December 26, 2017

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Workshop: Fool Me Twice

Okay, so I had this plot bunny a few months about what might be the fallout of the current storylines of GH, but I hadn’t really worked out some of the details. The reason I’m workshopping this idea is that while I have a decent idea about the main structure, I’m not confident I can write the 2017 version of these characters, particularly an Elizabeth who is supposed to be in love with Franco.

So I wanted to see if I could work out some of the kinks.  I wrote this in about 45 minutes, and here is the setup.

I pick up the show from about December 22, 2017. Franco and Elizabeth are engaged. Danny has accepted Jason as his father, Jake wants nothing to do with him. Sam and Drew are together, Oscar is his son. They don’t know who the mysterious Faison traitor is, etc. This begins in February 2018.

It has not been spellchecked or reread for typos.


Monday, February 12, 2018

Webber Home: Kitchen

Elizabeth Webber wrinkled her nose as she tossed the last container of food into a brown paper bag, setting it next to the other brown lunch bag and an Avengers lunch box. Her two oldest were too cool for lunch boxes, but at least she still had one sweet baby.

“Mom, I’m not eatin’ the carrots. You can’t pay me enough to do that,” thirteen-year-old Cameron Webber declared with a sneer that announced her eldest baby was a teenager. God help them all if Cam was anything like Elizabeth had been at his age.

God help the world.

“Did you pack the cookies we made last night?” ten-year-old Jake Webber demanded as he climbed onto the stool in front of the breakfast counter and tugged his bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios towards him. “Franco and I made oatmeal raisin ones—”

Next to him, Cameron rolled his eyes, and seven-year-old Aidan Webber crossed his eyes, stuck a finger down his throat, and gagged.

“There weren’t enough for all of you, so no,” Elizabeth murmured. “You must have eaten more than we thought—”

“Probably only made enough for himself,” Cam muttered, elbowing Aidan in the ribs. The two of them shared a look that Elizabeth didn’t quite understand, but then again—she was an icky girl, and they were boys.

They were bound to start speaking languages she couldn’t understand, and Cam and Aidan just didn’t have the same rapport Jake had developed with her fiance, Franco Baldwin. Not that Franco played favorites—he and Jake just had so much more in common with their interest in art.

Cam and Aidan were into sports and video games in a way that Jake wasn’t.

“Where is Franco, anyway?” Jake asked, shoveling cereal into his mouth, then wiping it with the back of his sleeve. “He was supposed to drive me to school.”

“He’s not, is he?” Aidan asked with a scowl. He and Jake still attended the same school where Jake was a fifth grader, and Aidan a second grader. “Because I’m supposed to sit with Timmy today, and he was bringing his new iPhone. He got it for his birthday.” Aidan batted the blue eyes he’d inherited from his wayward father and a dimpled grin. “Can I get one for my birthday?”

“We’ll talk about it in July,” Elizabeth murmured as she started to wipe up the counter. To Jake, she said, “Franco had an appointment at the hospital, so you’re both taking the bus.”

She hurried the boys through the last of their breakfast, bundled them up into parkas and jackets, though both Jake and Cameron refused her help. Aidan let her adjust his scarf.

She walked them to the bus stop, missing as always, her home on Lexington Avenue in the Queens Point neighborhood. The new house was closer to the hospital, but she’d loved that house. It had been her first real home—she’d raised her boys there. Had lived around the corner from Patrick and Robin.

She and Patrick had traded off the bus stop duties back then, but like so many other things in her life—that was part of a different life. Robin and Patrick were happily living and practicing medicine in California, while Elizabeth…

Elizabeth was planning a brand-new future.

“Mom, are you really going to wait here?” Cam said with a huff. “I’m not a baby. My bus comes last. I can make sure these idiots get on there. It’s not like I’m gonna let Jake get kidnapped. Again.”

Elizabeth grimaced at the memory. “Cam—”

“You’re just jealous because I’ve been kidnapped three times,” Jake shot back.

“Jake!” Elizabeth flicked her son’s shoulder. “That’s not something to joke about.” Where had her little boy gone? He’d been doing so well—really blossoming over the summer and into the fall.

Until Jason Morgan had come home. For real. And the man Jake had grown to love and adore had been revealed to be the missing Quartermaine twin brother.

Almost four months later, Elizabeth still couldn’t quite wrap her mind around it. Most days, she put it out of her head. Jason and Drew belonged to a different life. A different Elizabeth. Jake was all they shared, and even that was a tentative at best these days.

Jason and Drew had been preoccupied trying to find out who had kidnapped them both and tried to have Jason killed. Drew had reached out once or twice to Jake, but he spent most of his time with Oscar Nero, the son he hadn’t known about.

And Jason….

Jake was only tolerating Jason because of Danny. And it broke her heart that Jake might never get to know the kind of father she knew Jason could be. Though it was hardly her fault Jake didn’t have many memories of Jason.

Elizabeth might have started the lie, but Jason had been the one to walk away from all of them.

“Was I ever kidnapped?” Aidan asked with worried eyes. “No one is going to take me right?”

“You got kidnapped once,” Cam said with a furrowed brow. “When you were a baby, right, Mom?”

“Yeah.” Elizabeth sighed, hoping that would be the end of it.

Though she imagined one day…they’d have to find a way to explain to Aidan that Elizabeth had married the man that kidnapped him.

She grimaced at the memory, but put it away almost as quickly as it had emerged. She didn’t like to think about those days. About that Franco. He’d been a different man.

The tumor had changed him. She believed it.

She had to believe it.

Even if things had been difficult since Jason had returned and Franco had been…sensitive about him. And it was likely going to get worse before it got better because eventually Jake would open his heart to Jason, and Jason would be a more permanent fixture.

Franco was just going to have to suck it up, because Elizabeth wasn’t going to turn Jason away from his son. Not now.

“I don’t remember what happened though,” Cam continued. “I was seven, I think. But you were gone. And then you came back. It wasn’t like Jake. He was gone for years.” He sobered at that memory. “Why did he get kidnapped so much, Mom?”

Thank God, the bus arrived before Elizabeth had to go into the sordid details of Jake’s various kidnappings.

She waited while Jake and Aidan climbed onto their bus and then it left. Cam’s arrived a moment later, and she saw her eldest off. He was getting so much older.

So much harder to pretend he was a little boy that couldn’t understand what was going on around him.

God, she hoped her boys wouldn’t need therapy one day.

Pozzulo’s Restaurant: Office

Jason Morgan rolled his shoulders and set his hands at his waist as he stood in front of Sonny Corinthos’ mahogany desk and waited while his best friend and partner went over some paperwork from the Puerto Rico run.

He had taken on some of his previous duties the month before when the trail into Cesar Faison’s mysterious partner and traitor had gone cold shortly after Christmas. He would never give up trying to learn who had kidnapped him, stolen his memories, and set up his twin brother to take over his life, but…

Jason had to get back to some kind of life. He had family here, and if he didn’t try to build some sort of relationship with his sons, then he was never going to feel like himself again.

Danny had been easier, but Jason wasn’t surprised by that, and he was just so…completely in awe of the miracle that Jake was alive at all…he would put up with any attitude from the boy if it meant Jake was still breathing.

Even though Jake lived with a man who personified evil and thought he was a good guy. It still didn’t make sense to him how anyone could believe Franco could change, that he was worth a second chance.

But somehow, he was unsurprised to learn that Elizabeth had decided to give him one. She’d always found the good in people, even if she’d had to make it up her in her head.

“Looks good,” Sonny murmured. He glanced up. “Things were good at the casinos? You didn’t have any issues?”

“Nah.” Jason shook his head quickly. “A couple of weird stares, but I guess…Drew didn’t go down there much.”

“Yeah, he never took to any of this. I guess…” Sonny sighed. “I guess there were a lot of signs. I just—I wanted you to be alive so damn much, you know?” He tossed the papers aside. “You get settled in? Carly didn’t over decorate the new place much, did she?”

“No.” Jason lowered himself into the one of the wooden chairs in front of the desk. He couldn’t stay at the Metro Court forever—he’d wanted a place where, if it was ever possible, that Danny and Jake could stay.  So while he’d been in Puerto Rico, Carly had found an apartment downtown for him and had it furnished. She’d finished rooms for both the boys and surprised him with a pool table in the dining room.

He hadn’t realized how much he’d missed his own space until he’d tossed his duffel bag on the sofa and seen the table. How much he’d needed something from his old life to make him feel like he was home again.

“She said she got some things from Elizabeth and Sam to make the boys’ rooms feel like theirs,” Sonny continued. “You, ah, think they’ll be spending much time with you?”

“Danny probably,” Jason said. “But…” He shook his head. “Jake only…agrees to see me if Danny is there. And then he only talks to Danny.”

“He’ll come around. He’s been through hell, but you know that? Not only the kidnapping but the bullshit Helena Cassadine put him through last year. It sucks, but Drew was there for him. And—” Sonny grimaced. “Franco was the one who saw something was wrong. I’ll give him that. Something about art therapy and his drawings.”

“I hate it,” Jason murmured. “He lives with my son. I don’t want him near Franco, but what am I supposed to say to Elizabeth? You know she doesn’t listen to me.”

“Not about the idiots she lets in her life, no,” Sonny said with a shrug. “She’s been making self-destructive choices for the better part of her adult life, Jason.” He shook his head. “I didn’t understand it when Carly nearly married the psycho, but—I don’t know. Maybe I understand how she ended up with him. She told you that she lied about Drew’s identity, right?”

“She mentioned it the first day she came to see me. At the jail.” Jason shifted. “And someone else said—she nearly married him.”

“Yeah, Carly stopped the wedding to tell everyone.” Sonny rubbed his mouth. “It was…it wasn’t pretty. Pretty much destroyed her life. And then Nikolas Cassadine died. Patrick Drake moved out of town with Robin.” He hesitated. “Carly was like that after you went off the pier. I was….in my own head about Kate and Connie, and all of that. AJ ended up coming back from the damn dead and telling Michael every sordid detail of Carly’s life. Carly needed someone, and well…there he was. Plus, you know, he was supposed to be your twin.”

“Yeah, she said something like that.” Jason hesitated. “I don’t trust Franco. It’s only a matter of time before something happens. I just don’t want Elizabeth and the boys in the crossfire.” Like they had been when Lucky Spencer had been addicted to drugs or when Jason’s Russian enemies had driven them from their home and nearly gotten Jake killed.

Elizabeth and her boys had been through enough. Even if Franco was her choice, that didn’t mean he wanted her to find out it was a mistake the hard way.

He looked at his watch. “I’m meeting Carly for lunch, so I’d better get going.” He got to his feet. “Call me if you need anything.”

“Will do. Hey, Jase?” Sonny stopped him as he started out of the room. “I know there’s a lot still up in the air, what with not knowing who Faison was working with, and Drew not having his memories back, Sam sticking to him like glue—but don’t take on more troubles by making Franco your problem again.”

“He lives with Elizabeth and the boys. With my son,” Jason said. “As long he draws breath—he’s my problem.”

December 29, 2017

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Workshop: Fool Me Twice

Written in 58 minutes. Would have taken less, but I stopped to double check some of the details around Franco’s brain tumor.


Kelly’s: Dining Room

Elizabeth smiled and kissed Griffin Munro on the cheek as he lightly embraced her. “I’m so glad you were available for lunch today! I was afraid you’d be spending your day off with Ava.”

Griffin grimaced as they took their seats and he reached for the menu. “Ah, well, that’s probably not going to happen.”

“Oh?” Elizabeth arched a brow. “Are things okay?” She didn’t particularly like Ava Jerome, not after her scheming at ELQ had resulted in AJ Quatermaine’s last spiral in alcohol and tragedy. And of course, her final role in his murder. But Griffin liked her, and she was sort of Franco’s friend for some reason.

“I—” Griffin shook his head. “I really tried. You know? I tried to be the better man. To not make a big deal about it, but…every time I saw Julian Jerome, I remembered that I’ll never know my father. And that it’s his fault.” He held up a hand as if to ward off whatever Elizabeth might say next. “And sure, he says he was forced. But I don’t care.”

“I wasn’t going to stick up for him.” Elizabeth hesitated. “I just—you knew Ava’s brother was Julian before you got involved—”

“He was supposed to be in prison for the rest of his life. I could deal with from afar, but…we spent Christmas with him, and I just—” Griffin sat back in his chair. “I can’t do it. I tried. But I don’t know how to get past it. And I’m just hurting Ava by putting her in the middle. But I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I walked away from the priesthood for her—”

“No, hey…” Elizabeth leaned forward. “We talked about this when you made the final decision. Yeah, Ava was the factor, but…she wasn’t the reason. Or if she was, then she shouldn’t have been. Take it from me—the second you make one person your reason for changing your entire life, for changing who you are—it’ll never work.” She bit her lip. “You know about my ex-husband, Lucky Spencer and his drug addiction? He found out I was pregnant with Jake—he thought Jake was his biological child. And Jake was the reason he said he got clean. I was terrified what would happen if he found out Jake wasn’t his.”

“Did he relapse when he found out?” Griffin asked.

“No. But I made a lot of choices based on my fear. In my head, Jake was the reason Lucky was clean. And…well, there were other reasons, but I asked Jason to give Jake up. It was selfish of me to expect that of him. We never really recovered from that. And I’m still paying for that now.” She hesitated. “Was Ava the reason you left the priesthood, Griffin?”

“I guess….” Griffin shook his head. “No. She wasn’t my first relationship with a woman. And she wasn’t the reason I doubted myself. I just…I care about her, Elizabeth. But how do I get past when her brother did?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted.

“How did you get past what Franco did? I mean,” Griffin said when Elizabeth blinked at him. “He kidnapped your son, didn’t he? How…can you tell me how you can forgive something like that?”

“I—” Elizabeth hesitated. “The brain tumor, you know? He’s a different person now.”

Griffin shook his head. “I don’t understand. I thought his brain tumor was pressing on his prefrontal cortex in the frontal lobe.”

Elizabeth furrowed his brow. “I can’t…I don’t remember what Patrick said it was. But Diane Miller argued it in court, and Patrick supported the conclusion he wasn’t responsible—”

“I don’t know what happened then,” Griffin said, “but I’ve read Franco’s chart. His tumor was in the prefrontal cortex. That’s the impulse center. It deals with your reasoning and planning. Emotions. It doesn’t create a new personality. It generally amps up what already exists.”

“But—”

“I mean, sometimes tumors on the frontal lobe cause personality changes,” Griffin continued, “but it’s usually not that stark, like before the tumor, you’re Mr. Rogers, and afterwards, you’re Ted Bundy. It doesn’t usually create a violent schizophrenic sociopath without some sort of underlying cause—”

She could feel her heart pounding in her ears. Elizabeth stared at him. “I—I don’t understand.” She swallowed. “What are you saying to me?”

“I really shouldn’t—” Griffin grimaced. “I wasn’t his doctor. I just…I know what I saw from the charts. Maybe Patrick could say differently—”

“Griffin—” Elizabeth shook her head. “You’re right. You—you weren’t here. And Diane got the charges dismissed, so there must have been medical evidence.” She reached for the menu, her hand trembling slightly. “Let’s…let order—”

“I’m sorry, Elizabeth. I shouldn’t have brought it up—”

“He is a different man,” Elizabeth said, but this time, in her head, she could almost hear the desperation in her tone. “He is. You don’t know him the way I do—”

“No, I get it. He shows you one side of him. And another side to the rest of the world. He just always…struck me as arrogant. Dismissive—”

“No, he feels remorse for what he did—” Elizabeth closed her mouth. Closed her eyes. “You know what? I can’t—I can’t have lunch right now.” She’d lost her appetite.

“Elizabeth, I’m sorry—” Griffin got to his feet as she did as well. “I really didn’t have any right—”

“No, you didn’t. You weren’t his doctor. You weren’t the judge. You weren’t there.” Neither were you, a sinister voice whispered in her ear. She hadn’t paid attention to any of the details—it hadn’t mattered to her at the time.

She’d been preoccupied with AJ’s case and worrying about him. About Michael. And worried what would happen if Franco was released. But Diane had stood up for Franco, and Patrick was supposed to have signed some sort of documentation.

Carly of all people had believed in him after everything Michael had gone through.

Griffin was wrong.

He had to be wrong.

Jason’s Apartment: Living Room

Carly Corinthos folded her arms and stared at the new sofa critically. “I don’t know if I like it after all.”

Jason sighed and leaned against the wall. “It’s a couch, Carly. I really don’t care what it looks like as long as it’s comfortable—”

“No, it has to be right.” She shook her head. “I did okay with the bedrooms, I think. I just…” Carly sighed, looked around the apartment. “It’s so hard to think of you somewhere other than the penthouse, you know? That was home. If Sam was going to abandon you like the cold-hearted bitch I always knew she was—”

Jason closed his eyes and just let Carly rant. It had become clear that Carly’s New Year’s scheme had failed—backfired really as Sam had kissed him, and then looked at him with those dark eyes he’d loved so much…

They’d been filled with regret. Bitterness. Guilt.

And goodbye.

That spark hadn’t been there for either of them, and whether Sam had gone home to tell Drew or not, Jason didn’t know and didn’t care. He was moving on with his life.

And Carly had accepted it for the most part. It just meant that she’d stopped pushing him towards Sam and was now back to treating Sam like trash. He didn’t care for that either—but at least it meant she left Sam alone to get on with her life.

“When is Elizabeth going to let you have Jake overnight?” Carly demanded. “She didn’t seem all that interested in giving me anything to make his room feel like his—”

“We’re taking that slow,” Jason said with another sigh. He really didn’t want Carly to bad mouth Sam to him, but he really wasn’t up for another tantrum about Elizabeth.

He had no idea what Carly’s problem was with Elizabeth, and had never understood her animosity towards Jake’s mother.

“Slow?” Carly snorted. “You mean you’re dragging your feet. You know, that’s your problem, Jase. You’ve been letting that waif drive the bus when it comes to Jake for the kid’s entire life. I mean, she lied to you about being Jake’s father, and you still let Lucky raise him—”

“It was safer,” Jason said, but the words felt hollow. “And you’re the one who lied to me about Lucky. Elizabeth just didn’t correct you.”

Not after Jason had gone and told her it was for the best. She’d thought she was doing them all a favor.

“Oh, sure, blame me.” Carly rolled her eyes. “Look, I think you should sue her for custody rights. She’s letting your kid live with that insane bastard—”

“No court in the world is going to give me custody,” Jason said dryly. “And that’s the last thing I would ever do. Elizabeth raised Jake. She raised him after I walked away. I—You were going to let Franco around Joss.”

“Oh, God. Do not remind me,” Carly muttered as she stalked across the room to look at the sofa from another angle. “And thank God he called it off. I almost married him—”

“He called it off?” Jason repeated. “I thought—”

“Oh—” Carly blinked at him. “Hell. He, ah, well—I cheated on him with Sonny, you know? But I was gonna go through with the wedding. I felt like I had to because—” She grimaced. “You know…that AJ was alive.”

“Yeah, Monica said something about it, but she didn’t want to go into the details. Just that he died a few years ago—” Jason stopped. “Carly. What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything,” Carly said with a huff. “Everyone thought AJ killed Connie, you know? It was obvious. Michael didn’t beleive it, but he’s a soft touch. You know AJ came back and tricked Michael into giving him a chance—”

“Get to the point, Carly.”

“Well, Sonny thought AJ killed Connie,” Carly said flatly. “And he walked in on AJ confronting Ava…because it turned out Ava actually killed Connie. And—”

“Sonny killed him.”

“Not…right away…” Carly twisted her hands together. “See, I’m not…I’m not proud of either of us, you know? We were wrong. But AJ…didn’t die. He made it to the hospital. And God, Michael was so upset—” She looked away. Her voice faltered. “And AJ…he told me before he died that it was Sonny. But I didn’t tell anyone. I lied to Michael for months. And I do feel awful about it. You know, I mean, I had my problems with AJ, I guess. But—he was better for a while. Before Ava Jerome screwed him out of ELQ by lying about Kiki’s paternity—he like the guy I knew all those years ago—and Michael got into ELQ because of AJ.”

“Carly…” Jason just stared at her. He swallowed hard. “You lied to Michael for months about what happened to AJ? And Franco knew?”

“That’s why I had to marry him.” Carly nodded resolutely. “Because if I left him, he’d tell Michael. Except…he had secretly taped me and Sonny together, and Sonny admitted it, and God, it was awful. I wish like hell you had been here. I mean, Drew was—but he was Jake Doe, and we didn’t really know him yet. Michael and Sonny were estranged for months. Everything almost fell apart.”

Jason rubbed his face. “Christ, Carly.”

“I know, I know. But we got it back. Michael and Sonny patched things up—” Carly closed her mouth. “Anyway, Franco kind of went crazy. He showed the tape at the wedding. Humilated me in front of everyone. Destroyed Michael. Even if he’s not the same kind of crazy he was before the tumor…” She shook her head. “God help Elizabeth if she ever pisses him off. Because he’s still not right.”

January 5, 2018

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Workshop: Fool Me Twice

Written in 32 minutes, I went a little over my self-imposed limit because my dad came in to yell at me about my use of the space heater.


Aurora Media: Drew Cain’s Office

Elizabeth pasted a smile on her face as Drew’s secretary admitted her into his office. Behind the desk, Drew glanced up from some paperwork and offered her that same open smile that she had fallen in love with three years earlier.

Maybe you knew it wasn’t me.

Jason’s words from that day in the jail in October slid into her thoughts without warning, and Elizabeth sighed at the thought. The fact that Jason’s first instinct when told Elizabeth had lied—again—was to absolve her of any guilt or responsibility should have been the damning clue that he was the real Jason Morgan.

Jason had never blamed her for anything even when he should have.

“Hey. What brings you by?” Drew stepped out from behind the desk and kissed her cheek. He gestured towards the oversize white leather sofa nestled in the corner of the office. “Everything okay with Jake?”

“Yeah. I guess.” Elizabeth bit her lip and set her purse on the floor, draped her coat over her lap. “I’m sorry to just—I mean, we haven’t—we haven’t really talked since—” She wiggled her fingers.

“Yeah. Well, they don’t really make a Hallmark card for this situation.” Drew leaned back, rubbed his mouth. “I’m trying not to think about it. Which probably isn’t the right way to deal with it, but hell, there’s no manual for this kind of thing.”

“No, I guess not.” Elizabeth hesitated. “I don’t even know why I’m here,” she admitted. “I guess…” She looked down at the ring on her finger. “You think I’m making a mistake.”

Drew hesitated. “Listen, there’s…” He cleared his throat. “The thing is, Elizabeth, that I still have Jason’s memories. Which means I’m pretty used to you making mistakes.”

“Oh, great. That’s what I needed—”

“You have a type,” Drew continued. “And don’t give me that look, Elizabeth. You do. You’re attracted to idiots—” He flashed her a quick grin. “Myself included. You keep trying to save us.”

“That’s not—” Elizabeth scowled. “That’s not exactly how it was—”

“Oh, yeah?” he raised his brows. “Why’d you stay with Lucky through the brainwashing?”

“Because he stuck with me after the rape, and I wanted to—” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Drew—”

“Ric? How many chances did you give that douche bag?”

“You know…I really don’t know what I’m doing here—”

“Hey—” Drew stuck out a hand stop her from standing. Elizabeth sighed and remained on the sofa. “Look, the way I feel about you is complicated, you know? Because I—”

“I didn’t lie to you because Nikolas told me you were Jason,” she cut in. “I didn’t keep the truth because of that. I mean, not entirely. I called you Jason when we thought that’s who you were, but that’s not who I agreed to marry. And it’s not who I lied to keep, okay?”

He frowned at her. “Are we still having the same conversation? I thought we were talking about you—”

“You have Jason’s memories, and that sucks,” she told him. “Because they should just belong to him. And you should have yours. But I just—I wanted you to know that I never saw you as someone I wanted to save.” She closed her eyes. “This is stupid—”

“Hey.” Drew touched her hand. “It’s not. It matters. Look, you can be honest with me. When you did you know I wasn’t Jason?”

Elizabeth opened her eyes and looked at those blue eyes that were so familiar to her. “The minute I walked into the jail at the police station, and he said my name. I lied. I told him I didn’t believe it. Because I blew up my entire life over that lie. People wouldn’t look at me for months, and I just—I felt so…” She sighed. “Alone. And Patrick was gone. I just didn’t have anyone left who was mine.”

“Which is why Franco is a mistake, Elizabeth.”

She exhaled slowly. “Griffin told me something at lunch earlier,” she admitted. “The brain tumor that set Franco free? It’s not…not as simple as I thought it was. A-and I went to the hospital. I pulled his medical records to be sure.”

Drew furrowed his brow. Leaned forward. “What do you mean? It was in the frontal lobe. We both know that kind of tumor can change a personality—I mean, look at me—at Jason,” he corrected. “I mean I hate the scumbag, but—”

“But that’s the thing,” Elizabeth said softly. “Because I think I just accepted what the courts said. What Carly believed. I didn’t think. I didn’t think about Jason. Jason had brain damage and it took away his memories, but it didn’t change who he was—”

“Elizabeth—”

“When you hear the stories about Jason Quartermaine, you can hear the way they’re the same. Jason has a different moral code now, yeah, and he had to relearn everything with the Quartermaines judging him and rejecting him constantly—but he still has the same fierce ridiculous loyalty that caused Jason Quartermaine to get into a car with his idiot drunk brother.”

Drew hesitated. “Yeah—”

“Manny Ruiz.”

“Manny Ruiz,” Drew repeated. “I haven’t thought about him—” He shook his head. “It’s not me,” he reminded himself quietly. “That’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time—”

“He had a brain tumor in the frontal lobe. And Alexis and Ric got him released,” Elizabeth said. “But that didn’t change who he was.” Pressure built behind her ears. “And then I just…I start to think about all the things I know about Franco. All the things I’ve known since the surgery, and I just—”

“Look.” Drew dragged a hand over his face. “Christ. I have the memories, so I’m going to use them, okay? You have spent your life looking for the good in people. And that’s an incredible gift, Elizabeth. But I think sometimes…you make it up in your head. You create good where it doesn’t exist.”

“I did that for Ric,” she murmured. “He did unforgiveable things. Not just to Carly, but to me. And then he lied to you—” She closed her eyes, the shame building again. “And then I did the exact same thing to you—”

“I hate what you did to me,” Drew said plainly. “But Jason’s memories and time…” He paused. “It’s given me perspective. You lie. It’s part of who you are.”

“God, I know—”

“But you used to lie to protect other people,” Drew told her. “You lied about loving Lucky because you wanted to save him. You lied about Jake because you didn’t want to ruin Jason’s life. You lied when you went back to Lucky. But these last few years, Elizabeth? You’ve lied to protect yourself. I’m not mad that you did it. I’m just worried.”

“I don’t know how to stop,” she admitted. “Because I’ve been telling myself for months that I’m happy. I agreed to marry Franco. And…when Griffin told me that the personality changes with brain tumors aren’t usually so stark—that you don’t become a sociopathic serial killer without some kind of underlying darkness—I denied it. But it’s the truth. And I knew it, Drew. I knew Franco was troubled, but I kept telling myself that I loved him. That he loved me, but—”

“I think Franco loves himself the most,” Drew said when she stopped speaking. “I don’t know if there’s room for you. I hate the idea of him with you. With the boys. I know we had this fight last year—that you had some valid reasons for being irritated about Sam but—”

“I’m sorry to come here and dump my problems on you. You’re dealing with so much—”

“Hey.” Drew said as Elizabeth rose to her feet. “We’re family. Jake may not be my son—” The pain of that statement twisted his face. “But he’s still mine. And you took me in when the rest of the world forgot about me. You believed in me when everyone else thought I was a violent monster—” Drew scowled. “Damn it, Elizabeth. You have got to stop believing everyone can be saved.”

Elizabeth sniffled but embraced her ex-fiancee with a bit of a lighter heart. “Yeah, but I was right about you and your brother, so you don’t get to complain about it now.”

January 7, 2018

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Workshop: Fool Me Twice

I went way over the original 30 minute mark but wrote it in about 54 minutes.


Kelly’s: Dining Room

Jason shifted uncomfortably in his seat and focused on the stream of consciousness words spilling from his five-year-old son’s mouth. Danny, with his sunny blonde hair and dark brown eyes, chirped happily with news of everything he’d done in kindergarten that day, peppered with questions to his older brother, Jake, about his own day at school.

Jake sat sullenly across from him, his burger and fries untouched. The milkshake he’d grudgingly asked for had not been disturbed, the straw still in its wrapper next to the tall glass.

Twice a week for the last month, Jason had picked up the boys from school and taken them out for dinner. Jake had refused to come with them for the first week, but Danny had apparently begged him to start coming because three weeks ago, the fifth grader had been sitting with his brother on the stone steps outside of the school.

Jason usually waited until Elizabeth’s youngest son, Aidan, got on the bus, before taking the boys—and had wondered if it was fair that he rode home alone on the bus. If maybe Jason should have invited him. But then Cameron, who went to the middle school a few blocks away, would be left out.

So Jason hadn’t pressed it. One silent kid who barely knew him was probably enough for now.

“I told Rocco,” Danny said with a roll of his eyes, “that I didn’t want to climb the slide backwards, but he called me a big baby, so I had to—” He stopped and looked at his brother. “Hey, can I have your milkshake?”

“No,” Jake muttered.

“Okay.” Danny shrugged. “Jake, tell Dad what happened today.”

Jason could see his eldest son—his miracle—fight the urge to refute Danny’s statement. That Jason was not his father. Jason recognized the look because he knew the sentiment.

Every time someone had called the Quartermaines his family, Jason had recoiled in horror. He hadn’t known those people, those annoying people who forced him to live in their house, who forced a name and an identity on him. They weren’t his family.

Danny scowled when Jake remained silent. “Jake. You said you were gonna be nice. This is not nice.” He looked at Jason with irritation. “It’s not fair. He never has to follow the rules. He gets away with everything.”

“I do not,” Jake muttered. But he sat up and reluctantly picked up a French fry. “Cam and Aidan say that, too. It’s not true.”

“Yeah?” Danny challenged with all of the world-weariness a five-year-old could drudge up. “My mom says that your mom lets you get away with murder and it gives me ideas.”

“Well, your mom is an idiot,” Jake shot back. “My mom is awesome, so shut up—”

“Hey,” Jason said, sharply. “Jake—”

“Oh, good, defend her.” Jake folded his arms and scowled. “Why not? Everyone always does.” He stopped. Grimaced. “Never mind.”

Jason tilted his head in confusion, and Danny frowned. “What does that mean?”

“Nothing,” Jake muttered. “My art project got picked for the front hall,” he said reluctantly. “There was an assembly, that’s why Danny knows. It’s not a big deal.”

“No, that’s great. You got your mom’s love of art,” Jason said, without thinking. How many of his memories of Elizabeth were in that studio? He could still remember the first time she’d explained a painting to him—The Wind. He wondered what had ever happened to that painting. “Does she still pain?”

Jake frowned. “No. Franco taught me. Mom doesn’t have time for any of that. She’s always working. Probably because everyone always leaves her and she had all of us to take care of. At least that’s what Grandma Audrey used to say.” His eyes clouded over. “I miss Grandma Audrey.”

Jason’s mouth tightened at the mention of Franco sharing anything with his son—and Franco’s twisted approach to art, nonetheless. But Jake cared about the monster.

“She died last summer,” Danny told Jason when Jake stopped talking. “She was really nice.”

“Can we go home now?” Jake demanded. “I’m done eating.”

Jason looked at the plate in front of Jake with a raised brow. “Danny?”

“Yeah, I’m done.” Danny sighed. “I gotta go home anyway, because I gotta say good night to Scout before she goes to sleep.” He eyed the milkshake Jake hadn’t touched. “Can we get that to go?”

Webber Home: Kitchen

Elizabeth sighed as she listened to her voice mail message from Franco telling her that he’d had a call from an art dealer in New York and had gone down to the city. He’d be back in the morning.

That was probably for the best, she thought to herself as she took out the box of Hamburger Helper from the cabinet. Since her lunch with Griffin and her impromptu visit with Drew earlier that day, she’d been plagued by doubts and misgivings.

The small diamond on her finger flashed as she dumped the noodles into the pot and she stared at it for a long moment. It was not the first engagement ring she’d ever worn, and she couldn’t help but compare those other engagements.

She’d been engaged to Lucky Spencer three times in her life, and all of them had ended in disaster. Twice to Ric. And until a few months ago, twice to Jason.

But that second engagement hadn’t been to Jason. It had been to Drew.

The guilt those agonizing six months in which she had lied to a man she had truly loved still weighed on her. What would have happened if she’d told the truth that night at the Nurse’s Ball?

Drew hadn’t remembered Sam before that night. The memory flashes had come later. And Elizabeth found herself wondering for the first time at the chronology of it all — when exactly had Drew’s memory been replaced? And how had Jason’s memories been activated? How had Drew’s head injuries played into it?

So much of it didn’t make sense to her, and Elizabeth wished she could do more to help, but every time she’d brought the subject up to Franco, he’d seemed so worried that it meant she didn’t love him.

And then she would have reassure him.

Again.

Just like she had with Lucky in those days he’d been brainwashed by Helena Cassadine—that she loved him, not Jason. And then again, when he’d been addicted to drugs.

Of course, she thought bitterly, she’d been lying both times.

Was she lying now?

“Mom!”

Elizabeth turned at the sound of the door opening, and her eldest son dumping his stuff on the ground. She winced—Cameron and Aidan had definitely inherited her tendency to leave his things everywhere. Jake had his father’s neatness. Everything had its place and he made sure it went there.

“Hey, where’s Aidan?” she demanded, her tone sharp. Cameron had strict instructions to take both his brothers to the bus stop and to wait for them after school. She knew it was Jason’s night with Jake, but—

“He went to Andy’s house. He said he would text you.” Cameron rolled his eyes and went to the fridge to grab the pitcher of iced tea. “Relax, Mom. I waited until he got in the car with Andy’s mom, and I know Andy’s mom because his sister is in my grade and she’s a royal pain in my ass.”

Elizabeth pursed her lips. “Cam—”

“I get it, we talked about all the times Aidan and Jake got kidnapped as kids, and you’re touchy.” He climbed onto the stool. “Um, since we’re talking about that—”

“I guess we are now,” Elizabeth said with a sigh as she stirred dinner. “Cam—”

“I couldn’t remember,” her son said with irritation. “I couldn’t remember what happened with Aidan. And it was annoying. Because I was old enough to remember, and I didn’t—”

“You were six, sweetheart—”

“I remembered when Jake was in his accident. Because everyone was crying and it was awful.” Cameron tightened his fingers around the glass. “So I looked it up.”

Elizabeth hesitated. Oh, God. “You did.”

“Franco gave him away to his mother.” Cameron’s dark eyes—eyes he had inherited from his father—looked at her. “I know…I know he was sick. I guess I sort of understand it. You told us that when he moved in. But, um, Mom, I kept reading.”

“Yeah.” Elizabeth twisted the ring on her finger. “He had a brain tumor, and it—” She stopped. Because she couldn’t quite finish that statement.

“I saw where he got the charges dropped,” Cameron continued. “I guess…” He cleared his throat. “The article talked about Manny Ruiz, Mom. And I do remember his name.”

“How?” Elizabeth demanded. “You were just a baby—”

“Because a few years ago was the tenth anniversary of his fall from the hospital,” Cam said. “The Port Charles Sun talked about it. And there was an interview with Alexis Davis about getting him released. He had a brain tumor, too, and he got released. But then he hurt you. And he kidnapped Danny’s mom. I think she shot her too—”

“Oh, God.” Elizabeth exhaled slowly. “Yeah. I’ve been thinking about him lately, too.” She chewed on her lip. “You don’t like Franco, do you?” It was suspicion she’d held in for several months—just the way Cam looked at her fiance.

“I don’t not like him,” Cam admitted after a long moment. “He just…I don’t know, Mom. I guess he just…doesn’t bother with us.” He shifted on his stool. “It doesn’t matter—”

“Hey—” Elizabeth shook her head. “No, baby. It matters. You are my son. Nothing matters more than you and your brothers.” She tilted her head. “What is it? Is it the tumor? The things he did before—”

“Well, now, I don’t like him more,” Cameron admitted. “But no, it’s mainly just the way he…ignores us.” He shrugged. “Aidan feels it, too. That’s why he always goes to Andy’s. Or Jack’s.”

“And why you go to Tommy’s. And Mark’s.” Elizabeth closed her eyes. Her boys didn’t feel comfortable in their own home. Jake did. Because Jake and Franco had a special relationship. “You think he favors Jake.”

“You do, too,” Cameron said after a long moment. “It doesn’t bother me, Mom,” he hastily added when her eyes flew open. “Jake coming home was like…it was everything. He was my little brother, and I missed him. And he’s had problems because of what that bitch did to him.” He shrugged. “Aidan doesn’t remember being kidnapped, and I never was. Jake needed you more—”

“Honey—”

“So, it’s fine. I guess…it’d just be nice if it stopped.” Cameron stared down at the counter. “Or if we had someone else who…liked us, too. Jake gets to have all the parents.”

“Oh my God—” The tears slid down her cheeks. “Cam—”

“Drew—when we called him Jake—he loved us. He was gonna adopt me.” Cameron grimaced. “But then he left. He only bothers with Jake now. A-And I remember Jason. From before.”

“Cam—”

“He came around a lot when Jake was a baby. And he played with me. I thought he was gonna be my dad, but he left. And he only bothers with Jake. And Franco likes Jake best—”

What the hell had she done to her boys? How could she have been so damned blind?

Elizabeth turned the burner off and rounded the island to face Cameron. “I am so—I didn’t realize—”

“Mom,” Cameron said with an exaggerated roll of his eyes as his cheeks flushed in embarrassment. “I didn’t say any of that to hurt you. I know you love us—”

“I can be selfish,” Elizabeth told her son. “I grew up in a house where I constantly felt like my parents ignored me. I didn’t fit into their idea of what a Webber should be, and so they mostly threw up their hands. I actually—you’ve never even met your grandparents on my side because I broke ties with them a long time ago.”

“Mom—”

“When you grow up, constantly feeling like you have to do more, be something more just to earn someone’s love and respect—” She shook her head. “It messed me up, Cam. And I spent a lot of time being angry at the world. Is that how you feel? Do you feel like I love Jake more? That everyone loves Jake more?”

Cameron hesitated. “Sometimes—”

“Then I have to do better.” She pushed his dark hair out of his face as he sighed. “You are my baby—don’t roll your eyes at me, Cameron Hardy Webber. You are my son.” Elizabeth hesitated. “Before you were born, I didn’t know if I could be a mother. I didn’t know if I knew how to put someone else first. And then I was alone when you were born. I was terrified—”

“Mom—”

“Then the doctor handed you to me.” Elizabeth smiled through her years, combing her fingers through his hair that still had a tendency to curl when it grew too long—he was due for a trim. “And you looked at me, Cameron. And my God, the love just appeared. I didn’t know you could love someone like that so fast. So much. Everything I have in my life is from that moment. I became a nurse so I could take care of you. I know I worked too much, and yeah, I tried to find you a father. I sucked at that.”

“I don’t need a father,” Cameron said fiercely. “You always gave me everything I needed, Mom. I want you to be happy. And you were so sad all the time when I was a kid. So I thought if Franco made you happy, I could suck it up—”

“I am not happy,” Elizabeth said, and the words felt so true, so right that she wondered how she could have ever lied to herself that she felt otherwise. “So we need to make some changes.”

 

January 14, 2018

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Workshop: Fool Me Twice

I wrote this in about 65 minutes. I had sent my timer for 90 minutes just to make sure I had enough time to get to everything I hoped to cover. No time for spellchecks or edits. Enjoy.


Webber Home: Living Room

About fifteen minutes after Cameron had gone upstairs to do work on his homework, Elizabeth had received a call from her youngest son. He had decided not to stay at Andy’s house for dinner—would she pick him up? Clearly, Cameron had informed his little brother that the house would be Franco free for the night, and it was safe to come home.

It shamed Elizabeth to know that her sons had developed ways of avoiding the man she had agreed to marry—more than any decision she’d made in her life, this would be the one to haunt her.

She watched while Aiden labored over his spelling homework and whizzed through the math worksheet. She fed both of her boys the Hamburger Helper—which did not taste good and she appreciated their lack of grimace as they ate.

They went back upstairs because it was finally time to play video games—their favorite hour of the day, she was sure—and she sat back to wait until Jason brought home her middle son.

Around six-thirty, the door opened and Jake trudged through, dropping his bookbag, coat and boots by the door—his father following with the usual white plastic bag filled with the food Jason had paid for, but Jake refused to eat with him.

Elizabeth stood up and intercepted that bag before Jason could hand it to Jake. “Hang up your coat, Jake,” she said firmly. “And there’s leftover Hamburger Helper warming in the oven.”

Jake scowled at her, his ski cap still tugged over his blonde hair. “What? I have dinner—”

Elizabeth held up the bag. “This? No. This is going in the trash.”

Jake gaped. “You can’t do that—”

“Elizabeth,” Jason said quietly. “It’s okay—”

“It’s not.” Elizabeth looked at him, saw the weariness and resignation in his eyes. “We had ground rules for this, Jake. You said you’d spend time with Jason. Give him a chance. You didn’t have to call him dad, but you were going to respect him. Sitting at dinner and not eating so he can bring the food home is not respecting him.”

Jake’s lip trembled. His eyes filled with tears. “Mom—”

“That’s not going to work,” Elizabeth said, even as her stomach rolled. She had let her son play her one too many times in the two months since he’d learned the truth. In the two and a half years since she’d had her miracle come home. “I invented that look.”

And her suspicions were confirmed when the tears quickly dried and the scowl only deepened. “Fine! Then I won’t eat! I’ll just starve!”

He started past them, but Elizabeth grabbed the fabric of his sweater and jerked him to a stop. “Hang up your coat. Put away your things. I’m not your maid.”

“What is your deal?” Jake said, shrugging her hands off. “Where’s Franco? He understands—”

“He’s not your father,” Elizabeth said. “Jason is. You don’t have to like it, but this stops today, Jake.”

“You made her do this!” Jake said, turning his anger on the very uncomfortable man standing by the door.

“Jake—”

“Jason is probably trying really hard not to tell him me to back off,” Elizabeth retorted, cutting off Jason’s protest. “He’s willing to let you get away with murder. I’ve let you get away with it too. I’m sorry, Jake, that the last two years have been hard. And I know it’s hard for you to accept the truth about Drew and Jason. But we have all bent over backwards trying to make this okay for you. And you haven’t given an inch—”

“He’s not my father!” Jake shouted, the tears streaming down his face this time real. “He never wanted me! My dad is supposed to love me and he didn’t!”

And this time, Elizabeth let Jake run past her and stomp up the stairs. She turned back to the stricken Jason and exhaled slowly. “I’m sorry. I probably—I should have given you a heads up that I wasn’t going to let him keep—”

Jason just shook his head, looked at the floor. “I don’t know what to do with him,” he admitted, his voice pained. Tight. “Maybe we shouldn’t be forcing this—”

Elizabeth shook her head. “Let’s—do you have a couple of minutes? We haven’t…we haven’t sat and talked about Jake. Not really. And we should.” She gestured towards the kitchen. “They have a have a habit of listening at the stairs, so—”

Jason followed her into the kitchen and sat at the small dining table tucked in the corner, removing his leather jacket, leaving it in his lap. “I didn’t realize he felt that way,” he admitted.

“I thought…” Elizabeth sat in the chair next to him, a mug of tea in her hands and sighed. “I thought there were something else going on. I just…” She bit her lip. “I feel like I’ve been blind to a lot of things lately.” She set the tea on the table. “When he agreed to go with you and Danny twice a week, I really thought that was a good sign, you know? He’d get to see you often, and he’d see…” She bit her lip. “He’d see how amazing you are, and it would…just get easier. But it isn’t working.”

“No.” Jason sat back. “It’s not. Should we be forcing it?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. She closed her eyes. “I just…you deserve to have a relationship with him, Jason. I took that from you—”

“You didn’t take anything from me, Elizabeth.” He leaned forward, and she opened her eyes to look at him. “We both made that decision—”

“No. No, we never made that decision at the same time.” Tired of choosing her words, exhausted from trying to protect herself and everyone else, Elizabeth just spoke. “I lied to you. And asked you to give him up. And then you walked away. Twice. But we never decided together.”

He exhaled slowly. “Elizabeth—”

“But none of that would have happened if I hadn’t been so worried about everyone else when I was pregnant. I lied to you because I thought it would mess things up for you and Sam. And because of Lucky. I should have been thinking about Jake.” She shook her head. “I lie a lot for stupid reasons.”

He tilted his head. “What changed today?” he asked. “You…look…upset.”

“I—” She closed her mouth. “No. You’ve got enough to deal with. You don’t need my nonsense—”

“Hey.” Jason’s mouth was tight at the corners. “Don’t tell me what I need. I’m sick of—” He stopped. Shook his head.

She looked at him carefully, squinting. And for the first time—she could actually see his unhappiness. “Do you remember when we first became friends?”

Confused by the change in conversation, Jason nodded. “Yeah. That night at Jake’s. You—” And at the memory, he smiled a bit. “You were pissed at me because I stepped in with that guy.”

“What I think I miss the most about those days,” she said quietly, “is the trust I felt like we had. I could say anything to you, Jason, and it just—you never judged me. Never made me feel like I was saying the wrong, feeling the wrong—I could just be whoever I wanted to be with you. And…I think…I maybe….it was like that for you.”

“Yeah.” Jason relaxed a bit his shoulders seeming less tight. “We talked about Michael. I couldn’t really do that before you. Elizabeth—”

“I don’t have anyone like that in my life anymore,” she said. “And…maybe I’m out of line for saying so, but I don’t think you do, either. I mean, I know Sonny and Carly love you, but—”

“No. I get what you mean.” He sighed, tracing his fingers on the table, an uncharacteristic restless movement for him. “They keep telling me to take my life back. I don’t even know what that means. And Carly just kept—I know she meant well. She always does. But—” He shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“I wanted to apologize—for that day at the jail when I came to see you,” Elizabeth said. He frowned slightly, so she went one. “I lied—no surprise—when I said I still believed Drew was…you. I knew the truth. And I’m sorry I pretended I didn’t.”

He lifted a shoulder. “It’s fine—”

“It’s really not. I did that because it made my life easier. I blew up my entire life when I lied about Drew’s identity. And if it wasn’t true—if I destroyed my life for something that didn’t exist—I don’t know. And I knew that Jake would struggle with it all—” She sighed. “I just…I don’t know. You don’t have to let me off the hook. You always do.”

Jason paused. “It didn’t bother me because I knew you didn’t believe it even when you said it,” he admitted. “I know you, Elizabeth. It’s not about letting you off the hook. It’s just—I know you,” he repeated. “You lie to protect yourself. And to protect other people—”

“Who never seem to deserve it,” she muttered, but a slight weight lifted off her shoulders. “I want to do better, Jason. I’m trying.” She cleared her throat. “About Jake. I would say we could keep things going the way they are—or maybe we could talk to him about why things were the way they were then, but—I’m—I’m basically going to be blowing Jake’s life up again tomorrow. And you need to be part of that decision.”

Jason arched his brows. “What does that mean?”

Elizabeth stared down at her hand, at the diamond on the fourth finger…and slowly removed the ring. She set it down in front of him. “Franco is in New York for the night, but when he comes home, I’m asking him to move out. And giving him back this ring.”

The only change in his facial expression was a slight muscle tick near the eyes. “I…I thought you said you were happy—”

“I thought I was,” she admitted. “But…today—” Elizabeth tilted her head back, looked up for a long moment. “I’ve been ignoring all the red flags. Franco makes Cameron and Aiden uncomfortable to the point that they sleep over their friends a lot or don’t come home after school until its almost time to go to bed. And they think—” She looked away, her eyes burning. “They think I love Jake more than them. And I can’t stand that. And I’ve been—there are other reasons. Franco lies to me a lot. About everything. And it’s been worse since you—since all of this with you and Drew. And I started to think about the tumor again. Because Griffin—” She cut off the ramble. “I don’t know. There are a lot of reasons. The important thing is that Jake is going to struggle with this. And he’s probably going to take it out on you. And I’m sorry for that—”

“Don’t be sorry,” Jason interrupted. “Look, I don’t think I’ve hid the fact that I don’t like him—”

“You hate him,” Elizabeth corrected with a wry smile. “Judgement free zone, right?”

“Fine. I hate him. And if I thought I could get away with it, he wouldn’t be breathing,” Jason said bluntly. “He’s a sociopath, Elizabeth. And I hate that he’s here. With any of the boys. With you.”

She sucked in a deep breath at the coldness radiating and nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess that’s fair. And that would usually be my cue to tell you about the tumor and how different he is—but I can’t. Because it means ignoring everything know has happened since the surgery. He’s still violent. And he still…struggles with doing the right thing. And even when he manages to do it, it’s almost like an accident.” Elizabeth chewed on her lip. “The thing is, Jason, the tumor did change him—”

“Damn it—”

“It didn’t make him a different person,” Elizabeth said in a rush. “It just…it changed the nature of his violence. And he does have more control over himself than I think he did before.” She wrapped her fingers around the tea mug, stared into the dark liquid. “And I excused it because it’s not like it’s the first time I’ve had to talk myself around the violence in someone I loved.”

There were a long moment of silence before Jason spoke. “You mean me.”

“Yeah,” Elizabeth said. She raised her eyes to him, but she couldn’t see any expression on his face. Couldn’t read him. God, she hated that he could do that. “I am not comparing the two of you. Or even saying you’re the same, I’m just saying—I have some experience….explaining away the choices people make.”

He scrubbed his hands over his face. “Elizabeth—”

“It’s how I made it work in my head, but it doesn’t work anymore. I’m not sure it really did. Maybe it was easier to lie to myself about Franco because I thought…” She pressed her lips together. “It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I know that I’m only punishing myself by staying with him. And I’m punishing my children. And you’ve been through enough. The last thing you should ever hear is your own son throwing out Franco’s name like Jake did tonight. I am so sorry for any of that, and I just—”

“Okay.” Jason exhaled slowly. “Okay. So you’re doing this tomorrow?”

“Yeah. And I’m telling the boys when they come home from school.” Elizabeth was relieved to have moved back to the topic at hand. “I wanted to know if—if you wanted to be here. Or if there was something you wanted me to say to Jake—or I don’t know. What do you think?”

“I don’t think I should be here,” Jason admitted. “But I think I do have to talk to Jake about…what he said tonight.” He shook his head. “You know…you were right earlier. We didn’t agree at the same time. You asked me, and I should have said no.”

“I never should have asked you to give him up,” Elizabeth said. “If we had just—I had just told you the truth the day I found out—it never would have been an option—”

“It doesn’t change the fact that I did walk away,” Jason said with a shake of his head. “I—” He swallowed. “I made promises to you. And I didn’t keep them. I understand why Jake would rather have the father who’s been here for the last two years.”

“But he deserves to have you—”

“I walked away before,” Jason said. “That was a mistake.” He met her eyes. “For a lot of reasons. I almost asked you tonight to stop taking Jake to dinner. Because I didn’t want to make it harder for him. But that’s the easy way to go. He thinks I don’t love him. That I didn’t love him then. He needs to know that I regret it.”

“Jason—”

“So we’ll talk to him about what happened. I don’t know if Drew did before—I know he has the memories, but—” Jason swallowed. “Jake should hear it from me.”

“He will come around,” Elizabeth said firmly. “We just…we have to try something new.”

“Yeah. Yeah, something has to change.” Jason got to his feet. “Listen, tomorrow…when you…give him the ring back…be careful.”

“He’s not going to hurt me,” Elizabeth said with a grimace as she also stood. “But—”

“For once, Elizabeth,” Jason said with an almost fond irritation, “don’t argue with me about this. This is not the first time we’ve had this conversation.”

“No, I guess it’s not.” Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. “I should really listen to you before I make romantic choices. You’ve literally always been right. Lucky, Ric, Lucky again, Ewan—” She sighed. “I’m irritated with myself just thinking about it.”

Jason shook his head as he put on his coat. He opened the front door and looked at her. “You’ve always been able to find the good in people, Elizabeth. It’s just that sometimes…”

“It’s not there to find?” she asked with an arched brow. “That’s not even the first time I’ve heard that today.”

“Be careful,” he repeated. “And if you need me, call me.”

“I will,” she said with a sigh. She closed the door behind him and pressed her wood against the forehead. She hadn’t intended to dredge up so much of their history, but damn if she didn’t feel better.

Just like she always did when she and Jason dropped the bullshit and were just honest with one another.