This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series The Next Best Thing

Well I met someone who touched my soul
And made my world brand new
There’s a part of me, a place inside
That now belongs to you
The love we found, the love we found
We carry with us so we’re never quite alone
When Love Is Found/It Feels Like Christmas, A Muppet Christmas Carol


Monday, December 29, 2008

 West Plana Cays: Sonny Corinthos’ Villa

 Sonny had built the villas on the private island he controlled during the long year he’d lived in exile after leaving Brenda at the altar. He’d built his to be open — every single room had a door to the outside world, whether it was to the courtyard at the center or the beach that surrounded three sides.

It had had been his dream home, a place where he’d thought he’d escape from the pressures of being Sonny Corinthos. He’d even built a place for Jason to have when he came down to the island so that Sonny would remain alone here in the paradise he’d built.

He’d never thought he’d be imprisoned in it. That his entire world would stop at the water’s edge.

“Sonny.”

The quiet voice of the latest doctor hired by his jailer didn’t make Sonny turn around. Neil Winters was nice. He was quiet. And he didn’t pretend to have all the answers. Sonny appreciated that. It made it bearable for get through the sessions the doctor held three times a week. He flew in from Miami just to take care of Sonny’s fractured psyche.

If Jason wanted to waste his money pretending there was some kind of end to any of this that wasn’t a bullet in Sonny’s brain, Sonny figured he might as well let him.

“Yeah?” Sonny said. He heard Neil’s soft footsteps draw closer as the doctor joined him at the edge of the railing in Sonny’s suite of rooms overlooking the ocean.

“A plane just landed at the air strip,” Neil said. “I thought you might be interested in who was on board.”

Sonny frowned now—because this he hadn’t seen coming. Jason had just flown back to Port Charles a week earlier and he hadn’t expected to see him again until the spring.

Or the next time Sonny stopped taking his meds and tried to throw himself over the railing and make it all stop.

“Who?” Sonny demanded.

“Jason came back,” Neil said. “And he’s not alone.”

The spit in Sonny’s mouth dried as he tried to work through what meant. Was it one of the guys? Maybe Bernie. The Abrams brothers had worked for him for years and he was sure Bernie still had some fondness for him. Or maybe Tommy or Max, one of the guys that had come up working for Sonny.

Was that supposed to cheer him up?

“He brought his family,” Neil continued. “And yours. Your sister is with him. And so is Evangeline.”

Evangeline.

Sonny closed his eyes. The little girl he hadn’t seen since the engagement party, dressed in ruffles and bows to celebrate the engagement of her then-guardian. Sonny had looked at the little girl with Sam’s pretty black hair and his dark brown eyes and thought—one day, one day he’d show the whole world that he was healed and get to be part of her life.

He’d get to be her father.

“Why?” Sonny managed. “Why would Elizabeth let him bring her—”

“Jason brought his entire family,” Neil clarified. “His wife and all three of the children. You haven’t met his youngest son yet, have you?”

Jason had another son. A child of his own blood. Sonny knew that. Somewhere in his brain he’d known Elizabeth and Jason’s lives had gone on. That the set of toddlers he’d seen that August night were now small children.

Just like he knew his boys had grown. Michael was nearly—no, he’d turned eleven, hadn’t he? And Morgan—Morgan would be five. Had just had his birthday in October.

The world in Port Charles, the world on the other side of the ocean had just…kept going. It had kept turning.

And now Jason had brought a piece of that world here—why? Why would he be so cruel?

He must have said this last part out loud because Neil furrowed his brow and tilted his head to the side. “Why is it cruel to bring his family to visit you, Sonny?”

Sonny pressed his lips together and shook his head. “I’m not playing this game—”

“I’m sorry, but Anais said I should just come up.”

Sonny turned at the sound and saw his sister standing there. He hadn’t seen Courtney since…

He didn’t know. Maybe when he’d been in the hospital, but so much of that period was foggy, stolen from him in a haze of medication and psychosis.

She looked…good. Her blonde hair had been cut shorter than it’d been three years earlier, swinging just below her shoulders. She wore a pair of jeans and a thin sweater, likely as a nod to the warmer weather here on the island.

Courtney stepped closer to him, coming into the soft light of the balcony and smiled hesitantly at the doctor. “You must be Dr. Winters. Courtney Matthews.” She held out her hand.

“Are you his sister? Jason said you’d be coming by first.”

“Yeah, it’s a lot more work to unpack a family of five than it is a single woman.” Courtney shook his head, then turned back to Sonny. “It’s—it’s good to finally be here, Sonny.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Really.”

“I wanted to come before, but it wasn’t—” Courtney bit her lip. “I don’t want to blame Jason, because I know he had his reasons, but I tried to get a flight here. I tried to get a boat. But without his clearance…” She lifted a shoulder. “I wanted to come down here with you when you left Ferncliffe. I wanted to help you settle in.”

He didn’t know what to believe. He barely knew this sister of his, outside a single moment of closeness they’d shared in New York, when he’d gone to seek help and she’d pretended to give a damn.

Sonny took a deep breath. “Well, thank you for coming. But you should go home. Tell Jason to take his family and go.”

“Sonny…” Courtney tucked her hair behind hers, then shook her head. “No. I want to be here with you.”

“No, you don’t.” But Sonny was kind when he said it. “And I—I appreciate that you’re trying. That Jason is…I don’t know what, but I’m sure he means well. But there’s no point to this.”

“No point?” she repeated. “Sonny—”

“I’m not worth this trouble,” he said, gently. “Jason knew that when he sent me here. He locked me away because we all knew there was no saving me. No chance that it would get better.”

He turned back to the balcony and thought about just making it clear to them all. Maybe he should just throw himself off. But it was only the second floor, and it wasn’t high enough.

He should have built a tower. He’d die in a fall from a tower. Maybe there were cliffs. Or maybe he could drain the pool—

“Sonny—”

Courtney’s pleading tone broke into his thoughts, and he looked back at her, a bit confused. Was she still here? Why?

“If you and Jason want to do something for me,” Sonny told her, “then maybe you can tell him to leave me a gun and a bullet. Otherwise, this is just a waste of time. For everyone.”

Then he left the balcony, went through his sitting room, and closed his bedroom door behind him.

Morgan Villa: Living Room

“There’s no snow,” Cameron declared with a folding of his arms. He glared at the ocean in front of him. “This isn’t Christmas.”

“Oh, good, I was worried he wouldn’t find anything to complain about in a tropical paradise, but there you go, proof that he’s still my kid.” Elizabeth rolled her eyes and shoved Jake at Jason as one of the drivers brought in the last of their luggage in. “I think the older they get, the more sympathy I have for my parents.”

Jason just laughed and shook his head. “C’mon, Cam, let me show you where you and Jake are gonna sleep—” He took Cameron’s hand and started down the hallway towards the bathrooms as Cameron continued to complain.

“Whoa, time out—I gotta sleep in the same room with him here? This is supposed to be a vacation. Why don’t I ever get break? He’s just a baby! Ow!”

“Jake threw his toy at him,” Evie reported with a sneer as she started to drag her tote full of Barbies toward the sofa. Evie didn’t travel anywhere without her army of dolls.

“Well, he had that coming,” Elizabeth shrugged. She picked up Evie’s suitcase. “C’mon, I’ll take you to your room.”

In Evie’s room, she opened a pocket in the suitcase to take out the pair of frames Evie refused to go anywhere without.

Evie clambered onto the twin bed and picked up the photo of her mother. “Hi, Birth Mommy. I got to go on a plane. I never been on a plane before. Did you go on a plane?”

Elizabeth smiled as Evie continued to chatter to Sam’s photo. She opened a drawer and started to unpack Evie’s clothes. Evie had talked to Sam every day since she’d first heard her story, and she hoped, somewhere, Sam could hear her daughter.

She knew Sam’s fear had been being forgotten—that Sonny and Carly wouldn’t raise Evie to know her—and her desperation and fear had been the tipping for Jason continuing the secret. She hoped somehow Sam knew they’d tried to do right by her.

“How come I don’t have a picture of Birth Daddy?” Evie asked as she carefully placed Sam’s photo next to Jason and Elizabeth’s wedding photo. “Do you gots pictures of them together? Like you and Daddy?”

“I…don’t think so,” Elizabeth said after a long moment. She turned to frown at Evie. “I guess…I don’t know why we never gave you a picture of Sonny. Give me a second.”

She went back into the living room and opened one of the boxes she’d brought to show Sonny. Each of her kids had a huge scrapbook for each year of their lives, and she’d brought all of Evie’s in case Sonny was up for it. Inside Evie’s scrapbook box, she found a box of photos that she kept with the books and took it back to Evie’s room.

Outside of Jake and Cameron’s room, she could hear Jason and Cam talking as Jason struggled to set up the DVD player—Cameron refused to go anywhere without a way to play his beloved Ghostbusters movies.

Smiling now, she returned to Evie’s room and set the box on the bed. “Let’s pick out a picture of your birth daddy—I know just the right one, I think.”

Elizabeth dug to the bottom of the box and pulled out a batch of photos from her engagement party. The last night Sonny had truly been part of her life. “Here’s one of you and Gram Audrey—”

“She was so pretty,” Evie said, tracing the photo. “And look, there’s Grampy and me.” She beamed at Elizabeth holding up a photo of her and Edward. “And there’s Daddy. He looks grumpy. He and Grampy are funny. They’re always making fun of each other.”

“Sure.” Elizabeth held out a photo. “There. That’s you and Sonny, your biological father. He’s holding you at our engagement party.”

“Oh…” Evie smiled at it. “He has dark hair like me. Did I get my hair from him?”

“Maybe. I think you get the color from your mommy, but his hair gets curly, too, when he doesn’t put anything in it. You have his pretty brown eyes.”

“I need a frame, but I think he’ll fit next to Birth Mommy, and then I can tell them both all about my dolls. But…” Evie pursed her lips. “Maybe if Birth Daddy likes me, I can tell him in person. Do you think he’ll want to hear about my dolls? I tell really good stories, Mommy. You should tell him that.”

“I think if your father is feeling up to it, I think there’s nothing more in the world he’d want than to listen you to tell stories with your dolls,” Elizabeth told her. She tugged Evie in her lap and hugged her tightly. “And I’ll tell him that myself. I love you so much.”

“I’m so glad I picked you and you picked me, Mommy. Birth Mommy was so smart to make sure Daddy got to have me, because he picked you, too.” Evie pressed her rosebud lips to Elizabeth’s and gave her a smacking kiss. “Even if I gots dumb Cam, too.”

After Elizabeth finished unpacking Evie’s things, she settled Evie in the boys’ room with her favorite Barbies so Evie could watch Ghostbusters with Cam. She went out to the kitchen where Jason was pouring himself a glass of water.

“Let me talk to Sonny first,” she told him. Jason blinked at her, shook his head.

“No. I let Courtney go over first because I couldn’t—well, I didn’t know how to stop her,” he admitted. “She’s not good at taking no for an answer—” He squinted. “Which is, uh, something that you have in common, so I’m not sure why I tried to say no.”

“I like when you talk yourself out of an argument,” Elizabeth said with an arch of her brow. She climbed onto the stool by the island. “So, I need to see him first.”

“I—” Jason sighed. “It’s just me wanting to protect you that makes me want to say no, you know that. I guess…I just…I don’t know.”

“I don’t know if I can reach him again,” she said. “But I want to try. And you’ve been down here before—but hey, maybe Courtney will get somewhere—”

The sliding glass door to the front of the house opened and they both turned as Courtney came in, her cheeks stained with red. “I’m sorry. I—”

“It didn’t go well,” Jason guessed as he approached his ex-wife. “What happened?”

“He’s…” Courtney shook her head. “You weren’t kidding. He’s suicidal, Jase. He wants you to leave him a gun and a bullet. He told me to tell you to just take the kids and go—for all of us just to go.”

She closed her eyes. “I can’t help him. I don’t even know where to start.”

Jason exhaled slowly. “So, Neil told him we were here—he knows Evie is here—” He looked at Elizabeth. “Maybe we should just…spend a few days here, then go home. Maybe this was a mistake.”

“Maybe,” Elizabeth allowed. She slid off the stool and pulled Courtney into a hug. “I’m sorry, Courtney. I know how much you’ve wanted to come here.”

“I never know how to fix it,” Courtney said, hugging her back fiercely. She pulled back slightly, sniffling. She managed a small smile. “But you might.”

“What?” Elizabeth blinked, stepped back. “Courtney—”

“Something I had to accept a long time ago was one of the reasons Sonny and I couldn’t connect is that he’d never needed a sister. He had Robin, and he had you. He had Jason. He didn’t need a family. You got through to him the last time. He came to me in New York and told me so. That’d you made him feel like he wasn’t alone.”

Courtney stepped back, looked at Jason with a sad smile before looking back at Elizabeth. “You told me once you felt like I’d come into your life and taken it over.”

“Courtney—” Flushing, Elizabeth shook her head. “No, I was—I didn’t mean it.”

“No, I know. You were hurting, but—I think maybe you had a point. I came in and I took your place as someone Sonny could protect. As someone Jason…” She shrugged. “Wanted to be with. But I was a square peg in a round hole. I didn’t fit. You always did. You know Sonny more than I do.”

“You were just saying you thought you might be able to help,” Jason told Elizabeth. “I think Courtney’s right.” He traded an uncomfortable look with his ex. “I don’t want to go home without trying everything. Courtney’s tried. I tried.”

“I guess I’m all that’s left.” Elizabeth sighed. “Okay, but I need you to put a few things in the car.”

Sonny’s Villa: Living Room

Elizabeth didn’t go upstairs to meet Sonny on his own turf in his bedroom. Instead, she lugged in her box of scrapbooks, pulled out the one she was working on for Jake’s birthday in May and waited.

She’d met Neil Winters about ten minutes after she’d arrived and had told him briefly what she thought she might try to talk to Sonny about. Neil was undecided if it would work but thought it had about as much chance as anything else, so he went upstairs to tell Sonny that it was okay if he didn’t want to talk to Elizabeth right now.

She’d wait until he did.

Neil went to his suite of rooms on the first floor but promised to check in on her in a little while. Elizabeth knew she wouldn’t have to wait long.

It was maybe thirty minutes before she heard Sonny’s footsteps padding down the stairs that lined the outside of the room—then he was inside, walking through one of the archways from the courtyard.

She glanced up from perusing photos of Jake opening Christmas presents but remained seated. “Hey. I have to say, thank you so much for making me wait. Do you know how long it’s been since I had thirty uninterrupted minutes?”

She held up a photo of Jake. “What do you think of this one?”

Obviously irritated, but curious despite himself, Sonny came forward and took the photo from her. “This is…this is Jake, isn’t it?”

“Jacob Martin,” Elizabeth confirmed. “He was only six months old last Christmas, so in a lot of ways this was his first Christmas. And Evie and Cam really got into the Santa thing this year.” She flipped through a few others. “Here—this is the three of them at the Christmas party with Edward playing Santa.”

“Edward, huh? It used to be Tony Jones,” Sonny said. He gingerly sat next to her and picked up the photo she offered. “They’re…so big now.”

“Yeah, Cam turned four in May, Evie in November. She looks so much like you and Sam.” Elizabeth considered his hair. “She wanted to know if I thought she got her hair from you or Sam.”

“I—” Sonny cleared his throat. “She knows….about me. And Sam.”

“She does. We kept a photo of Sam on her nightstand pretty much since the day I redecorated her room.” Elizabeth sighed. “But she hadn’t seen a photo of you until tonight. I’m sorry about that. I guess…I knew she’d never get to see Sam, you know? And you’re still alive. So, there was always a chance.”

“I know you came here…for something. That she’s with you.” Sonny set the photo down and got back to his feet. “You should go home.”

“If after you and I talk tonight, you still feel that way, we will.” She bit her lip and found another photo of Evie from the Christmas party, sitting on Edward’s lap, looking at him suspiciously. “She’s so smart, Sonny. She’s sitting here, and she knows that Santa’s voice sounds familiar. His eyes are the same. She doesn’t know it’s Grampy, but she knows something isn’t right. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to keep the magic for her as long as I want to.”

A smile tugged at Sonny’s lips as he took the photo. “She’s beautiful.”

“She’s been asking for her special story a lot these days,” Elizabeth told him. She closed Jake’s scrapbook and put it back into the box. “She knows it by heart, but she likes having it told to her. She knows that her birth mother couldn’t stay and that her birth father was too sick to. She knows about you, Sonny. Not as well as she should. But I’m hoping to change that. I don’t have a lot of stories to tell her about Sam, but I have stories about you.”

Sonny exhaled. “What story do you plan to tell her, Elizabeth? The one where I tried to kill Jason? The one where I broke her mother’s heart? Where I gave her away? What story do you want to tell Evie about me?”

“Well, I was going to start with something a bit nicer. I know Luke and Lucky have some stories. And Jason has them, too. She loves stories, Sonny. She wanted to tell me that she tells great stories with her dolls, and she hopes you’ll let her show you.”

“I—” Sonny stared at her. “You mean that, don’t you? You actually think I should be in the same room with that little girl? That I deserve to be? After—” He closed his head, shook it violently. “I deserve to be dead. Jason should have finished the job—”

“Okay.” Elizabeth’s palms were sweating as she got to her feet. “Can I ask you something about that?”

Sonny frowned at her. “What? Why? What?” He squinted. “Elizabeth—”

“I know what you or I would have done if we were faced with that situation. If I’d been Jason, I might have done exactly what you’re suggesting. You know? He told me you’d said it needed to be you or him, and I agreed with you. I told him that before he left. That if it came down to it, if there was a choice—it needed to be him. Jason had to come to home to me. I told him that the Sonny we both loved would agree—”

“I do—”

“Because you and I are different people. We thought there had to be a choice. We think in black and white, which is…” Elizabeth raised her brows. “Ironic, don’t you, think? Because Jason used to be one that thought everything was clear like that. You taught him differently. We both taught him about all the shades in between. So why did either of us ever think he’d make a choice if it came down to it?”

“I…” Sonny pressed a fist to his best. “Because it needs to be over, Elizabeth. And as long as I’m here, stuck here—it’s not over. You deserve this to be over. Everything I did to you, to your family—the day your grandmother was buried, I nearly got your kids killed—” His voice broke. “I don’t deserve to live.”

“For a long time,” Elizabeth said carefully, “I agreed with you. In fact, I think you wouldn’t be surprised to know that part of me still agrees.”

And the relief in Sonny’s face broke her heart—the dizzying relief that finally, someone understood what he’d been screaming for three long years.

“Which is why Jason needs to just…the next time I have a break—when I go off my meds, just let me make it stop—”

“If you think Jason would ever let you go like this…” Elizabeth closed the distance between them, took Sonny’s hand where it still laid against his chest. She wrapped both of her hands around it. “If you think he wouldn’t have let you die three years ago when he could save you, why do you think he wouldn’t keep trying to save you now?”

“Then you need to convince him we’ll all be better off—”

“If he could be convinced, then he’s not the man I fell in love with. That’s not our Jason, Sonny. And you know that.” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “I understand, though. What it’s like to think the world is better off without you.”

“Elizabeth—”

“I told you I went to therapy in California, remember? Because I couldn’t understand the life I was living—”

“You really don’t have to do this—” He shook his head.

“After Cameron was born, I thought…I thought I was going to be a terrible mother. That’s part of the reason my aunt wanted me to go to see a therapist. She found me crying in the room I was staying in. I told her I’d be a terrible mother, and the best thing would be if I just…died and someone who would do better would raise my baby.”

“Elizabeth.” Sonny blinked at her, stepped back, his face frozen in horror. “That’s—”

“I never told Jason that, you know.” Her lip trembled a bit. “Don’t tell him, okay? He doesn’t know just how bad it got there. He knows I went to therapy, that I was…that I was low, but sometimes I think he blames himself. I just…I get it, Sonny. I told you years ago I understood what it was like to stand outside of yourself and wish you were anywhere else. I meant that. I know what it’s like to wish it was over. California wasn’t even the first time I thought about suicide.”

Sonny exhaled slowly, looked around. “I need—I need to sit down.”

He made it to the sofa and put his head in his heads. “Elizabeth—”

“I don’t anymore,” she told him. “Therapy really did help. And I started to make better decisions. I started to really put my own mental health first. I asked for things I need. And my family was there. My grandmother, my brother. Of course, Jason.

“That’s part of the reason I feel so guilty about what I’ve put you through—when you told Jason you wished you were dead…” Elizabeth hesitated. “I mean it, Sonny, I’ve never told anyone that. Jason. Emily. Only my aunt and my therapist. I realized that my pain and my trauma was making you feel the way I felt then.”

“But it’s true for me—”

“I’m sure it is,” Elizabeth said. She sat next to him. Reached for his hand again. “That’s what makes it all so terrible, isn’t it? The conviction that no one else really gets it but you. Of course the world would be better off without you, you think. What have you ever brought people but pain and hurt?”

A tear slid down Sonny’s cheek. “So just let me go—”

“The last time we saw each other, at the engagement party…” Elizabeth let his hand go so she could find the picture of them from the party. Just one of her standing with Sonny as they grinned at the photographer. “I haven’t looked at these photos since…since they were developed.”

“Elizabeth—”

“It was such a perfect moment,” she murmured. “My family was perfect. Jason was finally making peace with the Quartermaines. And you—God, Sonny, we had you back. Even though I knew it meant I wouldn’t get to keep Evie—I would get to have you. More—Jason would get to have you. I wanted you at the wedding. Standing beside him. We deserved it. You deserved it.”

“It’s an illusion—”

“Is it?” She licked her lips. “Sonny, it’s hard to convince yourself that you—just you—are enough. You know? That just you being in the world is reason enough to stay. I’m a mother, and there were days when Cameron was first born that I wasn’t sure he was enough to stay. I knew I wasn’t enough. But my aunt and my therapist told me just…give it one more day. Wake up tomorrow. Get through tomorrow. And I did that. I did it day by day. I watched Cameron start to wiggle around, you know? And he smiled at me.”

She looked down at the photograph of her and Sonny. Set it down, and pictured up another of she, Jason, and Sonny posing together. Held it out to him. “Cam’s smile gave me a reason the day after that. I thought—I can do anything if he smiles at me. I just needed a reason. Because eventually, I realized I was enough. It took time, and it was hard. And sometimes, I slid back into old habits. But I found the first thing. I found something to wake up for.”

“Elizabeth—”

“You feel terrible about what happened the day of my grandmother’s funeral. What Cam and Evie—what we all went through. I’m asking you…” She waited until he took the photo of the three of them. “I’m asking to do this for me. It’s okay if it’s not for you today. I’m asking you to look at this photograph.”

He looked down at it, focused on Elizabeth standing between Jason and Sonny, Jason’s grin, on Sonny’s own smile.

“This man wasn’t an illusion, Sonny. This man was Jason’s family. And I want him in our lives. Maybe you’re not him today. And maybe you won’t ever be him again. We’ve been through a lot. You’ve been through hell. But you’re still here. I have to believe it’s for a reason.”

“Elizabeth.”

“It took me so long to forgive you. For the terror of that moment, and now I need you to forgive me.”

“Forgive—” His head snapped up. “Elizabeth, no—”

“Because I knew you were sick. And I punished you for it. It’s because of me you’re still here. Do you know what really turned me around after all those months?” She smiled through her tears. “I came home to Port Charles, and I sat on a bench next to Jason, and we bantered about the smell of snow. I needed to come home. I don’t—I don’t know if that’s the answer for you. But this—staying here, alone, it’s not the answer. I’m asking you to let me, to let Jason—to let us help you find another way—”

She set the photos in front of him, added a third of Sonny and Evie. “I want you to keep these photographs. And use them as reason to get through tonight. Because tomorrow, Evie wants to tell you a story with your dolls, and I think you should let her.”

Sonny closed his eyes. “Okay. Okay. I want to hear Evie’s stories.”

“Good.” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “You won’t be sorry, Sonny. She really does tell the best stories.”

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series The Next Best Thing

Oh Christmas lights
Light up the street
Light up the fireworks in me
May all your troubles soon be gone
Those Christmas lights keep shining on
Christmas Lights, Coldplay


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Morgan & Corinthos Warehouse: Jason’s Office

Jason signed the last contract Bernie Abrams, his business manager, handed him, then shoved back from the desk. “Is that everything we need to do before the New Year?”

“Barring emergencies. It’s usually quiet this time of year,” Bernie offered as he placed the paperwork into his briefcase. “Your flight to New York leaves soon, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, but it’s only overnight. I’m having dinner with Carly and the kids for Michael’s birthday, then flying back here in the morning.” Jason grimaced. “Then we’re flying down to the island the day after.” He hesitated. “I guess almost everyone knows I’m taking Evie down to meet Sonny.”

“It’s like a high school locker room out there,” Bernie agreed. “Most of the rank and file don’t care. A lot of them never worked that closely with Sonny anyway. A few…more than a few,” he admitted, “are a bit nervous this might be the first step of something.”

“Yeah, I figured.” Jason pushed his hands into the pockets of his pants and turned to look out the window over the harbor. “That’s part of the reason I had Sonny moved to the island when he was released from Ferncliffe. I knew if he was in Port Charles, there would be problems. I don’t think Zacchara or Ruiz would ever work with him, not after the last time. But there’s always someone who wants to prove himself.”

“Jason—”

“And I can’t promise you that things aren’t going to change. If Sonny were anyone else with bipolar disorder, we wouldn’t be keeping him from his family. From his life.” Jason looked at Bernie. “Maybe it would have been easier if I’d let him pull the trigger and end it four years ago.”

“I’m sure sometimes it feels that way,” the older man said. “And you know, there were a lot of us who thought so at the time. But those of us who knew you, who knew Sonny, we always knew you made the right decision, even if it was ultimately the harder one.” He paused for a long moment. “Do you expect that Sonny will be returning to Port Charles?”

“I don’t know,” Jason admitted. “I know that we can’t leave things the way they are.” He was quiet again and returned to look out the window. “Sonny brought me into this business. And everyday I’m here and not him, it feels like a betrayal. Even though I know it had to be this way. Everyone is safer this way. I had to protect my children. After he went to the Ruizes, after he sent men into the house with guns—”

He’d had to kill a man who had been carrying Evie out the door. His daughter, barely a year old at the time, had seen him shoot a man between the eyes. Cameron, only steps away, had seen him as well. Maybe they didn’t remember it—they’d been so young—but Jason always would carry it with him, the way their screams had grown louder and more shrill as the gunfire exploded around them.

“He’ll be better for months,” Jason continued. “And then he’ll stop taking his meds. He’ll have another breakdown. How do I let him back home where he can try to challenge me for the territory again? How do I open all of us back up to it?”

“But how can you live with yourself if Sonny does something terrible because you kept him locked up?” Bernie finished his thought. “Before, it would have been on your consciousness that you didn’t stop him from pulling that trigger but it wasn’t your fault. Not really. Now…”

“It would be.” Jason took a deep breath. “Nothing is changing here,” he told Bernie. “I’m in charge. Tommy, Johnny, Max, and Francis. They’re seconds in command. Sonny isn’t. And that’s not something I ever plan to change. Wherever Sonny lives, he has to be out of the business. He can’t be trusted. Make sure that’s clear.”

He went to the closet to pull out his jacket and the overnight bag he’d packed for the trip to New York. “I’ll call you if anything changes.”

“Good luck in New York, Jason. And on the island. Give Sonny my best.” Bernie put a hand on the door as Jason twisted the knob to open it. “I mean that, Jason. Sonny was a good friend for a long time, and my brother was devoted to him. Please let him know that.”

“I will.”

Kelly’s: Dining Room

 Elizabeth set Jake in his high chair and frowned at her sister-in-law, Emily Cassadine, as she sat alone at the table. “Where’s Spencer?”

“With Laura, thank God. She’s giving me a break.” Emily rolled her shoulders. “Grandparents, man. They are lifesavers.”

“Tell me about it. If Monica didn’t want to spoil Evie and Cam every five minutes, I’d never get a second to myself. And Nora isn’t coming back until the first week in January.” Elizabeth pursed her lips. “But I think we’re going to be losing her anyway. She’s graduating in the spring and Cam and Evie are in school full-time. It’s easier to find baby-sitting for just Jake.”

“And you never liked the idea of having a nanny anyway,” Emily reminded her. “What day are you going back to work?”

“Same day Cam and Evie go back to school. Ava’s supposed to come up in mid-January.” Elizabeth wrinkled her nose at the mention of Ava Jerome, her partner in the art gallery she’d opened two years earlier. “That woman is literally the worst.”

“I remember her from your last show, so you don’t have to tell me.” Emily sipped her hot chocolate. “So, enough small talk. Did Jason leave for New York?”

“Yeah.” Elizabeth checked her watch. “His flight took off about a half hour ago.” She handed Jake his sippy cup filled with fruit juice. “I’m sure Courtney is going to go—she would have gone ages ago if Jason had let her.”

“But you don’t think Carly is going to let the boys go with you guys?”

“No, I don’t. And, you know, I’m not sure I blame her.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “Part of me doesn’t want to go at all. We told the kids last night, and Evie was so upset. She thought meeting her birth father meant we were going to give her away. And Jason and I both promised her it didn’t mean that, except—”

“Except this might be the first step to Sonny really getting himself together. And if he can get his meds right, he might come back to Port Charles. Or he might move somewhere else to start over.” Emily hesitated. “What do you think Jason would do about custody?”

“We’ve talked about it. I’m not really worried about Sonny moving somewhere else and asking for custody. He terminated his rights before she was born, and even though he could argue he’d been tricked into doing it, he never did anything about it. The adoption was finalized. I don’t think a judge would take her from us. Not now.”

“Yeah, but that’s not what I asked, is it? I asked you what would Jason do? Because you know, if you hadn’t been involved four years ago—if you hadn’t been there with him through all of that—”

“I don’t know, Em. I don’t think Jason would have given Sonny custody. Not with things the way they were.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “But Jason’s feeling guilty about Sonny struggling on the island. I am, too. I am,” she insisted when Emily looked dubious. “I feel like everything Jason and I have is because we sacrificed Sonny and his happiness.”

“Elizabeth—”

“And I know Jason has kept him on the island because of what happened with Cam and Evie. Because he doesn’t trust that Sonny wouldn’t try to take power back by force. But he’s kept him there because of me. You’re right about that much, Em. If not for me, Jason would still be propping Sonny up and cleaning up after his messes.”

“But you said it was your idea to change things. To bring Evie down to meet him—”

“When Jason called me three years ago and told me that Sonny was in the psych ward, do you know the first thing I felt? Anger. I was so angry at him for putting Sonny first again. Because I knew as long as Sonny lived, we’d have this cloud over our lives.”

“I know that—”

“Even knowing how much Jason loves Sonny, knowing that Sonny isn’t well, that he doesn’t deserve the pain he’s been living in, part of me…” She shook her head. “Still resents him. And resents Jason for doing what I know he had to do. I understand it, and the fact that he was able to do the right thing—I love him for it, Em. I do. But how do I live with myself knowing that selfishness is in me? When Jason has to go to the island to save Sonny again, I get angry all over again because it will never be over.”

Emily said nothing as Elizabeth took a deep breath. “That’s why I have to go to the island. Because I need to put that part of me away. I need to see Sonny again. I need to be able to talk to him. To get some closure. And to separate the man I know he really is from the man who sent armed thugs to my home to kidnap Evie no matter what the cost. I have to get rid of this anger and resentment, Em. Because it’s not fair to Jason.”

“Does he know how you feel?”

Elizabeth managed a smile. “No. I don’t think so. I’m the selfish one, not him. I’ve always told him that the choice he made in that moment, and the choices he’s made since to take care of Sonny—that’s the man I love. If he’d done anything else, he wouldn’t be Jason. He came home this time, Em, worried about Sonny, and I started in with the same old argument, reminding him of all the damage Sonny’s done—but then I stopped myself. I looked at Jason, and I realized he’s bearing the weight of all of this.”

She closed her eyes. “It’s Jason who has to go to the island every few months and tell the man he loves like a father that he can never come home. It’s Jason that has to live with the guilt of knowing he took power from Sonny and locked him up—things Sonny feared more than anything else. And I had to stop. I have to stop letting Jason carry this. Because it’s my burden, too. I walked into Jason’s life and this crap with Sonny with my eyes wide open. I promised him I’d take it on. And I haven’t.”

“Elizabeth—”

“It stops now, Em. It has to. I need to be able to live with myself and look at my daughter, knowing I did the right thing. Jason did the right thing three years ago even though by any measure, letting Sonny kill himself would have made everything easier. It’s my turn to do it now. I love Jason, and I need to do what’s right. Even if it makes everything worse.”

New York City

 Jacks Penthouse: Living Room

 Carly Corinthos-Jacks had fled Port Charles three years earlier with little more than her boys and the clothes on her back. With a later divorce settlement in hand, she’d gone into business with Jasper Jacks and opened one of the best hotels in the city. Despite Jax’s misgivings, they’d flourished as business partners.

This January, they’d celebrate their first wedding anniversary.

But she’d never forgotten Jason or the support he’d given her as Carly had waged a path of destruction through Port Charles, so when he asked to come down to New York to talk to her about Sonny, something he hadn’t done in three years, Carly agreed.

They were never going to be as close as they once were, but Jason visited every year for Morgan and Michael’s birthdays, and this year, Carly and her family had been invited back to Port Charles for his children’s birthdays — Cam and Jake both celebrating in May, and Evie in November.

Holidays and birthdays — it was more than Carly ever thought they might share and she was willing to accept it.

She offered him a beer, then poured herself a glass of water before they sat in the living room, in front of the ten foot tall Christmas tree she’d decorated with the boys.

“Michael is going to be so excited to see you when he gets back from ice skating with Jax,” Carly told him. “He’s missed you. So has Morgan, but—”

“Michael knows me better,” Jason said, and Carly knew Jason would also have a soft spot for the little boy he’d raised and loved as his own. “How was Christmas?”

“Good. A little sad,” Carly admitted. “It was Michael’s first year not believing in Santa, but he kept up the pretense for Morgan. I appreciated it.” She sipped her water. “You?”

“Good. Cam and Evie are fighting all the time now. Elizabeth thinks it’s because they’re so close in age, but it’s…” Jason shook his head. “They remind me of the Quartermaines,” he admitted. “They’ll fight viciously with each other, but man, the minute you threaten one of them—”

“They protect each other.” Carly took a deep breath, relieved that the resentment she’d once felt towards the little girl had faded into nothing but the wisp of memory and regret. “You’ve done such a great job with both of them, Jase. No one would ever believe they’re not yours.” When Jason opened his mouth, she hurried to add, “By blood, I mean. Though…I’m small enough to be happy that you finally have Jake.”

Jason shook his head. “None of that ever mattered to me.”

“I know that.” She bit her lip. “I’m not sure how to explain it. I guess—I don’t know. You’ve taken such good care of my kids. And Cam and Evie—you’ve been there with them from the nearly start of their lives, but I guess—I mean, with Jake, you got to do it all, right? Finding out about having him. The pregnancy—I mean, it was different, right?”

“I guess.” Jason frowned. “I don’t love him differently or more because he’s my biological son, but yeah, okay. I guess I see what you’re getting at. Elizabeth and I got to do it all together. Even—” He hesitated. “Even when we almost…”

“When you almost lost her,” Carly murmured, remembering her mother’s frantic call that Elizabeth had nearly died during labor due to blood loss. “I guess it’s on my mind because of this last year with Jax. He’s come in so late with Morgan and Michael, but he adores them. I’ll never doubt that. But…” She pressed a hand to her abdomen. “He gets to do it from the start now, too. I’m pregnant.”

Jason grinned, leaned over to hug her with one arm. “Congratulations.”

“Yeah, we’ve been trying for a few months, so…” Carly took a deep breath. “And man, it’s nice to kind of do it right. No paternity tests. No drama. Pretty sure Jax isn’t going to shoot me in the head as I’m delivering the baby.”

“Probably not,” he agreed with a wince. “I’m glad things are going well for you, Carly. I am.”

“Me, too, even though most of the time I know I don’t deserve it.” Carly hesitated. “You’re here to talk to me about Sonny. And since you asked that Courtney come to dinner, I guess it’s bad news.”

“It’s not…” Jason shook his head, stared down at his beer. “It’s not bad news. Not the way you think.” He set the beer on a coaster on the coffee table and got to his feet. “I was called down to the island a few weeks ago. Sonny had another psychotic break. The doctor told me he’d gone off his meds again.”

As he had every three or four months since moving to the island, but Carly said nothing. They’d had this conversation a few times. “Is he okay now?”

“Yeah. They sedated him and gave him his meds by force. Again.” Jason grimaced. “I hate that. I do. I know Sonny hates it, too. But he gave me his power of attorney for things like that, so…” He shook his head. “If it were just another episode, I’d have called you about it. We got a new doctor after the last one, remember?”

“I do.”

“He told me that one of the reasons Sonny can’t seem to stabilize is…” Jason looked at her. “Because he doesn’t want to. Because when he’s lucid, he realizes he can’t leave the island.”

“He realizes we’ve locked him up,” Carly murmured. She closed her eyes. “It doesn’t have to be a closet, I guess, for it to feel like one.”

“And it starts the cycle over again. He’s powerless to change it and knows the only way he gets off the island is if I let him, and he has no reason to believe I will.”

“Not after what happened three years ago.” Carly rubbed her chest. “Jason—” She just looked at him, knowing the horror of it was in her eyes. Didn’t they know exactly what torment Sonny was dealing with? Hadn’t they always known what was at the root of Sonny’s worst fears?

Being weak. Being alone. Being locked up.

And they’d done it all to him.

“I know.” Jason paced the length of the room. “I saw Sonny and he said—he told me I should have let him die. That I should just let him end it. He’s a ghost anyway.”

Carly looked around at her home, at the photos on her mantel of her family, the world she’d built after leaving Port Charles. Then she looked back at Jason, knowing he was feeling the same. “We did this to him, you know. The two of us. We should have gotten him help ages ago. But I was selfish, and you were too loyal. Then I made it worse—”

“We both made it worse, Carly. By hiding, by pretending it was anything other than a serious illness.”

“You still let me off the hook too easily,” she told him, but smiled as she said it. She stood. “So what do we do now?”

“Elizabeth and I are taking the kids to the island for New Year’s. We’re going to let Sonny spend some time with Evie.”

Carly blinked, shook her head. “Are—are you sure that’s the right thing to do? Jase—”

“I don’t know if it is. But I’m not ready to just…bring him home,” Jason told her. “And short of that, I don’t know what else could help except trying to make him feel less alone. That helped him last time. When he went to New York to look for help—I mean, he got the wrong diagnosis—”

“But he looked for help because of Elizabeth. Because she told him about going to therapy in California,” Carly said, remembering the conversation she’d had with Jason’s then-fiancée. “And you’re here to ask if…we’ll go, too?”

And what if he was? Was she ready to do this again? To put her boys in the middle?

“Mostly, I wanted to ask Courtney to come with us this time,” Jason told her. “Because I know she’s been waiting to go, and I want Sonny to know the only reason Courtney hasn’t been there before is me. I know you might not be ready. I’m not even sure Elizabeth and I are ready.”

“But you want me to think about it.” She folded her arms. “If it goes well with Evie, you want Sonny to know Michael and Morgan.”

“Maybe. It’s different for you, I know that. What you went through the last time you saw Sonny—”

When he’d hit her, thrown her across the room into her vanity table—

“He also sent men with guns after Elizabeth’s kids, so if she can get past that—” When she saw Jason wince and look away, Carly frowned. “What? You don’t think she’s past it?”

“I think,” Jason said carefully, “she’s doing this for me. But when it comes to Sonny, I know you both feel like as badly as things are for Sonny on the island, it’s not as bad as what we went through here.”

“Well, you know Elizabeth and I will never be the best of friends, but we’re not wrong. I had to send my kids away, Jase. And her kids probably saw more violence than you’ve ever admitted when you were getting them out of the house—so yeah, maybe part of Elizabeth and I can put it behind us. I don’t know what that says about us, but the thing is, we both love you. And you need this. So…she might be doing this for you, but she’s still doing it. That’s more than I can say right now.”

Carly sighed. “Because no, at the moment, I’m not open to bringing Sonny into Morgan’s life. Morgan has no memory of Sonny. But Michael does. He’s eleven now, and he can make his own choices. So….” She shrugged. “I’ll talk to him. And I’ll talk to Jax. I’m not saying never, Jason. I’m just—I’m selfish. And I’m happy. My heart breaks for Sonny, but I’m not sure it breaks enough to mess up the life I’ve built here.”

“I get that, Carly.”

“But if you go down there, Jase…” Carly touched his arm. “And it’s okay…if Sonny meets Evie, and Elizabeth can make her peace? If you tell me it’ll be okay, I’ll…I’ll do it. I’ll go to the island myself. Maybe not the boys. Like I said, Morgan—I’m not ready for that. And Michael—he’ll decide for himself. But I’ll go to the island and tell Sonny I forgive him.”

“Carly—”

“Because I did. And I do. And I know, when he came back to his senses, how it must have weighed on him, what he’d done. I’ll do that for you. I can promise you at least that.”

“It’s more than I thought.” He embraced Carly tightly. “I’m happy you’ve got this life here, Carly. You and the boys—all I ever wanted was for you to be happy.”

“Same. You and Elizabeth have a good thing going up there with the kids. With the family you have.” She kissed his cheek. “Now, I guess we both need to do something to feel like we deserve what we have. It came at Sonny’s expense, and I guess…you’re right. Something has to change.”

Sunday, December 28, 2008

 Morgan Home: Bedroom

Elizabeth carefully folded a pair of jeans and placed then into her suitcase. “I’m surprised Carly agreed to visit Sonny,” she said finally as Jason sat down and tugged off his boots. “I guess it was a good idea to ask her in person.”

“She’s changed a lot since leaving Port Charles.” Jason came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. “I’m sorry I was gone longer than I planned but—”

“You don’t get to see Michael and Morgan enough, so I’m glad you stayed with them a little bit.” She closed her eyes, leaned back against him, resting her arms along his. “The kids were fine. They hung out with Monica yesterday, then Emily came over with Spencer this morning.”

“How many fights did Cam and Spencer get into?”

“Not nearly as many as usual.” She turned in his arms and looked up at him. “We’re doing the right thing, Jason.”

“I know. I just…” He hesitated. “We can still change our minds. I didn’t tell Sonny or the staff we’re coming.”

She frowned, tilted her head to the side. “Why? I mean…do you want to stay home? What’s…Why?”

“Because I’m asking you to go see Sonny, to take our kids to see him, and I’m not…” Jason waited a moment. “I don’t want you to do this because you think it’s something I need. Evie’s not just my daughter. She’s yours. And we need to be together on this.”

“I thought we were.” Elizabeth stepped back with a frown. “What changed your mind?”

“I don’t know. I guess I talking to Carly…I just think…” Jason sat on the bed, looked at the night stand on his side of the bed where he kept a framed photograph of Elizabeth with all three of their children taken at Evie’s last birthday party. “She talked about the reasons she’s not ready for Michael and Morgan to be a part of Sonny’s life. She’s not even really open to letting Morgan meet him. And they’re older than Cam and Evie.”

“Jason—”

“They didn’t get to—Carly sent them away with Bobbie—they weren’t a part of it. Cam and Evie…they were in the house.” He looked at Elizabeth. “Carly was hurt, yeah. But she never feared for the boys’ lives. You did. I keep thinking about going to the safe house—all of us in separate cars, not knowing until we arrived that everyone had made it.”

“It was the most terrifying thing that’s ever happened to me,” Elizabeth agreed. “And yeah, I know the kids were in the middle of it. I know there was violence. You’ve never talked about it—” When he looked away, his jaw clenching, she sighed. “And you still won’t. After that day, Jason, okay, yeah, I stopped really thinking we could have Sonny back the way he’d wanted. I knew he’d never be in our wedding. I knew you’d never let him in charge again. He used the security plan you designed to protect his family, his kids, against you.”

She took the photo from him, traced her fingers over her son’s face. “That was the closest I ever came to agreeing that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. That it wasn’t the life I wanted for Cam.”

“I know.”

“And you nearly sent me away with both of them. You were talking about a safe house in Europe—” Her eyes burned. “Because I knew when you walked out that door you didn’t expect to come back. I wanted you to promise me if it came down to you or Sonny, you’d come home. I asked you for that promise even though I knew you’d never keep it.”

Jason looked at her, frowning. “Elizabeth—”

“I’m doing this for you,” Elizabeth interrupted. “That’s true. Because I can’t let you do this alone. I made a promise to you that my face would never change. That I would give you my child to love and to protect. We got married, and I promised that I would always stand by you—” She reached for his hand where he wore a slim gold band around his ring finger. She touched it, rubbing her fingers over it the way he often touched her engagement and wedding set. “And I haven’t done that—”

“That’s not true—”

“It is true.” She sighed. “I knew Sonny was struggling, and I knew it was agony for you to deal with it every few months. But I didn’t try to help. I couldn’t. I was too scared. I was still, I think, living in that terror of not knowing if my little boy was safe. If my choices had cost me my baby.”

He closed his eyes, bowing his head. “I know—”

“But that moment is over. It’s been over for three years.” She touched his chin, lifting it with her fingers so he’d open his eyes and look at her. “My little boy is not only safe, he’s happy. He adores you. He loves the little sister you gave him. I have a daughter that I love more than life. And we not only survived all of that, Jason, we…” She gestured around the room—

The room they’d moved into before her grandmother had passed away—her bedroom during her teen years. They’d never moved into the master room, preferring to turn it into a playroom for the kids, hoping they’d feel Audrey’s presence.

“Look at the life we’ve built. I have an art gallery that, for some reason, people from around the world come to visit, and your life is safer now than it’s ever been. We have Cam and Evie, and Jake—our little miracle—” Her voice broke, likely remembering how difficult the pregnancy and his birth had been.

“I need to stop living in the past,” she told him. “We both do. What happened was terrifying, but it’s over. And Sonny was sick. He was so sick that he tried to take his own life to make it stop.”

“He told me—” Jason took a deep breath. “He told me that he’d come to the warehouse because he’d decided one of us had to go. And then he’d remembered you, coming to visit him. He said you reminded him of his mother.”

Elizabeth’s lip trembled. “He did?”

“But he wished she’d been stronger. That she’d had your courage. He said he was like Deke, the man who’d killed her. He couldn’t save his mother. And he’d hurt Carly. But he wanted to save you.”

“You never…” Elizabeth closed her eyes, took a deep shuddering breath. “You never told me that before.”

“I just wanted it to be over, too,” he admitted. “And I didn’t want you to think…that I was choosing him. I didn’t choose to save his life because of all of the things he meant to me—I mean, not really. I didn’t even really choose, Elizabeth. I didn’t think.”

Jason’s eyes were damp, lined with red when she opened his eyes to look at her. “I couldn’t let him kill himself to protect me. I couldn’t live with myself. I couldn’t let him think he was that broken—”

“Of course not.” She leaned forward to wrap her arms around his neck. “You and I have the life we wanted. We got the happy ending.” Elizabeth pressed her cheek to Jason’s, then drew back to kiss him. “I can’t let the life Sonny’s living be the end of his story. For everything he meant to us, for how hard he tried to do better even when his own brain turned against him, we have to find out if there’s more.”

“I love you.” Jason kissed her again, then pressed her back against the pillows of their bed. “I should tell you that more.”

“You say it enough,” she murmured as their lips brushed again. “But why don’t you show me?”

December 29, 2019

Your Update Link: The Next Best Thing

Once I started writing The Next Best Thing, The Best Thing‘s holiday story, I realized that the story I needed to tell was a bit longer than just a two part epilogue. Soooo I’m 9k in and only halfway done. It’s basically a novella. Which means you get Part 1 starting today so that it still finishes on New Year’s Day.

I hadn’t planned on it being…what it is, so I wasn’t ready to post it today or have it be a separate short sequel so I’ve been scrambling to make graphics and the story page. I’ve got the In Progress section updated and at least one graphic made. I’ll be back tomorrow with Part 2!

I also unlocked a long Patreon video I made about The Best Thing and that is linked on the story page. Enjoy!

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series The Next Best Thing

Presents in your arms and you’ve traveled far
Someone opens the door with a smile on their face
And you know you’ve come to the right place
Family nestled by the fire
Christmas hopes to inspire
Loved ones by your side
You know you’ll kiss your babies goodnight
At Christmas, Hanson


Monday, December 22, 2008

Morgan Home: Living Room

 The room looked as if a several bags of glitter and tinsel had exploded in the alcove where the Morgan family kept their tree. The two eldest Morgan children had dived into their mother’s box of Christmas decorations and discovered a container of tinsel that she had forgotten to remove before they arrived home from preschool that day.

Elizabeth Morgan had merely turned her back to set her youngest son, Jake, in a playpen and give him his stuffed elephant—clearly forgetting the first rule of Christmas decorating with small children.  She could already hear maniacal giggles from the alcove, and when she turned back to assess the situation—

Four-year-old Evangeline already had strands of tinsel streaking through her coal-black curls while four-year-old Cameron was throwing the tinsel at their pine tree—the tree that had no other decorations yet. It had been waiting for their father’s return from an unexpected business trip.

“Evangeline Grace Morgan.”

Evie blinked at her, her caramel colored eyes round with wide-eyed innocence. “Mommy, it’s not my fault.” She jabbed a chubby finger at her brother. “He went into the box.”

You opened the tinsy!” Cam shot back with a dark scowl.

“Cameron Hardy Morgan.”

Cam heaved a heavy sigh, then turned his own angelic expression in her direction. “I miss Daddy,” he declared, then his lower lip trembled just a little.

Elizabeth arched a brow. “I invented that look.”

The sadness vanished from Cam’s eyes and the scowl returned. “Evie made me do it.”

“Cam—”

She sighed when eighteen-month-old Jake began to wail behind her. He hated being in the playpen, and she could already hear him throwing toys. One—a plastic car—sailed from behind her and hit Evie in the cheek. She shrieked and went for her brother.

Elizabeth stopped her advance, sweeping the little girl up in her arms, ignoring the outrage shrieks and kicks as she dropped her daughter on the sofa.

“It’s not fair!” Evie screamed.

“Mommy!” Cam dived for cover as another one of Jake’s toys careened past him, hitting the tree.

“Daddy!” Jake wailed.

“Oh, man.” Elizabeth sat in her grandfather’s old arm chair and put her head in her hands. Why—why—had she offered Nora the month of December off?

The playpen shook with an ominous rattle as Jake’s chubby fists wrapped around the top edge and he frantically tried to climb out. He managed to lift himself part of the way over the metal rail, but he couldn’t quite get the leverage to haul himself completely over the top—

So, he slid back down, threw back his head, and wailed at the top of his lungs. Evie started crying, pressing her hands over her ears, and Cameron—because he clearly didn’t think his mother was paying attention to him anymore—started tossing some more tinsel at their bare tree.

She only put Jake in there to have five minutes when the kids got home from school—so she could distract them—and then Jake could run free—but of course, he was only a toddler who didn’t understand that mothers needed to breathe.

Elizabeth took a deep breath, then started to reach for her youngest child. One kid at a time—and the tinsel was the least of her worries.

The door was pushed open then, sweeping in the brittle December wind and a bit of the snowflakes that had been gently falling for several hours. Jason stepped over the threshold and was immediately tackled by her eldest children who could run—

Jake rolled, kicked, and wiggled until Elizabeth released him. Jason grabbed Jake and in his own way—managed to hug all three of them at the same time without giving one any extra attention. There were days when he made parenting look so easy, she wanted to murder him.

“Hey,” he said, as he crossed the room, dragging Evie and Cam who were both attached to a leg. He leaned over the top of Jake’s head and kissed her, his lips cold and his breath holding the scent of coffee. She’d missed him—

They hadn’t been separated for two weeks since—since never, Elizabeth realized. Since they had started dating at Nikolas and Emily’s wedding four years earlier—their longest time apart had been that terrible week after her grandmother’s death and Sonny’s psychotic break.

“I missed you,” she murmured against his lips. “How was the island?”

Jason hesitated, then sighed. “We’ll talk about it later,” he said. He kissed her again. “Why was everyone crying when I—” He blinked at the tree, the bottom half of which was only decorated with tinsel before looking down at his two children—Evie with tinsel in her hair and Cam with tinsel sticking out of the collar of his green sweater. “We got into Mommy’s Christmas box, huh?”

As Cam and Evie launched into elaborate defenses of themselves and blaming each other, Jason looked at his wife with a light in his eye that told her he was struggling not to laugh. For the moment, her own irritation and exhaustion lifted, and she started to laugh.

Morgan Home: Evie’s Bedroom

Later that evening, after they had cleaned up the tinsel, fed the children dinner, and decorated the tree properly, Jason took the boys to their room to sleep while Elizabeth tucked in Evie.

“Tell me my special story, Mommy.”

Elizabeth stroked her daughter’s dark, almost coal-black curls with a sad smile Evie couldn’t see. “Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess named Samantha who was about to become a mommy. She loved her little girl so much and would have done anything to keep her safe. But then she got really sick.”

“And she could only hold me for a minute,” Evie said, the words as familiar her own name. “So, she held me tight.”

“And she made so many wishes for you. To be safe, to be happy, to be smart. To have a good life.” Elizabeth’s throat tightened slightly. “She gave you to the best man she knew—”

“Daddy.”

“That’s right.” Elizabeth smiled, stroking Evie’s cheek. “He promised your birth parents that he would love you so much and keep all their promises for them.”

“And then Daddy fell in love with you,” Evie said, rolling on her back. “And you became my Mommy, and you gave me a brother.”

“An older brother,” Elizabeth corrected softly. “Because they’re annoying and irritating, but no one loves and protects like an older brother.”

“And now we gots Jake.”

“And now we have Jake,” she repeated. “And I know you and Cam will take care of him the way you take care of each other.”

Evie rolled over again and smiled at the two frames on her night table. One, a photo of her biological mother, Sam McCall, and the other, a picture of her adopted parents on their wedding day. “Night, Birth Mommy. And we live happy ever after.”

“Like all good fairy tales.” Elizabeth leaned over and kissed her cheek.

She met Jason in the hallway and raised an eyebrow. “Are they both asleep already?”

“Jake is, but I let Cameron watch Ghostbusters again. I’ll check on him in an hour.” He followed her downstairs and they settled themselves on the sofa in front of the fireplace and their twinkling Christmas tree.

“Evie asked for her story again tonight,” Elizabeth said. She leaned into Jason’s embrace, luxuriating in the warmth and comfort she found in him, even after all these years. She needed these quiet moments at the end of the evening when she and Jason regrouped, compared notes, and prepared for the next day.

It hadn’t been easy finding the rhythm of having three small children with two active careers of their own, and the surprise of Jake had complicated things for a time, but their world had eventually balanced out. Cam and Evie had started school this year and it was a bit easier—

Until the call had come a few weeks earlier and Jason had had to leave in the middle of the night for the island.

“She’s been asking for it a lot the last few months,” Jason murmured.  He sighed. “Is she not getting along with Cam? She doesn’t feel like she’s part of—”

“No, I think she likes it. It makes her special, and she knows she’s adopted.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “Cam’s teacher asked about that—about why they’re so close in age. I told her what we tell everyone—we each brought a child to our marriage, but I worry sometimes—”

“Evie’s ours,” Jason told her. The adoption had begun in earnest six months after Sonny had been sent to the island and completed almost two years earlier. “We don’t—”

“Evie’s always known she’s adopted. We made it special for her. And she has pictures of Sam on her nightstand.” Elizabeth sat up and twisted to look at him. “But Cameron—I don’t think he realizes it. And the reason the teacher asked about their ages—” She sighed. “He looks like you. He got my sister’s blond hair—and my blue eyes. He has no memory of anyone but you.”

“And making Evie’s adoption special—you think it’ll bother Cam when he gets older that he doesn’t have that story about Zander.” Jason wrinkled his nose. “Do—should we talk to him—”

“I don’t know if I can give Zander’s story a fairy tale twist. Sam died giving Evie life—with her last dying breath, she was thinking of her little girl. But Zander—” Elizabeth twisted her wedding ring on her finger. “I don’t want to erase Zander from his life. It’s not fair. I just—I never want Cam to feel like he didn’t deserve the kind of story Evie has.”

“If we wait until he’s old enough,” Jason said, after a moment, “we can tell Cam and Evie about Zander and Sonny at the same time. They both have biological fathers who were troubled—who won’t play—” He grimaced.

Elizabeth pressed her hand against his chest. “It didn’t go well did it?” she murmured. “Was it like last time?”

Since going to the island, Sonny’s recovery had been uneven. He went through doctors and medication like candy, and at least twice a year, Jason had gone to do damage control. Unlike a lot of people living with bipolar disorder, Sonny didn’t seem to be able to stay lucid and in control for very long.

It was a vicious cycle—he would be clear and sane for months before thinking he was cured. He’d stop taking his medications—then crash. He had had another psychotic break the year before, and he’d made it as far as the private airport to fly back to Port Charles.

The dream they’d once pictured of Sonny recovering enough to be part of their lives—to know his daughter, to rebuild a relationship with his sons—every year that passed, it seemed further away.

“This time the doctor argued with me about keeping him out of Port Charles,” Jason said. He leaned his head against the back of the sofa, his eyes looking toward the ceiling. “He seems to think the reason Sonny hasn’t been able to get a balance is that we’ve take him out of his natural environment.”

“Didn’t you tell him the last time Sonny had a break in Port Charles, he nearly killed you? That he sent men with guns after two babies?” Elizabeth demanded. “We’ve talked about this, Jason. Sonny can’t come back.”

“I know.” Jason closed his eyes, swallowed hard, before straightening and looking at her. In the dim firelight, she could see the anguish in his expression. “I’m doing the right thing for you and me. For the kids. For everyone who lives in Port Charles.”

“But not for Sonny.” And he wouldn’t be the man she loved if the decision didn’t weigh on him. In so many ways, their lives would have been easier if Sonny had died all those years ago—if Jason had let Sonny kill himself.

“I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how make it better. If he came back—” Jason shook his head. “Would he always understand that he can’t be in control? Would he be satisfied with part of the life he had before? Is that even a risk I want to take?”

Elizabeth reached for his hand, tracing her fingers over the lines in his palm, over the gold ring on his fourth finger.  In sick and in health, for better or for worse—

She’d made those promises to him. Had promised to love and cherish him. And in her own mind, she had made different vows—silent ones.

She had promised that her face would never change, and that she would always do what was needed to be Jason Morgan’s wife.

“How did you leave it?” she asked. “What was Sonny like?”

“He didn’t have another break, and he’s back on his medicine.” Jason looked at her wary eyes. “Why?”

“If it weren’t for me and the kids, you would have brought him home years ago,” Elizabeth said. “I know that. It’s me that’s holding you back.”

“No—” Jason shook his head. “No. It’s not just that. That last break here—it wasn’t just what he did here in this house—” Sending armed guards to steal Evie by force, not even caring that Elizabeth had only just lost her grandmother—that her son was in this room—

“It’s what he did to Carly. She won’t let him have a relationship with the boys. Still. And I don’t blame her for that.” Jason swallowed hard. “We decided together that Sonny had to stay—”

“It’s me that’s holding you back.” Elizabeth repeated. “And there are times when I look at Evie, and I see Sonny. I see him the way I remember him. The way I loved him once. That last night—at my engagement party—that man—I want that man back. And maybe the doctor’s right.” She bit her lip. “Maybe he doesn’t feel like he needs to stay on the medicine because he’s alone down there.”

“Elizabeth—”

“I’m not saying he should come home full-time,” Elizabeth interrupted. “But—maybe it’s time we took the kids down to the island. Maybe it’s time Sonny met Evie and we reminded him that he’s not alone.”

Jason’s shoulders slumped, and he just stared at her for a long moment before shaking his head. “I can’t ask you to do that—”

“You’re not asking me. I’m offering. You weren’t the only one who lost Sonny. Evie lost her father. Courtney lost her brother. I lost a friend. I refuse—” She shook her head, resolute now. “I refuse to believe that the man we loved is lost forever. What happened—it was traumatizing, and we’ve had to dig out of it. But I can’t sit here, celebrating Christmas with the people I love most in the world and not feel guilty that the only reason Sonny is alone right now is because of an illness that he can’t control.”

Tears welled behind her eyes and she sucked in a deep, shuddering breath. “We’ve been punishing him, scared of what might happen if he came home. You saved his life three years ago, Jason, but we sentenced him to live in prison anyway. I can’t live with it anymore. I can’t ask you to keep doing it—to keep being the bad guy who has to go down there and tell Sonny he can’t come home.”

“He told me this last time that I should have let him put the bullet in his head,” Jason said after a long moment of silence, the crackling fire the only sound in the room. “That he’s just a ghost I wouldn’t let go.”

“We promised each other at the start,” Elizabeth said as he pulled her across his lap, “that Sonny was something we would deal with together. You—the kids—this is everything I ever wanted in my life. There are days that I am so happy that I actually cry because I never thought I would deserve this.” She framed his beloved face with her hands. “We have a good life, Jason, but I don’t think I can live with myself knowing it came at Sonny’s expense. We sacrificed him to have it. And I don’t want to do it anymore.”

Jason leaned forward, brushing his lips against hers. “The way you love—the courage—” He shook his head. “I don’t have the words.”

“Every time Evie asks me her special story, I tell her about her mother that gave her away to best man she knew. I want Evie to know that her father loved just as much. We need to do this. For each other. For her. And for Sonny.”

“I’ll call tomorrow and make the arrangements.” He tucked her hair behind her eyes, his eyes on hers. “I remember the day I saw you again—when you came home. I was sitting on the docks, feeling more tired than I could ever remember.”

She tilted her head and smiled. “And I nagged you into telling me the truth—”

“That’s not how I remember it.” He shook his head, his own smile spreading. “You came down the steps, and you smiled at me. And by the time you left, I couldn’t remember why I was so tired. I just wanted to keep looking at you.”

“When we sat together, and I poked at you about Evie—I did it partly because I was hoping—” She bit her lip, sliding her fingers through his soft blond hair. “I was hoping you wouldn’t lie to me. And when you didn’t—I felt all those old butterflies. I just wanted to sit on that bench and talk to you for the rest of my life.”

“Thank you for coming home,” Jason murmured. “For not staying in San Francisco. For giving us another chance.”

“I couldn’t stay away,” Elizabeth replied. “I’d miss the smell of snow too much.”

He laughed. “Snow doesn’t smell,” he teased.

“Yes, it does,” she murmured, leaning down to kiss him again.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Morgan Home: Living Room

Jason grabbed his son just as Cameron began his charge towards his younger sister who had made the mistake of reaching for the Ghostbusters car that was Cameron’s current pride and joy and favorite Christmas present.

“No, no! It’s not my fault!” Cameron pleaded as Jason carried him over to the sofa as Elizabeth picked up Evie and brought her over. “She’s always touchin’ my stuff! It’s mine! And Barbies don’t ride in the car!”

“Yes, they can,” Evie shot back, her coal back curls slipping out of her red velvet handbead with a brunette Barbie clutched in one hand. “Barbies can do anything!”

“Girls can’t be Ghostbusters!” Cameron shot back.

“Hey!” Elizabeth poked her son gently in the chest. “We don’t talk like that, Cameron Hardy Morgan!”

Evie sniffled and looked up at her mother. “Girls can do anything, Mommy, you said. And my Barbie’s a girl. So why can’t Barbie fight ghosts? It’s not fair.”

Cameron scowled and sank into the corner of the sofa. “Don’t cry, stupid. I don’t mean you. I mean girl dolls can’t be Ghostbusters. Everyone knows it.”

Evie narrowed her eyes and whacked him hard with her Barbie. Cameron howled and went on the attack again.

“All I wanted to do to was talk to them,” Elizabeth said with a sigh as she and Jason waded in to each grab a child and take them away from each other. Elizabeth ended up with Evie again, in the arm chair as Cameron kicked and wiggled in Jason’s arms near Jake’s playpen where the eighteen-month-old was calmly shoving square blocks into circle-shaped holes and laughing maniacally.

“I hate my sister!” Cameron screeched, his face red and scrunched up, indicating he was about to deliver one of his famous tantrums. “I hate hate hate hate her!”

“Maybe you need to sit upstairs for a while, buddy,” Jason said as he set Cameron on the ground and folded his arms. Grown men usually quivered when Jason Morgan took that tone and set his face in that icy expression, but his four-year-old son was unimpressed.

“Maybe you need to tell Evie not to touch my stuff!” The last half of that statement was delivered at the top of his lungs as he twisted halfway and screamed at Evie.

“Tell him not to be a dumb boy!” Evie screamed back.

“It’s nice sometimes to see you suck at this, too,” Elizabeth offered from across the room with a grin. “Evie, your brother isn’t being nice right now, but are you supposed to touch his toys without permission?”

You said to share!” Evie said with a gasp of accusation. “I shared!”

“Sharing implies the other person agreed. Did Cam say you could play with his brand-new Ghostbusters car?”

“Why are there so many rules?” Evie muttered. She folded her arms, the plastic legs of her doll digging into Elizabeth’s ribs as her daughter shifted in her lap.

Jason knelt down and arched his brows at Cameron who just glared at him. “You see? We’re not taking Evie’s side.”

“Yeah? I don’t see her getting sent to her room like I did when I borrowed her Barbies—”

“You didn’t borrow them, Cameron. You dumped them in the tub so that Spiderman could save them from downing. It took your mom an hour to dry them off. Evie didn’t even get close to your truck.”

Cameron narrowed his eyes, as if searching for the loophole in that argument but being only four and realizing he was never going to win, he heaved a great sigh. “Fine. But the next time she touches my stuff, I’m throwing her out the window.”

Elizabeth’s head jerked up as she laughed, startled. “Oh, man. I’ve got to stop talking about Ava Jerome around the kids. I said that to Emily on the phone yesterday.”

“So, you’re the bad influence,” Jason teased as he brought Cameron back around to the other side of the sofa. He sat down and pulled Cameron into his lap. “Now that we got that settled, we need to talk to you guys.”

“Yeah, we want to tell you about going on a trip for New Year’s,” Elizabeth said with a bright smile Jason knew she didn’t quite feel deep down. “We’re going to meet someone very special.”

“I thought Santa was already back in the North Pole,” Cameron said suspiciously. “Is Aunt Em going to bring Spencer? Because he smells.”

“No, it’s just going to be the five of us. You, me, Daddy, Evie, and Jake. And maybe…a few other people who know Sonny.” She looked at Evie. “You know we talk about your birth mommy?”

“Uh huh.” Evie clutched her Barbie close to her. “I nameded my new doll for Other Mommy. This is Samantha.”

“Well, you know you have a birth daddy, too,” Jason said.

“Yeah, Mommy tells me about them in my special story. That they were really sick. Mommy had to go to Heaven and my other daddy is still really sick.” Evie’s eyes widened. “Am I gonna go see my other daddy? Is that Sonny?”

“We’re hoping he’s feeling a little better.”

Cameron furrowed his brow, twisting his head to look at Jason. “How come she’s got a special story? No one tells me special stories.”

Elizabeth blinked, met Jason’s eyes. They’d talked about Cameron having questions about this just days ago—but hadn’t really expected him to tackle the situation head on. “Everyone gets a special story,” Elizabeth said after a long moment. “But we don’t get them at the same time. It has to be right. It’s…just not your turn yet. But…I promise, soon. Daddy and I will have a special story for you.”

“Hmm…” Cameron didn’t look convinced but let the subject drop. “Okay.”

“So tomorrow, Daddy is going to go to talk to your daddy’s sister and see if she wants to come.” Elizabeth looked at Jason again and he sighed. He knew Courtney would agree to go, but the real purpose of Jason’s trip was to see if Carly, Sonny’s ex-wife, might want to go or would even let them bring either of the boys, if not both.

They both knew the answer was probably no, but it had to be asked.

“She lives in New York, so I’ll be gone overnight. Then we’ll go on our trip.” He looked at Evie, the little girl he’d tried so hard not to love but now couldn’t imagine his family without. “Are you okay meeting your birth father?”

“If he feels okay, do I have to go live with him?” Evie asked in a small voice. “Because I don’t wanna do that.” She slid off the armchair and onto the floor with a catch in her voice.

Cameron jerked straight up in his father’s lap and shook his vehemently. “No!” He glared at Jason. “No! You tell her other daddy that Evie’s my sister and he can’t have her!”

He launched himself off the sofa and ran over to embrace his sister to whom he’d sworn his undying hatred for only ten minutes earlier. “My sister,” he said again with a lift of his chin Jason knew he could have only inherited from his mother.

“Evie’s ours,” Elizabeth said softly. She joined her kids on the floor and hugged them both. “Families don’t leave. She’ll always be ours. But she might be a little bit her father’s, too. It’s okay to be scared, Evie. Things might change one day. But how much I love you, how much your daddy loves you—that never will.”

Evie sniffled and launched herself at her father. “I wanna stay with you, Daddy! Don’t send me away!”

“You’re not—” Jason hugged her tightly, taking a deep breath. Was this the right decision? Was it too much for her? She’d only just turned four—

“We’re not sending you anywhere, Evie. You’ll go with us on the plane, and you’ll come home with us.” He drew back from her slightly, wiping her tears away with his thumbs. “We chose each other a long time ago, you and me. Your birth mother asked me to raise you. And I’ve done that. Elizabeth—she chose you, too. And Cameron chose you, too. And no one is going to make us change our mind.”

“Promise?” Evie asked, knowing that a promise from her father never ever got broken.

“Promise.”

“I promise, too, Evie.” Elizabeth sat next to them and put her arm through Jason’s. “We’re Morgans. And we don’t run away when things get hard, right? We stick.”

“Besides, if you go away, they might have another baby,” Cameron said with a heavy sigh. He cast Jake, happy in his playen, a dark look. “They’re a lot of work.”

“No one is going away,” Jason repeated. “Mommy’s right. Morgans stay together. No one is ever taking you away from us, Evie.”

His daughter buried into his embrace as he and Elizabeth traded looks over her curls. He just hoped he wasn’t wrong.

 

December 24, 2019

This entry is part 35 of 35 in the series Bittersweet

Hello! The last few holiday seasons, I’ve been revisiting previous stories and adding a Christmas epilogue. This year, it’s Bittersweet’s turn. We pick up with Jason & Elizabeth ten days after we left them in the previous epilogue. I hope we can join them again soon in Malice, the sequel.


Second Epilogue

 I’m gonna hold you close
Make sure that you know
I was lost before you
Christmas was cold and grey
Another holiday alone to celebrate
But then one day everything changed
You’re all I need
Underneath the tree
Underneath the Tree, Kelly Clarkson


Murano, Italy

 December 24, 2002

 As their water taxi crossed the canal from the Sacca de la Misericordia marina, Elizabeth Webber thought the water of the Venetian harbor didn’t look all that different from the dark, dank water of the harbor in Port Charles that looked out onto Lake Ontario.

When she said as much to her boyfriend, Jason Morgan, he didn’t laugh exactly, but the corners of his eyes crinkled up, and he grinned. He put an arm around her shoulders and drew her closer as the boat closed the distance between the city of Venice proper and the famed glass making island of Murano where they were going to spend most of Christmas Eve.

“I think that was one of the things that surprised me the most,” he told her over the dull roar of the water taxi’s engine. “How much some things didn’t change. The water does look the same, but—”

Elizabeth twisted in her seat to look at the city she could still see behind them. “Until you remember that you woke up in a house that’s centuries old across from a church that’s probably older. I mean, Port Charles has been around for five minutes when you think about it that way.”

They reached the shores of Murano and Elizabeth stepped off, trying not to look while Jason tugged out some Euros to pay their driver. It wasn’t the first thing he’d paid for since they’d landed in Venice nearly two weeks ago, and she knew it wouldn’t be the last. She wasn’t working right now, and her savings wouldn’t get either of them very far.

She offered to give him the contents of her savings to pay for her plane ticket or help with the rent on the house, but Jason had politely refused, telling her to save it for anything she wanted to buy while they were traveling.

She’d told Gia and Courtney before they’d left Port Charles that she knew Jason paying for the majority (okay, very nearly the entirety) of their travels would drive her crazy eventually—she’d just thought she’d make it longer than ten days.

“Ready?” she asked cheerfully as Jason joined her on the cobble stoned path that ran along the docks. “Where to first?”

“You want to just walk the streets?” he asked as they started down one of the small pathways that lined the canals. The paths were narrow, but Elizabeth was soon distracted by the gorgeous shops, all selling glass.

“Where did you buy the glass you gave me last year? The red one? I…I was hoping to find something in the same shade.” Elizabeth craned her neck to look through the doorway. “Maybe a bowl or a vase. Anything really.”

“I don’t know. It was some street vendor. I was doing a favor for Maximus,” Jason told her, referencing the old Italian mobster that Jason had taken her to dinner with during one of their first nights in Venice.

Apparently, it was an old school tradition, and not checking in with Maximus Giambetti while in the region would have been seen as a sign of disrespect. “And I had to look like I blended in, so I stopped to watch the glassblowers I told you about.” He squinted, looked up and down the street. “I think it was on the other side of the island, maybe.”

“Well, we’ll make our way over there eventually, I guess.”

They passed by the third gelato stand Elizabeth had seen since they’d docked, and she sighed wistfully. “We need more of these in Port Charles. That’s definitely something we’re missing.”

“Yeah, they’re all over here in Italy. And I saw a lot of them in France.” He nodded towards the stand. “You want another limencello?”

“No. I’m saving my money for lunch. You promised you’d sit in a real restaurant and not just a panini place,” she teased. He rolled his eyes.

“I’m not that bad—”

“No, you just don’t like people.”

They wandered all over the island, in and out of stores while Elizabeth kept rejecting different pieces of glass. Some of them just weren’t the right shade, but a lot of them were out of her price range. A small, glass vase came the closest to the color she was looking for but it was double what she wanted to spend the entire time she was in Venice, much less on one purchase.

She could tell Jason looked frustrated by that, but he said nothing. They went to a few museums, walked past the lighthouse and a lot of churches. They had their promised lunch in a  beautiful stone building that overlooked the canal, then started to wind their way back to the docks to take a taxi back to Venice to finish out the day at the Christmas Market in San Marco before going to midnight mass.

“I’m sorry you didn’t find the glass you were looking for,” Jason said. He hesitated. “We can go back to Gino Mazzucato, where they had that vase.”

“It’s too expensive, and don’t give me that look,” she told him with a wag of her finger. “It’s just glass, Jason.” They turned down another small street, and the sun dipped behind one of the buildings, dropping the temperature ten degrees, to the high thirties. She shivered slightly and drew her jacket together, zipping it.

“Yeah, but—”

“Jason, you’ve paid for the house we’re staying in for the next year and you put together that huge art studio on the third floor—” She stepped in front of him, stopping his forward progress. “That’s…I could never pay for any of that in a million years. The plane ticket or most of the places we’ve eaten, either. It’s way outside of my budget, and I’m trying hard to be okay with it. Because we both know I’m not here because you can pay for any of that stuff.”

“Okay.” He furrowed his brow. “So if it doesn’t matter to you, then—”

“Because one day, my savings are going to run out and I won’t have any money. And you will have to pay for literally everything. That’s going to suck, I promise. But until then, I need to be able to pay for my own souvenirs. This isn’t the last time we’ll be on Murano, right? I mean, we’re using the house as a base to store our things so we can go anywhere.” She leaned up on her toes to press a kiss against his lips, chapped from the wind. “It’s Christmas, Jason. Let me be stubborn about this for a little while longer.”

“Okay, but….” Jason sighed, then pulled out a tissue wrapped bundle from his jacket. “Then you’re really going to be mad about this, so let’s get it over with.”

Elizabeth frowned at him, then took it from him. She unwrapped the tissue to reveal a gold necklace. She lifted it into the air, letting the moon and star charms dangle in the air. Both pieces were made from a deep shade of crimson glass, the exact shade she’d been looking for.

“You were with me the whole—” She inhaled sharply. “When did you—where did you?”

“The first day we came, while you were sleeping off the jet lag. I came here to see if I could find the glassblower I’d bought the first piece from.” Jason shrugged. “I picked it up while you were ordering the gelato after lunch.”

“Oh.”

She stared at the necklace for a long moment, wincing. “And then I started lecturing you about money and being stubborn…man, I’m a brat.” She held it out to him. “Can you get the clasp for me?”

“Yeah.” He took the necklace and fastened it arounded her neck. “So…you’re not mad?”

“No.” Elizabeth turned, pressing her hand over the charm. “No, of course not. I’m sorry. You probably meant it as a Christmas present—”

“It’s okay.”

She kissed him again, lingering this time. “It’s beautiful, and now I’m even more glad I didn’t buy that vase. You listened to me talk about how much I wanted this color, that I wanted something special, and you got it for me. I love you.”

“I love you, too.” He kissed her again, breaking away when a few passing tourists on the canal started whistling. “Can we go back to the city now?”

“Yes! I want to find the perfect gifts at the market to send home to Bobbie and the others.” She took his hand, lacing their fingers together, then tugged him towards the dock.


Later that night, after shopping and midnight mass, they returned to the house in San Marco that Jason had rented. Elizabeth stifled a yawn as they went into the foyer. When she headed for the stairs, he pulled her in the other direction, towards the living room where they’d decorated a tree their first week in Venice while Elizabeth had adjusted to the time difference.

He’d helped her with paper chains, and she’d spent some of her precious money on an elaborately painted porcelain bell she’d found in a shop around the corner, so she’d always remember her first Christmas with Jason in Italy.

“I know we talked about this earlier, but like the necklace, I’d already gotten this…” He took an envelope from the cabinet next to the tree and held it out to her. “I wanted to give it to you tonight.”

“Okay, but let me give you something first.” She set the envelope on the coffee table and reached for a gift-wrapped box underneath the tree. “It’s not much, but it…it feels right now. And I have something else I want to say.” They sat on the sofa as Jason unwrapped the gift.

When Jason pulled out a leather jacket nearly identical to the one he’d shed when they’d come in, he furrowed his brow. “It looks like my old jacket—”

“It is—” Elizabeth took the jacket and laid it flat between them so it covered his lap and hers. “I took it from Jake’s when they let me back in the room. After they pulled the body from the harbor.”

Jason inhaled sharply. “Elizabeth—”

“I was doing everything the way I had before. Trying to keep myself together, get my things from the room without losing it because I knew Gia was worried. And then I took this jacket. It’s the only thing of yours I took.”

She ran her fingers over the jacket. “I took it because I knew it smelled like you, and for a while, I could have that. And it would bring me comfort. Lucky left a sweater at my house before he died, and I wore that sweater for months. I used to cry myself to sleep in it. And then one day, I put it on, and it didn’t smell like him anymore.”

Elizabeth looked up at him. “And I was so upset about it, I got dressed up and went to Jake’s to make trouble. I met you. And until I found out Lucky was alive, I thought—it felt like the universe was giving me a sign, you know? Like…I’d waited long enough. Or maybe that Lucky was…telling me that it was okay. To stop missing him so much. To let someone in my life again.”

She bit her lip. “So I took the jacket because it would remind me of you, it would smell like you, and maybe one day, I’d get a sign that it was okay to stop missing you. Even if that felt wrong. Because that’s the worst part about loving someone and losing them a second time—you know the pain ends eventually. You know you can find love again. I think maybe that hurt more than anything else during that week I thought you were dead, the weeks you were missing because I didn’t want anyone else.”

Elizabeth picked up the jacket, brought it to her nose and took in the deep scent of leather and the subtle scent of Jason’s deodorant—now fading after all these months in her closet. “But I don’t need this jacket anymore. You know? It’s like Lucky’s sweater. I never took it out again after that night at Jake’s. I didn’t need to. I don’t need this jacket because I have you.”

She held out the jacket, and he slowly took it from her, carefully folding it and setting it back in the box. “Everything you went through this fall, Elizabeth—”

She cut off his words with a press of two fingers to his lips. “I didn’t give it to you because I was upset or wanted to remind you about it. I just…it was terrible, Jason. But it was terrible for you, too. And holding on to the jacket was like holding on to everything that happened. And maybe that’s why it’s been hard for me to accept…”

She gestured around them. “All of this, you know? The fancy view, the studio, the money you spent at dinner—the little expenses, the big expenses…I don’t know—it’s like…” Elizabeth tucked her hair behind her ears and cleared her throat. “You needed to get away from Port Charles. And I’m basically tagging along on your escape. Except it feels like it’s been all about me. And…that’s not okay. What happened wasn’t about me. And I think maybe I made it about me—”

“You—”

“Just like I made Carly all about me. I’m selfish that way—”

“Elizabeth—”

“And you’re just trying to give me a Christmas present and I’m still making it about me—” Elizabeth huffed. “Honestly, I don’t know why you even bother sometimes—”

He put his hand at her base of her neck and tugged her forward to cover his lips with hers, swallowing her complaints. Elizabeth slid her fingers in his hair and let him push back into the cushions, pressing her against the arm of the sofa.

“You know, you still talk too much,” Jason teased, when he drew back. She swatted at his shirt as he sat back up, pulling her with him.

“Elizabeth, yeah. I needed to go. Like I needed to go three years ago. But I didn’t know where I was going. Until you offered to come with me. I wanted to show you Italy. I told you that. And now I get to do that. I mean….” He glanced around the living room. “Maybe this isn’t what I had in mind, but I told you—the real estate agent took me seriously when I said money didn’t matter. All I wanted was a view for you to draw.”

“And it really makes you happy to just…wander wherever I want to go?” Elizabeth pursed her lips. “Are you sure?”

Yes. You’re not selfish. None of what happened a few months ago had anything to do with you being selfish.” He hesitated. “As hard as it was, I’m glad you took the time to deal with what you went through. And asked for space you needed. I know it’s not always easy for you to put yourself first. The last thing I’d ever call you is selfish.”

“Yeah, but—”

“This trip, spending time with you—that’s what I needed. I promise, if there’s somewhere I want to go, I’ll tell you.” He held out the envelope. “In fact…will you open this, please?”

Elizabeth slid out an airplane ticket, frowning slightly as she saw boarding passes with their names on it. “What…”

“Tickets to Sicily in January. After a few weeks here, I thought maybe you’d want to see another part of Italy. And I haven’t been there yet. I can change the date if you want—”

“But you want to go to Sicily.” She took a deep breath. “And so do I. I’ve seen the light in Venice. You’re right. It’s not like anywhere else in the world. So now I want to see the lights everywhere. Let’s go to Sicily.”

She set the boarding passes on top of the leather jacket Jason had set on the coffee table, then leaned in to brush her lips against his. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

 

Merry Christmas Eve! I’m posting the first of my two holiday stories, a Christmas epilogue for Bittersweet which picks up about ten days after the original epilogue left off. Jason and Elizabeth are settling into their travels, beginning with Venice while still dealing with old baggage. I hope you guys like it! I’ll see you back on New Year’s Eve for Part 1 of The Next Best Thing (my holiday sequel to The Best Thing. I know, cheesy af, right?)