Elizabeth was having fun. She, Cameron and Jake had met up with Lucky at the carnival. The boys were having a great time and she enjoyed seeing them so excited. They rode the merry-go-round three times and tried several of the other preschool games they had set up at the back.
They were headed to an airplane ride only Cam was big enough to get on. She felt he had earned it after being a good sport with all the 'baby' rides as he called them he had ridden with Jake. She put Jake down so she could take Cam's picture while Lucky strapped him in. She saw Jake move out of the corner of her eye.
"Jake! Stay here, honey."
She tried to take another picture, but saw Jake move again. This time he was faster and didn't stop. She took off after him.
"Jake! Stop running!"
But he didn't stop and then he turned and went behind one of the tents. She ran faster as she turned the corner and then stopped suddenly. Her breath caught in her throat.
Sitting behind the tent between the fabric back and a hay bale was Kristina Davis, but she wasn't like Elizabeth had ever seen her. Her hair was tangled, her face dirty and streaked with tears, her eyes were vacant, her hands wrapped tightly around her, her clothes torn and unkempt. Everything in Elizabeth recognized the broken girl in front of her and fought to keep from reliving the past. Elizabeth pushed the memory back as she lowered to her knees a few feet away from Kristina. Jake seemed to sense the somber mood and came to his mother willingly. He wrapped his arms around her neck and Elizabeth held him close praying for guidance. She talked quietly to Jake and sat him off to the side with her purse.
Her voice was barely louder than a whisper. Kristina's head whipped up at Elizabeth's voice. Her eyes started darting around looking for a way to escape.
"Kristina, do you remember me? It's me, Elizabeth Webber."
Kristina seemed to calm down at Elizabeth's words.
"I was one of your mom's nurses when she was sick, remember?"
Kristina looked at her and Elizabeth could see recognition in the young woman's eyes. Her voice remained quiet.
"Can you tell me what happened?"
Kristina's breathing became erratic and she started shaking.
"Kristina." Her voice was soft, but with enough tone to get the girl's attention. Kristina looked at her again. "I know how you feel." Her voice cracked. "It happened to me, too."
She waited for Kristina to process her statement. She wanted to hold Kristina when she started crying, but knew the young woman wasn't ready. Elizabeth looked over to find Jake playing with her keys he had found in her purse. She was hoping Kristina would talk, but was still surprised when she did.
"I thought he was a nice guy. We were here to have fun." She almost choked on her tears. "Why would he do this?"
Elizabeth teared up.
"I don't know, sweetheart." She was afraid to make the next suggestion, but knew it was important. "Kristina, I know you probably don't want anyone to know, but we should take you to the hospital."
Kristina held Elizabeth's kind gaze.
"It's the only way he'll go to jail. You can make him pay."
She waited for Kristina's decision. She knew Sonny could make it all go away, but didn't think that was best for Kristina. But, that was a conversation for another time.
Before Kristina could choose Sam and Jason came around the back of the tent. Both Elizabeth and Kristina froze. Sam rushed towards her sister.
Elizabeth's arm shot out to block Sam's approach. Kristina inched further back into the corner. Elizabeth heard Jason's sharp intake of breath and knew he had figured out what had happened. She heard Jason pull Sam back.
"Stop it, Jason! She's my sister!"
Elizabeth didn't have time for Sam's whining, but she didn't have to worry. Jason intervened.
"She needs Elizabeth."
Kristina's gaze never left Elizabeth's and Elizabeth would wait as long as needed. She was thankful Jake continued to play quietly.
"I want him to pay. Can you take me to the hospital?"
"Of course I can."
She heard Sam huff and stomp her foot behind her, but she paid no mind to her. She helped Jake put everything back into her purse, gave him her purse, picked him up slowly and turned around.
"Take him, please." Jason took Jake. They looked at each other and Jake smiled. Elizabeth turned back around and pulled her phone out of her back pocket. She dialed and waited for Lucky to answer.
"Hey....Something's come up and I need to head to the hospital....No, no. I'm just helping someone. Just wanted to let you know I have Jake....Kiss Cam for me and I'll call you later....Okay, bye."
She put her phone back into her pocket and crouched down, still a few feet from Kristina. She put her arms out in front of her waiting for Kristina to move. Kristina slowly moved to her knees and inched closer to Elizabeth. She reached out and put her hands on Elizabeth's arms. Together they gradually stood up.
"Yeah, I think so."
Kristina leaned into Elizabeth as Elizabeth wrapped her arm around the young woman. The little group carefully made its way to the parking lot. Jason helped get Jake into his car seat as Elizabeth helped Kristina.
"We'll meet you there."
Elizabeth nodded and they headed to General Hospital.
Jason parked several spaces away from Elizabeth. He didn't want to crowd Kristina so he approached the car slowly. Elizabeth unbuckled Jake and talked to him as she turned and put him in Jason's arms.
Jason held Sam back from going to Kristina's door. She was not happy, but he didn't care. He cared about the young woman who was going through hell. He knew it was going to be a difficult and long recovery for Kristina.
Elizabeth guided Kristina into the Emergency Room and went straight to the desk. She told her co-worker she needed Epiphany and a cubicle. The nurse pointed to the third room. Elizabeth mouthed the word 'kit' before they headed behind the curtain.
She told Kristina they needed to get her changed into a gown and waited for Kristina to make the first move. Kristina whispered for assistance and Elizabeth gently helped Kristina take off her clothes and put on the paper gown. Elizabeth put Kristina's clothes off to the side knowing the police would need to collect them.
"Will you talk to me while we wait?"
Kristina reached out and Elizabeth held her shaking hand in both of her own.
"I know it doesn't seem like it now, but you're going to get through this."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," she said with conviction. "I'm sure." She could see Kristina wanted to say something so she waited.
"How did you get through it?"
"A friend found me and was there anytime I needed it."
"That sounds nice."
"It was." She took a breath. "Kristina, the near future is going to be tough. I know you have your mom and dad and your sisters, but if you ever need me I will come. If you're at school I will come. If you're out somewhere I will come. If you have a nightmare and it's two in the morning I will come. Or you can just call me. This is all about you and what you need. I'll make sure you have my number before you go home."
"Knock, knock," came Epiphany's voice from behind the curtain. She entered followed by a female officer. Elizabeth looked at Kristina.
"I need to step outside while they check you out. I'll talk to your parents and check on you in a few minutes, okay?"
She watched Kristina's face and stood up when she felt Kristina was ready. Elizabeth let go of Kristina's hand.
"Thank you, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth tucked a lock of Kristina's hair behind her ear.
"You're very welcome. Just tell Epiphany if you need me before I get back."
Kristina nodded and Elizabeth stepped out and shut the curtain. She took a breath and wiped her hands on her jean clad thighs. She looked up and found Jason's eyes on her from across the waiting room. Jason broke her gaze to continue reading some book to Jake. Sam was next to him on the couch and Alexis was on the couch perpendicular. Sonny was pacing a few feet away.
Elizabeth approached the corner slowly. They all looked at her as she approached. Alexis jumped up.
"Is she okay? Can I see her? How could this happen?"
Elizabeth reached out and hugged Alexis. Alexis hesitated and then hugged her back. She started crying. Elizabeth was doing her best not to break down also. She rubbed Alexis' back until her tears subsided. Alexis pulled away.
"Who did this to my baby?"
"Can I talk to you and Sonny alone, please?"
"Not now, Sam." Alexis turned back to Elizabeth. "Please."
Elizabeth led them closer to Kristina's cubicle, but far enough away for privacy. Sonny spoke first and he was barely holding in his fury.
"Who did this to my daughter?"
"I can't tell you that, not if you're planning to go out and take care of him." Sonny was angry with her. "Sonny, you need to listen to me. Going out and taking care of this the way you do will not help."
"Yes, it will."
"Maybe for you, but it won't help Kristina. This isn't about you. This is about her. She needs to feel she has control of her life and if you swoop in and make it all go away she has no control, no way to get closure." She reached out and squeezed his arm. "This might be the hardest thing you ever have to do. You need to listen to Kristina and really hear her. She's going to feel lost and confused and alone. Just support her, but don't crowd her.
She's going to get through this and so are you. I'm going to give Kristina my number so she can call me at any time, but I'm going to give it to you, too. If you have any questions or just need someone who understands call me."
"Thanks, Elizabeth. I'm sure I speak for Sonny, also, when I say that means a lot." Sonny nodded.
"Can we see her now?"
"Let me go see if they are done. If they are, you can go in."
Elizabeth headed to the curtain and called out before entering. Epiphany was writing in a chart as was the officer at the back of the room. Kristina's eyes opened when she heard the curtain open and close.
"Hey, Kristina." Elizabeth's voice was hushed.
"Hi. I made it through the exam."
"I knew you would." She sat on the stool next to the bed. Elizabeth and Epiphany made eye contact and Epiphany led the officer out of the cubicle with all the evidence. "Your parents are outside and want to see you." She saw Kristina tense.
"I told your parents they couldn't make this better for you. I hope I made it clear to them you need to do this your way. Just remember. They love you and they won't know how to handle this any more than you do....Ready?"
"I guess so." Elizabeth stood up. "You won't forget your number, right?"
"No, I won't. I meant what I said. Whenever you need me I will come, I promise."
Kristina threw her arms around Elizabeth. Her voice was muffled, but Elizabeth heard her.
"Thank you, Elizabeth."
"You're welcome." Elizabeth made her way to the curtain. She looked back. "You can do this. You're stronger than you think."
Elizabeth stepped out and met Sonny and Alexis halfway.
"She's waiting for you."
Sonny and Alexis moved passed her into the cubicle. She could hear the heartbroken cries from within. She moved back to the couches in the waiting room and sat on the couch Alexis had occupied earlier.
"You can go now."
The haughtiness in Sam's voice did not surprise her.
"No, I can't."
"Yes, you can. She's my sister and I can help her."
"That's good, Sam." hoping that was true. "But I'm not leaving until she does." She turned to Jason who had a slumbering Jake in his arms. "You alright or do I need to take him?"
"No." His answer was swift and concise. "We're good."
She turned her body to the side and laid her cheek on the back cushion of the couch. In minutes she was asleep.
She was on her feet in an instant, heart beating fast, breath coming in short, choppy waves. She looked frantically around looking for safety. She almost ran when someone touched her hand, but she quickly recognized the feel of his skin and the safety he provided. She began to recognize the desk to her left, the plants set about the room and Jason sitting on the couch below her with their sleeping son in his arms.
She sat back down, her hand still in his. She didn't talk; she just worked on calming her battered heart. She realized she was breathing in tempo with his thumb smoothing the back of her hand.
"Memories?" His voice was low and soothing.
"Yeah. I don't get them much any more, but occasionally there are triggers."
"Like today, but as hard as it is I can handle a few nightmares if I can help her."
Sam stood up and was looking behind Elizabeth. Elizabeth turned and saw Sonny and Alexis come out of the cubicle with Kristina between them. They stopped at the desk to sign some paperwork and Sam ran over to them. Elizabeth also went to the desk, but at the other end. She pulled out three information cards for the emergency room and wrote her house and cell phone numbers on the back. Sam was trying to get close to Kristina, but Kristina wouldn't let go of either parent. However, as they reached the end of the desk where Elizabeth was Kristina let go of her parents and hugged Elizabeth tightly. Kristina was crying again and whispering her thanks over and over. Elizabeth just held her close and rocked her. Alexis cried softly, too, and Kristina eventually let go of Elizabeth and went back to her mother.
It took everything Elizabeth had not to break down as Sonny and Alexis thanked her as they left with Kristina. An unhappy Sam followed. Elizabeth wanted to go back to the couch and sit down, but she just needed a minute to pull herself together. She moved away and out of sight of the corner she had started in. She put her hands on the cool tile of the wall. She took a deep breath. She took a second breath. The sob escaped unexpectedly. She covered her mouth with her hand as the second sob quickly followed the first. Her cries were almost silent, but they came from deep within. She slid to the floor, her hand never leaving the wall. Her body shook under the force of her tears.
Then there was a hand at her elbow gently pulling her up. She turned and was engulfed in Jason's strong embrace. She clung to him as the tears fell, letting go of the fear, worry and memories. She turned her head to rest her cheek against his chest and to give their sleeping son some room against his father's shoulder. They stood there in the corner of a now bustling middle of the night emergency room. He spoke and his words danced across her temple.
"I don't think I can do this anymore." He let go for a moment and tilted her chin up with his finger. "I can't watch you from the sidelines and pretend I don't care, that I don't love you. I was sitting over there and I knew you had reached your limit. And I debated coming to you. How does that prove I love you? It doesn't. What kind of man have I become? What kind of man says you're safer alone and facing life without someone sharing the burden? I'm not proud of who I've become, but I'm hoping I can make it up to you. I want to be with you, Elizabeth, not in secret, not here and there, but together, as a family." He wrapped his arm around her again and checked to make sure Jake was secure as he turned her a little so she could see the majority of the room.
"How many people at the desk?"
"And how many people waiting in the waiting area?"
He could see her counting in her head. He smiled.
"Just an estimate."
"Looks like about twenty." Her voice held confusion.
"So, twenty plus four is twenty-four, right?" She nodded. "So, we have twenty-four witnesses. I knew I could wait and check on you when it was safe and private, but a wise woman once told me that love shouldn't be safe." She smiled ever so slightly. "I'm just sorry it took me so long and so many times to realize life isn't safe."
She put one finger over his mouth.
"No regrets." She moved her hand to Jake's back and gently stroked up and down. "Now is when it matters."
They turned and started walking towards the door, but they stopped momentarily when they heard Epiphany's voice.
"Well, well, well, Mr. Morgan....looks like you finally stepped up. It's about time."
He briefly nodded and they kept going.