exhausted him.
“We’ll…just let nature take its course.” Sonny rubbed his mouth.
He did not want any more children. He was destroying the ones he had as it was.
He knew that leaving Evie with Jason was the best thing he could do for her, the least selfish thing he had ever done in his life.
But he was beginning to accept that the decision was going to destroy their friendship, and maybe even him in the end.
Thursday, February 25, 2005
Elm Street Pier
At the end of a long day at the warehouse, Jason paused before going up the stairs and walking the short distance to Harborview Towers and everything that waited for him there.
Sonny and his tense silences. Since the blow up the week before, his partner had gone out of his way to avoid him but Jason knew it was just another lull in the storm.
Carly and her suspicious looks. He wasn’t spending time with her or the boys, and that alone should make her wonder, but he couldn’t bring himself to look Carly in the eye without being swamped by his lies.
Evie and her smiles. Because she wasn’t his to keep, and he knew that. It was Michael all over again, except maybe this was worse because he had gone into this with his eyes open, knowing he loved her, knowing he wanted to raise her, and knowing that it could only end in devastation.
So instead, he stood here at the end of the pier, avoiding everything waiting for him at home. He was tired. Down to the bone exhausted, as if the fatigue had seeped inside and taken up permanent residence. He was sleeping, but every morning he woke up and it was always the same.
He heard footsteps behind him and turned, relieved to see that it was Elizabeth who had just stepped off the stairs with a smile on her face.
Not just relieved. Something a bit more that he wasn’t comfortable examining at the moment.
“Hey.” Her smile was easy as she approached him. “I just got back from New York and I was hoping to run into you here.” He remembered now that she and Cam had intended to remain in the city for paperwork, some press maybe. “How…are things?”
“They’re…” He hesitated, almost ready to tell her that they were fine. But they weren’t. And he knew she would see that in his eyes, hear it in his voice. “They’re mostly the same.”
“Hmm…” She nodded. “Well, I suppose there’s some good in that—they’re not worse, at least.” She tipped her head to the side, as if considering him. “But you look like something happened.”
“Just…another argument with Sonny.” Jason stepped towards her and gestured towards the bench. “Do…you have to be somewhere? Is it too cold to sit for a minute?”
“Nope. I’m immune to these winters.” She waited until he was seated beside her on the bench. “I won’t bug you about Sonny. I just wanted…to thank you for coming to New York again. To have all the people who matter so much to me in the same place, supporting me…it meant so much.”
“I had a good time,” he told her, and he wasn’t exaggerating that. Emily had been right—getting out of Port Charles even for a few days had been a good idea. “Did…the show go well?”
“It went…” Her smile bloomed again. “It went really well. I had about thirty paintings hung and the gallery sold fifteen of them before the end of the night, and then another five since. It’s…my agent told me I’m a smashing success.” She bit her lip. “I made a lot of money, Jason. I don’t…know what I’m going to do with it all.”
But behind that broad smile, there was something in her eyes. He leaned towards her. “Is…is it the money? Is that what’s bothering you?”
Elizabeth huffed, a small chuckle escaping her lips as she leaned back against the bench and stared ahead, out over the gray waters. “God, you always know. How…?” She shook her head. “No…it’s not the money. The paintings that were sold…”
“Is it hard to part with them?” he asked. “I…based on the ones you showed me, I know they were personal.”
“It’s…part of it.” She drew her bottom lip into her mouth and hesitated. “There was a painting of the fountain in the park. And the bench. And a broken red shoe.” She glanced at him. “From…the night I was attacked.”
“I…” He nodded, because he hated talking about that. He had known for years that she’d been raped in the park when she was a teenager, had felt sorrow when Emily had told him about it, but once he begun to spend time with Elizabeth himself, it was more difficult to know it. To know she’d been violated and hurt like that. “Okay.”
“It felt great to paint that night, it really did. I’d always been scared before, but…” She hesitated. “When I was in California, at first, I stayed with my mother’s sister. My aunt Wendy. We were…kind of close before she and her husband moved to San Francisco when I was eleven. So one night, not long after I got there, she found me…” Elizabeth shifted on the bench. “She found me crying in my room.”
He said nothing, because there was nothing to say. Just waited for her to continue. “And she put her arms around me, and just…let me finish crying. She asked me what was wrong and I couldn’t tell her.” Elizabeth tilted her head up, the white skin of her neck stretching taut. “Because there was so much wrong. I had…made so many mistakes, walked down so many paths that I just…I didn’t know who I was anymore. I was going to be a mother soon, and I felt like such a failure.”
“I know I wasn’t.” She said this quickly, as it stave off his words. “I know…I was doing the best I could, but I still…” She hesitated. “Anyway, Aunt Wendy suggested I talk to someone. I started with someone at a local shelter, but then Ric’s alimony came through and I decided the least he owed me was a good therapist.”
And this did make him smile just a little, because as always she was finding the silver lining in situations that had none. “The very least.”
“I saw her a few times before Cameron was born and then…God, all the time during the summer.” She shifted on the bench, turning slightly to face him, looking at him. “And she’s the one that encouraged me to stop holding back. I had never painted that night. I had stopped myself from painting the worse moments, from letting those go on paper. She told me that I was an artist. And artists used their emotions in the work. Writers, singers, poets—they all drew on their experiences. Why shouldn’t I? So I did. And I went home, and I sketched that night in the park, because it’s where it started.”
“What started?” Jason leaned in.
She hesitated, and he shook his head. “Never mind. You don’t have to tell me anything—”
“Feeling broken,” she murmured. “Feeling damaged. I used to think Lucky put me back together, only to die and shatter the pieces again. And then I started to think maybe I had never been put back together. Or like I had glued them together wrong. Or…messed up the puzzle. I kept trying to go back to Lucky when he came home, like I was jamming in a piece that just didn’t fit in anymore.”
She sighed and looked away. “That’s what I realized last year…that I had put it all away. Locked it up in a box inside my head, but I had never done anything with it. I stopped trying to heal when Lucky died, and when he came home, I was too busy trying to fix him to fix myself.”
“You didn’t need fixing,” Jason said, stubbornly, not liking the way she was talking about herself. “You were not broken—”
“Maybe not,” Elizabeth allowed. “But I felt that way. I felt broken and damaged and dirty. And it never went away. It’s why I kept going back to Lucky, because I wanted him to finish the job we’d started when we were teenagers. Because being with him, before the fire, was the most normal I had felt.” She hesitated. “It’s why I couldn’t…let go of you because being friends with you had also made me feel normal. But I didn’t know how to balance it out. How…” She shook her head. “But I kept sabotaging both relationships. I never really committed to Lucky or the thought of being with you because I knew I didn’t deserve either of you—”
“Deserve—” Jason straightened his shoulders, taken aback. “Elizabeth—”
“And I thought I deserved Ric.”
Her voice was low, so low he almost didn’t hear the words. “You did not deserve Ric Lansing,” he said fervently. “Not even a little bit—”
“He was damaged, too, you know. And I thought…I had done nothing but bring pain to the people I cared about. I should be with him. He needs me. I can save him, and if I can save him, I can save myself. I can be whole again, if I can put him back together.” She eyed him. “I know it sounds ridiculous. I know that, now. And I’m glad I walked away before Cam became part of that. I know I—” She hesitated. “I know I’m not broken. Not even a little bit. But I had to work that out for myself.”
“And you did.” He nodded, because he could see that in her eyes. The sense of resilience that had been missing for so long, since the first time they’d been friends. “Good.”
“So that painting was special to me in a way I didn’t realize,” Elizabeth continued. “I was working on a sketch of it, sitting at Fisherman’s Wharf when my agent found me. He was on vacation, and just wandering past my bench, when he saw it. And he offered me ten thousand dollars for the finished painting.”
The embarrassment in her voice confused him. “You didn’t think it was worth it?”
“I don’t know.” She sighed. “But I told him I wasn’t sure I wanted to sell that. He told me that I should be on the walls of galleries. I was nervous, because he was a stranger so he gave me his card and told me to call the number on it to verify him. It was a gallery in New York I’d heard of—the one I had my showing at. He was the real deal, Jason, and he told me I was good.”
She bit her lip again. “So I signed a contract and he advanced me some money to rent a real studio, to buy real supplies. And I just….I let myself go. I painted all the moments that I thought broke me. And every time I finished another one, I realized I wasn’t damaged after all. I wasn’t dirty. I was…someone who deserved a good life. A happy one. With my son.” She stretched her gloved hands in front of her, as if considering them. “I used to think Lucky put me back together after I was raped. But he didn’t. I did it. I did it one day at a time, one painting at a time…” She hesitated. “And now other people own those memories.”
She looked at him. “Jason, the painting in the park? It sold for three hundred thousand dollars. There was a bidding war on it. I…profited off that night—”
“No.” He shook his head. “You just painted it. You didn’t decide its worth. Other people did that.”
Elizabeth blinked at him, and her broad smile came back. “Of course. It’s so simple, isn’t it?” She sighed. “You always put it into words I just can’t and it makes so much sense when you do.” She pursed her lips. “But still, someone chose that painting. What does say about them?”
“You told me art means different things to different people,” Jason said. He reached for her gloved hand and intertwined their fingers. “So maybe it something to them that was different. I…bought one of your paintings.”
Elizabeth furrowed her brow. “Jason, you didn’t have to buy—”
“I bought the one you painted with the hands. The one that reminded me of Sam and Evie.” He cleared his throat, feeling almost embarrassed about it now. “I want to tell Evie one day how much her mother loved her, because she should know that. But I didn’t…have the words. But when you talked about your painting, I could picture that moment in my head, and I thought…maybe if Evie looks at that painting, she’ll be able…” He hesitated. “I can tell her what you were thinking, and she’ll…I don’t know. Be able to feel it.”
Her cheeks were read, her eyes were shining. “Jason, that’s…God. I don’t…even….You, Nikolas and Steven, I would have given them to you. I was sad when I found out that one had sold, but knowing it’s with you, and it’s for Evie, that makes such a difference. I would have given it to you, you know that—”
“You deserve to make a life from your art,” Jason told her. “Nikolas and Steven felt the same way.”
“Nikolas bought a painting I did the night Emily almost died. I painted…” Elizabeth hesitated and he watched her eyes drop to their hands. “I painted that night in the chapel. It’s just…some candles in the foreground, they’re the focus, and there’s…two shadows in the back. It’s…you and me. I wanted to keep that one, too. Nikolas bought it because it reminds him he and Emily are strong together, but I…liked the memory of that. That despite everything we’d been through, we could still be there for each other.”
“I like that memory, too,” he confessed, feeling the slight weight of her against him. She had continued to shift towards him during the conversation until the empty space had disappeared and one of her knees was pressed against his own.
“And you’re right,” Elizabeth said, with a firm nod. “Maybe the red shoe painting holds a special meaning for the owner. I’m…not that broken girl in the snow anymore, and I don’t need the painting to remind myself of that.”
He got to his feet. “Do you need a ride home?”
Elizabeth arched a brow as she, too, stood, their hands still clasped together. “Do you have your bike?”
He laughed now, realizing that the fatigue and sadness he’d been feeling before she had shown up had disappeared. “It’s at the Towers. We can go get it.” He shook his head. “Some things never change.”
Her smile was even brighter now, probably by the thought of a ride for the first time in nearly four years. “The best things never do.”
Continued in Part Two: Redemption