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.
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?
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—”
“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.”
“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.”
“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—”
“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.”