Chapter Three

September 2009

Zacchara Estate: Conservatory

The strains of the piano died away as Johnny heard footsteps in the hallway outside the room. A moment later, the heavy door opened and he was surprised by the hesitant blonde woman who entered. “Nadine.” He stood.

“Um, hi.” She wiped her hands nervously on her khaki slacks. “Your, ah, butler just told me to come back. I guess I don’t look very threatening.”

“No, I guess you don’t.” He crossed the room to her. “What brings you to Crimson Pointe? Not exactly in the neighborhood, is it?”

“Um, no.” She smiled weakly. “Look, I’m only here to…what I mean to say is that I’m only here because it’s the right thing, not because I expect anything, okay?”

Johnny narrowed his eyes. “Nadine, it almost sounds like…”

“Yeah, it’s like a speech from all those bad movies. But I really mean it; I don’t want anything from you that you don’t want to give, okay?”  Nadine told him. “I’m pregnant and I swear it’s yours.”

“I don’t…” Johnny paused and shook his head, a little out of himself. “I have to say, I don’t really doubt that. I can’t think of any woman who would pass off a kid as mine unless there wasn’t any choice.”

“Johnny…” Nadine chewed her bottom lip. “I’m okay if you want to get a paternity test. We don’t know anything about each other—” At his disbelieving look, she clarified, “anything other than what people gossip about—”

“It’s a bit more than gossip.” Johnny moved away, restlessly running his fingers along his piano. “I was on trial for murder last year; I don’t think you missed those headlines.”

“No, but I also didn’t miss the acquittal notice,” Nadine said. “C’mon, Sonny Corinthos went after you with a gun. It was you or him. There’s a reason we have a self-defense law on the books, you know.”

“Regardless, I’d understand if you didn’t want me to have anything to do with…” he gestured towards her absently.  “The baby.”

“I don’t care what anyone else thinks.” She tilted her head towards him. “Do you really think you’ve got the market cornered on family drama? My sister killed patients at General Hospital. She’s been in a coma for two years and she’s probably never going to wake up. You think people don’t look at me and think maybe I’m just as crazy as she was?”

“I guess you might understand a little,” he allowed. “But one sister is different than a legacy of blood and violence.”

“Does it have to be your legacy?” Nadine asked. “I mean, if you don’t want to be in this baby’s life, I’ll understand. But don’t say no because of what your name is.” When he said nothing, she closed the distance between them and took his hand in hers. “I know this isn’t exactly planned, but it could be a good thing, right? Maybe we’ve both been wrapped up in all the bad stuff in our past but this could be a chance to change that.”

“Do you really want me to be a father to this baby?” Johnny asked. “You’d be stuck with me for the rest of your life.”

Nadine smiled hesitantly. “I can think of worse people to be stuck with.”

He twisted his hand around until hers was engulfed in his much larger one. “Then I think we can make this work.”

June 2024

Morgan Home: Living Room

Cameron Morgan dropped his duffel bag by the front door and allowed his father to enfold him in a bear hug. “Hey, Dad.”

“Good to have you home,” Jason pulled back. “Was the drive okay? You and Morgan weren’t too tired?”

“Nope, we made really good time.” Cameron jerked a thumb towards the door. “I’ve got the rest of my stuff in the car. Do you think I can con Jake into getting it for me?”

“Always a possibility,” Jason replied. “Listen, Cam, I need you to stick close to home tonight. Carly and Jax are bringing Cecily and Morgan over and I want to sit down and talk to you guys about a few things.”

Cameron frowned. “Anything wrong?”

“No, no,” Jason shook his head.  “Not really. Just some things we should have discussed a long time ago.”

“Sure,” Cameron agreed. “I’m going to unload my car and meet Morgan at Kelly’s for lunch. He’s gonna catch up with CeCe, Kristina and Molly there so I said I’d stop by. Is that all right?”

“Sure.” Jason watched his oldest son go back out the front door and disappear into the garage. Cameron was not his biological son but when he and Elizabeth had married, he’d immediately suggested adopting the toddler and giving Cam his name. After Elizabeth had….vanished, there had been a scuffle as others thought Cameron should be with other people – someone who was a blood relative. Elizabeth’s grandmother had still been alive and Lucky Spencer and his sister Lulu had campaigned for Audrey to raise Cameron instead.

Jason hadn’t helped matters by disappearing for a year to search for his wife, but he’d left all three kids in Carly’s custody with paperwork drawn up by Diane. Carly had fought all the battles to keep the kids together and by the time Jason had returned from his travels empty-handed, custody of Cameron had been decided swiftly by Audrey’s death in early 2011. With no other blood relative stepping forward, Lucky had been forced to abandon his efforts.

“Was that Cam?” Juliet demanded, halfway down the steps. “Is he home?”

“He’s in the garage,” Jason hesitated. He and Juliet hadn’t exchanged many words since the scene in her bedroom the week before. “Juliet, I know we haven’t seen eye to eye these last few days, but—”

“No, it’s okay,” Juliet replied. She came down the rest of the stairs and stood in front of her father. “I know talking about…my mother…is painful for you,” she said. “I’m sorry I hurt you.”

“It’s okay.” He put an arm around her shoulder and drew her in for a hug. “You have questions about your mom that are understandable and I should have answered them a long time ago.”

“Are you going to now?” Juliet asked hopefully.

“Tonight,” Jason said. “Aunt Carly and Uncle Jax are bringing over the things I had stored in their basement and we’re going to go through them.” He paused. “Your mom should never have been hidden away in boxes and in basements. It was just…” he shook his head. “It was the only way I could think to deal with everything.”

“It’s okay, Dad. I mean, in a way I’m glad you loved Mom so much that it hurt to look at her,” Juliet admitted. “I look at Amalia’s parents and they can’t stand each other.”

“There are reasons Amalia doesn’t understand for what happened between her parents,” Jason said.

Juliet narrowed her eyes. “Does that mean you know why they divorced?  Because you know, it would help if she knew—”

“That’s between Johnny and Nadine Zacchara and trust me, it has nothing to do with you or Amalia.”

“Adults always think that,” Juliet sighed, exasperated.

Kelly’s: Courtyard

Jake dropped into the seat across from the despondent Amalia, who had barely touched her soda or plate of fries. “You look like someone kicked your puppy.”

“The first time I’m allowed to see the light of day in a week and your sister tells me that she’s busy.” Amalia huffed. “It’s ridiculous. I need to branch out. I totally needed her academic skills today and she abandoned me.”

“The nerve of Jules having something to do that doesn’t revolve around you.”

She threw a fry at him. “Haha.” She dug something out of her purse and shoved it at him. “Look at what I managed to find all by myself.”

Jake glanced down at the photocopy of a newspaper clipping. “It’s a picture of your parents and their engagement announcement.”

“No, look at the picture.” She leaned over the table and pointed to it. “Do you see that? He’s got an arm around her. They’re smiling.”

“So?” Jake shrugged.

“They look happy.” Amalia sat back. “And it hit me that this is the first picture I’ve ever seen of my parents together. I don’t even have any of them where they’re mad or not smiling. It sucks. And it proves that my parents liked each other at some point, even after he found out she was knocked up so maybe he did want me a little.”

Jake frowned. “What makes you think he didn’t want you?”

“I overheard them yelling at each other last week, the night I ran out on him. My mom brought me home and Dad was waiting. He was freaking out on her and they really went at it. He blamed her for getting pregnant, because she was supposed to be on birth control. And then she accused him of sleeping with Lulu Spencer when they were married.”

“Look, people say things when they’re pissed off. They don’t always mean them,” Jake said.

“True,” Amalia allowed. “But you don’t just say crazy shit, you know? Whether you mean them or not, if you say them, it means the thought had to be in your head even if it didn’t hold a lot of truth. So maybe my dad does regret having me because I didn’t turn out the way he wanted me to. And maybe my dad did cheat on my mom. It would explain why they’re happy one second and at each other’s throats the next.” She shrugged.

“If your dad made a mistake, you don’t think your mom was capable of loving him enough to forgive him?”

“That’s the thing, I don’t know if they ever loved one another. Maybe they were only happy until I was born.” She sighed. “It’s just…you know how you have all these questions about your mom and what she was like and why she’s not around anymore?”

“Yeah,” Jake nodded. “So?”

“So…I have all those questions, too. I think we all deserve the answers.”

“Well, my dad’s going to have some huge family meeting tonight to talk about Mom so maybe you should start asking your mom. Show her the picture.”

“I guess it’s worth a try.” Amalia rested her chin on her hand. “Thanks. You’re getting pretty good at cheering me up. Trying to dethrone Jules from best friend status?”

“Li, I doubt we’d make very good best friends,” Jake said honestly. Best friends rarely wanted to do the things he thought he might want to do to Amalia. If only she were a little older. Another year, two at the max and he could seriously consider ignoring the three years between them. Sixteen and nineteen was much better than seventeen and fourteen.

Morgan Home: Back Porch

Jasper Jacks set the last suitcase by the sofa and wiped his hands together. “That’s the last of it.”

“Thanks,” Jason answered, doing his best to avoid looking at the boxes strewn across the coffee table that he knew held photographs and personal effects. “I thought Juliet might want to go through the clothes. I doubt the boys would be interested.”

“Boys today,” Jax sighed, thinking of the fraternity prank Morgan had been caught pulling in someone’s bra and skirt. “You just never know with them.” He hesitated and glanced back through the open door into the kitchen where his wife was arranging some small finger foods with Cecily and Juliet. “For the record, Jason, I think it’s good that you’re doing this tonight.”

“I shouldn’t have left it so long,” the other man admitted, “but I guess doing it this way meant to me that she was really…” Jason closed his eyes.

After nearly two decades of calling this man and his children family, Jax had gone from a grudging respect to a reluctant affection. Jason Morgan had become a closer brother than his own and he was glad that he’d been able to reach that point because his life with Carly became much easier once Jax openly accepted her best friend. “We all want to believe that she could come home tomorrow,” Jax said quietly. “And with the way things happen sometimes in this town, no one blames you for holding out hope. But there comes a time when maybe doing so hurts more than accepting what’s real.”

There was some rustling outside and the door from the garage to the backyard opened. Cameron emerged, followed by his best friend and college roommate, Morgan Corinthos. Jake was behind them.

“We’re here,” Jake said, shoving his hands into his khaki shorts. “Let’s get this over with.”

Jason bristled but before he could say anything, Cameron socked his little brother in the shoulder. “Show a little respect, asshole,” he said. “You and Dad can have this little war all you want but this is about Mom and Jules doesn’t need this.”

“It’s always about what Jules needs,” Jake muttered, climbing the back stairs and flopping down on one of the chairs. “Whatever.”

“Hey, you guys,” Carly said, emerging from the kitchen, a tray of drinks in her hands. The girls followed each with a bowl of either chips or pretzels. “It’s so nice to have you and Morgan home, Cam. The houses always seem so empty without you.”

“I’m supremely happy to have you home,” Cecily remarked. She sat primly on the edge of the second sofa and took one of the iced teas her mother had. “Maybe now Mom and Dad can freak out on someone else for a change.”

“I doubt that, CeCe,” Morgan smirked. “I never gave them an ounce of the trouble you have.”

“And I thank you for it every day,” Jax said dryly, sitting next to his daughter. “We’ll let up, Cecily, when you prove we can trust you.”

“Then I guess you’re going to be a prison warden for a few more years.”

Jason saw his daughter eyeing the things on the table and decided that she’d waited long enough. He gestured for everyone else to sit down and then sat between Juliet and Cam on the first sofa. “Um, I guess you guys figured out why we’re here.”

“Because someone’s finally living in reality?” Jake muttered.

“Jake,” Juliet hissed. “Stop it.”

“We never really talked about what happened back then,” Jason continued, “but I know you all have a pretty good idea from asking around town. Your mom left for work one morning and no one…” he stopped and had to take a deep breath. “No one saw her again. We never found her car, there was never any activity on her credit cards or her bank accounts.”

“She just vanished,” Carly said, taking up part of the story to spare Jason some of the brunt. “Your mom had a lot of friends in this town and even those who weren’t that fond of her joined in on the search. We had search parties in the woods and we didn’t give that up until almost a year later.”

“No one even thought they saw her?” Juliet asked quietly.

“No, no, not even a pretend sighting,” Jason answered. “I thought, we all thought, that it was an aftereffect of Michael and Sonny, or…” he stopped because the kids deserved to know what might have happened to their mother but he didn’t want to expose them to his business. “Or maybe they thought I was weak because Johnny Zacchara was still alive.”

“After Michael died,” Carly said, “Sonny lost it. He went insane with grief, he stopped taking the medication that had balanced him. No one could talk him out of going after Johnny. Not his girlfriend, not me and not Jason. He went to Johnny’s house, pulled a gun. Johnny pulled his own. Sonny shot him and Johnny shot back.”

“So it really was self-defense,” Cecily said. She shrugged when her mom looked at her. “People always wondered if maybe he’d just gotten off because of his money.”

“No, it was self-defense,” Carly confirmed. She looked at Morgan who was silent. “Your dad was a good man who just lived life the wrong way.”

“Dad still lives his life that way,” Jake said bitterly. “He lived his life that way after Sonny died and that’s why Mom’s gone.”

“Jake,” Cam started to stand but Jason pulled him down.

“He’s got the right to say it. She was his mother and he thinks she’s dead,” Jason said. “I don’t know if she is—”

“For God’s sake, she has to be dead!” Jake shot to his feet. “She’s either dead or a bitch for walking out and not looking back—”

Even Jason couldn’t hold Cameron back. The lanky young man shot to his feet and hurled himself at his brother. The two grappled and fell back, tipping over Jake’s chair. Jax and Jason both lunged towards the two boys and Morgan yanked at the back of Cam’s shirt.

“Stop it, stop it!” Juliet shrieked. Carly hovered just behind the brawl, wringing her hands.

Cecily sipped her drink, chewed on a pretzel and sent Mal a text message saying she didn’t know what time she’d be out of here.

Finally, Jax held Jake by the shoulders and Jason had Cameron. “You’re such a little bastard!” Cameron shouted. “You don’t know a damn thing about Mom and you’re just pissed off at Dad. It doesn’t give you a reason to say shit like that! She was the best!”

“Well, how the hell would I know?” Jake retorted, wiping at his bloody nose. “I was three years old! I barely even know what she looks like because he wouldn’t tell us!”

“Just stop it!” Juliet said, shoving her way between her brothers. “If you two just stop trying to kill each other, maybe Dad will tell us what we want to know!”

“I’m okay,” Cameron told his father. “I won’t beat the shit out of him. Not yet, anyway.”

Jax and Jason released the boys and Jax reached over to tip the chair back into its correct position.

“I don’t think for one minute your mother walked out of this house that morning intending to leave you three. Even if she hated me, she would have been here for you kids,” Jason bit out. “You have no idea what your mother would put herself through to keep you all safe. This life, the way it was back then…your mother lied to me about who your father was,” he told Jake.

“I know that,” Jake said, irritated. “She was married to Lucky Spencer and told him he was the father. She should have stuck with him, she’d probably be alive right now.”

“She saw what this life was doing to Michael,” Jason retorted. “She saw that he was angry all the time, and she knew what had happened to other women in my life. The way we were doing business made everyone a target and after she told me the truth, I told her we were going to keep it a secret because I didn’t want anything to happen to you, or to Cam.” He glanced at Cameron. “Because your mother loved you. She’d had a miscarriage before you and one before you,” he told Jake. “Nothing was ever more important than her kids, so you can take that with you, Jake. She would never have left you without a damn good reason.”

“You can’t seriously think Mom is still alive,” Jake said flatly. “If she was as wonderful and loving as you say, she would have found a way to tell us she was all right. She’s dead and she’s been dead since the morning she disappeared. One your enemies killed her.”

“I don’t know that,” Jason answered roughly. “It didn’t seem likely at the time. After Sonny died, we made a lot of changes. I didn’t retaliate against Johnny Zacchara, he took that as a sign of good faith and the truce that had already been in place was continued. We became partners after he married Nadine and when his daughter was born, we swore that we would never let the blood and the violence touch our families again.”

“Life was different,” Carly told Jake. “The need for constant guards was gone. Cam and Morgan were in regular schools. Those first two years after Sonny died were peaceful. There’s no reason to believe that an enemy of Jason’s would kill his wife and then disappear. The point of hurting family members is to get a point across but no one made a play for the business, no one ever hinted.”

“So maybe it was revenge, plain and simple,” Jake countered. “Someone who just wanted to make you bleed inside for the rest of your life and what’s the best way to do it? To kill your wife and leave you wondering if she left you.”

“Jake—”

“No, I want him to answer it,” Jake snarled. “He’s got a damn answer for everything else, I want to hear an answer for this.”

“I don’t have one,” Jason admitted. “I searched for a year, hoping to find someone anywhere that would know what had happened. I never found anything and in all these years I have never found anything. I hold out hope that Elizabeth is still alive because I don’t know that I can wake up tomorrow and face the fact that she might not be. I’m just not strong enough.”

He drew away from his sons then and took his daughter’s hand to lead her back to the sofa. “There are photo albums here that your mother worked on while she was pregnant with you. They’re filled with pictures of her, growing up, raising Cam and Jake, being pregnant with you, and there are a few of you and your mom.” He gestured towards another box. “And these are a few of the sketchbooks and smaller paintings she had.” He pointed to the back of the porch where several canvases were stacked. “And there are the larger ones.”

Juliet stared at the canvases. “Mom painted?”

“All the time,” Jason said. “The room next to yours—the one that’s empty? It used to be her studio at the house.”

“But she was a nurse,” Juliet said slowly. “Right?”

“She became a nurse after she had Cameron. Until then, she was a waitress at Kelly’s to support her art. But she said she needed something stable for him, medical insurance. It started out as just a job, but she grew to love it.”

Jason exhaled slowly and looked back at his sons. “I hate that I hid her from you. I should have raised you knowing about her, being able to look at her, and maybe you would be able to trust me when I say that she loved you three with every breath inside her. She ran into a burning house and slashed an artery in her leg to get you out of the house, Jake.”

Jake shifted, uncomfortable.

“She loved you enough to put her dream aside so she could build a better life for you,” he told Cameron. “And she stayed married to a man she didn’t love to keep you both safe and happy with two parents.”

He looked to Juliet. “She painted your nursery herself before she even knew she was pregnant. We wanted to have a baby and she knew, even before you were a reality, that you’d be a little girl and she had the painting done before she found out she was pregnant. She loved you, Juliet, before you were even real. She named you for her best friend, my sister, who died a long time ago.”

“Your mother loved me enough to marry me, to let me raise her oldest son as my own, to have children with me. And to put up with Aunt Carly,” he said with a half-smile.  “She had enough love for all of us and she would never have left us without a fight.”

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