In this room
I can barely breathe
This air that speaks your name
It flows through me
From each corner
From the window frame
Where we used to watch together
For the sun to rise again
– In This Room, Leslie Tucker
Friday, September 20, 2002
Elizabeth & Gia’s Apartment: Living Room
Elizabeth knew even before Gia opened the door. No one knocked on a door at four in the morning without it being bad news.
Gia had fallen asleep on the sofa the night before as they had watched some mindless television, trying to keep their minds off everything happening around them.
Trying to forget that it had now been two weeks without a word from Jason.
Elizabeth had drifted into a light sleep while half-listening to the late night television, and the infomercials had given away to the early morning news broadcast that would run from four to seven before national affiliates took over.
The knocked was quiet. Hesitant. But it echoed in the room like a shot gun blast.
Elizabeth jerked awake and was still trying to figure out what was happening as Gia rose and went to answer the door.
Her brother stood there, looking as if he hadn’t had any more sleep than Elizabeth in the last few weeks. The hallway was dim—only a small sconce lit Taggert from behind.
Gia sighed and drew back the door. “Marcus.”
Elizabeth got to her feet. Switched on the lamp next to the sofa. She knew what he would say even before he said it.
“Last night,” Taggert began hesitantly, “a body was pulled from the harbor.”
Oh. Oh, God. The sob spilled out of her lips before she could even process it. She knew what he was going to say. Her body knew, her heart knew, but her brain still needed the words.
“Are they sure—” Gia began, but Taggert shook his head.
“Preliminary testing has tentatively identified him.” He cleared his throat, looked at Elizabeth. “He’d been shot twice in the chest—”
“Marcus,” Gia hissed.
“There’s no way to tell how long he was in the water,” Taggert said. “But…it looks like it’s been a while.”
“Two weeks?” she managed, the tears spilling down her cheeks. “Are you sure it’s him—”
“It was hard to say from the state of the body, but like I said, some early blood tests. Ah…it’s tentative, but the PCPD feels confident enough—” Taggert shook his head. “The body was pretty decomposed—”
“Oh, God.” She pressed her hands to the mouth. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t force the air into lungs. Oh, God. She didn’t even know how convinced she’d been that he was okay until this minute. “Oh, God.”
Gia crossed to her, put an arm around her shoulder. “Let’s sit down, honey. C’mon—”
Elizabeth allowed herself to be guided back to the sofa, the back of her knees hitting the cushion as she sat down. She forced herself to think. “You said last night. When?”
“Around midnight.” Taggert knelt in front of her. “I know you’re not his technical next of kin, but—I asked to notify you myself. Mac is waiting a few more hours to tell the Quartermaines. I just—I knew you weren’t sleeping well. I knew you were terrified, and I know this doesn’t make it better—”
“It makes it over,” Elizabeth said dully. She closed her eyes. “I can’t—this isn’t real. It’s not. It can’t be. Can I see him? Maybe I could tell you if it was wrong—”
“If you insisted on seeing him, I would do it,” Taggert said after a moment, but he shook his head. “Please don’t ask me. I did not like Jason Morgan, but you loved him. And I know he loved you. He would not want that to be your memory of him. Please.”
His beautiful face. His eyes. His mouth. His smile. His voice. Oh, God, she would never see him again. Never hold him. Oh, God.
“I’m so sorry, Elizabeth.” He hesitated. “There are questions I need to ask you, but they can wait, okay?”
“No.” She shook her head. “No. There’s nothing I can tell you anyway. I told you that night what I knew.” Elizabeth paused. “I—you said the phone records came back. That he left me a voicemail. Can I have my phone?”
He waited a moment. “Yeah. We’re releasing the room today. We didn’t have…any cause to take your phone, so it’s still sitting there. If there’s anything on the message you think I should know—”
“I’ll tell you.”
Taggert got to his feet and she heard his footsteps mingle with his sisters as Gia let him out and locked the door behind him.
“Am I awake?” she murmured. “Is this really happening?”
She took a deep breath. “I need to take a shower. I need to be ready. Because Bobbie is going to be up here as soon as she hears, and I know Courtney and AJ—and God, Emily and the Quartermaines It’s all going to happen so fast, but I want—”
“You don’t have to anything you don’t want to do,” Gia said with some irritation. “You want to sit here and stare at the wall—”
Elizabeth squeezed her eyes shut so tightly that it hurt. “I’m scared if I go lay down, if I don’t start doing something, I’ll never be able to get back up again. So, I have to get up. I have to go.” She exhaled slowly. “There’s a lot that has to be done, and I really…I want my phone.”
“I need to know what he said to me. And then…then I need to know why Sonny lied.” She wrapped her arms around her torso, took a deep breath. “Because he knew something last week when I went to see him. And I let him lie to me. How long did he know Jason wasn’t just hurt—”
“Maybe he really didn’t know—”
“He knew something,” Elizabeth repeated. “He lied to me. And I deserve to know why.”
Safe House: Bedroom
When Jason had regained consciousness—when he stayed awake long enough to have coherent thought—he knew immediately something was wrong.
He was not allowed to move, and Johnny and the doctor refused to bring him newspapers. Refused to tell him anything that was happening. Wouldn’t even allow him to know what day it was.
Which meant it had been more than a handful of days since the warehouse shooting.
And Elizabeth wasn’t here.
That fact told Jason all he needed to know. He’d been kept drugged so Sonny didn’t have to bring Elizabeth to see him. So that Sonny didn’t have to tell her he was hurt.
Johnny had kept putting him off, telling him that Sonny would answer his questions when he got there, but Jason was starting to feel strong enough to start moving around, even if the doctor had advised against it.
Sonny knew better. Sonny should have known better. Jason hated being confined. Hated pain medication that knocked him out, left him groggy and disoriented. Hated being lied to.
But Jason also knew that he was too weak to move on his own—that the safe house where he’d been taken was located away from Port Charles. There wasn’t likely to be any transportation for him to get out of here and find anything out—and if he walked on his own, he might reopen his stitches and bleed out before he reached civilization.
So, he waited. He waited on Sunday. Monday. Tuesday.
And when Wednesday slipped into Thursday, Jason told Johnny that if Sonny didn’t show up by the end of the next day, he’d take his chances on the walk, and Johnny relayed the message. And apparently, Sonny had believed him.
“I know you’re angry,” Sonny said when he entered the bedroom on Friday afternoon. “Let me explain—”
“What day is it?” Jason said, flatly. “What date? How many days did you drug me?”
Sonny exhaled slowly. “It’s September 20. Friday. You were kept sedated until last week—”
“Did you tell Elizabeth I was shot?”
When Sonny hesitated, Jason shook his head and pushed himself out of the bed, into a standing position. He held out his hand. “Give me my phone. Now.”
“By the time I could have told her,” Sonny said, backing up from his enraged partner, “Taggert was already talking to her. He already knew you’d walked out on plans—he’d told her about the warehouse—I couldn’t bring her here—”
“Did you tell her I was okay?” Jason demanded. He knew Sonny. He knew the way the man could and would talk circles around someone, make them think their questions had been answered.
“She figured you were lying low and couldn’t contact her,” Sonny said. “She’s pissed at me because I didn’t confirm it.”
“Why the hell—”
“You told her that you were supposed to be out. What the hell were you thinking?” Sonny cut in. “She came at me, both barrels, telling me she knew this was about Carly because you were supposed to be out. Why the fuck are you talking about business with your girlfriend?”
Jason scowled. “Don’t change the goddamn subject, Sonny. It was after the warehouse. I was with her when it happened. So, yeah, I told her I wasn’t going. She’s not an idiot—and—” He bit off. “She’s not just my girlfriend, Sonny. She’s not just someone I picked up in a bar. Don’t talk about her that way—”
“Then don’t be stupid. She’s been talking to Taggert, Jason. Cooperating with the cops—”
“Because the cops are the only ones telling her—” Jason sliced his hand through the air. “I’m not debating this with you. Give me my phone.”
“No,” Sonny shook his head. “No one’s made any moves. You call her, you go back on the grid, then this is for nothing!”
“I don’t give a shit. Give me my phone, Sonny. You don’t own me, and I’m not letting Elizabeth worry about me. I want to talk to her. I get that she can’t come to see me, but you’ve already lied to her—”
“I didn’t lie to her,” Sonny said with a grimace. “I just told her I hadn’t heard from you since Friday. Or seen you. And that was true.”
“You lied to her, Sonny. You knew I was okay. That I was just hurt, and you didn’t tell her—”
“Because she’s not an idiot,” Sonny said, throwing the words back at him. “She knows what’s going on. Calling her now is only going to bring attention to all of this. They’ll make their move in another day or two.”
“What if they don’t?” Jason demanded. “What if we’re still waiting?”
Sonny hesitated. “Give me a week, Jase. I’ve got some things in motion. I’ve sent up some smoke signals that we’re weak. That we’re vulnerable. That’s what I’m asking—”
“Fine. But when you leave here, you go tell her that I’m okay. Promise me, Sonny,” Jason said, roughly. “You know what she’s been through. You were here when I wasn’t. Don’t make her worry anymore.”
“I promise,” Sonny said after a moment. “I’ll see her today. I’ll make sure she knows what’s going on. I don’t like this. I hate keeping her in the dark, Jason. Because I damn well know how hard she’s worked this last year to get away from this kind of crap. But this is the business. This is what we chose. So maybe you need to know whether she can really choose it—”
“Sonny, if you lie to Elizabeth one more time about what’s going on, you and I are done,” Jason said quietly. “I love her. I asked her to move in with me. She’s the one I want a future with. And every minute she’s worrying about whether I’m dead or alive, you’re chipping away at that.”
“You never would have put Brenda or Carly through this. You lied to them. You misled them. You destroyed Brenda when you walked away from her without a word. But you never made them wait for weeks to know if you were alive. You wouldn’t do this to them. Elizabeth deserves at least that much respect.”
Sonny dipped his head. Nodded. “All right. I’ll take care of it today. You may not like the way I’ve handled this situation, Jason, but I handled it the best way I knew how. I did it to keep everyone safe. Just remember that.”
Jake: Jason’s Room
If the PCPD had done an extensive search, Elizabeth could find no evidence of it when she flipped the light switch later that morning.
In fact, the room looked just as she had left two weeks earlier: her textbooks still taking over the table, her cosmetics strewn across the dresser.
Her phone neatly plugged in on the nightstand.
Next to her, Gia waited a moment. “Do you want me to get it?” she asked softly. “You could—you could just—”
Elizabeth walked over the threshold and sat at the table, staring at the chair across from her. Where Jason usually sat. Where they had shared a lot of bad coffee and greasy take-out. In this room in the last four months, where they had laughed. Made love. Teased one another. Argued. Made up.
“The first time he nearly kissed me was in this room. It looked different then.” Elizabeth looked at her roommate. “I came to him after the Face of Deception photo shoot.”
“I remember,” Gia said with a pained smile. “You…you left the studio.”
“I came here. It was selfish to come here. I’d already told Jason we couldn’t…that we had to stop…but I just…I knew he’d get it. Or even if he didn’t…. he’d let me fall apart. He wouldn’t look at me like I was crushing his dreams.”
She closed her eyes. “There used to be these really ugly orange chairs. I sat here. And I tried to explain it to him. Why being a model made me feel like I was dying inside. I wanted to take off my makeup—and he…he washed my face. Because I didn’t look like me.”
Her eyes burned as she continued. “I was sitting on the edge of the bed, and he was holding my chin in one hand—and I wanted to kiss him. I knew he wanted to kiss me. But I was so scared of what it would mean—I couldn’t. I couldn’t take that step. I couldn’t lie to myself once I kissed him. God what the hell was I so afraid of?”
Elizabeth stood and crossed to the dresser, picked up a tube of lipstick. “He hated clutter, you know? I told you that, right?”
“Yeah.” Gia looked around the room. “I can tell.”
“But he just gave me the top of the dresser. He didn’t use it, he told me. So even though it drove him crazy…I just left things all over.” She picked up a ring she’d removed the last night she’d been here. “But he keeps—kept…he kept…” she corrected softly as she looked at the small shelf next to the dresser. “Some travel books.”
“Yeah. You told me he used to read to Michael.”
“Michael still loves to read about the places all over the world. Africa is his favorite. The animals, mostly.” Elizabeth set the ring down and then slid her fingers over the four or five books stacked on the shelf. “He wanted to take me to Italy.”
She closed her eyes. “He wanted to show me the light in Italy. And I turned him down. Everything in me screamed yes, but I was terrified.”
“Why?” Gia asked softly. “Why did it scare you so much, Elizabeth?”
She turned to her best friend but saw no judgment in her dark eyes. “Staying with Lucky was safe,” she murmured. “Or I thought it was. And there’s a comfort in that. Lucky would never leave me. I had to leave him.” Except hadn’t he left first? Why hadn’t she seen that?
“And you thought Jason would?”
“Maybe. I don’t—” Elizabeth licked her lips. “I don’t know if I thought…I mean, you know what he looks—” She caught her breath. “What he looked like,” she corrected softly. “You knew him, Gia. The girl I was last year? I couldn’t have made him happy. I didn’t even like myself. How was I supposed to love someone else?”
“That…” Gia said with a hesitant smile. “Is the nicest thing you’ve said about yourself back then. You made the right choice not to leave with him last year. I know it hurts. I know it feels like a mistake. Especially now. But you weren’t ready to be in love with someone who would love you back. You were ready this year.”
“Yeah.” Elizabeth released a long shaky breath. “He’s really gone, isn’t he? I can’t quite make myself believe it. I don’t feel it here. Not at all the way.” She pressed a fist to her heart. “But…I guess that doesn’t matter. I felt it with Lucky. There was a hole in me almost immediately. I could accept that he was gone even when I couldn’t. Does that make sense?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Gia shifted. “Elizabeth—”
She crossed the room and picked up her phone. She flipped it open. There were a few scattered calls from Bobbie, from Courtney. And a few from her grandmother, who must have seen the news from Memphis where she lived with Elizabeth’s brother, Steven. And from Jason…
“He called me six times.” Elizabeth opened her voicemails—there were a few unread, but only one from his number.
And pressed play, lifting the phone to her ear.
“I guess you left your phone at Jake’s. I can’t—I won’t be able to come by tonight. Something came up—I’ll explain when I can, okay? I love you, Elizabeth.”
His voice. His words. God. Why hadn’t she grabbed her phone that last morning?
She hurriedly followed the directions to save the message, clutching the cell phone to her heart. Maybe Lucas or one of his tech savvy friends could…find a way Elizabeth could keep this message. So she could just…. listen to him.
“That’s it. That’s the last thing he said to me,” she murmured. “God. I can’t—”
Her throat closed, her knees buckled, and she sat on the edge of the bed. “I can’t breathe, Gia. How can he be gone?”
Gia sat next to her, their shoulders brushing. “I don’t know. I don’t have the words, Elizabeth.”
“I know if I just put one foot in front of the other and keeping doing that—I’ll look up one day, and it’ll be…later. It’ll hurt less. That’s how it happened with Lucky. I put on a mask, I pretended. I was angry in private, but I kept—I graduated from school. I smiled when Emily started to date Juan even though I hated her for being happy. I wanted to burn everything down so that they would be in ashes like Lucky. Like my life.”
She sobbed into her fist, trying to keep her composure. Trying to keep it together. If she lost it, if she really lost it in this place, in this room where she and Jason had shared a life together—it would be real.
God, she didn’t want it to be real.
“But it didn’t work. Going about my life—it never made it stop hurting. Until Jason. And it’s not—he didn’t perform any miracles. He just never made me feel like I had to be okay.” Elizabeth squeezed her eyes shut. “I could say anything to him, and he would never judge me. He was so kind. So sweet. And I’m sure he’d hate that.”
“It would probably have ruined his reputation,” Gia agreed.
“But it helped to just have someone I could be awful around. Someone I didn’t have to pretend with. And then one day—” Elizabeth swallowed hard. “I was having a bad day. An art professor had roasted a portrait of Lucky I’d done for class, and I felt like I’d failed him. I was telling Jason I wanted Lucky back for just a moment, and I had this—I had this insane idea—I asked him to dance with me to our song—Lucky’s and mine.”
She pulled that memory back into her head, closing her eyes to remember it. “It didn’t work. I knew immediately it wouldn’t. Jason was taller than Lucky. And…more muscular. He wasn’t Lucky…and I liked it. I knew it was a stupid idea. But I liked being in his arms. And then I hated myself for even for a minute…thinking about someone else.”
Elizabeth rose to her feet and crossed to the closet, opening it. She drew out the leather jacket Jason kept for cooler weather. “It wasn’t this jacket. That one got destroyed by the gunshot. Blood. And a bullet hole.”
She ran her fingers over the smooth leather. “He looked good in this jacket, didn’t he?”
Elizabeth brought the jacket to her face, breathed in the smell of Jason. He hadn’t worn the jacket in a few months, but it hung next to other clothes he wore more often. It smelled like him today.
But one day it wouldn’t.
And one day, someone else would rent this room.
And someone else would do his job at the warehouse.
“When I lost Lucky, I never thought I could let myself love anyone again. I didn’t think I had the…ability. Or even the right. You were supposed to fall in forever love once, you know? How many soul mates does a girl get?”
“I don’t know if I believe in soul mates,” Gia said after a long moment. “I think…it’s too easy. And it can be used to justify unhappiness. I think we find people who make us like ourselves better, you know? When Nikolas and I first started…it’s not like I was a great person. I mean, I had issues. But I wanted to do better. And he thought I could. He was what I needed in the moment. And if we had married before all that crap happened last year, I don’t know—we probably would have been happy. Or not. But how much time did you waste with Lucky because you were supposed to be soul mates?”
Elizabeth sighed. “Maybe. It was hard for me back then to ever imagine loving anyone the way I loved Lucky. And you know, I didn’t love Jason that way. You only get one first love. It’s sweet. It’s pure. It feels like a high. A rush of adrenaline. Lucky and I never argued. We didn’t need to.”
She sat back down, cradling the jacket in her arms.
“With Jason, I don’t know. I looked at this man who seemed larger than life. Jason was always honest. With himself. With others, and God, that’s just so rare. And he always seemed to understand me better than I understood myself. We did fight. About Lucky. About Carly. About Michael. But…it never…” Elizabeth traced her fingers over the leather again. “I knew he respected me. He wanted me to be honest with myself. To be whoever I wanted to be. I didn’t have to hide with him.” She closed her eyes. “Before Carly came back, I could see our future. We hadn’t really talked about it, but you know, you didn’t always need words with Jason.”
She sucked in a deep breath as the pain slid through her belly again. “Not like the future Lucky and I planned out before the fire. I didn’t—I didn’t know he was going to ask me to live with him. But I just…I could think about myself in five years, and he’d be there. Ten years. I could see him with me. Because I can’t imagine either of us would change without doing it together.”
“I’m sorry,” Gia said softly. “It’s…weak to say that, but I don’t have anything else. I’m just…I’m sorry.”
“Yeah.” She sighed. “Yeah. I don’t think there’s anything else to say.” She rose to her feet, looked around the room again. “This was a good place, you know? A safe place.” She paused. “But I don’t want to come back here. I can’t. Sonny can…I’ll ask Sonny to get his things. I don’t even know where—but I can…I should get my things.”
She started to put the jacket back—and then stopped.
It wouldn’t smell like Jason for very long, but…for now…for now it was something she could keep.
Harborview Towers: Lobby
With Gia hesitantly trailing behind her, Elizabeth approached the desk where a security guard was quietly sitting, his head down. “Excuse me?”
The head snapped up, and Elizabeth was surprised to see the man’s eyes were red, as if he’d been crying. “Miss Webber.” He lunged to his feet. “Ah…” He looked past her, to Gia. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
“I was hoping to see Sonny,” Elizabeth murmured. “I know…I know Gia has to wait down here.”
“Oh.” The guard blinked, took a deep breath. “Yeah. Yeah. Let me—” He reached for the phone. “Mr. Corinthos isn’t taking visitors—he—he got the call—but I’m sure he’ll—” He stopped as someone must have picked up on the other line. “Hey, Miss Webber—” He frowned, listening to someone. “Oh. Okay.” He put the phone back on the receiver and looked at Elizabeth. “Mr. Corinthos sends his apologies, but he’s not ready to see anyone.”
“Anyone, or me?” Elizabeth asked bitterly.
“I—” The guard flushed. “I wouldn’t know. He asked that you take a guard with you for a few days. I’m going to call downstairs—”
Elizabeth shook her head. “No. Tell him I refused.”
“Elizabeth—” Gia said quietly. “Maybe—”
“No, obviously any obligation or feeling Sonny felt towards me died the same time—” Her voice broke. “It doesn’t matter. Tell Sonny I get it. He knows I’m here to ask why the hell he lied to me, and he doesn’t want to lie to my face again.”
The guard’s face remained passive, but he swallowed hard. “Okay, maybe that’s true. But…Mr. Morgan…we all know how much you—maybe—for him—”
She closed her eyes. “Fine. Call someone up to take me home.” She turned to Gia. “You have your car, so I’ll meet you there.”
“Okay.” Gia touched her arm. “I’ll see you later.” She eyed the guard for a long moment before heading for the lobby exit.
Elizabeth waited until the elevator to the parking garage opened, and a man in a dark suit emerged. He was tall, with his head carefully shaved. He introduced himself as Cody, and Elizabeth followed him back to the parking garage.
Once the doors had closed, the guard picked up the phone and called the penthouse again.
Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room
Sonny sighed and hung up the phone. “She took the guard. I had someone on her anyway, but this way, she’ll have someone with her.”
Benny grunted as he read paperwork across the room. “You should have told her—”
“And I will.” Sonny turned. “But there are too many eyes on us. The cops are watching her too closely. They know Elizabeth is angry at me, I’m sure she’s made that clear to Taggert. To Bobbie. She was angry with me before she ever came here last week, Benny—”
“My obligation is not to Elizabeth Webber,” Benny said with some irritation. “Though morally, this bothers me a on a level I am severely uncomfortable with. My obligation is to you and your organization. You are creating problems with Jason that will not be simply solved by his return from the dead.”
“Jason will understand eventually—”
“You are holding Elizabeth responsible for mistakes that she did not make.” Benny got to his feet. “You’re holding her to your standards—”
“Mine are the only ones that matter—”
“Not to Jason, they don’t. He walked away for the better part of two years because of that business with Carly—”
“That wasn’t just me,” Sonny muttered, even as an itch developed between his shoulders. Goddamn it, would he never live that single horrible night down?
“No. But you and I both knew he left because he didn’t know if he could keep doing his job for you. When he finds out that not only did you fake his death and put his family through the grief and devastation but that you did it to Elizabeth—a woman he has made very clear he would have trusted with the truth—you are putting that in jeopardy—”
“Benny, I don’t pay you to lecture me—”
“No, you pay me to advise you on your business arrangements, and this is a bad business decision. Jason forgave you once. For Carly. Because it was both of you. This? This will all come down on you. So, I hope you ask yourself if it’s enough to prove a point.” Benny tipped his head. “You were going to bring her in on this, Sonny. We talked about it. When we started planning a body dump, you were going to tell her the truth. Prepare her. Until you found out she knew too much.”
“She needs plausible deniability,” Sonny muttered. “She’s too close to Taggert. She wouldn’t be able keep it up—”
“If that helps you sleep at night,” Benny said with a kindness Sonny knew the older man didn’t feel. “I have to go file these at the court house. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
His manager left, leaving Sonny alone in his penthouse. He reached for the bottle of bourbon and didn’t even bother with the glass.
Elizabeth & Gia’s Apartment: Living Room
Later that night, in the kitchen, Gia’s hands were shaking slightly as she arranged some food on plate for Elizabeth. Bobbie had brought it home from Kelly’s and had encouraged Gia to make sure Elizabeth ate something. Anything.
When Elizabeth had returned from Sonny’s, walking in only a few minutes after Gia, she had sat down on the sofa, turned on the television and stared at it. Not watching it, not listening, just staring at the screen.
Gia had tried to talk to her a few times, but it was as if an icy wall had descended. As if her roommate had crawled inside herself and refused to come out.
Gia was not a good person. She had never aspired to be a good person, and almost everything she knew about being one came from her brother, her mother, and the figure in the living room.
Their friendship had come out of nowhere—just two people tired of the lies and bullshit surrounding them. Tired of their own poor choices and dissatisfied with the road ahead of them. They had gone back to school, rented this apartment, and promised each other complete and total honesty. No matter what.
And Gia had delivered that. Had pushed Elizabeth when she’d backslid to lying to herself, to protecting herself. Had championed her relationship with Jason.
Had dismissed Elizabeth’s fears about being broken. About being left behind.
Had ignored the fact that Jason Morgan worked a dangerous job and was even more at risk than a seventeen-year-old boy lighting candles in his bedroom.
“Well, girl, you reap what you sow,” Gia murmured. Now her best friend, the only person who knew her past, wasn’t related to her, and still liked her company, had had her entire world crumble around her, and Gia…hated herself for whatever role she had played in this tragedy.
Her cell phone vibrated on the white Formica counter next to the coffee pot. Gia picked it up and flipped it open.
“Hey.” Courtney was quiet for a long moment, her voice a bit hoarse when she spoke again. “I called…I called to check on Elizabeth, but that’s stupid, right? She’s not okay. How could she be okay?”
“It’s not stupid. It’s what people do.” Gia pressed a hand to her forehead. “Christ, Courtney. How’s AJ? Which is also a ridiculous question.”
“He’s in, um, shock. I think. We came to the mansion. We’re still here. Um, Michael was crying at first and started to ask if we were sure. If we were making a mistake about Jason like we did Carly, and I don’t know what to say to him. Edward is in his room with Lila. They’re not coming out. And Alan and Monica are just…they’re staring into silence. Not even crying.”
“Yeah. Yeah, it’s—” Gia passed Elizabeth on the couch and peered through the curtain. “Now, we have news vans outside the Brownstone. They were already here when we got back from Sonny’s. Already filming. Fucking vultures.”
“Yeah, Liz and whoever she was with was on the news—Ned was watching it. He wants to sic the lawyers on them. Do something. Liz looked—she looked empty. In shock. Ned said if you want him to send over ELQ’s lawyer to get them to go—”
“We’ll keep it in mind. I left a message with Marcus. I’m hoping he’ll stop by—he should be able to get rid of them. Thanks.”
Gia turned back to Elizabeth. “Um, Elizabeth? It’s Courtney. She just…. she wanted to check on you.”
Elizabeth met her eyes, and that blank empty stare—God, she knew that stare. Elizabeth had worn it so often in the months leading up to her wedding. During that last final awful year with Lucky. Then it cleared, and Elizabeth took a deep breath. “I’m—is AJ okay?”
“Courtney thinks he’s in shock. They went to the Qs.” Gia hesitated. “Did you—maybe you want to go there—”
“Oh.” Elizabeth blinked. “No.” She paused. “Thank you.”
“Ooookay,” Gia drawled. She was completely out of her depth. She turned her attention back to Courtney. “Is—Is Emily coming back?”
“Oh. Yeah. Ned called her. She’s flying in tomorrow. I’ll let you know the details—” Courtney paused. “Hey, I need to go. Michael’s awake and he’s—”
“Yeah, go. Go.”
Gia closed her phone and then slid it into her pocket. She sat next to Elizabeth on the sofa. “Do you need me to just sit here? To…be quiet? You can scream at me, if you want. Something.”
“I—” Elizabeth hesitated. Focused on Gia. “I should have told him yes about living together. That’s all I can think about now. I smiled at him, I kissed him. I told him I loved him, but I put him off. I wanted it—I wanted it to be a moment. He was going to pick me up. He was going to let me drive. And we were going to go somewhere. And I was going to tell him yes.”
“He knew that, Elizabeth. He had to know that.” God, Gia hoped that was true. “He loved you.”
“I wasted so much time,” she murmured. “I picked that fight about Carly—”
“It was the right fight,” Gia insisted, going with her instinct here. “Hey. I need you to look at me.” She waited until Elizabeth met her eyes. “You knew she was manipulating him, and you knew he would refuse to see it. You made him see it. A year ago, you swallowed every piece of emotional abuse Lucky threw at you. You stood up for yourself. And for Jason. And he knew you were right. You know that.”
“I just—” Elizabeth’s voice broke. “He thought Carly was his friend, and she never deserved that label. Never. I hated how much she hurt him. But I thought I knew what was right, and I forced him to do what I wanted. I became Robin—”
“No. Jesus, no. Hey.” Gia leaned forward. “No, you didn’t. You did the one thing Robin never did. You stood in front him, and you drew a line in the sand. You said this is what I need from you. From a relationship. You challenged him to give you what you needed. And he stepped up. And he asked you to move in with him.”
Elizabeth dug the heels of her hands into her eyes. Her shoulders trembled. “He…he told me he didn’t want me to be anyone else for him. To hide how I felt. What I thought. He didn’t want that.”
“I don’t know what to say to you. I’m so fucking angry at the world—” Gia felt pressure behind her eyes. “So fucking angry that they would put that man on this planet, make him practically perfect, give him to you for five fucking minutes and steal him away again—what is the goddamn point of it?” she demanded, her voice breaking.
And…then Elizabeth laughed. Bitter, choked laughter as tears slid down her cheeks. As her shoulders shook. “God. Oh, God. God, is it real? Is he—How could—”
Gia slid across the couch and pulled Elizabeth into a hug, wrapping her arms around her tightly. “I’m so sorry. I am so goddamn sorry.”
And she held Elizabeth as her best friend sobbed until her voice was gone.