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.
“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—”
“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.”
“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.