Don’t think that I can take another empty moment
Don’t think that I can fake another hollow smile
It’s not enough just to be lonely
Don’t think that I could take another talk about it
– Bed of Lies, Matchbox Twenty
Thursday, October 3, 2002
Bobbie had told her this morning it was too early to come back to work, and even Gia who knew the truth thought she should take a few more days.
She’d already taken a week. Waited for the lie to end. Waited for Jason to come back from the dead. To release her from the hell she was living in.
Sonny had finally come to see her a few days earlier to admit that Jason now knew the truth, that he was livid, and that Sonny had only a few more days for this plan to work. He’d apologized. She’d let him. And then she had sent him away.
It didn’t change anything now that Jason knew the truth. She could see now that she had expected something to change once he knew. That…God, maybe he would have been so appalled, so heartbroken by the betrayal, he would have called her. That he would have ended it.
But the plan came first. The business came first. Jason was letting the lie stand for just a little longer, Sonny told her, his dark eyes full of worry.
Not regret. She knew even now that Sonny might be sorry that everyone was so upset, that it had gone so far—but he still believed he’d been right.
And part of Jason…God, Jason must agree with Sonny, right? Because why else was it still happening? And how the hell was she supposed to deal with that?
And since these were the thoughts swirling in her head sitting alone in her apartment pretending to study, sitting like a zombie through her classes, Elizabeth had thought taking just the lunch shift would give her something else to think about.
And it had. She’d lost herself in the mundanity of taking orders, grabbing food, filling drinks, busing tables—back to the real world and life she’d built before Jason had come back.
Until the rush had cleared, and she had stepped out into the courtyard to find Carly sitting at the table, perusing a menu.
Like nothing had ever happened.
She knew that AJ had worked out some sort of deal with Carly—Courtney had sheepishly admitted it to her, trying to warn her. Elizabeth had merely nodded—it made sense. AJ was trying to move forward, trying to do right by his son.
She hadn’t really let herself think about what it meant.
Carly now had her life back. She’d heard rumors that Jax had released her share of the club, and she was returning to management. She would now at least have visitation with Michael.
And she had probably already put another deposit down on a fast car with a bright, shiny paint job.
Back to normal.
Waiting for the next disaster. Waiting for Carly to be Carly and destroy them all again.
Elizabeth wasn’t sure how long she stood there before Carly lifted her eyes, saw her. The blonde cleared her throat, put the menu aside. “Elizabeth. I, ah, I didn’t know you were back at work.”
“It’s my first day since…” Elizabeth closed her eyes. The words froze in her throat. “What can I get you—”
“Oh. I’m not ready to order yet.” She waited. “I’m waiting for AJ to bring Michael. We’re having lunch.”
Elizabeth pressed her lips together, fought back the bitter bile and venom that suddenly crawled up the back of her throat. “Must be nice.” And before she could stop the words— “It’s a shame Jason can’t be here to see it.”
Carly flinched but shook her head. “Don’t. Let’s not do this, okay? Listen, I know you’re dealing with a lot. We all miss Jason—”
And all of the ugliness she’d kept inside for weeks exploded out of her.
“Shut up.” Elizabeth slapped the notepad down on the table. “Don’t speak his name. You don’t get to pretend this isn’t your fault.”
Carly shot to her feet. “How dare you—”
“Do you really think I don’t know exactly why Jason was at that warehouse?” Elizabeth shot back. At that, Carly’s face lost some of her pallor and she stumbled back a step. “Yeah, I’m not an idiot, Carly. Even if I hadn’t figured it out for myself, Sonny told me.”
“He—he wouldn’t—” Carly said faintly. “It’s business—”
“It’s Jason. And he’s gone because of you!”
Why wasn’t Carly ever made to suffer? Jason was putting everyone he loved through hell—there was no way Emily and Lila wouldn’t be heartbroken by this deceit, that Bobbie wouldn’t be devastated. Even if Jason hadn’t started it—he was allowing it to continue.
And Carly got to go back to her fucking life like she hadn’t destroyed everything?
Not this time.
This time, Elizabeth wanted Carly to be the one bleeding and broken in the snow.
“That’s not—” Carly swallowed. “It’s complicated—”
“You’ve been destroying Jason’s life over and over again for years,” Elizabeth hissed. “And you always come out stronger. You got a rich husband twice after you destroyed him. Who’s on deck this time, Carly? AJ looking good again with his trust fund? Or is someone else the target?”
“You have no right to talk to me like this—”
“I have every right! Jason was supposed to be the man I spent the rest of my life with!” Her voice broke even as the anger poured out. “He was supposed to be here. Building a life with me. But you destroyed that. You destroyed him—”
“If Sonny told you what happened that night, then you know what I went through!” Carly snapped back. “You don’t think that was bad? That I didn’t suffer—”
“I would have had a hell of a lot more sympathy for you if you hadn’t rolled back into town like you were the only one wronged. Maybe you got to be pissed initially, but you should have known Jason better than that. You wanted to prove to the world that Jason would always pick you.” The tears were hot as they slid down her cheeks. “Well, congratulations. He picked you. And now look where we are.”
“I know that!” Carly growled. “Why do you think I tried to make peace with AJ? It’s what Jason would have wanted—”
“What Jason wanted was for you to put Michael first. He shouldn’t have had to get shot to make that happen. You are a selfish, hypocritical—”
AJ’s quiet voice had Elizabeth spinning on her heel to find Michael standing with his father. The little boy’s face was scrunched up as he took in his mother and one of his favorite people.
“Why you crying, Mommy? ‘Lizabeth?” Michael asked with worry. “What’s wrong?”
Elizabeth just shook her head. “I’m fine, Michael. I’m just—I’m sad. It’s fine.” She cleared her throat. “I’ll get someone to take care of you—”
She went into the diner and passed her section to Penny, who saw the tears and said nothing. Elizabeth went out to the alley and slid down until she was sitting on the cold concrete.
How was she supposed to do this?
The door opened next to her, and AJ stepped out. She didn’t look at him, even as he sat in front of her, crossing his legs.
“You have every right to feel like Courtney and I have betrayed you. Betrayed Jason,” he said with a sigh. “Because I feel it, too. She told me it was her fault somehow, and I didn’t want the details. I was afraid what I would do with that knowledge. I had to put Michael first—”
“It’s not that.” Elizabeth shook her head. “Michael missed his mother. Of course, you had to figure out something with Carly. It’s just…” She let her head fall back against the brick. “I loved him.”
“No, I mean—” She closed her eyes. “When Lucky was in that fire, I couldn’t see my future without him. I just thought it was going to be this long, empty life. That I had died with him. I was young, and I just couldn’t imagine loving someone else.”
“And you can now?” AJ said with confusion. “Elizabeth—”
“Because that’s how it works. You grieve. And you grieve. And then one day, you wake up, and you’ve grieved a little less. And your heart starts to wake up. To want that love again. And you fall in love again. I know that it’s probably in my future. I want a family. I want children. I just—” She shook her head. “I want that with Jason—wanted that.”
“Jason would want that for you,” AJ told her. “He loved you so much, Elizabeth. I could see it in him—half the reason he settled Michael’s custody with me was because he didn’t want you to be unhappy. And I didn’t want Courtney to be unhappy. So, we found something that worked, and I’m glad my brother had that in his life. But he would want you to love again.”
“I know that.” Elizabeth weighed her next words carefully. “I know that Jason loved me. I know that like I know my own name. But he’s gone because of Carly.”
AJ hesitated, then grimaced. “I guess this is related to something Sonny told you about what happened. I don’t know—”
“You shouldn’t feel guilty about putting Michael first. I just—I think I have to figure out how to deal with Carly. Because I see her, and I see all the things I don’t have. All the things Jason doesn’t have. And I can’t stop.”
AJ rose to his feet and held out a hand to Elizabeth. She let him pull her up. “We’ll go somewhere else for lunch, and I won’t use Kelly’s as a meeting place. I get it, Liz. And I’ll do what I can to make this easier for you.”
“Don’t—” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “Don’t do that. Avoiding it isn’t going to change anything. I just have to figure out how to breathe. I’m still working on that.”
Brownstone: Front Steps
Somehow, she went back to her shift and finished it in Penny’s section. She got through the day, worked on the books for Kelly’s—
And when it came time to close, Penny had told her to go ahead. That she and Don would close up—that Elizabeth had worked hard but needed a break.
She’d agreed because the sympathy in her eyes wasn’t different from everyone else’s. Poor Elizabeth. Mourning another dead boyfriend. Broken hearted again.
Gia wasn’t home—she’d stopped by the diner during the dinner rush to let her know her mother had asked Gia to come down to Buffalo for a few days, so Elizabeth had the place to herself for the first time since…
When she got home, there was a package waiting on the front step, her name scrawled across the front in messy black marker. A thick manila envelope with no address, no return, no postage—just her name.
She picked it up—it was relatively lightweight. She fought the urge to open it out front—anyone could be watching her, she knew that. Knew that somewhere, Sonny’s men lurked. She’d turned down a personal escort but had agreed to someone following her.
She tucked it under her arm and reached for the front door.
Upstairs, she dropped everything else on the ground and ripped the package open. A small, black flip phone dropped in her hand. Attached to it was a fluorescent yellow Post-it note.
Elizabeth wrinkled her nose, looked at her watch, and sighed. Forty-five minutes to kill.
She busied herself with things she’d been putting off—putting away laundry Gia had brought home from the laundromat and left folded neatly in her room. She cleaned off the dining table where she and Gia always dumped their textbooks.
She had only a handful of classes this semester and was barely managing to get through them, but it filled her days and thoughts.
And still, even when all the little things were done—there was still ten minutes to wait. Elizabeth made sure her front door was locked, and then went into her room.
The bedroom was next to the living room and overlooked Elm Street. From her window, she could see the harbor and the warehouse district—where the Corinthos Morgan warehouse was still undergoing repairs from the explosion earlier that year.
It felt like a memory from another life when she and Jason had sat in this apartment talking about the secrets and danger that came with his profession. She’d scoffed then at worrying about Jason keeping secrets. She’d never thought it would come to this—
After all, hadn’t Jason and Sonny had front row seats to the last time Elizabeth had grieved for a man not actually dead?
The phone in her hand finally rang, and Elizabeth hesitantly flipped it open and brought it to her ear. “Hello?”
Oh, God. She pressed a fist to her mouth, tears sliding down her cheeks. She hadn’t realized until this moment that a piece of her—
That somehow, she’d worried she’d hallucinated. That Jason was really dead, and this was all some kind of insane break from reality.
But there it was, his voice. Saying her name the way only Jason did.
“Elizabeth?” he repeated, his voice a bit sharper.
“I’m here,” she said quickly. “I’m sorry—I just—” She sucked in a deep breath. “Is this safe? Sonny said you couldn’t—”
“Sonny doesn’t know,” Jason said, interrupting her. “I just—” There was a long pause. “I am so sorry—”
“You’re sorry—” Elizabeth choked. “I—I should have told you. I wanted to—”
“I just…” She leaned back against her headboard, drew her knees under her chin. “There was so much going on in my head, and Sonny was worried—”
“He was worried I’d blow the plan up if I knew what he’d done.” The words held heat, irritation. Annoyance. “I wanted to. I still do. I just—”
“I know you can’t tell me,” Elizabeth said dully. “It’s business—”
“It’s not that. I just—I hate this. I hate that you’re doing this. Going through it. Dealing with the lie. I hate that Sonny did this.” He was quiet for a moment. “I wanted to stop it,” he repeated. “But there are people involved that—they’re dangerous, Elizabeth. I’m afraid of what might happen if we don’t see it through. If we don’t give Sonny a chance to figure it out.”
Okay. She could understand that. They’d come this far. It would be an insane waste if nothing came of it. “How long?” she murmured. “How long do I have to keep pretending?”
“Tuesday,” Jason said. “Which is still too long, I know. Things are happening on Monday—they should be done by Tuesday. I—” He waited. “I need you to stay in on Tuesday. Can you do that? People are going to be in town. I don’t want them near you.”
She exhaled slowly. “If it will make it easier for you, then yeah. I’ll stay out of sight those few days. Will you be able to tell me more when this is over?”
“When this is over, I’ll tell you anything you want to know,” he promised. Another moment passed. “I love you, Elizabeth.”
She closed her eyes. “I love you, too.”
Monday, October 7, 2002
Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room
Sonny scrubbed his hands over his face and waited as Benny finished his phone call. It was nearly midnight. It was almost Tuesday.
And Sonny just…he needed to know that his sources had come through.
He needed to know that one goddamn thing would go right. That the people who were coming to the city today had arrived—that Nico’s men had moved positions.
That anything was going the way it supposed to.
Sonny just needed a sign that he hadn’t destroyed his partner, his best friend, his brother’s life for nothing.
Benny nodded, then placed the receiver back on the hook. He turned to Sonny, his expression grave. “Roscoe met with Nico at the pier tonight. And then Lenny picked the Miami arrivals up at the airport. We’re following them now, Boss. Something is going to break. The minute they make a move—”
“We need to give them a target.” Sonny picked up his half-empty tumbler and tossed the rest of the contents down his throat, the liquid scalding. “I need to give them a reason.”
“We got vests. We got things to protect me.” Sonny grimaced. “Call a meeting of the Families. We’ll hold it at the restaurant—”
“With less than twenty-four hours’ notice, Sonny?” Benny shook his head. “They’ll never go for it—”
“If Ruiz is in on it, he’ll jump at the chance to have me in the open. And once Ruiz agrees, everyone else will be too scared to turn him down.” He shrugged. “We’ll call Nico about the meeting. Invite him to talk about Las Vegas.”
Benny waited a moment. “Don’t put yourself in danger to prove something to anyone, Sonny. No one’s looking for any martyrs.”
“I promised Jason this would be over tomorrow. I promised Elizabeth.” Sonny looked at his adviser, his smile grim. “Don’t you think I’ve lied enough?”
Tuesday, October 8, 2002
Elizabeth & Gia’s Apartment: Living Room
The days passed slowly between the phone call on Thursday night and Tuesday. Jason didn’t call again, though Elizabeth kept the phone with her at all times. Today, it sat under the lamp next to her on the couch as she stood by the door with Bobbie, trying like hell to get rid of the kind-hearted nurse whose compassion was just too much.
She took the dish of lasagna from Bobbie with a tired smile. “You didn’t have to—”
“I wanted to make sure you were eating.” Bobbie touched her cheek. “You look tired. Thinner.” She sighed. “I’m glad you didn’t…let this hold you back from your studies, but don’t let them drown you either.”
“I’m just…using them as a distraction.” Elizabeth handed the dish to Gia who took it into the kitchen to preheat the oven. “Gia and I have really been killing ourselves with this semester. I want to graduate and get on with my life.” She hesitated. “Bobbie, about Kelly’s—”
Her landlord smiled and nodded. “It’s not your place. I never thought it would be.”
“I just—I needed it. You gave me a lifeline this year, Bobbie. And I don’t think I’ve told you what that meant to me. What it still means to me.”
“Same goes for me, Bobbie.” Gia stepped up to Elizabeth. “You didn’t much like me, but you gave us both a fresh start. I know we’re not paying market rate for the rent, but you gave us a place to start over.”
“The minute you stood up for Elizabeth, I changed my mind about you,” Bobbie said. “And I’ve never regretted it.” She sighed. “I just wish the world would leave you alone.” She looked at her watch. “I have to go in for the overnight shift. You girls staying in?”
“Taking the night off before midterms start next week,” Gia told her. “We’re gonna drink wine, eat lots of lasagna, and watch bad television. Distraction is the word of the day.”
“Trying anyway.” Elizabeth hugged Bobbie once more before she left.
When the door closed behind her, Elizabeth collapsed on the sofa and put her head in her hands. “I’m so scared, Gia.”
“Yeah. I get that.” Gia put the lasagna in the oven and came out to the living room, a bottle of wine and two glasses in her hands. “But this is Operation Distraction. So, let’s think about something else. What’s on the schedule tonight?”
“Oh.” Elizabeth reached for the TV Guide. “Well, we can watch the bad sitcoms on ABC. Or the bad sitcoms on FOX.”
“Oh, wait—Buffy’s on tonight. I haven’t been able to watch it this year, and it’s supposed to be the last season—” Elizabeth sighed, because just for a moment—she’d forgotten everything else. “You want to?”
“Sure. I figure it’ll cheer us up.” Gia sat down and poured the wine. “After all, your boyfriend isn’t trapped in a hell dimension.”
“No. But he might as well be for all the good it does me.” She pressed the button on the remote to change the channel and tried to put it away. “Gia—”
“You’re thinking about breaking it off with him when he comes back from the dead, aren’t you?” her friend said with a sigh. “I’m not an idiot. I can read between the lines.”
“I’m just…this isn’t the life I wanted.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “And this won’t be the last time I have to lie. You know that—” She paused. “I don’t know. I’m tired. And I’m doing something I hate because it’s what Jason needs. Is that love? He and Sonny…they made me go back.”
“I know, but it wasn’t Jason’s idea—”
“No. But he’s letting it happen. I know he said he had his reasons, and I believe that. But—” she sighed. “How is this different than Lucky? Because I’m in love with Jason? What about me? Don’t I matter?”
“I’ve lied for Jason before. This shouldn’t be different. But—” She sighed. “It just is. I can’t make it come out right in my head. I love him so much. Thinking he was actually dead…you’d think I’d be happier it was a lie—”
“Why?” Gia asked with an arched brow. “Death, at least you can understand that. You know the life Jason leads. The odds that he’ll die in his sleep from natural causes are minimal at best. You know this. Losing him sucked. And you were gonna grieve. But you would have got past it. One day.”
Elizabeth closed her eyes. “Gia—”
“But he’s not dead. And not only is he not dead, he got shot because of Carly. A woman you literally think is the worst human on the planet. A woman who, apparently, has made it her mission in life to destroy anything Jason gives a damn about. And then his best friend, who damn well should have known better, lied to you. And put you through hell.”
“I don’t need a history lesson—”
“The problem with you, Liz, is that you always think you’re supposed to have the answers. Sometimes there just aren’t any.” Gia flipped her hair over her shoulder and turned her attention to the episode.
Elizabeth sighed and watched as Willow walked out of the gate of an airport and couldn’t find her friends. “Wasn’t she evil at the end of last season?”
“You missed the finale. Xander saved the world,” Gia said as she lifted her wine to her lips. “He reminded her that he’s had her back since kindergarten, and that he’d love her even if she destroyed everything.”
Elizabeth eyed Gia skeptically. “Is that supposed to mean something?”
Gia hesitated. “You’re mad because he destroyed your world. Yeah, Sonny started it and did the actual lying, but Jason is the one who is letting it continue, and he did it because Sonny convinced him. And you’re thinking you should cut ties now before something like this happens again. You’re just…he’s not done destroying the world yet, Liz. Let them do what they’re going to do tonight, let him come home. Let the chips fall. Give him a chance to make it right.”
“Yeah. Yeah, okay. I just…I wish I knew what they were doing. Maybe it would be easier. But I guess that’s just something else I don’t get to know.”
No Name Restaurant: Front Entrance
It was just after eight when the limo pulled up in front of the entrance to the No Name which had served as the neutral meeting place for those in the East Coast syndicate for the last fifteen years. It was in Sonny’s territory mostly because the syndicate worked out of New England, the Canadian border in Port Charles was the most lucrative, and Miami hadn’t really complained.
This would be one of the first times that the Families would meet after some power plays over the last five years, with Sammy Tagliatti taking power in Philadelphia, Daniel Vega consolidating the greater part of Boston, and Anthony Zacchara expanding into Manhattan after the fall of the Gambinos.
And Hector Ruiz would be making one of his rare visits north with one of his sons. Sonny hadn’t learned which one, but somehow, he doubted it was the priest.
He stepped out of the limo and buttoned his overcoat. Behind him, Benny and Max also climbed out. Max closed the door and tapped the top of it to let the chauffeur know he could take the car to the parking lot.
Sonny gestured for Benny and Max to go ahead of him a few steps, to secure the entrance and check on the party inside. He turned back to scan the road before going into the restaurant—
He saw the car driving slowly—the window beginning to slide down. He ducked away, moving fast towards the valet booth that had been left empty for the evening, but before he could make it to safety, the night exploded with gunfire.
Pop! Pop! Pop!
Sonny gritted as lead dug into his shoulder, the metal burning its way through skin. Another in his leg.
But the gunfire didn’t stop—bullets kept slamming into the brick façade of the No Name—
And then everything went black.