He found his wife and daughter in the nursery. She hadn’t spoken to him since he’d told her about the Puerto Rico trip he was leaving for in the morning.
A week. A week of her locking their bedroom door at night and of silent meals and tension-filled evenings.
Elizabeth didn’t realize he was standing in the doorway and he took the opportunity to watch her read a bedtime story to their ten-month-old daughter. She was smiling as Nicole patted the pages with her tiny chubby hands.
“And they lived happily ever after,” Elizabeth finished. She closed the book and set it aside on the table next to the rocking chair. She cradled the still very alert girl against her body and closed her eyes. “I wish all stories had happy endings, baby girl.”
Nicole started sucking on her entire fist, her eyes fluttering shut. Elizabeth smoothed her hand down Nicole’s back. “You’ll like it at Uncle Lucky and Aunt Gia’s house. And it’s really only temporary until I figure out what to do.”
Jason straightened, his chest felt tight. Why would Nicole need to go to Lucky’s? And what did Elizabeth need to figure out?
“This isn’t the way I planned it but I can’t…” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “I can’t keep doing this.” She rested her head against the soft downy blonde curls on her daughter’s head. “We’ll have to share a room…I hope you’re not attached to all these stuffed animals and toys–” her voice broke then and he heard a muffled sob escape her throat.
Terrified at the implication of her statements, Jason stepped into his room and cleared his throat. “What–where are you going?”
Elizabeth’s eyes snapped up and she turned her head to see her husband. “Howhow long have you been standing there?”
“From happily ever after on,” he confessed. He swallowed hard and was a little surprised to feel a little moisture in the corners of his eyes. “Are…are you leaving me?”
Elizabeth stood abruptly and stalked over to the crib. She placed a confused Nicole inside and spread the blanket around her. “No. You’re leaving us,” she replied softly.
“If you go tomorrow, we–” she struggled for composure. “We won’t be here when you get back.”
“No.” He strode towards her and grabbed her elbow, forcing her to look at her. “You can’t do that. You can’t ask me to choose between my family and my best friend. You can’t.”
“I’m just asking you to choose your family over your job,” she hissed, yanking her arm from his grasp.
A mask fell over his face and he stepped back. “I can’t…you know I can’t talk about that.”
“You’re in coffee, Jason,” Elizabeth said scathingly. “What about owning a coffee warehouse can’t you talk about?”
“Elizabeth, you know–Sonny has other interests–”
“You promised me–” Her hands were shaking as she started to straighten various things in the room. Put the book on the shelf, some stuffed animals in the toy box. “You promised me you’d never get involved in that. I told you that I wouldn’t–I wouldn’t do that…be that woman. Maybe Carly can do it but I can’t.”
“I’m just doing some favors–”
“It’s never just a favor with Sonny.” Elizabeth shook her head. “Before long, you’ll be right back where you were before we met. His right hand man. You hated that life, Jason and you promised me you were out of it.”
“He’s my best friend, Elizabeth,” Jason argued.
“And he’s got other men working for him–men who don’t have families, who didn’t promise their wives that no one would try to blow up their car or kidnap their daughter!” Elizabeth cried.
Upset by her mother’s voice, Nicole started to cry. Elizabeth took a deep breath and gathered her daughter back in her arms to soothe her. Keeping her voice gentle, Elizabeth continued. “I’m not telling you what to do. I’m just telling you that if I wake up and find out you’ve gone to Puerto Rico, ensuring that you will miss our daughter’s first Christmas, I will leave this penthouse. I will call Alexis and I will file for divorce.”
He shook his head. “No. Elizabeth–”
“There are some things I will deal with. Your friendship with Carly, despite the things she’s done to me. Your inability to walk away from Courtney when she’s in trouble. I can deal with those things because they don’t physically put me or my child in danger. But if you do this–if you go back to being Sonny’s enforceryou won’t leave me a choice.”
Nicole had calmed down and this time after Elizabeth tucked her in, she left the room. Jason was hot on her heels.
“I’ll never give you a divorce,” was the first thing he said as he followed her into their bedroom.
She paused in the middle of unbuttoning her shirt and stared at with him sad eyes. “That’s not what you’re supposed to say. You’re not supposed to refuse to give me a divorce, you’re supposed to refuse to give me a reason to leave. You’re–”
“Since when has this relationship been about what we’re supposed to do?” Jason asked pointedly. “You’re asking me to change who I am”
“I’m asking you to keep your promise,” she argued. She finished changing into her cotton pajamas and moved into the bathroom to brush her teeth.
“That’s not fair–”
“When I met youwhen Lucky set us up on that date…you were just the co-owner of the warehouse. You told me that you wanted a family some day–a real life and that’s why you’d gotten out of the business. Because you never wanted to put anyone through that.”
“That’s true,” Jason hedged.
“What’s changed?” Elizabeth asked pointedly. She sat on the edge of the bed and stared at her bare feet. “Don’t…don’t you love me? Don’t you love Nicole?”
“Jesus, Elizabeth, you two are my life.” He kneeled in front of her and took her hands in his. “You know that I love you.”
“Then why are you willing to put us in danger?” she asked softly. “Do you want Nicole to grow up like Michael has? With a guard posted at her classroom door? Do you want to have to send me out of the room like Carly? Give me a guard that will sweep all vehicles for car bombs before I’m allowed within ten feet of it? Is that the life you want for us?”
“No–I’m just–Sonny trusts me, Elizabeth. How do I say no to him?”
“If he were a real friend, he wouldn’t ask in the first place. He’d know how you felt and he’d get someone else. I want to know what’s more important to you. Sonny’s trust or our marriage?”
“Our marriage,” Jason said without hesitation.
“Then don’t go tomorrow. Stay with me. Stay with Nicole. Spend the holidays with us. Don’t break your promise.”
“It’s too late to pull out of this trip now,” Jason protested.
Her hands fell away from his and she squared her shoulders. “Fine. You know where the guest room is.”
“Elizabeth, I love you. After this…I’ll tell Sonny no–”
She stood, throwing him a little off balance. She opened their bedroom door. “Get out.”
He stood and approached her. “I promise that it’s over after I do this–”
“I’ll give your daughter your regards.” She tipped her head to wards the door. “Good-bye, Jason.”
He swallowed hard. “You’d really leave me, wouldn’t you?”
“I am going to leave you because it’s very obvious to me that you love your friendship with Sonny more than you love keeping us safe…keeping your marriage together.”
He hung his head and moved into the hallway.
Elizabeth sighed and shut the door softly before heading back for bed.
The smell of coffee and bacon woke her the next morning. A little disorientated, she looked at the clock on her nightstand. Jason’s flight was scheduled for three hours ago.
A little hopeful, she hurried out of her room and was almost moved to tears when she found her husband making breakfast in the kitchen.
Hearing her approach, he turned. “I…you were right. I got out of the life to have one. And keeping you and Nicole safe and happy…here with methere’s nothing more important.”
“That’s what you were supposed to say,” she said with a soft smile. She wrapped her arms around his neck and tilted her face up to him. “Better late than never.”