Notes: Takes place in summer 2014, after Jake was returned to Elizabeth, while she was lying to Jason about who he was.
The room was cool, the air conditioner humming in the window. There was no movement in the room, no other sound save for Jason at her side, his breathing even and deep. She squeezed her eyes. Jake. She had to call him Jake, even in her own thoughts. She couldn’t slip, couldn’t chance a mistake.
“Is that the way you want to live your life?”
The voice was gentle, soothing. Familiar.
Elizabeth Webber’s eyes snapped again and she jackknifed into a sitting position. “Emily?”
The figure was dim at first—almost transparent. And then she was simply there. The best friend, the sister she’d lost nearly a decade ago.
“Emily?” Elizabeth repeated, her breath coming in short pants. This was a dream. It had to be. But Emily was standing in front of her, dressed in a simple white dress. Not the elaborate ballgown that had served as her death shroud, but one more suited to the hot August weather in upstate New York.
“It’s good to see you.” Emily Quartermaine clasped her hands in front her. Behind her, a small lamp on the dresser turned on, illuminating her friend’s long dark hair, the pale skin.
Elizabeth pushed aside the covers and took another look at the man still sleeping at her side. “This is a dream,” she murmured. “He would never sleep through this—”
“He was always a light sleeper,” Emily said wistfully. She touched the end of the bed, where her brother’s feet were tucked under the comforter. “If it helps to see this as a dream—”
“You’re not—” Elizabeth swallowed lightly, stood. “You’re not here. You can’t be.”
“All right,” Emily said easily. “Then I’m a dream. Why would you dream of me here? Now?”
Elizabeth turned back to the man sleeping in her bed. “Because of Jason. Because I’m lying and stealing him away from his life.”
“You’ve been doing that for months.” Emily tilted her head. “I’d hoped he was alive, you know. But I couldn’t be sure.”
Elizabeth blinked and looked back at her. “Wouldn’t you know? If this isn’t a dream, then—”
“Well, it’s not as though he would go to the same place as me.” Emily sighed, but she was smiling as she continued. “He’s a good man, but he’s not precisely what you would call innocent.”
Elizabeth accepted that, because what else was she supposed to do? “If this isn’t a dream, then why didn’t you come before?” Her voice tightened. “Why didn’t you tell me about Jake?”
“It doesn’t work like that,” Emily replied. She leaned against the dresser. “I can be comforting. I can show you truths you already know about yourself. But I can’t tell you what you don’t know.”
“That’s why you’re here now, isn’t it?” she snapped. “Because of Jake.”
“You tell me.” Emily met her eyes. “You said it yourself. You’re lying. You’re stealing him away. You know it’s wrong. You’ve done it anyway.”
“I can’t stop now,” she whispered. Her eyes burned. “I can’t. If I stop, he goes away. He won’t stay for me. He won’t stay for Jake.”
“He never did before. We’ve never been enough for anyone. For Lucky to stay away from drugs. For Jason to stay—” Elizabeth close her eyes. “I deserve this. I deserve these moments.”
“You deserve more,” Emily said softly. “But you’ve never believed that. You’d rather be the consolation prize in a contest no one else entered.”
“Emily—” Her throat closed. “I just—”
“The lie is eating you alive, Elizabeth. You’re not happy. You spend all your time worrying—” Her friend broke off with an irritated huff. “I could kill Nikolas for doing this to you—”
“No.” Elizabeth blinked, a bit disconcerted. Did ghosts get angry? “No, Nikolas wanted to help me—”
“He wanted to make himself feel better,” Emily snapped. “He knew for weeks. He could have told you when he found out. He could have told you about Hayden Barnes being a fake. He could have stopped you from giving Ric another chance. He waited, and then he told you when he must have known there would be no way you’d come forward.”
“No.” Elizabeth shook her head. “He didn’t—he risked ELQ—” But Emily wasn’t wrong. If Nikolas had told her after Jake’s brain surgery, it would have been different. She had been attracted to him, but not as far down that road as she’d been in May. He’d waited. Until she’d been devastated by another man she’d trusted.
“He put the decision into your hands knowing you wouldn’t risk losing Jason,” Emily murmured. “He gets to sleep at night, Elizabeth, because it’s not his problem anymore. It’s yours.”
“Telling the truth has never worked for me,” Elizabeth muttered. “I thought I’d try to take a page from Carly’s book—” She closed her eyes. “Which sounds insane now.”
“The truth always comes out,” Emily murmured. “You know that. A secret like this? You have to live with it every second, every minute, every hour—”
“If I tell him the truth, I’ll lose him—”
“You don’t have him now,” Emily said gently. “And you know it.” She reached out, and for just a moment—Elizabeth felt a cool touch on her forearm. And then she was gone.
Elizabeth opened her eyes, the sunlight streaming through the windows. She could hear Jake—Jason. She could Jason stirring next to her.
She sat up, and twisted to look at him. He smiled at her, his eyes blurred from sleep. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “I have something to tell you.”