He couldn’t say he was not attracted to her – dark haired, petite – he definitely had a type. And she was sexy, in an obvious way, with her high heels, second skin pants and the black bra obvious against the thin white fabric of her tee shirt. He was a man after all.
And she had proven herself to be a nice person, an honorable sort of woman. She hadn’t lied, she seemed to understand his need to figure things out on his own and that he wasn’t ready to be the person she expected, wanted and probably deserved just yet.
She was his wife and the mother of his youngest son. He felt like he owed her the opportunity to try and be her husband. Everyone kept telling him how perfect they had been together. Everyone believed that being with Sam was the best thing for him, the right thing for him.
“She loves you Jason. I know she and I have had our differences in the past, but there is one thing that I know is true, and it’s that Sam will always accept you and be there for you, no matter what. Elizabeth, she only wants the person she thinks you should be. And you’ve seen how manipulative she is. Being with that kind of person would be the worst mistake you could make.” Carly made sense. She’d been someone he’d come to count on and she’d been one of the people always looking out for him, even before she knew he was the illustrious Jason Morgan.
“The Fair Samantha has always stood by you! Your love has defied all odd created by gods and men!” Spinelli, a man-child who had evidently worshipped him and seemed to only want the best for him had waxed poetic on the subject of his relationship with Sam many times.
Monica, his mother, made her favoritism for Sam known by reminding Jason that Sam had made sure she was able to spend time with Danny while Jason was believed to be dead – and that by contrast Elizabeth had hidden Jake’s paternity from most, not letting her even know she was a grandmother to the boy until after he had ‘died’.
And there were memories. He remembered big and small things – shared grief and joy – but the moments etched into his memory seemed more like something he’d once watched in a movie theatre than something he’d experienced. This frustrated and confounded him. He’d believed that getting his memories back would also mean getting the corresponding emotions back, but so far that was not the case.
There was one exception.
He kept having this memory, a flicker really, of Elizabeth. She was smiling at him, the kind of smile that reached from her lips to her eyes and lit her up from the inside. It wasn’t anything more than that – he couldn’t identify where it was or when it was outside of long ago based on the youthfulness of Liz’s face and her hairstyle. Just a smile, but each time he allowed himself to remember it, all he felt was warmth and love and a desire that spilled through him like a pool of molten
It bothered him. It enraged him actually. Elizabeth had lied to him, she had betrayed his trust and played on his vulnerability, his lack of memory. She was not to be trusted, she did not deserve his love and only deserved his civility as a co-parent.
So why was this the only memory that came with emotion?
He’d asked Sonny about it. Sonny had given him a hard look, narrowing his eyes and tilting his head before speaking.
“I don’t know Jason. Maybe I’m not qualified to answer properly because Elizabeth is not at the top of my list of favorite people right now. She lied and that lie, it hurt people that I love. It hurt me.” He inhaled sharply. “But you loved her. You loved her before and you loved her when you were living as Jake Doe. And maybe that love isn’t completely dead yet.”
“Tell me how to kill it.” Jason asked quietly.
“Not as easy as killing a man, brother. Not nearly as easy.” Sonny shook his head solemnly.
The fact was Jason himself was not sure he loved Elizabeth really. He loved a memory, he desired something that wasn’t quite real, the idea of what he thought she was, before she showed him the reality. He might not have emotions tied to his memories from that life he’d lived before he came back with a new face, but he still had a lot of them from the person he’d become as Jake Doe. He remembered the shock, the hurt and the disappointment in learning how she’d lied to him for months. How she stolen months of possibilities from his family and friends and from him. Each time he started to soften toward her, each time he felt himself aching to touch her face or hold her slender form against his own, he pressed on that memory, begging for it to bring him some sanity, some clarity, the comfort of anger to hold on to. Now, in light of this new news, he was more grateful for that anger than he’d ever been for anything.
“It is the only thing that makes sense Jason.” Sam reached across the table and tangled his fingers with her own, a look of sadness written across her face.
“It doesn’t. “ He shook his head. “It doesn’t ‘make sense’.”
“She loves you.” Sam shrugged. “She’s always, ALWAYS had this obsession with you. It’s always been bubbling under the surface and now it’s just come to a full boil. I guess she thought that a stalker would bring out your natural protective impulses.”
“So she orchestrated the whole thing just so I would feel bad for her, just to bring me closer? What was the end game? How was she thinking this would end? The threat would just disappear? I don’t understand.”
“I don’t think anyone can understand.” Sam sighed. “I am guessing she was hoping that the threat of danger would keep you close to her and being close would remind you of why you fell in love with her in the first place.” She flushed a little “I guess, I mean, I don’t KNOW for sure or anything..”
“I played my part exactly right. I fell for her damsel in distress and took over guard duties exactly like she knew I would. A sucker born every minute.”
“You aren’t a sucker.” Sam tsked at him. “You are a good man, an honorable man. You did nothing wrong. Elizabeth took advantage of those good qualities. This is not your fault.”
“It isn’t? I keep falling for it. Fool me once and all that.” He pulled his hands away as soon as he felt he could do so without offense and rubbed them over his face.
“Do you want me to talk to her?” Sam leaned in toward him.
“No.” He stood up abruptly. “No, I’ll do it.” He put his hand on her shoulder and patted her gently. “I appreciate it. I appreciate everything. Thank you.”
Sam stood and pulled her hands into his again, looking up with wide eyes into his face.
“There’s never a need to thank me Jason, I’m always here for you. I always have been and I always will be even if..“ her voice trailed off.
“Sam, I promise that I want nothing more than to remember our life together and to bring back all of what I have heard made us a remarkable team. I promise I am working on it.” He squeezed her hands gently. “You and Danny are important to me. I don’t want to disappoint you. I don’t want to hurt you. I am grateful for everything.”
“I’m the one that’s grateful.” She tiptoed up and placed a kiss lightly on his lips. “You are alive, you are here. We will get a chance to find each other again. And we will. We always do.”
With that she slipped out of Kelly’s quickly, leaving him standing alone, her heavy perfume hanging all around him. “We always do.” He murmured, not entirely sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
Elizabeth hated trying to figure out dinner. Ever since Jason had insisted that she move into the MC with him, she never really knew if he was going to be around to eat as a family or not. Most often the answer was not, but every now and then she’d feel guilty when he popped up looking hungry as she was about to serve the kids and herself a meal. She ordered two pizzas just in case this time. She could always put one away for another time if need be.
The doorbell rang. “That was quick!” She said, opening to see that the pizza had not arrived, instead it was Sam.
“Elizabeth.” Sam set her with a stony gaze and pushed past her, striding into the room.
“Sam.” Liz shut the door and stood waiting for whatever it was that Sam would have to say.
“Amazing that a woman in fear for her life would open a door so fast without asking who was there.”
“There is security everywhere..” Liz started, but also realized that opening the door had actually been pretty foolish. She’d been preoccupied by her own thoughts. She silently vowed to be smarter about that in the future. What if it had been Jake’s ‘bad man’.
“Or.. there is nothing to really be afraid of.” Sam gave a triumphant smirk.
“What are you going on about now. Can you just get to the point already?”
“There’s no stalker Elizabeth. You are caught and Jason knows too.”
“I have been over everything – security footage, fingerprints – there is nothing. The only persons in or near your house have been you and your family, people you invited. There is no one else.”
“Jake saw.. “
“Jake had a nightmare and you took advantage of it. Instead of trying to help him, you created this boogeyman to get closer to Jason. To try and get him back even though he doesn’t belong to you.”
“What exactly are you saying? That I broke the picture? What about the phone calls?”
“You were really stupid about that one.” Sam laughed. “All those scary calls… Spin was able to determine that they came from a phone attached to an account that YOU established a few weeks ago. Somewhere around THanksgiving. The person who sold the account even remembers a petite brunette setting up the account. Sound familiar? I thought you were smarter than that.”
“Me?” Elizabeth’s brow furrowed. “I don’t have another account..”
“You are good.” Sam sighed. “You are really good. If I didn’t know better, I’d believe you. But I know you Liz. I know you are a liar. I know you would do ANYTHING to get Jason. You’ve proven it. Using your kids, setting yourself up as a victim? It’s right up your alley. Jason never could resist the damsel in distress look on you, could he?”
Liz was too busy trying to process the information she was given to respond. Someone was setting her up. She had considered that the bad man had been a product of Jake’s traumatized mind but had wanted to see what therapy would uncover before making that claim. But the phone calls.. those were not Jake. And they weren’t her either. Unless she was crazy. Was she crazy? She couldn’t have been calling herself that much was certain.
“So Jason knows. I told him. I would have let him tell you first, except I wanted to see your face when you found out the scam was up.”
“I.. “ Liz shook her head.
The door opened again, and this time Jason stood at the threshold.
“I told you I would handle this.” Jason shot Sam a look.
“I know.. “ Sam looked a little ashamed. “I didn’t plan on coming here, but I didn’t want you to face this alone. I knew she’d pull her act and I wanted to support you. I’m sorry.”
Jason frowned, but there was nothing to be done for it now. He turned his attention to Elizabeth.
“I can’t believe you. I mean I really can’t believe a word that comes out of your mouth. How could you do this? How could you use OUR SON in your little game?”
“Jason.. I” She started, but looking at his face, she knew that nothing she would say would make him believe that she had not orchestrated the entire thing. She heaved a heavy sigh and grabbed her purse,
“Where are you going?”
“I’m not going to stand here and listen to the pair of you accuse me of something I didn’t do. And I get it. I know that I haven’t been exactly honest lately. I know I’ve done some things that put my integrity in question and I own that. I’m not lying now and it doesn’t matter because you believe what you believe. I am going home. The boys will be back with Laura in a minute, pizza is on it’s way. If it’s okay with you, I’ll pick them up in the morning.”
Without waiting to hear if it was okay, she swung the door open and left.
Jason stared at Sam. “She sounded sincere.”
“She sounded sincere when she told you she didn’t know you were Jason Morgan either.” Sam scoffed. “You know there is no stalker.”
“Jake.. he saw someone..”
“Jake is a traumatized kid. She knows this. Why do you think she has him in therapy Jason? “
Once more the door opened and Laura hurried through with his boys. Aidan and Jake hurled themselves at him and Cam offered a fist pound. “You are home!”
“Where’s mom?” Jake asked, his eyes narrowing at the site of Sam. “Why is she here?” he asked without trying to disguise the animosity in his voice.
“Behave Jake. There is no reason to use that tone for Sam. She’s a friend.” Laura admonished and smiled at Sam politely before turning to Jason. “Where is Elizabeth? Am I too early? She said 5pm ..”
Jason turned to the kids. “Hey guys.. go wash up, pizza is on it’s way.”
Once they cleared the room he explained to Laura how Liz had created a stalker to ensnare him again.
“That.. doesn’t sound right.” Laura’s frown was deep and concerned.
“Doesn’t it?” Sam interjected. “This is a woman who kept Jason’s identity secret for months, kept him from his family and friends because she wanted to be with him so desperately. If she’s capable of that, why isn’t she capable of this?”
“Because.. “ Laura said plainly “Liz has been a victim before. She was raped as a teenager. She lived with the fear of being stalked, being followed.. always looking over her shoulder. I can’t imagine she’d go so far as to re-create that fear for any reason.”
“Well, Liz is sicker than we thought than.” Sam shrugged. “She’s not right in the head. She needs help. She’s obsessed with Jason and willing to stop at nothing to try and win him back. If you care about her at all, you will try to help her.. convince her to see somoene.”
“So you two let a woman that you believe to be mentally unstable leave and go back home, alone?”
“She is not our responsibility.” Sam jutted her chin forward defiantly and Jason winced at the use of ‘our’.
“You are right.” Jason nodded. “I’ll go get her. Will you watch the boys?”
“Jason.. are you serious? Are you going to go running to her again? What message is that sending?” Sam snorted angrily.
“The message that even if we aren’t together, she’s still the mother of my children.”
“Child” Sam corrected.
“She might be shrewd and manipulative and possibly even mentally unstable, but she’s the mother of my children” he emphasized the plural “And I want her to know that she’s not ever going to be completely alone in that.”
“Well then I’ll come with you.” Sam started.
“No.. Sam.. go home. Our son is home waiting. Go be with him. I’ll come see you tomorrow. Right now, I need to deal with Elizabeth.”
Laura agreed to stay with the boys and Jason – without a backward glance – headed toward Liz’s house.
Liz felt a frisson of fear as she opened the front door and stepped into the empty house. They hadn’t been home in a few days, so the thermostat had been set low and the house was fairly cold. She attributed her feeling ofdread to the chill in the air.
“Damsel in distress” She muttered. “I have been a single mother for longer than I have EVER been married or partnered. I have taken care of myself and my boys most of my adult life. I have proven myself capable so many times.” She started to tick off brave actions in her head one by one as she loaded wood into the fire place and set the blaze to burning. The warmth of the fire felt good on her skin and she breathed a small sigh of satisfaction.
Her phone rang in her pocket and she ignored it. She wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone just yet.
She sank to the floor before the fire and closed her eyes, listening to the crackle of the fire.
She wanted to be angry. She tried to conjure justifiable rage toward Sam and Jason for daring to believe she would do something so awful as create a stalker, but she couldn’t do it. The truth was that she had lied. For months she lied. She knew it was ‘wrong’, she knew that eventually the truth would be exposed but she kept it up. It made sense that people would not believe her now. She couldn’t really blame them in all honesty.
But she hadn’t lied. Not this time. She did think that it was possible that Jake had dreamt the bad man, the child had been held captive for so many years and just as he was acclimating to having a family, that family was blown apart and Jason left. And she could accept that this was her fault too. She had created a family that was built on a lie and she’d encouraged her children to believe that lie. So yes, Jake’s vision of the ‘bad man’ might have been nothing more than a manifestation of all his fears and loss. And the broken picture, the open door, those could have been Jake acting out. There were no fingerprints to indicate anyone else.
But she had felt eyes on her. She had felt a frisson of fear when she knew that someone had been watching her. She knew that fear, it was familiar and uncomfortable and scary as hell. She wouldn’t make it up. Or would she? Maybe the idea of a bad man had simply crept into her subconscious and stirred up those old feelings?
“There is nothing to be afraid of.” She repeated to herself.
Those phone calls though. She knew she’d never set up another account. It didn’t matter what anyone said, she knew it. She acknowledged that her behavior had been irrational, fueled by the belief that she might have the family she and Jason had dreamed of long ago at long last, but she wasn’t that far gone. She might have deluded herself into believing that he’d never discover the truth, that she’d never feel enough guilt of shame to reveal her part – but she knew that she hadn’t set up another account to terrorize her own self. And Thanksgiving? She and Jason were together then. He’d even committed to staying with her instead of returning to Sam. So where had the phone come from? Was Spin wrong? Was Sam just lying?
Her phone rang again. She realized it might be her sons and answered it quickly without looking to see who it was.
“Home alone?” A familiar male voice breathed huskily. She froze. This was not her own self on the other line.
“Who is this?” She demanded, trying to keep her voice steady as she leaped to her feet.
“You know who it is. How could you not?” The voice mocked her.
“I’m not afraid of you. You are just a creep who wants to terrorize a woman on the phone. Don’t call again.”
“Am I just on the phone?”
Elizabeth punched end on the phone and took a deep breath to calm her nerves.
“Just a creep on the phone.” She reminded herself, hands shaking. But how did he know she was home alone?
She did not want to be home anymore and tried to catalog the places she could go instead – not Jason’s. Gram was not home, but she had the keys. She didn’t want to really be alone. Nik’s? Hayden wouldn’t love that, but he was her closest friend. Hayden would just have to deal with it.
‘Damsel in Distress’ Sam’s accusation rang in her head.
“I am capable, I am strong, I don’t need anyone to save me.” She said outloud – and then repeated it two more times like a mantra until her nerves were soothed.
Still, it wouldn’t hurt to call the police and have them just look around. That’s not damsel in distress stuff, that’s good common sense when someone tells you they are watching you.
She punched in the digit 9 when a loud bang came from the kitchen. The startle caused her to drop her phone and the impact broke it.
“I probably left a window open. It’s windy. Shutters bang.” Still.. she hesitated to go and check it out and decided instead to call the police from the land line.
The phone was dead.
“And on that note, I’m out of here..” She grabbed her coat and purse and swung the front door open – just as Jason was about to enter.
“Jason.. “ She exhaled - tasting the relief on her tongue and recognizing immediately how terrified she’d actually been. “Why are you here?”
“I wanted to talk to you. Alone.” He stepped in and closed the door behind him. “Where were you going?”
She hesitated. She actually wasn’t certain where she would have ended up and she didn’t want to admit to being spooked and confirm that she couldn’t handle being alone. “Out.” She said plainly.
“Listen, Elizabeth.” He felt an impulse to touch her and jammed his hands deep in his pockets, stepping back. “I didn’t want to leave things the way they were.”
“How is that Jason? With you accusing me of stalking myself? With Sam insisting that I couldn’t take care of myself and my sons?”
“Our sons” Jason replied. “Our sons. We have boys together and we both love them and we must do the best thing for them. I need you to know that I’ll always be here for you and for them. You will never be alone. You don’t need to .. test that.”
“Test.. ?” it took a minute for her to realize what he was saying. “You mean, I don’t need to create a story about some danger that doesn’t actually exist in order to get you over here?”
“Yes.” He grimaced at the look she gave him.
She briefly considered telling him that she wasn’t lying, defending herself.. but she knew it was pointless. Sam had ‘proof’ and she’d destroyed the trust between them. And she didn’t want him to ‘rescue’ her anyway. She would figure out whatever was happening on her own.
“Thank you Jason.” She walked to the door and opened it. “I appreciate your offer to be here for us. But there’s nothing I need right now, so you can leave. I’d love if you can bring the boys home after school tomorrow – my shift doesn’t end until 4 and Laura is going to be busy.”
“Liz.. “ he started, but she had set her mouth in that stubborn line he knew too well. “Call me if you need anything.”
Sam was at his door early the next morning. He was still getting the boys ready for school when she showed up, unannounced and uninvited.
“Do you need any help?’ She offered as he did a count of sandwiches and checked each of the homework folders before tucking them into their backpacks with the appropriate signatures using the system Liz had created.
“Uh.. no.” He was truthfully annoyed by the distraction and her presence hindered more than helped. “I got it.”
“Jake.. you have a field trip next week and volunteered me as a chaperone?”
“You AND Mom.” Jake said, darting a look at Sam. “We are going to an airplane museum.”
“I LOVE airplanes!” Sam squealed and bent down toward Jake. “So does your brother!”
“No. Aidan likes trains better and Cam says only sports cars are cool.”
“I mean your real brother, Danny.”
“Aidan and Cam ARE my real brothers.” Jake set Sam with a dark look.
“Yes… they are!” Jason interrupted the tense moment. “And you and your real brothers need to get to real school right now because it’s getting late. Where is Max.. I only have the motorcycle right now”
“I can drop Jake off.” Sam offered. “It’s on the way to my office and I don’t have to worry about being late since I’ve got an in with the boss.”
“It’s actually all three boys that need to be dropped off and I don’t want to put you out..” The doorbell rang. “And there is Max.”
After the boys had left, Sam remained.
“I didn’t mean to insult anyone.” She said.
“About Jake’s real brother. I know that Cam and Aidan are his brothers too. I was just thinking that they aren’t your sons and it came out wrong.”
“They are my sons.” He corrected her. “Maybe not by blood, but I love them as though they were.”
“I know, but biologically and legally, you have no claim.”
“I don’t know why that matters. Liz isn’t trying to keep them from me and they know their own biology.”
“What I mean, is that you should take some steps to protect your interest is all.”
“Meaning that Liz is desperate. She keeps making desperate moves, attempts to get you back in her life. She knows that those boys are her in with you and it’s only a matter of time before she exploits that weakness.”
“I don’t know what you expect. I’m not going to stop seeing my kids.”
“No! Of course not! Jason! I know what family means to you! “ Sam looked legitimately stunned by the idea. “I just think you should talk to Alexis about maybe looking for some real custodial rights.”
“So I can keep seeing them..”
“Actually.. “ Sam inhaled deeply before continuing. “I’ve been thinking about the fact that Liz is.. troubled, like REALLY troubled. I mean, it was bad enough to lie about you for months on end – she even tried to make you a bigamist – but even now it’s still going on.”
“She’s still lying.”
“Beyond lying Jason, she’s using her children to get to you. She has no concern for their well being. When she was caught yesterday she simply took off home. That alone tells you that she knew it was all a ruse. Who goes to be alone if they really believe they are being stalked or harassed?”
“I think we’ve already agreed that she is lying, but she’s still their mother.”
“And she ALWAYS will be, but the priority has to be the safety of your son. You can – and I think you should - petition for full custody of Jake.”
“What about Cam and Aidan?”
“They aren’t your sons. I mean, I know you love them, but legally you have no claim to them. They share no biology with you. I do think Laura should contact Lucky and have him work for custody too, but you can’t do anything about them.”
“So I should abandon them.”
“No. Uh-uh.” Sam shook her head vigorously. “You should protect what you can first and then look to see what you can do about everything else next. One step at a time.”
“Liz loves those boys Sam. She wouldn’t hurt them.”
“Not intentionally.” Sam agreed. “But she’s unstable Jason. It’s scary. She’s so delusional and manipulative I don’t even think she knows what’s truth and what’s a lie. You have to get your son out of that environment – especially since he’s already been through so much in his short life.”
“I don’t know.. “ Jason felt his heart clench thinking about how hurt and upset Liz would be..
“At least talk to my mom. Just discuss it…”
The day seemed endless for Liz. She’d barely slept, spooked by every creak and groan of her house. Noises she was sure had always been there suddenly sounded ominous. She finally fell asleep as the first rays of light started to creep up over the horizon, only to have her alarm scream at her barely 20 minutes later.
Piph recognized that bleary eyed look and made sure that Liz was not working with patients most of the day. She didn’t have to have her covered, but she loved Liz and she knew how hard things had been for her lately. Still she couldn’t let it pass completely without letting it be known her fatigue was noticed and would not be tolerated as a regular occurrence.
“Almost 4pm.” Piph gave Liz a knowing look. “I’m hoping you have planned on take out, a long bath and an early bedtime tonight. I need you on your A game tomorrow.. no excuses.”
“I’m sorry.. “ Liz gave a baleful gaze back. “I went home last night and just completely psyched myself out. I barely slept.” She explained about the noise in the kitchen, the phone call, the broken phone, the disconnected landline. “And I was write.. it was a shutter banging, and the phone was back on this morning, so it must have just been the wind playing with the lines too. I survived, so I am thinking my ‘stalker’ is just trying to spook me. I won’t be spooked.“
“Oh honey.. I don’t like the sound of that call. Did you get to the police about it?”
“Yes. They created a complaint, but there’s really nothing they can do. They promised to have a patrol car stop by during the night if I wanted, but honestly, I think it’s just someone trying to shake me off my game. I just don’t know why.”
“Well you be careful, okay?” Piph smiled warmly. “And get some sleep.”
The house felt more like a home with the boys there. They hadn’t seen her since the morning prior and fairly knocked her down with questions and stories. She begged a minute just to take off her coat before they continued.
“Okay guys.. “ Jason couldn’t help but laugh at their enthusiasm. “It looks like your mom brought dinner.. how about you get in the kitchen and set the table. Cam.. you supervise.”
“Are you staying Dad?” Jake hung back, grabbing Jason’s hand and looking up at him with those imploring blue eyes.
“Ahh.. I can’t buddy. I’ve got something I have to do.” He apologized with his eyes.
“With HER.” Jake’s face darkened. “Sam.”
“Sam’s not a bad person Jake. She’s Danny’s mom and she really likes you. I don’t know why you always seem so angry with her.”
“She keeps making you stay away from us.” Jake grumbled.
“No. That’s not Sam’s fault.” He shot a look at Liz.
“Sam’s a friend of your dad’s. He doesn’t live here anymore because of grown up things, things that don’t have to do with Sam.”
“Sam said she’s his wife and that means he should live with her instead.” Jake twisted his mouth as he contemplated that idea. “I thought you guys were getting married.”
Jason grasped for words – an answer that would satisfy his son without drawing him into a conversation too mature for his understanding.
“We talked about this Jakey.” Liz finally broke the brief silence. “Dad and I love you all very much and nothing will change that, but we can’t be together right now.”
“Not right now, but sometime soon?” Jake brightened at the thought.
“I don’t think so Jake…” Jason stammered. “It’s hard to explain but I promise that you will always be taken care of. Now.. go help your brothers, we’ll talk later.”
“I’m sorry about that.” Liz fumbled with her hands.
“WHY would you caveat that?”
“What?’ Liz’s face contorted with confusion.
“You said ‘right now’ as though us not being together is temporary. You get that it’s not temporary, right? This is forever Elizabeth. I don’t trust you and if I can’t trust you, I can’t love you. Do you understand that? Do you understand that I am never going to be with you again, not now – not next week – not next year.. never.”
“I was trying to speak to a small boy who is confused about what has happened.. I didn’t think I needed to use superlatives for his benefit.” Liz was affronted now, anger glinting in her eyes.
“You are confusing him more. You are leading him to the idea that there is some possibility that I might, maybe, possibly come back here someday. And I won’t. And I’m actually not sure YOU understand that. You keep trying to drag me back, draw me into your happy little family picture. You took advantage of our son, MY son and his delusions. You fed them so I would protect you, keep you under my watch. Did you think that would be all it would take? Were you waiting for the right moment to sneak into my bedroom, to try and win me back with your helplessness and defenselessness? Guess what? It’s old, I’m over it. If you need someone to protect you, call one of your exes – one of the other men who gave you children.. you have several to choose from. “
“Get out.” Her tone was cold, deadly even.
“I’m going. I’ll be by tomorrow to check on the boys.”
“No. You don’t get to say all of these things and make me feel like a terrible mother and person and then say you are going to pop over when you feel like it. If you want to see the boys, call first.”
“So that’s how it is, huh?” He narrowed his eyes. “Now you are going to use the boys against me? If I will never love you again, I can’t have free access to my own sons?”
“That’s NOT what I said.. I said you need to call first.. I don’t want to be.. “
“What? You don’t want to be out of complete control? You need to make sure you set the scene correctly?” He drew close, so close that their noses almost touched “Guess what? You don’t get to make those calls. You have played me for a fool for the last time. Tomorrow.. I am filing for custody of Jake. I don’t want you poisoning him any more than you already have.”
“Jason.. are you serious?”
“Absolutely.” He stood back with a satisfied look. “And remember, my family has a lot of friends.. I’m sure there won’t be any issues.”
“I just didn’t want to be at the house when he came over.” Liz didn’t think it was possible to cry a single more teardrop.
“Don’t worry about it.” Nik handed her a cup of tea. “He has friends, but so do I. And if we’re stacking a known mobster against a nurse who has acted as the principle parent to her young sons for most of their lives, it’s no contest.”
“It’s not the point.” She hiccupped softly as she sipped her tea. “He thinks I’m lying about everything. I’m not lying. Someone was calling.. “
“I think you should stay here. I think you should bring the boys here and spend some time. Nobody can get to you here if there is anyone and if Jason tries to show up..”
“Nik, I don’t want to keep the boys from Jason. That’s not my goal. And I appreciate the offer, but I think it’s pretty clear that Hayden would not be pleased if I was here for longer than a cup of tea.”
“Hayden will adjust.”
“No. It’s just trading one for the other. Maybe Sam was right.”
“She said I can’t take care of myself.. I always need someone to rescue me.”
“Is she kidding? Does she even know you? Aside from the fact that you have been raising your kids without much help from anyone.. you have probably saved Jason more times than he’s actually saved you.. “
“It doesn’t matter. I appreciate the offer, you know I do, and I love you for it – but I’m going to go home and take care of my house and my kids and if Jason wants to fight me for custody, I guess I’ll just have to fight.”
“You heard my mother, it’s not an easy case.” Sam handed Jason a glass of water and sat on the sofa, her knees grazing his.
“I didn’t expect it to be. And honestly, maybe I’m just being too harsh.”
“No, you aren’t.” Sam snapped. “You have a right to see your son whenever you choose, she can’t just suddenly go imposing limits because you were firm about the fact that you will not be resuming a romantic relationship with her.”
“That’s true, but sole custody?” Jason shook his head. “I don’t feel right trying to take Jake from his mother, he loves her. And he has brothers that he adores.”
“But he needs more help than she is willing to give.” Sam put her hand on Jason’s thigh. “He’s suffering! She’s got him so confused. This child needs realism, stability.”
“Can I really offer that Sam?” Jason was exasperated. “I live in a hotel. A very nice hotel, but not a permanent home.”
“You don’t have to live there.” Sam’s voice got low. “You could give Jake the family he deserves.. a loving home, a permanent home – a brother.”
Jason peered at her. “Are you telling me I should live here?”
“I know you aren’t really ready, but if we are living together as husband and wife it just looks better – a two parent home, a stable environment, a family.”
“He loves his mother.”
“And he loves you too. And he doesn’t have to be away from her forever. But once he’s here, things will just be better for him.”
“I still can’t.. commit. I am not ready to be your husband in more than name just yet.”
“I know.” She smiled and pushed her head into his shoulder. “When you are ready. In the meanwhile, we just play at being a family. Maybe it will help.”
She had learned to ignore the phone calls. Two, three, five times a day. Usually no voice, just dead air. She still wanted to figure out who had used her name and why they were calling her, harassing her, but there were bigger fish to fry. At first she’d hang up when she realized the calls weren’t from someone she wanted to speak to – but now she simply didn’t answer the phone unless she recognized the number.
She’d had a meeting with the lawyers today, just to see if she and Jason could come to terms before looking for court dates. It was a joke, Jason wasn’t interested in working out a mutual agreement, he wanted to show how much power he had, how easily he would win. Given all the factors, Jason and Sam married and living happily together – hoping to welcome Jake into their inviting little family – and the fact that Alexis was willing to pull out every single mistake she’d ever made in her life in order to make her seem completely incompetent was just icing. She was going to lose her son if this went to court
She was so distracted that she answered the phone without checking the number first.
“You’ve been ignoring me. That’s a mistake.” She was about to hang up when the voice said. “Blue suits you.”
Liz looked down and froze, realizing she was wearing a baby blue shirt. She had changed as soon as she got home. Was it a bluff? A lucky guess? Had she worn blue earlier?
“Yes Elizabeth, I can see you. I see you standing there in the living room in your pretty blue shirt and those white lounge pants. I see your hair is tied up.. I prefer it loose. I always have. I see you looking all around the living room, trying to find me. Wondering if I’m already inside. I’ve been inside before. In your house, in your bed, in your kitchen. Once I was even inside you.”
Liz dropped the phone as though it were hot, her heart pounding, her palms sweaty. 911.. 911.. she picked the phone back up and was about to punch in the emergency number when the power in the house went out. She heard the boys yell from upstairs - “I’m coming!” She ran to the stairs.. the police forgotten for a moment – her first priority was to get to her children. But before she could get to the stairs, a hand reached out and yanked her hair, pulling her backwards with enough force that she slammed hard onto the ground.
He was on top of her suddenly, his hands covering her mouth, his body pinning her. “If you scream, if you struggle – I swear I will go upstairs murder each of your children before you can get to the door or dial your phone.”
Tom Yergin. A voice she’d never forget, her blood turned to ice.
“Get up now – slowly – and come with me. “
She felt the pistol in her side and before she could even begin to calculate any exit strategy, all three boys had appeared in the living room with a flashlight. Tom ducked his head and the light shown brightly in Liz’s eyes. “Tell them I am a friend. Tell them you will be right back or the first bullet will be for the smallest.” He whispered hoarsely in her ear.
“Guys.. it’s nothing.. it’s an outage in the neighborhood. This is my friend, Tom, he’s going to help me fix it. Just go upstairs. I’ll be right back. “ Her voice shook, but she smiled and hoped they would not sense her nervousness.
“The Pelham’s lights are on” Cam frowned – noting the house across the street was brightly lit.
“They must have a generator!” Liz continued. “Please Cam.. take your brother’s upstairs.. I’ll be right there.”
Tom tugged her and Jake aimed the light toward him. “IT’S THE BAD MAN!” He cried.
Tom tensed and she felt the pistol move from her flesh. “NO.” She insisted. “Just go upstairs. It’s not a bad man! It’s mommy’s friend. Please just go.. I’ll be right there.”
Cam hesitated, sensing something wrong – Jake’s face started to crumple and Aidan pressed closer to his brothers. “Okay. Sorry Mom. Let’s go guys.. you heard her.. she’ll be right up!”
He pulled his reluctant brothers up the stairs and glanced back as Liz visibly relaxed and stepped out the door – barefoot – and into the dark.
“She’s escalating.” Sam insisted as Cam repeated his story for the police officer. “She was never in any danger, the phone was in her name. She didn’t cover her tracks very well.”
“It was the bad man!” Jake cried again. “I know it was him. Mommy said it was a friend but he wasn’t nice.”
“Why would she tell them it was a friend? She didn’t want them to be scared right then, just you.” I guarantee she’s probably in some hotel right now, eating room service and waiting for her moment to ‘escape’. Sam rolled her eyes.
Jason had enough of Sam’s interjections. “Sam.. just.. why don’t you go home. Danny is there with Alexis, I’m sure she wants to get back to her own place, it’s late.”
“I want to help Jason. I am a PI you know.”
“I know, and I know you have already told me that Liz is not actually missing and that she’s completely safe. And I appreciate your input, but right now I have 3 panicked boys that I need to think about.”
“So bring them to the Penthouse. We’ll have a camp out in the living room.. it will be fun..”
“I want my mom!” Aidan wailed.
“You can’t be serious right now. They are scared half to death – even if she did this on purpose, I’m not going to pull them out of their house and put them in a strange environment.”
“Jason, it’s fine.. “ She started, and then realized she would not win this argument. “Okay.. I’ll leave. But I’ll be back tomorrow with donuts!” She said the last part loudly and with a smile, hoping to evoke some cheers or excitement – but was met only with a head shake from Jason and a glare from Jake.
“I’ve been waiting a long time to see you again Elizabeth.” She was tied with her hands over her head, affixed to a light fixture. She stood on a chair. Her arms ached from being stretched so high. “I’ve dreamed about it often.”
He ran the tip of his gun across the exposed flesh of her belly and she twisted to escape it.
“The last time I had you – it was too fast. I couldn’t enjoy it really. This time? I’m going to savor every second. First course is fear.” He licked his lips. “I can taste it already. It’s delicious.”
She didn’t want to satisfy him. She closed her eyes, tried to dull the frightened feelings.
“Second course” he spoke as he circled her “Pain.” He suddenly punched her hard in her lower back. Her eyes flew open and she gasped for air as the shock of agony swept through her. “I learned some new things in the prison you and your bitch friend sent me to.” He laughed.
She steeled her nerves again. No fear, no pain.
“Third course.. you.” He climbed up on the chair in front of her and pressed his body against hers as best he could, pulling her hips against his and digging his fingernails into her buttocks as he licked her neck from throat to chin. It was repulsive, she felt her stomach heave.
“And.. last course.. “ He stepped back off the chair and smiled a slick, sick smile. “Last course is Death of course.” He aimed the gun at her and pretended to pull the trigger and feel the recoil with a ‘peeyong’ sound whistling from his mouth. “Dead whores tell no tales.”
“But I think.. we’ll let the first course brew a little longer, shall we?” A leather strap had been hanging next to her, also tied to the light. He climbed up on the chair againasnd wrapped it around her neck and pulled it tightly, making sure it was as secure as her hand ties. The smell of tobacco and body odor was enough to make her sick.
“Now” he announced, leaping lightly from the chair. If you struggle too much, you will knock over the chair and if that happens… he made a cracking noise, cocked his head to the side and let his tongue lol out the side of his head. “That would be awful – we’d have to skip the second course. But don’t worry, I can still have course three.. even if it’s cold.” He laughed at her horrified look, turned off the light and left her standing there, afraid to move, afraid to sleep.