I wanna love you, forever I do
I wanna spend all of my days with you
I’ll carry your burdens and be the wind at your back
I wanna spend my forever – forever like that
– Forever Like That, Ben Rector
Friday, August 12, 2005
“This,” Bobbie said to Audrey as the first guests trickled into her daughter’s club, “is going to be a good night.”
Audrey raised a brow at her old friend. “What gives you that impression?” she asked dryly. She kept one eye on Carly behind the bar—she didn’t trust that harpy as far as she could throw her. She had been relatively absent during the party planning, but there was no way Audrey was going to let her ruin Elizabeth’s night.
Her granddaughter stood across the room with her fiancé, their children, Steven, Emily, and Nikolas. She watched as Elizabeth wiggled her fingers in Emily’s direction, showing off the gorgeous diamond ring Jason had given her shortly after proposing.
No matter that all the people in that group had seen the ring a dozen times, Elizabeth’s smile was still as radiant as that night they had gathered in Audrey’s home to announce the news.
To see Elizabeth happy like that? It was worth any sacrifice.
“Audrey?” Bobbie put a hand on her arm. “You look a little pale.”
“I’m fine, Bobbie.” Audrey patted Bobbie’s hand. “I just…need to eat. It was a busy day finalizing everything—oh, the Quartermaines have arrived. I should run interference before they reach the children.”
Elizabeth felt Jason tense at her side, and immediately her eyes went to the entrance. Sure enough, the Quartermaine party had arrived. While Monica was smiling brightly, Edward and Alan looked uncomfortable, Ned headed straight for the bar, and Dillon shuffled in with his usual crowd—the Jones’ girls and Lucas.
“It’ll be fine.” She squeezed his arm, before handing Cameron to Emily. “Let’s go over, say hello. Get it over with.”
“I’m not going to get in an argument,” Jason told her as she steered him towards his family.
“No, I know, but you’ll feel better if they’re not circling you all night, planning their attack.”
Elizabeth stopped in front of Monica, Alan, and Edward. “I’m so glad you guys could make it!”
“Thank you for inviting us.” Monica embraced Elizabeth lightly. She lifted her arms halfway to Jason, but was already dropping them when he leaned forward to gently hug her.
“It’s not a party without the Quartermaines,” Elizabeth said. She accepted Alan, then Edward’s kiss on the cheek. “Have you seen the ring Jason gave me?”
She wiggled her hand in front of the Quartermaine men, as they obediently oohed and aahed over it.
“Ah, Jason.” Edward coughed, then cleared his throat. “I don’t know if you were made aware of it at the time—you didn’t…you weren’t at the reading of Lila’s will.”
Jason shook his head. “No, I—I couldn’t.”
“Well…” Edward paused. “She left you her wedding ring.” He reached into his pocket and drew out a velvet box. “I think she would…she would be happy to see it on Elizabeth’s finger.”
Elizabeth’s throat tickled as Jason accepted the box and flipped it open. The ring wasn’t overly extravagant—a simple gold ring with a beautiful inset of diamonds and sapphires.
“Ah, it was a family ring.” Edward coughed again. “My, ah, grandmother left it to me in her will for my wife.”
“It’s lovely,” Elizabeth said. “I remember admiring it on Lila often.” She looked at Jason. “It would be like having her with us, Jason.”
“Yeah.” Jason cleared his throat and glanced at his grandfather. “Thank you. I’ll…of course we’ll use it.”
“Good.” Edward nodded. “Good. I, ah, Alan, perhaps we should inspect the bar. Give Jason a moment with his—with, ah, Monica.”
“Of course.” Alan embraced Elizabeth once more with another kiss to her cheek. “Welcome to the family, Elizabeth.”
“That didn’t go so badly,” Monica remarked as the two men ambled towards the bar, joining a few doctors Emily had invited from the hospital. “I would have mentioned Lila’s will, Jason, but your—Edward wanted to do it. He said it was something Lila would have wanted.”
“It’s fine.” Jason closed the box and slid into his suit jacket. “It’s, ah, a trial run, right? For the wedding? To make sure we can all be in the same room.”
Monica smiled. “Now, where are my grandchildren?”
“I have a few candidates in mind for Steven.” Emily took a seat with Nikolas, Leyla, and Lucky. “But I think I may have reached too high with this one.”
Lucky snorted. “Trust you to find Steven Webber more challenging than Jason Morgan.”
Leyla rolled her eyes. “Of course he is. Steven’s not interested in anyone. Anyone with eyes saw this coming at the Christmas party.” She flicked his sleeve. “Men. Blind as bats.”
“Who are your maybes?” Nikolas asked, ignoring his brother and his girlfriend. The quicker he got Emily through this matchmaking stage, the more peace he’d have.
“Well, I figured it should be someone who shares his dedication to his career, who’d understand the hours, but not necessarily someone who works with him,” Emily said. “So that eliminated the nursing staff. That really threw me for a while.”
“As it would,” Lucky said with mock somberness. She lobbed an olive pit at him.
“But I am nothing if not adaptable,” Emily declared. “Did you guys know Gia Campbell moved back over the summer? She works with Lansing in the DA’s office.”
“Oh, she finished her law degree?” Nikolas asked.
“You don’t like her,” Lucky said.
“I hate you all.” Emily sipped her ice water. “I don’t know if she’s changed. But we’re not the same kids we were that summer, are we?” She blinked. “I mean, I feel like a completely different person.”
“What summer?” Leyla pushed.
“Fair enough,” Lucky replied. “Is she your best candidate?”
“Well, no.” Emily furrowed her brow. “I was talking to Maxie at Kelly’s, and Robin Scorpio is thinking of moving home. But I think she’d be good with my resident—”
“Dr. Drake?” Leyla wrinkled her nose. “If you think Steven would be difficult, I can assure you Patrick Drake would be nigh on impossible.”
“Oh, hell.” Nikolas put a hand to his forehead. “No. Don’t—don’t do that. Don’t challenge her. She thinks this is her calling in life.”
Emily flicked his shoulder. “I make people happy, damn it.”
This was a good night. Sonny posed for a picture with the engaged couple, even smiled as he watched them pose for photos with Cam and Evie. Evie looked gorgeous in her bright yellow dress. Her hair was starting to come in, thick and dark.
She looked so much like her mother.
This year had been difficult, and not being with his daughter had twisted him up inside, but he knew she was safe with Jason and Elizabeth. He wasn’t ready to have custody yet—a few more months of stability on his meds would put him in a better position.
And of course, deciding what to do with Carly.
He sipped his martini and eyed his wife as she spoke with her mother by the bar. The last month of clearly thinking—of talking about some of his issues with the therapist on Saturdays—He knew he had to get Carly out of his life.
Carly was his trigger. When she was around, he remembered the worst of the things he’d done. Betraying Jason. Walking away from Sam, away from his daughter.
Carly was his poison, but he wasn’t ready to deal with it yet.
He had to be on his game, ready to deal with whatever she’d throw at him in divorce court. Ready to figure out a way for their boys to come out of this unscathed.
“Sonny!” Elizabeth approached him with a bright smile. The tug of envy, the wish that Jason’s good fortune was his own—he still felt that, but it no longer ate at him.
It gave him something to look for when he was ready to try again.
“Elizabeth.” He kissed her cheek. “You look fantastic as always. The belle of the ball.” He eyed Jason who stood with his sister and…Alan? “Is that Jason conversing with Quartermaine sans bloodshed?”
“I know, it is pretty weird, but he’s trying for me.” Elizabeth joined him at his table. “We haven’t really had a chance to talk the last few weeks, with everything being so busy.” She chewed her bottom lip. “You look—you look good.”
“I feel good,” he told honestly. “Not quite my old self, but for the first time in a long time, it doesn’t feel like that’s such a far off goal.” He tilted his head. “Jason said you were wrapped up in a partnership agreement with a gallery in New York.”
“Oh, yeah.” She wrinkled her nose. “I had to hire a business manager and a lawyer. God. They’re off negotiating with the Jeromes on my behalf.” Elizabeth sipped her cocktail. “Jason said Ava’s background check came back clean, so at least that’s one less thing to worry about, right?”
“Yeah, yeah, the name Jerome is an old one but still packs a bit of power.” Sonny squinted. “Long gone by the time I moved up from Bensonhurst, but certainly not forgotten. I’ll look forward to your opening since I wasn’t able to go to the first one—”
“I’m having a show at the Harris in New York in December,” she told him. She rolled her eyes. “My agent, Luther? Keeps talking about my new stuff showing my emergence from darkness and isolation.” She waved her hand. “Whatever. His hype will sell it, and I’ll have more capital to invest in the new place up here.”
“Well, isn’t this cozy?”
Carly’s voice dripped with venom as she sidled up to their table, one hand on the back of Sonny’s chair. “Shouldn’t you be drooling over Jason?”
“No,” Elizabeth said calmly. “He’s with his father and sister. Sonny and I are catching up.” She pursed her lips. “The club is wonderful, Carly. You’ve done a great job with it.”
“Like I give a crap what you think.”
“Carly,” Sonny said, his amusement and good humor vanished. “I don’t know what you’re doing right now, but I don’t appreciate it. You can either sit down and chat with us or you can go away.”
“You’d like that wouldn’t you?” his wife snapped. “Is she the reason you’re so distant? You and Jason trading women again?”
Sonny blinked at her, but Elizabeth smirked. “Why? You want another turn with Jason?”
“I’m not going to let you ruin my marriage, you little—”
Sonny rose to his feet and took Carly’s arm in his. “Stop this. Now. I don’t know what the hell you think you’re pulling, but I’m not having it. If you didn’t want to host their engagement party, then you should have told Audrey no. If you can’t behave yourself, then go home. You’re not ruining this.”
“She couldn’t even if she wanted to.” Elizabeth gracefully stood, her drink in her hand. “That’s why she’s angry, Sonny. She’s used to being able to chase away the women in Jason’s life, but you’ve never been able to get rid of me.”
“I did before, and I’ll do it again.” Carly spat. “It’s all your fault, you bitch. If it weren’t for you, Jason would remember what he owes Sonny—”
Sonny saw that Jason was looking at them now, starting to cross the room. Fuck. “Carly, Jason owes me nothing. Let’s go now—”
“Is everything okay?” Jason slid a hand around Elizabeth’s waist. “Carly?”
“I’d watch your little princess, Jase. She’s already batting her eyelashes at my husband.” Carly wrenched her arm from Sonny’s grasp. “Maybe she’ll get tired of you and want to move up the food chain—”
“I think you’re confusing me with you, Carly.” Elizabeth tossed her hair over her shoulder. “I’m not eighteen anymore. I’m not confused, I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I have what I want. I have the life I want. I just wish you knew what it was like to be satisfied.” She looked up at Jason. “We’re fine, Jason. It’s nothing I can’t handle.”
“You think you’ve won something?” Carly stepped towards Elizabeth. “You think you’ve beaten me? Little girl, you don’t even know what I’m capable of.”
“That’s enough—” Sonny felt the heat on the back of his neck as more and more of the party guests were looking at him. “Lower your voice, Carly.”
“I know you’re having an affair,” Carly snarled. “This is the way you always act when you’re involved with another woman. With Alexis. Sam. You think I don’t know it? You’re screwing someone else and I swear to God, if I find out it’s her—”
“Are you insane?” Sonny hissed. He took her arm and roughly steered her towards the back. “That’s it.”
Jason watched as Sonny muscled his wife away, through a door behind the bar, then looked back at Elizabeth who seemed oddly unruffled. “Elizabeth—”
“She can’t even see he’s got one foot out the door and she’s shoving him the rest of the way.” Elizabeth sighed. “God. Jason, if Sonny continues to get better, we’ve got to get him away from her. It’s the only way.”
They started back across the room, towards his sister and Alan, now joined by another doctor from the hospital. “I know. You and Sonny looked okay before.”
“Yeah, we were talking about the gallery, and how Ava’s background check cleared her.” Elizabeth briefly leaned her head against his shoulder. “It was really nice, Jason. Whatever meds he’s on? They’re really working.”
“He said they’ll still need a few months to make sure the dosage is right, but it’s good so far.” He kissed the top of her head. “You were the turning point, Elizabeth. You gave him something to hope for.”
“Yeah, now I just need to push Carly over a cliff and we’ll all be good.”
“Okay. Gram.” Steven took a seat across from his grandmother once Monica and Bobbie moved away to talk to Emily and Nikolas. “It’s her engagement party. Her life is solid. How much longer are we going to pretend you’re not sick?”
Audrey pursed her lips, then sipped her water. “Steven, I’m not a child—”
“No, but you’re my grandmother and one of the most important people in the world to Elizabeth and me. So when I tell you that I’m not comfortable keeping this from her for much longer, I mean it.” Steven leaned forward. “Gram. She loves you. Don’t make this harder on her in the long run—”
“Monica and I were discussing it—” Audrey was quiet for a moment. “The medication—it’s kept me stable for months, and there’s no reason to think my condition won’t remain so for longer. But I had a test last week that led us to believe that perhaps…”
“Gram.” Fear licked at Steven’s throat. “Gram, what’s going on?”
“Eventually, with this type of problem, medication really only staves off the inevitable. There’s either an operation to replace the valve or…” Audrey lifted a shoulder. “And I do not want Elizabeth blindsided if that proves to be the case.”
“And this test,” Steven prompted. “What did it lead you to believe?”
“That my medication is beginning to fail.” Audrey waited a moment. “Steven, I’m not going to have the surgery. I’m—I’m in my eighties. The recovery time, if I should even survive the surgery—”
Steven nearly swore but caught the word as it slid over his tongue. “Gram. Jesus. I know the risks, but isn’t it worth it? A new valve could give you another decade—Elizabeth is getting married. You should be there—”
“I’ve considered all of that and the thought of not—” Audrey closed her eyes. “The thought of not being there, Steven, for you. For Elizabeth. Even for Sarah. And my Tommy. It breaks my heart, and I know all the reasons I should do it, but I keep thinking of Steve—” She closed her eyes. “Collapsing in his office—”
“This looks serious.” Elizabeth smiled as she took a seat at their table. “This is supposed to be a party—”
“We were just discussing a patient,” Audrey said with a smile, but Steven shook his head.
“That’s it, Gram. I’m not doing this. Bits, Gram is sick.”
“Steven—” Audrey shook her head sharply. “No, not tonight—”
“Steven, what’s going on?” Elizabeth demanded. “Gram?”
His little sister was strong, Steven knew. And the time for protecting her was over.
Sonny was subdued when he returned from the back, a glass of water in his hand. He joined Jason, standing alone at the bar. “I had Max take her home. I’m sorry about that.”
“Elizabeth was more worried for you.” Jason glanced at him. “Carly—she’s Carly. We’ll deal with it. When you’re ready, when you feel in control, we’ll take care of Carly.”
“I’m going to divorce her,” Sonny said, and the words—they felt freeing. God. It felt good. “I don’t know if I ever loved her, Jase. I think—I think maybe I convinced myself if I was going to betray you, it should count. It should matter—”
“That stopped mattering to me a long time ago, Sonny.” Jason frowned a bit, and Sonny followed his gaze, watching Elizabeth at a table with her brother and grandmother. “It hurt, but it—it changed things for me. I loved Michael so much, I think I talked myself into loving Carly. But it wasn’t real.”
And it went without saying, though Jason would probably never admit it, that he’d already been half in love with Elizabeth at that point. “Anyway. I just—I have to make sure I can deal with the pressure a divorce from Carly would take. I don’t know why she’d think there was anything between Elizabeth and I—”
“You didn’t tell her you were seeing a doctor. And you seem happier. Carly’s basic. She thinks if she’s not the reason for the change, another woman must be.” Jason sipped his beer. “And when Carly thinks she’s being replaced, that’s probably the most dangerous time to be around her. She thought Bobbie replaced her with Lucas, thought Robin replaced her as Michael’s mother, thought I was replacing her with Elizabeth—” He shook his head. “It is what it is, Sonny. She sees you smiling with Elizabeth like she saw me dancing with her. It’s enough for her. She doesn’t need any actual evidence.”
And wasn’t that Carly wrapped up in a fucking bow? “Well.” Sonny sipped his water. “What we talked about before, Jase, about Evie—”
“Just…” Sonny lifted a hand. “I want to get to know her, but it’s not enough that I’m doing better. If you were to relinquish guardianship, I’d want it to be permanent. So it’s tabled until my meds are certain, until Carly’s not a factor. I’m doing right by Evie this way. Sam didn’t want her daughter around Carly, didn’t want Evie to feel less than Michael or Morgan. I can honor that. So as far as I’m concerned, the situation stands for now.”
Sonny started to say something else, but he saw Elizabeth’s face crumple at the same time Jason did. And they both started across the room.
“I really didn’t want to do this tonight,” Audrey said, distressed. “Elizabeth, my darling—”
“Why won’t you have the surgery?” Elizabeth demanded. She looked to her brother. “Steven. Tell her. She has to be here. I’m getting married—”
“There’s no reason to assume that I won’t be there,” Audrey said. “I’m going in this week for more tests—”
“But you just said—” Elizabeth pressed her lips together as she saw Jason and Sonny approaching, concerned etched into their features. “We’ll—we’ll talk about this tomorrow, okay? I can’t…I can’t right now.”
She rose to her feet and closed the distance between them, going right into Jason’s arms. “My grandmother’s sick,” she said into his shirt.
Jason’s arms closed around her. “Elizabeth—”
“I’ll leave you two,” Sonny said. But he touched her shoulder. “Let me know if I can do anything.”
“Let’s sit down,” Jason told her, maneuvering towards the side of the room. “What happened?”
“My grandmother—she has mitral stenosis, which I don’t know anything about except she needs heart valve replacement surgery—” Elizabeth pressed a hand to her eyes. “And she just told me she’s not going to have it.”
Which meant she would let herself fade away. Just when Elizabeth’s life was coming together, when she was in reach of everything she wanted—how was she supposed to face losing the only member of her family that had stood behind her? For better or worse, Audrey had always been there.
And now maybe she wouldn’t?
“Well,” Jason said after a moment. “It’s…it’s an invasive and difficult surgery. The recovery time, even for someone young and healthy—”
“Don’t—” Elizabeth stopped and took a deep breath. God, Jason’s strange little medical memories really picked inopportune times to show up. “I know all the reasons why it’s a risk but she could beat the odds and live another ten years—”
“Or she could die on the table.” Jason slid his hand through her hair. “And I bet that’s what she’s thinking about.”
“It’s just…” she shook her head. “It’s not fair, Jason. She has to go in for tests with Monica this week, to determine if the medication is starting to fail. And if the meds aren’t working—it’s just a matter of…” Her throat closed. “God. Oh, God. I can’t think about it.”
“Do you want to go home? We can leave,” Jason offered. “We’ll go get my bike and we’ll take a ride. So you won’t have to think.”
“God.” Tears slid down her cheeks. “God. I shouldn’t have asked what was wrong. This night—it was so perfect. We were so happy and you were getting along with your family—and Sonny was good. And I had everything. I should have known it wouldn’t stay perfect for long.”
Jason pulled her to her feet. “Come on, we’ll go out the back way.”
“I should say goodbye—” Elizabeth’s half-hearted protest was lost as her fiancé led her through the back offices into the alley. “Jason—”
“The Towers are a block away, we can be in the garage in ten minutes.” Jason eyed her dress, which stopped several inches above her knees. “Your dress is short enough, we don’t even have to change.”
And because she wanted to feel the wind rushing past her so fast, the world screaming past her in a mirage of colors—because she wanted to go so fast her brain would shut down, she closed her mouth and followed him.