Not a continuation of the medieval series 😛
Prompt: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” ― C.S. Lewis
Bobbie Spencer found him in his office, long after he normally left for the day. His eldest son had called, worried. Lee was never late for dinner, not since he had brought home another lost boy in January.
He was slumped over in his desk chair, his hand still clutching a pen as he had been finishing a patient’s chart. Lee Baldwin had spent his entire life helping people—from the children he counseled to the three boys he and his wife had fostered and adopted—and no one was surprised he had had his final heart attack in the midst of continuing his life’s work.
On an early spring day, Lee’s sons buried him in the plot reserved for him after his wife Gail had succumbed to breast cancer a decade earlier. They returned to the home where they had been raised, now filled with food and the people who had loved their father.
And Jason Morgan, the eldest of the three boys but the last to come to Lee and Gail, hated every inch of it.
He sat on the back porch, where the backyard met the small patch of woods and a creek. Wind rustled through the leaves, the low level of water babbled over rocks…this was was everything to him.
Patrick and Johnny had wanted to go back downtown, to the streets where they had grown up. Maybe to prove something—that they weren’t the same little assholes anymore, that they were better, stronger men.
Jason just wanted the peace, the quiet. He liked his home, liked his garage two blocks away. Stopping in the local diner for lunch or coffee. He didn’t need more than that.
The porch door creaked behind him, and he heard footsteps. Without turning, he said, “I’m not going back in there.”
“Hell, I know that.” His younger brother sat next to him and passed over a bottle of Rolling Rock. “Figured you’d want another one of these.”
Jason accepted it, and used the corner of the porch to knock off the cap—he’d been doing that since he was sixteen. “I can’t deal with all those people.”
“You don’t like people in general.” Johnny Zacchara shrugged. “I don’t either, but I’m better at pretending.” He took a long pull from his own bottle. “What was the final straw?”
“Bobbie Spencer was crying on my shoulder.” Jason closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the porch post. “I get it. Everyone loved Dad. I didn’t fight having the memorial, I just…”
“Want to put it away.” Johnny nodded. “I get it. Patrick’s the schmoozer, he’s got it covered.” He was quiet for a moment. “The chick from Social Services stopped by. The blonde?”
Jason frowned. “Why? We told her how it was going to be. Dad wanted Michael to stay. He’s ours. Done.”
“Adoption was barely started.” Johnny looked down at his bottle. “She’s worried we’re a bunch of crazy bachelors. But better us than somewhere else, right?”
“Right.” Jason nodded. And it was a done deal in his head. It was Lee’s last wish, so that was the end of it.
The door creaked again, but this time Jason heard the sound of heels rather than the shoes of a man. He straightened and turned. “Elizabeth.” He stood. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Elizabeth Webber smiled at them both, her blue eyes tinged with fatigue, one had propping open the door. “Patrick’s looking a bit wilted, Johnny. He had to deal with the nursing staff without you guys. Maybe…”
“Heard.” Johnny flashed their old friend a smile as he brushed past her into the house. “Jason wouldn’t be any help anyway.”
Jason didn’t even bother to scowl at his brother.. “You okay?”
“Fine.” She shifted. “Jason—”
“Where’s Cam?” Jason asked, cutting her off before she could ask him the same question everyone else did.
He might tell her the truth.
“He’s inside, taking a nap with Lulu’s son.” Elizabeth gently closed the door and stepped closer. “I’m surprised you lasted as long as you did. Almost an hour.” She tried to smile, but it didn’t last. She closed her eyes as a tear slid down. “I’m sorry. I was just—I walked into the kitchen and he wasn’t there. And I didn’t realize how different the house would be—”
Jason reached for her arm and drew her close. “Hey. Hey. Elizabeth—”
She wiped at her eyes and shook her head, drawing away from him. “No, no. I’m okay. I—you lost your father. I’m fine. Really.”
He sighed, but kept his hand on her arm. “Take a walk with me.”
“What?” she frowned. She gestured behind her. “We still have—”
“Don’t worry about it.” He tugged her down the stairs and towards the path that led into the woods. He needed to be away from the house almost as much he wanted to see Elizabeth take a moment for herself, which she rarely did.
From the moment he had come to live with Lee and Gail Baldwin in their home on the outskirts of Port Charles, Elizabeth Webber had been part of his life. She had been a little girl, then, nine to his thirteen, and closer to Johnny and Patrick since they were all in the same grade. At first, she had visited during the summers—her grandparents had lived nearby and worked with the Baldwins at the hospital. She had moved to Port Charles permanently three years later when her parents left for Doctors Without Borders, and she’d remained there.
To Johnny and Patrick, she would always be their sister—a comrade in arms, and often a partner in crime. To Jason, she was…fresh. Innocent. The first person, other than Lee and Gail, to care about him. Even Patrick and Johnny hadn’t warmed up to him as fast as she had.
And if maybe, once they were older, his feelings had shifted, that didn’t matter. She was better than him, deserved more than him.
“It feels weird to take this path now.” Elizabeth wrapped the ends of her thin black sweater more tightly around her torso as they picked their way through the well-traveled route. “How many times do you think we used this in high school?”
“More than my parents knew.” Jason winced—the shoes he’d worn for the service were not much for walking in. “I can’t believe it’s been eight years since your grandmother died.”
“I know.” Elizabeth stopped when the white porch of the old Hardy house was visible. “I wonder if my grandmother knew my parents would sell her home so quickly.” She was quiet for a moment. “They really just thought I could pull up stakes after five years and come to Europe, like I wasn’t in the middle of my senior year.” She turned and offered him a sad smile. “But Lee wouldn’t hear of it. For a little while, I was one of his lost kids. I loved him so much. I hate that Michael won’t get to know him and love him the way we did.”
Jason exhaled slowly. “Johnny told me Social Services is making some noise about pulling him.”
She blinked. “But he’s doing so well here. I know his grades are up and he was talking to Lee last week about playing baseball this year.” She pressed her lips together. “You guys are going for custody aren’t you?”
“Lee wanted us to keep him, so we’re keeping him.” Jason looked off into the woods, focusing on the breaks in the trees where the creek could be seen. “We’ll meet with her. It probably won’t be anything, but—” He looked at her, and shifted, hating what he was about to say. “Can you—can you maybe help out a bit for a few days? We don’t…have a schedule or anything with Michael yet. I—I don’t plan my day around him. He needs to be picked up from school—” He cleared his throat. “I’ll pay you whatever Dad was paying you to keep doing some things around the house—”
Elizabeth scowled and stepped back from him. “You think Lee was paying me to look after him and Michael? To make some meals and clean up? Jason.”
He frowned. “You’ve been around a lot the last few months—I know you cut back on some the houses you look after on the weekend and dropped a shift at Kelly’s to be around for Michael. Elizabeth—”
“Lee was family to me. He needed a bit of extra help.” She huffed. “He wasn’t a young anymore—when he took in the three of you, he did it with Gail. He was a bit out of his depth with Michael.” She bit her lip. “He needed the help, Jason. Couldn’t you see that?”
He looked away. He had. But he had ignored it. Kept to himself. Protecting his quiet world.
“I didn’t mean…” Elizabeth sighed, and tilted her head. “Jason, you know Lee hated asking you guys for anything. He was so proud of all you—”
“Don’t.” Jason shook his head sharply. “Let’s just…” He paused. “Let’s just get back to what—I’m going to need help with Michael. Patrick and Johnny—they can’t just…they can’t pick up and move back to the house, and I still need to work. Please. I know you’d help without it, but I’d feel better if I knew you and Cameron were all right.”
Elizabeth turned and started back towards the Baldwin house. He followed her, but said nothing. He knew she would agree—he just had to wait.
“Let’s do it this way,” Elizabeth said after a long moment. “I’ll still work the lunch shift at Kelly’s, and my regular weekend shifts. But I’ll pick Michael up from school, look after him until one of you can get here. And you can pay me the rate I would usually make at Kelly’s for the evening.”
“Okay.” The house came into view and he stopped. “I have to go back in there, don’t I?”
“Yeah.” She wound her arm through his. “But I’ll come with you.”