Hello! The last few holiday seasons, I’ve been revisiting previous stories and adding a Christmas epilogue. This year, it’s Bittersweet’s turn. We pick up with Jason & Elizabeth ten days after we left them in the previous epilogue. I hope we can join them again soon in Malice, the sequel.
I’m gonna hold you close
Make sure that you know
I was lost before you
Christmas was cold and grey
Another holiday alone to celebrate
But then one day everything changed
You’re all I need
Underneath the tree
– Underneath the Tree, Kelly Clarkson
December 24, 2002
As their water taxi crossed the canal from the Sacca de la Misericordia marina, Elizabeth Webber thought the water of the Venetian harbor didn’t look all that different from the dark, dank water of the harbor in Port Charles that looked out onto Lake Ontario.
When she said as much to her boyfriend, Jason Morgan, he didn’t laugh exactly, but the corners of his eyes crinkled up, and he grinned. He put an arm around her shoulders and drew her closer as the boat closed the distance between the city of Venice proper and the famed glass making island of Murano where they were going to spend most of Christmas Eve.
“I think that was one of the things that surprised me the most,” he told her over the dull roar of the water taxi’s engine. “How much some things didn’t change. The water does look the same, but—”
Elizabeth twisted in her seat to look at the city she could still see behind them. “Until you remember that you woke up in a house that’s centuries old across from a church that’s probably older. I mean, Port Charles has been around for five minutes when you think about it that way.”
They reached the shores of Murano and Elizabeth stepped off, trying not to look while Jason tugged out some Euros to pay their driver. It wasn’t the first thing he’d paid for since they’d landed in Venice nearly two weeks ago, and she knew it wouldn’t be the last. She wasn’t working right now, and her savings wouldn’t get either of them very far.
She offered to give him the contents of her savings to pay for her plane ticket or help with the rent on the house, but Jason had politely refused, telling her to save it for anything she wanted to buy while they were traveling.
She’d told Gia and Courtney before they’d left Port Charles that she knew Jason paying for the majority (okay, very nearly the entirety) of their travels would drive her crazy eventually—she’d just thought she’d make it longer than ten days.
“Ready?” she asked cheerfully as Jason joined her on the cobble stoned path that ran along the docks. “Where to first?”
“You want to just walk the streets?” he asked as they started down one of the small pathways that lined the canals. The paths were narrow, but Elizabeth was soon distracted by the gorgeous shops, all selling glass.
“Where did you buy the glass you gave me last year? The red one? I…I was hoping to find something in the same shade.” Elizabeth craned her neck to look through the doorway. “Maybe a bowl or a vase. Anything really.”
“I don’t know. It was some street vendor. I was doing a favor for Maximus,” Jason told her, referencing the old Italian mobster that Jason had taken her to dinner with during one of their first nights in Venice.
Apparently, it was an old school tradition, and not checking in with Maximus Giambetti while in the region would have been seen as a sign of disrespect. “And I had to look like I blended in, so I stopped to watch the glassblowers I told you about.” He squinted, looked up and down the street. “I think it was on the other side of the island, maybe.”
“Well, we’ll make our way over there eventually, I guess.”
They passed by the third gelato stand Elizabeth had seen since they’d docked, and she sighed wistfully. “We need more of these in Port Charles. That’s definitely something we’re missing.”
“Yeah, they’re all over here in Italy. And I saw a lot of them in France.” He nodded towards the stand. “You want another limencello?”
“No. I’m saving my money for lunch. You promised you’d sit in a real restaurant and not just a panini place,” she teased. He rolled his eyes.
“I’m not that bad—”
“No, you just don’t like people.”
They wandered all over the island, in and out of stores while Elizabeth kept rejecting different pieces of glass. Some of them just weren’t the right shade, but a lot of them were out of her price range. A small, glass vase came the closest to the color she was looking for but it was double what she wanted to spend the entire time she was in Venice, much less on one purchase.
She could tell Jason looked frustrated by that, but he said nothing. They went to a few museums, walked past the lighthouse and a lot of churches. They had their promised lunch in a beautiful stone building that overlooked the canal, then started to wind their way back to the docks to take a taxi back to Venice to finish out the day at the Christmas Market in San Marco before going to midnight mass.
“I’m sorry you didn’t find the glass you were looking for,” Jason said. He hesitated. “We can go back to Gino Mazzucato, where they had that vase.”
“It’s too expensive, and don’t give me that look,” she told him with a wag of her finger. “It’s just glass, Jason.” They turned down another small street, and the sun dipped behind one of the buildings, dropping the temperature ten degrees, to the high thirties. She shivered slightly and drew her jacket together, zipping it.
“Jason, you’ve paid for the house we’re staying in for the next year and you put together that huge art studio on the third floor—” She stepped in front of him, stopping his forward progress. “That’s…I could never pay for any of that in a million years. The plane ticket or most of the places we’ve eaten, either. It’s way outside of my budget, and I’m trying hard to be okay with it. Because we both know I’m not here because you can pay for any of that stuff.”
“Okay.” He furrowed his brow. “So if it doesn’t matter to you, then—”
“Because one day, my savings are going to run out and I won’t have any money. And you will have to pay for literally everything. That’s going to suck, I promise. But until then, I need to be able to pay for my own souvenirs. This isn’t the last time we’ll be on Murano, right? I mean, we’re using the house as a base to store our things so we can go anywhere.” She leaned up on her toes to press a kiss against his lips, chapped from the wind. “It’s Christmas, Jason. Let me be stubborn about this for a little while longer.”
“Okay, but….” Jason sighed, then pulled out a tissue wrapped bundle from his jacket. “Then you’re really going to be mad about this, so let’s get it over with.”
Elizabeth frowned at him, then took it from him. She unwrapped the tissue to reveal a gold necklace. She lifted it into the air, letting the moon and star charms dangle in the air. Both pieces were made from a deep shade of crimson glass, the exact shade she’d been looking for.
“You were with me the whole—” She inhaled sharply. “When did you—where did you?”
“The first day we came, while you were sleeping off the jet lag. I came here to see if I could find the glassblower I’d bought the first piece from.” Jason shrugged. “I picked it up while you were ordering the gelato after lunch.”
She stared at the necklace for a long moment, wincing. “And then I started lecturing you about money and being stubborn…man, I’m a brat.” She held it out to him. “Can you get the clasp for me?”
“Yeah.” He took the necklace and fastened it arounded her neck. “So…you’re not mad?”
“No.” Elizabeth turned, pressing her hand over the charm. “No, of course not. I’m sorry. You probably meant it as a Christmas present—”
She kissed him again, lingering this time. “It’s beautiful, and now I’m even more glad I didn’t buy that vase. You listened to me talk about how much I wanted this color, that I wanted something special, and you got it for me. I love you.”
“I love you, too.” He kissed her again, breaking away when a few passing tourists on the canal started whistling. “Can we go back to the city now?”
“Yes! I want to find the perfect gifts at the market to send home to Bobbie and the others.” She took his hand, lacing their fingers together, then tugged him towards the dock.
Later that night, after shopping and midnight mass, they returned to the house in San Marco that Jason had rented. Elizabeth stifled a yawn as they went into the foyer. When she headed for the stairs, he pulled her in the other direction, towards the living room where they’d decorated a tree their first week in Venice while Elizabeth had adjusted to the time difference.
He’d helped her with paper chains, and she’d spent some of her precious money on an elaborately painted porcelain bell she’d found in a shop around the corner, so she’d always remember her first Christmas with Jason in Italy.
“I know we talked about this earlier, but like the necklace, I’d already gotten this…” He took an envelope from the cabinet next to the tree and held it out to her. “I wanted to give it to you tonight.”
“Okay, but let me give you something first.” She set the envelope on the coffee table and reached for a gift-wrapped box underneath the tree. “It’s not much, but it…it feels right now. And I have something else I want to say.” They sat on the sofa as Jason unwrapped the gift.
When Jason pulled out a leather jacket nearly identical to the one he’d shed when they’d come in, he furrowed his brow. “It looks like my old jacket—”
“It is—” Elizabeth took the jacket and laid it flat between them so it covered his lap and hers. “I took it from Jake’s when they let me back in the room. After they pulled the body from the harbor.”
Jason inhaled sharply. “Elizabeth—”
“I was doing everything the way I had before. Trying to keep myself together, get my things from the room without losing it because I knew Gia was worried. And then I took this jacket. It’s the only thing of yours I took.”
She ran her fingers over the jacket. “I took it because I knew it smelled like you, and for a while, I could have that. And it would bring me comfort. Lucky left a sweater at my house before he died, and I wore that sweater for months. I used to cry myself to sleep in it. And then one day, I put it on, and it didn’t smell like him anymore.”
Elizabeth looked up at him. “And I was so upset about it, I got dressed up and went to Jake’s to make trouble. I met you. And until I found out Lucky was alive, I thought—it felt like the universe was giving me a sign, you know? Like…I’d waited long enough. Or maybe that Lucky was…telling me that it was okay. To stop missing him so much. To let someone in my life again.”
She bit her lip. “So I took the jacket because it would remind me of you, it would smell like you, and maybe one day, I’d get a sign that it was okay to stop missing you. Even if that felt wrong. Because that’s the worst part about loving someone and losing them a second time—you know the pain ends eventually. You know you can find love again. I think maybe that hurt more than anything else during that week I thought you were dead, the weeks you were missing because I didn’t want anyone else.”
Elizabeth picked up the jacket, brought it to her nose and took in the deep scent of leather and the subtle scent of Jason’s deodorant—now fading after all these months in her closet. “But I don’t need this jacket anymore. You know? It’s like Lucky’s sweater. I never took it out again after that night at Jake’s. I didn’t need to. I don’t need this jacket because I have you.”
She held out the jacket, and he slowly took it from her, carefully folding it and setting it back in the box. “Everything you went through this fall, Elizabeth—”
She cut off his words with a press of two fingers to his lips. “I didn’t give it to you because I was upset or wanted to remind you about it. I just…it was terrible, Jason. But it was terrible for you, too. And holding on to the jacket was like holding on to everything that happened. And maybe that’s why it’s been hard for me to accept…”
She gestured around them. “All of this, you know? The fancy view, the studio, the money you spent at dinner—the little expenses, the big expenses…I don’t know—it’s like…” Elizabeth tucked her hair behind her ears and cleared her throat. “You needed to get away from Port Charles. And I’m basically tagging along on your escape. Except it feels like it’s been all about me. And…that’s not okay. What happened wasn’t about me. And I think maybe I made it about me—”
“Just like I made Carly all about me. I’m selfish that way—”
“And you’re just trying to give me a Christmas present and I’m still making it about me—” Elizabeth huffed. “Honestly, I don’t know why you even bother sometimes—”
He put his hand at her base of her neck and tugged her forward to cover his lips with hers, swallowing her complaints. Elizabeth slid her fingers in his hair and let him push back into the cushions, pressing her against the arm of the sofa.
“You know, you still talk too much,” Jason teased, when he drew back. She swatted at his shirt as he sat back up, pulling her with him.
“Elizabeth, yeah. I needed to go. Like I needed to go three years ago. But I didn’t know where I was going. Until you offered to come with me. I wanted to show you Italy. I told you that. And now I get to do that. I mean….” He glanced around the living room. “Maybe this isn’t what I had in mind, but I told you—the real estate agent took me seriously when I said money didn’t matter. All I wanted was a view for you to draw.”
“And it really makes you happy to just…wander wherever I want to go?” Elizabeth pursed her lips. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. You’re not selfish. None of what happened a few months ago had anything to do with you being selfish.” He hesitated. “As hard as it was, I’m glad you took the time to deal with what you went through. And asked for space you needed. I know it’s not always easy for you to put yourself first. The last thing I’d ever call you is selfish.”
“This trip, spending time with you—that’s what I needed. I promise, if there’s somewhere I want to go, I’ll tell you.” He held out the envelope. “In fact…will you open this, please?”
Elizabeth slid out an airplane ticket, frowning slightly as she saw boarding passes with their names on it. “What…”
“Tickets to Sicily in January. After a few weeks here, I thought maybe you’d want to see another part of Italy. And I haven’t been there yet. I can change the date if you want—”
“But you want to go to Sicily.” She took a deep breath. “And so do I. I’ve seen the light in Venice. You’re right. It’s not like anywhere else in the world. So now I want to see the lights everywhere. Let’s go to Sicily.”
She set the boarding passes on top of the leather jacket Jason had set on the coffee table, then leaned in to brush her lips against his. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”