The day Elizabeth found the mark on her thumb, she began to make plans. Moving two small boys and their entire world to upstate New York when the school year had barely begun was no small process.
She designed greeting cards and other small print illustrations, a job that could be easily relocated but this could not be the mad dash she’d made when Cameron was one years old, and Jake not yet born.
That day, she packed anything that couldn’t be replaced in the trunk of her battered Volvo, gotten on the highway and simply driven south. She’d lived in a few places over the years, all over southeastern New York state, and had moved into the city only two years earlier to be closer to her agent.
She’d worked any job that would put food on the table for the boys, from waitressing to store clerk—nothing was beneath her. Finding her dream job as an illustrator had been almost an accident—she had applied to a Craig’s List ad to illustrate someone’s self-published novel.
That job had led to others and had quickly become her main source of income. She could do that in Port Charles as easily as she did it in the city.
But her boys didn’t want to move—didn’t want to leave their school and friends without a good reason, so she’d told them she wanted a house where they could have their own rooms and a backyard. Maybe even a pool, Jake had slyly suggested.
So, the hunt to find a house she could afford with three bedrooms, a nice backyard—and across town from her old life. She had been able to gleam from Facebook that Anna Devane still lived in the old house on Charles Street where she had raised her daughter Robin and niece Nadine from childhood until college. Robin and Nadine worked at General Hospital, and from what Elizabeth could see, lived together in an apartment nearby.
Across town, Elizabeth found a nice home in the Queen’s Point neighborhood—a newer residential development, and even better Mercy Hospital was closer than General. Elizabeth could avoid her family until she was ready to face them.
By Halloween, Elizabeth had settled the boys into their home and schools. Cameron was a boisterous kid who made friends easily, Jake a bit quiet and slower to integrate, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Elizabeth couldn’t expect the kids to reconstruct their entire lives in less than a month.
Port Charles had grown in the years since she’d left. Already a mid-sized city, the downtown had grown more congested—there were taller buildings than she remembered—and her development was just one of five or six that had sprung up around the edges of the city.
Maybe…maybe she didn’t have to hurry to talk to her aunt and cousins.
And maybe she could put off looking up her ex-boyfriend and talking to him about what came next about Jake.
More than she was dreading the confrontation with her aunt—Elizabeth really didn’t want to see Jake’s father. She knew that it would bring back all the reasons she’d left—and the anger she still felt that no one in her family had believed her.
She knew from social media that Jason Morgan had married twice since they’d broken up, but both marriages had ended in divorce. His Facebook profile was set to private, and she could only see his business profile, but there had been pictures of Nadine and Robin at his weddings on Nadine’s profile.
He’d married for the first time less than a year after she’d left, just before she’d given birth to Jake and sent him the second of three letters, all of which had been unanswered.
Maybe she’d over reacted about what the mark meant, Elizabeth decided three weeks after they’d moved. She was sitting on her front porch waiting for the boys to return from school. They were going to start decorating for Halloween today, and this was one of Jake’s favorite holidays. He loved carving pumpkins and liked making a lot of their decorations. It would be nice to take them around a neighborhood rather than an apartment building.
Maybe the mark was a warning not to have any more children. Maybe the next child would be a girl, and the curse only applied to girls. She idly smoothed her finger over the pale pink mark.
Or maybe she was just fooling herself. Maybe every day of the last four years since Cameron had turned five had been borrowed time. Every day she waited to talk to Anna or Jason was another day she couldn’t get back.
Maybe her aunt knew what was going on—maybe there was another spell, another charm Elizabeth could cast. She knew now the desperation of the mothers who had gone before her—the devastating prospect of never seeing her children grow up.
She didn’t hear the tow truck come down the street—didn’t even see the truck pull into the driveway next door and a man of average height climb out, his dark blonde hair catching the last of the October sun.
A few houses away, closer to the corner, a yellow school bus pulled up, and Elizabeth got to her feet to go towards the gate.
As she stepped off the porch—as the man in the driveway next to her turned away from the car he was unhooking from his truck—
The way he said her name hadn’t changed. Not in more than seven years. The hairs on her arms lifted as a chill went down her spine.
She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and turned. “Jason.”
Jason Morgan’s hands fell from the truck, his clipboard at his side. “You—What—” He stopped speaking. Shook his head.
He was almost thirty-five now, Elizabeth remembered. She had just celebrated her twenty-ninth birthday, and Jason was about five years older than she was. She’d known him since she was a teenager—since she had met her mother’s family.
He’d come into her life as the boyfriend of her cousin’s best friend. One of Robin’s boyfriends had been a friend of his, and Elizabeth remembered the four of them at different holidays and parties she’d attended.
And then…one day, when she’d been twenty years old and struggling to support her infant son—she’d gone to work at the same garage where he was a mechanic.
It was ten years later, but Jason hadn’t changed much. He had filled out a bit, maybe—his shoulders a bit broader. He was more muscular; his face had some lines. But his hair was still worn short, clipped into spikes. His eyes still looked—
“I—” Elizabeth began, but the sounds of sneakers pounding against the sidewalk drew her attention as Jake and Cameron ran towards them, their bookbags bouncing against her shoulders.
“Mom! Mom!” Cameron panted. “I did it! I got an A! Now you gotta let me get a new game—”
“Cam—” Elizabeth started, conscious that Jason’s eyes had gone to her sons. At her youngest son with his sunny blond hair, sparkling blue eyes.
Her youngest son with his father’s shy smile and strong facial features.
“Mom, mom, did you get the pumpkins?” Jake demanded. “It’s my turn to pick the one I want first—”
“They’re inside—” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “You guys, I want you to meet someone I knew when I was younger.” She put a hand on Jake’s shoulder and turned him to face Jason.
Cameron frowned at her, but then looked at the man. “Oh, yeah, you used to live in Port Charles. I was born here, too. Did you know me?”
“I—” Jason cleared his throat, but no words fell from his lips.
“Jason, these are my sons, Cameron and Jake.” Elizabeth hands shook so she slid them into the pockets of her jeans. “Cam—he was only a year old when I moved—and Jake—”
“I’m seven,” Jake said. “I’m born in May.” He tilted his head up. “Where was I born?”
“Schenectady,” Elizabeth murmured. “Boys, this is Jason Morgan.”
“Oh, okay. Mom, can I order the game?” Cameron asked, having lost interest. “I knew I would ace the test, so I put it in my Amazon shopping cart this morning. Can I? Can I? You promised—”
“Yeah, yeah.” Elizabeth pressed a hand to her temple. “Take your brother with you. Jake, you can pick out your pumpkin, but don’t—”
“I know, I know. Don’t touch anything.” Jake flashed her a grin and then a shyer smile at Jason who continued to stare at him. “Nice to meet you. Bye!”
Both boys dashed inside, leaving Elizabet alone in her front yard with Jason.
“He—” Jason looked towards the house. “He’s seven. Born in May. You—you moved in November—before—”
Elizabeth huffed. “I wrote you when he was born, Jason. Don’t pretend you didn’t know exactly how old he is. This isn’t how I wanted—”
Jason held up a hand and she fell silent. “What do you mean…you wrote me?”
Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. “I wrote you three times. When I was six months pregnant. When Jake was born. And then when he turned a year old. I never bothered again.”
“How did you—” Jason hesitated, a shadow settling across his features. “How did you know he was mine? I mean…I can see it—but you wouldn’t have known that yet.”
Her heart twisted, and Elizabeth closed her eyes. She didn’t realize—not until this moment—that there was still a small piece of that had held out hope that she’d been wrong that last day.
That somehow, she’d misread the scene with Jason and Robin—that when Jason had looked at her, stone-faced, and asked for her side of her story—when she had felt the waves of disgust and anger all but drowning her senses—that she’d been wrong.
But he had believed Robin.
“You mean why did I bother writing you because as far as you and everyone else is concerned, I’m a complete whore who slept with my cousin’s boyfriend?” Elizabeth asked coolly.