Come and see him when she is gone
He’s surprised but knows he is wrong
A simple case of do or die
And now she’s cut and run
Your vision let you down
You almost let her drown
– Liberty, Olive
Friday, July 18, 2003
Corinthos & Morgan Warehouse: Main Floor
Bernie had called Sonny just past dawn, passing on a report from a concerned night shift manager. He didn’t have a lot of the details, but something was wrong with Jason—he wasn’t hurt, Bernie said, but Sonny was needed.
So Sonny dragged himself out of bed, murmured something to a sleeping Carly, and came over to the warehouse at six in the morning to find a cluster of his men talking just inside the large bay doors that led to the dock out on Lake Ontario.
He followed their concerned looks and frowned, spying a familiar set of shoulders lifting coffee sacks out of crates and handing them off to the next worker. When was the last time Jason did grunt work in the warehouse?
“How long has he been out here?” Sonny asked. “He looks like hell.”
“Since last night,” Max Giambetti murmured. “The foreman said he was in his office all night going over books and then came out here around three in the morning.”
Sonny sighed and crossed the floor. “Jason—”
“I’m busy.” Jason reached for another sack, but the employee who had been handing them to him was standing with his hands at his side. Sonny had signaled him to stop work. “Sonny—”
“Take a walk with me. The guys got this.”
And Jason followed—not because he wanted to, but because Jason would never countermand an order in front of the men, warehouse or organization. Sonny was in charge, and Jason followed him.
Wordlessly, Sonny led Jason outside, to the pier that set out over the lake. His back to the muddy brown water, Sonny raised a brow. “You suddenly have a hankering for back breaking work on no sleep?”
Up close, Jason looked even worse. His eyes were red, nearly blood shot. His hair was sticking in all directions, his jaw was shaded with a day-old beard. And his t-shirt was wrinkled as if he’d worn it the day before.
“What’s going on, Jase?” He hesitated. “Is Elizabeth okay?” Ah, there it was. The flicker in Jason’s eye. “You tell her about Baker?”
All Jason offered was a short nod. “Just that I went to see him. I never got a chance to say the rest—she was upset—”
“She’ll get past it,” Sonny said, but he was unsure. Jason’s relationship with Elizabeth was fragile, still in the rebuilding phases. Even a light blow could knock it back to its foundations. “I’m sorry it shook out like that.”
“It’s…” Jason rolled his shoulders. “It’s fine.”
“Jason.” Sonny tilted his head. “I know Elizabeth. I know you. You’re not fine.”
Jason hesitated, pressed his lips together, looked away across the lake where Spoon Island rose out of the water, towering over the western landscape. “She threw me out. She cried.”
His tone was even, the sentences short and choppy. Sonny knew that Jason had said it in the order in which it mattered. He was upset Elizabeth had thrown him out, but making her cry—
But all Sonny did was nod. “Okay. Well, I’m sorry for that. Give her some time, some space. Why don’t you take off for the day? Get some sleep?”
“Can’t. Can’t sleep. Don’t—” Jason swallowed. “If I stop, I think. And I don’t want to think about it.”
“Okay. Well, I’d rather you not be around heavy machinery so if you need something physical to do, Bernie’s been bitching about reorganizing the storage room. He’s in his office.”
“Okay.” Jason disappeared back inside, and a moment later, Max emerged, his expression still worried. “He okay, Boss?”
“I don’t know,” Sonny admitted. “I guess we’ll have to see.” He rubbed his neck. “Give Bernie a call. See if he can talk Jason into going home in an hour or two. He might do it if it comes from someone else.”
And if Jason didn’t go home by the end of the day, if he didn’t get some sleep, Sonny might have to do something more drastic. He didn’t think Jason had slept more than a handful hours since that damn letter from Tom Baker had arrived.
Something needed to be done.
General Hospital: Gail’s Office
She hadn’t had an appointment scheduled with Gail that day, but she must have sounded terrible on the phone because Gail’s secretary had penciled her in for Gail’s lunch hour. And now, sitting in front of her grandmother’s friend, Elizabeth didn’t know what to say to her.
How to explain any of it. How what Jason had done seemed like the worst thing he could have done to her. She was in the process of divorcing an actually abusive sociopath who had nearly killed her, and yet…
“Why don’t you simply start at the beginning, dear?” Gail asked as she handed Elizabeth a glass of water. She did not take her seat on her chair, but rather stayed next to her on the sofa. “Just tell me what happened yesterday. Hilda said you were upset this morning. That you’d had a panic attack last night?”
“Panic attack,” Elizabeth repeated, closing her eyes. “That’s what Monica said. Jason called her after—but yeah. I—I don’t even know where the beginning is, because when I try to explain it to myself, I don’t understand it. How did it—How did it happen—why did something—he didn’t even tell me—” She sipped her tea, more to stop the babbling flow of nonsense than from thirst.
“What did you do yesterday?” Gail asked. “Was Jason the only person you spoke to?”
“No.” Elizabeth sighed. “No.” She set the tea on the table in front of them and clasped her fingers in her lap. “Ned asked me to talk to his daughter. To just…give her advice. And so I did. And I tried—I tried to be honest with her, but I feel like I messed it up. I didn’t—I didn’t really know what to tell her. And I guess talking about it…with what we’ve been doing in here about what happened with Ric—” She squeezed her eyes shut until she almost felt dizzy. “The fact that Ric basically raped me God knows how many times thanks to the pills—”
She pressed a fist to her mouth. “It’s hard to say it out loud, but I need to. But with Brooke being attacked in the park, with that newspaper article about the other attacks, and the letter from…” Elizabeth opened her eyes and leaned back against the sofa, suddenly exhausted. “It wasn’t even what happened with Jason. Not really. Or it wasn’t just that.”
“And what happened with Jason?”
“He didn’t just read the letter.” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “He went to see Baker. I still—I still don’t know what he said. I don’t want to know. But he went to see him, and it’s—it’s what’s been bothering him. I guess. He knew how upset I’d be but even I didn’t—” She met Gail’s kind eyes. “He took out the letter and that’s all it was. He just took it out of his pocket, put it on the coffee table, and I—I flipped out.”
She pressed her hands to her face. “I was in the park. I could literally feel the snow on my skin and how cold it was that night. The sound of his heavy breathing, the weight of him on top of me, inside—” Her voice broke. “I could hear Lucky’s voice—God, if he ever knew how close he was—he’d never forgive himself. I just—I was in that moment again, Gail. Being raped again. It was like living in a nightmare while still being awake, and I couldn’t make it go away. I couldn’t make it stop. I know I was screaming, and Jason tried to help me— I scratched him—”
Elizabeth pushed herself to her feet, too restless to stay in one place. She paced the small room, stopping by the window that overlooked the park. She couldn’t see the fountain from here, but that didn’t even matter. “When I came back to myself, and I saw Jason standing there, I—couldn’t stand it. I blamed him. It was like he’d—God, it was like he’d raped me. Just like Ric. Just like Tom. And that’s insane, because all he did was take out a fucking letter—”
Her voice broke again and this time, Elizabeth couldn’t stop it. Couldn’t stop the sobs bubbling up and breaking free. She wrapped her arms around her torso, her shoulders shaking. “I threw him out. I told myself and him I couldn’t trust him.”
“Elizabeth.” Gail’s voice was closer now and Elizabeth opened her eyes to see her therapist standing in front of her. “Do you really think it happened because of a letter?”
“I—” Elizabeth shook her head, her chest heaving. She shook it again. Struggled to get out the words. “No. No. It was just—it was the last piece. I hadn’t really—I guess I haven’t really dealt with any of it. I keep thinking I have, but I keep falling apart. When does it stop? When do I get to stop having to start all over again?”
She scrubbed her hands over her face. “It’s stupid for me to think Jason and I could work right now. I am a complete disaster and he deserves someone who isn’t certifiably insane.” She turned back to the window, rubbing a fist over her heart. It was the right thing to do. To let him go. She knew that.
“Maybe you’re not in a position to be in a new relationship,” Gail allowed as she came to stand next to Elizabeth. “But is that why you’d step back from him now? Because you’re not ready?”
“No.” Elizabeth’s breath was shaky. “No. But he’s…there’s no way…he thinks I’m strong. And I’m not. And when he figures it out—”
“He’ll leave you,” Gail said when Elizabeth broke off abruptly. “So you’re planning to leave first.”
“Just like last year,” Elizabeth murmured. She closed her eyes. “God. Why do I do that? Why is it so easy for me to walk away from Jason? I stuck with Ric. With Lucky. When I shouldn’t have. But at the first sign of trouble with Jason, I’m right out the door. What is wrong with me?”
“I don’t know if that’s quite the question I would pose to myself, but I think maybe that should be your homework this time.” Gail touched her shoulder. “And remember what we talked about before. You’ve been through a lot these few months. And this is coming from the woman who has known you your entire life, Elizabeth. I remember you running down these halls, hoping your grandfather would chase you, hiding from your parents who wanted to take you back to Colorado.”
Elizabeth laughed, despite her tears. “I always begged them to let me stay here. With Gram and Gramps. They knew me. They loved me. They never wanted me to be anyone else.” She exhaled slowly. “The thing is…I’ve never understood why he would stay. Why would he want me?” she said softly. “After everything I’ve done to him, Gail, and God, it’s been legion. I’ve never done anything except hurt him. Why does he still want me? Why can’t he just…” Her throat burned. “And if he does really want me, he won’t stay. Something will blow it up. Something will go wrong.”
“I’ll do something awful to make him go away.” She used the heel of her hand to swipe at the tears. “I always do.” She laughed bitterly. “I did it last night. I threw him out. It’s not even the first time I’ve hurt him.”
“I believed Lucky when he said Jason hurt him. I walked away from him—I was so angry with him. And he offered me the world, and I said no.”
“I—” Elizabeth stared at her. “I couldn’t walk away from Lucky. Lucky never walked away from me, and he needed me. I had to see him through that. And then Jason…he went. And he was gone by the time I realized that—And then Zander…” She looked away. “I just…I’m in love with him, and I think he loves me, too. But I can’t believe it. Because I don’t deserve it.”
Gail glanced at her clock. “We only have a few more moments, and I have another appointment, or I would keep you here.” She leaned forward. “So, let me leave you with this. I can’t make you feel like you deserve love. I wish I could flip a switch—that it were that easy. But you are loved. And you are worth it. So, if you really want to know why he’d want you, then you should ask him.”
PCPD: Conference Room
Ned braced Brooke’s elbow as his daughter gingerly lowered herself into a chair across from Lieutenant Taggert and the lawyer lady who had introduced herself as Kelsey. Brooke had only checked out of the hospital a few hours earlier, and Ned had wanted her to wait, but—
She just wanted this over with. She wanted to move on with her life and to stop thinking about this. She’d told her mother to wait back at the gate house, exhausted by her parents and their constant arguing. She didn’t want to go back to Brooklyn with her mother, but she didn’t want to stay here either.
She didn’t know what she wanted.
Except for all of this to just go away.
“We appreciate you coming in, Miss Ashton,” Kelsey said quietly. “We’d like to tape this to make sure your statement is taken accurately. Would you—would you prefer if I took the statement alone or—”
“You mean do I want to talk about being raped in front of my father and a guy cop?” Brooke demanded. She clenched her hands into fists on the table. “Look, he’s gonna hear it. And the way this place works, everyone is gonna read it in the papers, so I don’t care. I just want to answer your questions and then I want you to leave me alone. I’m only doing this because—”
She took a deep breath. Forced herself to breathe more slowly. “Because Elizabeth Webber told me not reporting it as soon as possible was a big regret for her, and I guess—I guess I don’t wanna look back and wish I had done it better.
“So I’m gonna tell you what I remember and then I’ll try to answer any of your questions. But after that, I don’t want to deal with it again, okay?”
“Okay.” Kelsey leaned back and looked at Taggert before looking at Brooke’s father, who hadn’t taken a seat yet. “So, let’s get started.”
Harborview Towers: Hallway
Elizabeth managed a smile for Max who knocked lightly on the door before opening it and announcing her. Sonny was standing by his minibar, a bourbon in his hand. He glanced at her briefly before taking a sip and looking back at the collection of bottles and glasses.
“Hey. I’m—I hope it’s okay I stopped by. Max said Courtney wasn’t here, so—”
“I haven’t seen Jason since this morning,” Sonny told her. He finished his drink, then poured another. “You want anything?”
“No.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “I stopped by his place and called him, but he didn’t pick up.” She shifted from one foot to another, feeling uncomfortable. Sonny wasn’t exactly being all that welcoming, and it was a stark shift in how he had treated her since Carly’s kidnapping.
She might as well not even be in the room. He’d treated her this way last year, just before he faked his death and the lying began.
“Well, can you blame him?” Sonny shrugged. “He tries to look out for you, feels bad about not telling you, and you rip his head off when he tries to be honest?” He snorted, took another drink. “I mean, you want honesty, don’t you, Elizabeth? Isn’t that what that crap was about last year?”
She blinked at him, took a step back. “I—yes. It’s—” She took a deep breath. “That’s why I’m looking for him. I need to talk to him. To explain—”
“To explain why you threw him out after everything he’s done for you this last month?” Sonny demanded. He looked at her again and she frowned at him. She didn’t recognize that strange light in his eyes. “I told him to stay out of it. To lie to you. Looks like I was right. You know what your problem is, Elizabeth?”
She folded her arms and arched a brow. “No, but I bet you’re going to tell me.”
“You’re just a kid. That’s the problem.” He threw back the rest of his drink. Poured another. And this time, his hand trembled slightly. “You run from your problems. As fast as you can. As soon as things get hard, you run away.”
“That’s not true—”
“Oh, you want credit because you stuck with Lucky Spencer until he slept with your sister?” Sonny sneered. “You were punishing yourself. For whatever the hell you did to Jason that sent him out of town last year.”
“Last year—” Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. “Sonny, Jason left in 2001. Two years ago. He’s been back a year.” Her ire fading, she stepped forward. “Are you…okay?”
“What?” He blinked at her. Cleared his throat. “What?”
“Jason came home last year,” Elizabeth said gently. “After he thought Carly had died in that car accident. He came home and he almost married Courtney.”
“I—” Sonny swallowed hard. Shook his head. “I know that. Why are you—” He looked around the room, looked down at the glass in his hand. “What’s going on?”
“Let’s sit down.” Elizabeth took him by the elbow and led him to the sofa where they both sat down. She was not at all comforted by the fact that Sonny followed her. “I know you had some…when Carly was gone, you—”
“Went crazy,” Sonny muttered, digging the heels of his palm into his eyes. “I thought I was talking to Lily. And then I was—I don’t know. I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened.” He set the bourbon glass on the table. “I should stop drinking. It makes it worse. I lose track of time.” He met her eyes. “I’m sorry. I had no right to talk to you like that.”
“I know that I hurt Jason,” Elizabeth said carefully. “And I know you’re protective of him. He’s not answering my calls which tells me how much I hurt him. He’s almost smothered me since I got sick. But he hurt me, too, Sonny.”
“I know.” Sonny took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what I was—you know I think the world of you. I don’t—you’re not—Damn it.”
“Hey.” Elizabeth touched his elbow. “Have you talked to someone—”
“I don’t need to talk to anyone,” Sonny retorted. He shook her hand off and got to his feet. “I know better than to drink. That’s all. It’s not good for me. It just brings back a lot of stuff and I lose track of time.”
She bit back a protest. “Okay. Okay.” She stood up. “Well, I need to find him. So, if you see him, please let him know.”
“I’m really sorry, Elizabeth.” Sonny followed her to the door. “I don’t—”
“It’s okay, Sonny. I’ll talk to you later.”
She managed to extract herself from the penthouse, then offered a few words to Max before getting on the elevator. As soon as the doors slid closed, she pulled out her cell phone and pressed Bobbie’s number on her speed dial.
The Cellar: Office
“Mama?” Carly set her contracts aside and struggled to stand up when her mother appeared in the doorway of her office. “I didn’t know you were coming by—”
Bobbie kissed her cheek and let her daughter lead her to the sofa. “Well, I wasn’t planning on it, but I got a call from Elizabeth.”
“Elizabeth?” Carly bit her lip. “Oh, man, did Jason finally tell her?”
“What?” Bobbie shook her head. “Tell her what? No, she called—” She hesitated. “Though that might explain why she was at Sonny’s if she’s trying to find Jason.” She’d track that story down later. Right now, there was something more important to worry about. “She said she was talking to Sonny and he forgot where he was. Or what year it was.”
Carly sighed, leaned back against the sofa, and rubbed her forehead. “Yeah. That’s…that’s not the first time. He had the breakdown while I was gone, and then my first day home, he thought it was 1999 and demanded to know why I was in his house. He couldn’t remember how old Brooke Lynn Ashton was. Did Elizabeth tell you any details?”
“Just that he thought it was last year and that Jason hadn’t come home yet. She said she was able to bring him back around, but—” Bobbie clenched her hands in her lap. “Are you telling me that Sonny is regularly losing track of time and place?”
“Not regularly. Just…not…” Carly wrinkled her nose, defensive now. “I know what you’re going to say, Mama. I know you wanted him to get help after the breakdown. I thought maybe he would, but he changed his mind. And I guess I get it. I mean, it’s not the first time it’s happened, and me and Jason are always able to talk him out of it. He’s just stressed because of the kidnapping and Ric’s case—” She shook her head. “We’ll be fine.”
“You’ll be fine,” Bobbie repeated. “You know, Jason drove himself into the ground because he had to handle everything himself. Keeping the PCPD from arresting him, looking for you, trying to keep Elizabeth alive. And worry for Jason kept Elizabeth in that damn house long enough for Ric to attack her and drug her more. You were held hostage in a dark, cement panic room for a week. Why the hell is it your or Jason’s job to keep Sonny sane?”
“Because he’s my husband. He’s our family,” Carly snapped. She pulled herself to her feet, her hand braced over her belly. “And we’ve always kept him safe.”
“Whatever he said to Elizabeth today had her rattled enough to call me, worried about Sonny, worried about you and Jason.” Bobbie stood, planting her hands on her hips. “Tell me, Carly. When Sonny has these nervous breakdowns, have you ever feared for your safety?”
When her daughter looked away, didn’t answer, Bobbie nodded. “It’s one thing for you and Jason to sign on to be his nursemaids. But you are raising children with him. Elizabeth is planning a future with Jason. Do your children deserve this life? Does Elizabeth?”
Carly rolled her eyes. “Spare me your concern about precious Elizabeth. She’ll be just—” She stopped. Took a deep breath. “When exactly did you get so damned worried about Elizabeth Webber?”
“Because she’s part of my family, too,” Bobbie snapped. “And don’t give me that look, Caroline. She risked her life to save you—”
“She risked her life because she’s obsessed with Jason,” Carly retorted, but her shoulders hunched. “And maybe some of that was about me—”
“I will not let you belittle what she did. How—with nearly her last breath—she found the button that set you free.” Bobbie stabbed a finger at Carly. “You like having Jason to yourself because he’s there at your beck and call to save Sonny. To keep him sane. That’s why you wanted him to be with Courtney. Because you knew he’d never go far. It is not fair to ask that Jason keep saving Sonny. One day, that man is going to have to save himself and stop depending on the rest of us to carry the weight.”
And with that, Bobbie stormed out.
Kelly’s: Lucky’s Room
Kelsey sighed in relief as she dumped a pile of folders on Lucky’s battered desk and turned to him. “Thank you.”
“For what?” He opened the paper bag he’d brought up from the diner downstairs and started unpacking the Styrofoam containers on the table tucked into the corner. “We both have to work. There’s no reason we can’t do it together.” Lucky managed a weak grin. “Second date, right?”
A laugh escaped her lips as she rubbed her temples. “This has been the worst day, I swear. Did you read Brooke Lynn’s statement yet?”
“Not yet,” Lucky admitted. “Taggert just got us copies before I signed out for the day.” He pulled out a chair and waited for her to sit down. “But it must have been hard to sit through.”
“She says she won’t sit for another interview.” Kelsey sat down and unpacked the burger she’d ordered, then stared at it. “She only talked to us at all because Elizabeth Webber said it was her biggest regret.”
Lucky frowned at her. Shook his head. “I don’t—”
“Ned asked Elizabeth to talk to Brooke. And I guess Elizabeth said something about not reporting right away, and how it made it harder to get Tom Baker when he became a suspect.” Kelsey studied him for a long moment. “It was smart of her dad to go out and try to find someone who could help her. Support her. Elizabeth told Ned Taggert could be trusted and had been kind to her, so…we benefited from that.”
“Yeah.” Lucky shifted in his seat. “Yeah, Taggert didn’t like me much back then, but he always liked Elizabeth. Garcia didn’t do much with her case, but every time Elizabeth came to Taggert with some—” He squeezed his eyes shut.
Kelsey reached over to cover his hand with hers. “Hey. Something else coming back?”
“Yeah.” He cleared his throat. “Yeah. She didn’t remember a lot at first. But details came back. Just small ones. He smelled like soap and he’d said something to her—I don’t—” Lucky grimaced. “I can’t remember all of it yet. But I will. Anyway, every time, Taggert sat down. Wrote it up. Had her look at mugshots. He knew it was a long shot, but he always took the time for her.”
“I can tell this matters to him.” Kelsey cut her burger into quarters, hoping she could eat at least something. “He was kind to her, but Brooke didn’t remember a lot. Her details are similar to the attacks from this year. She remembered handcuffs and that he smelled her hair. He also said something to her. She thinks it was just him telling her to be quiet. Then beat her when it was over.”
Her stomach rolled. “They think they might be able to get DNA, though. He didn’t wear a condom.”
“Risky or dumb?” Lucky asked.
“It probably means his DNA isn’t in the system, or if it is, it’s never been attached to a name.” Kelsey sighed. “She just—I remember the girl we met last week. She was so vibrant. And today—it’s like night and day. This guy—men who do this—they steal something that we can never give them back, you know? It doesn’t matter if we find this guy. We can’t ever make it right.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Lucky nodded towards the files. “Do you think she gave us anything we can use?”
“Taggert is trying to get the other three victims to do a follow up, but they’ve refused. The press coverage—they don’t have a lot of faith anything can be done.”
“Maybe if the forensics come back and give us a link, they’ll reconsider.” Lucky shoved his dinner, mostly untouched, aside. “But the hair thing. That’s interesting.”
“Smelling her hair? Maybe. They’re all brunettes. Maybe he’s looking for something specific. Scott managed to convince the city council to give the PCPD emergency funding to cover overtime and testing. You guys can now carpet the park with officers and test every single kit in storage.”
“I guess that’s something.” Lucky grimaced. “We’re not really eating, are we?”
“No. I guess we should get back to work. I want to read over her statement again, and there’s a couple of cases I’m going to court for in the morning. I’ll be relieved when Scott can manage to get a few more ADAs in my office.” She twisted to look at the stack of files on his desk. “It’s going to be a long night. Maybe I should just head home—”
“No, hey—” Lucky stood, grabbed the files, then set them down. “We’ll go through them together. I probably worked some of them.”
“Well, I’ve got three vandalism cases, one simple assault from a bar fight, and two burglaries—all of which are guilty pleas, so at least that’s more cheerful than a serial rapist.” She reached for her briefcase with her stationery and notebooks. “Let’s get started.”
After looking for Jason in a few other places, Elizabeth finally gave up and returned home—only to find Jason sitting outside her door, his back against the wall with his legs stretched out. When he saw her, he got to his feet.
“I know you said not to come back—”
“I’m glad you’re here—” she said at the same time, throwing herself at him, wrapping her arms around his neck. He lifted her slightly in the air as she kissed him hard. “I’m sorry,” she murmured against his lips. “I’m sorry.”
“You never ever—” He tightened his arms around her torso, holding her against his chest. “I’m sorry. I can’t stand how much I hurt you—”
“It’s not—” She sighed and waited for him to release her. When she was back on her feet, she unlocked her door and invited him in. “I’m not sorry I was angry about what happened. That you not only took the letter, read it, and then went to…see him…I didn’t want you to do that.”
She dumped her purse on the table and turned to face him, taking in the fact he was wearing his shirt from the night before, wrinkled now. He had a day’s growth of stubble lining his jaw and his eyes were rimmed with red. She bit her lip. “Have you slept?”
“I went to the warehouse. I packed coffee until Sonny sent me to the office. Then Bernie sent me home.” Jason shook his head. “I went for a ride. I didn’t even know you were calling me, but—I’m sorry.”
“Come here.” She took his hand and led him to the sofa where he sat down and she curled up against him. “I saw Gail today and she…helped me understand what happened last night.”
“I did that—I made you—”
“Not—” She laced her fingers through his. She’d always liked the way their hands fit together, her much smaller fingers against his larger ones. “Thank you for calling Monica. Part of it was a panic attack, but it was triggered by something else. It was like…” She rested her chin on his shoulder, waited until he turned his head slightly to meet her eyes. “It was like I saw that letter—and just that was enough to put me back in that moment. It was like I was there. And it was happening again. And that—” She bit her lip. “Gail said I was re-experiencing the trauma.”
He closed his eyes. “Because of me—”
“Ric did that to me,” Elizabeth said softly. “Ric, Tom Baker, and whoever attacked Brooke Lynn Ashton and those other girls. They created the conditions, and you just lit the match. It was always going to be something. I’m so sorry it was you.”
She bit her lip. “While I was with Gail, I started to think that I was a complete mess. That this is the wrong time for us to be trying this—that I don’t even understand my own brain, how could I ever hope to have a healthy romantic relationship right now?”
She could feel his muscles tense as he exhaled slowly. “Are you—Do you want—”
“And Gail asked me if that was really why I would step back, and I realized…” She drew back slightly. “I guess I realized that’s usually what I do when it comes to you. When it gets hard, I run as fast as I can in the opposite direction. With Lucky, with Ric, I dug in. I stayed.”
Jason frowned, shifting on the sofa, turning slightly to face her more fully. “Why?”
“Because you’re not like them. You see me. You’ve always seen me, and I think…” Her throat burned as she forced out the words. “I think I’m afraid one day you’ll see that I don’t deserve it.”
“Deserve…” Jason shook his head. “You don’t—deserve what?”
“My parents. They left. As soon as they could. And even my grandmother, as much as she loved me, I knew she was disappointed in me. Lucky left. He never came back. And you left. Everyone leaves. And after that first time, Jason, when you left and I was crying, begging you to stay, I knew it would happen again. So, I left first. I sent you away when you offered me the world, and I walked out on you last year—”
He took her hand in his, shaking his head. “That’s—what did you say in the hospital? About telling yourself stories that make you out to be the bad guy?”
“Yeah, but that’s what happened—”
“Elizabeth, you—” He sat up straight and took a deep breath. “You have to stop taking on the weight of the world. You threw me out last night because I didn’t listen to you. You knew you weren’t ready to deal with Tom Baker or his letter, and I decided what I needed was more important. I was selfish. You had every right to be angry at me, but now we’re here and you’re telling me that you don’t deserve me, and I just—” He shook his head. “I’m supposed to be the one apologizing here.”
“I—” She bit her lip. “I guess. But—”
“When I left that first time—after I got shot. I told you that I had to go.” Jason tucked a piece of her hair behind her ear, letting his fingers trail down her jawline. “The thing is you were the only reason I would have stayed. If you hadn’t left first, I don’t know if I could have gone through with it. But I knew Carly was on the warpath and she was determined to make my life a living hell. I had to get away from her. I had to force her to fix her own problems. But I didn’t want to leave you.”
Something deep inside of her loosened and she managed a smile. “Really?”
“And when I—how did you put it?—offered you the world—” Jason shook his head. “You’re making it sound like I got down on one knee and begged you to leave with me. You didn’t spit in my face, Elizabeth. I knew how hard all of that was for you. I asked you to leave, and when you asked me if it meant with me, and I didn’t—” He grimaced. “I didn’t say the right words. I knew it even as I was saying them. I told you that it didn’t have to be with me. Just as long as you were safe.”
She closed her eyes. “I didn’t—I forgot—” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “You’re right. I have to—I need to be kinder to myself. Gail tells me that all the time. And you do, too. It’s just hard. I’m trying.”
“I know.” He kissed her forehead. “I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you about the letter.”
“I’m still not ready to know what he said or what happened when you saw him.” She leaned back against him and he put an arm around her. “Will you stay here tonight? I didn’t sleep last night. And I don’t want to be alone.”
“I missed you.” His fingers slid through her hair. “We’re going to get this right this time, Elizabeth. I promise. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”