"I wonder if I've changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think that I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is 'Who in the world am I?' Ah, that's the great puzzle."
--Lewis Carroll, "Alice's Adventures In Wonderland"
Lately, she’s been craving cigarettes.
She used to crave brownies, fudge, all forms of chocolate, at midnight when she couldn’t sleep. Now, the closer the clock creeps to what her Gran calls the ‘witching hour’, the more her tastebuds remember the long-forbidden lure of nicotine. She’s fairly certain this isn’t a sign of maturity.
Regression has been the name of the game lately, she thinks, as she perches in her studio window, her fingers itching to hold an ash-tipped cig. The weird thing is...the weirdest part is how little she’s regretting it.
She’s been remembering little Lizzie Webber lately, like she’s this girl she used to know a long time ago. Thinking about her old friend and arch-nemesis, she’s starting to wonder if she still knows how to slip inside her skin; she’s even beginning to think it might be worth a try.
Lizzie knew things, things Elizabeth thinks she’s forgotten. She knew want, how to be selfish with her own needs. She called a bitch a bitch ‘cause, hell, takes one to know one. She was no one’s standard of excellence, and most people’s idea of the opposite.
And she could smoke a freakin’ cigarette like nobody’s business.
She rises up on her knees, pushes the window open with an impatient, graceless gesture. She wants to run, scream, peel off this skin that suddenly feels too tight with her fingernails. But, she can’t; she’s Elizabeth, doncha know? She contents herself with breathing deep, letting the moonlit air fill her lungs. She isn’t content at all.
She doesn’t know what she is, or who. Elizabeth isn’t a woman she knows at all anymore. Lizzie, though, Lizzie she kind of remembers. Lizzie wasn’t anyone’s other half; she was whole all on her own. She’d give...she finds herself hard pressed to think of what she wouldn’t give to remember what that feels like.
She won’t let herself blame the rape. That’s the one thing-- Elizabeth wasn’t born that night of red blood and white, whiter, whitest snow. He took enough from her; she refuses to let him carry the death of Lizzie Webber, too.
No, that came later. And, when it did, it was her kill. She struck Lizzie Webber’s death blow. She’s not sure exactly when, but, oh, she knows why.
It wasn’t Lizzie that Lucky Spencer fell in love with, you see.
It’s not his fault. She knows that -- or, at least, she almost does. He was the first boy she loved who really loved her back. It’s not his fault he loved her broken. It’s just the way it is. Was. Lucky is a was now. Elizabeth isn’t sure she’ll ever get used to that. Lizzie is fairly certain she already has.
Both of them loved him, of course. But only one of them let him be the other half of her soul. She wonders if that’s what’s she’s been looking for in Jason, in Zander. In cigarettes. Not love, not even lust, but a way of filling the void inside her that Lizzie used to live in and Lucky used to own.
Her fingers tap an erratic pattern against the window frame, feeling ridiculously empty. It isn’t a cigarette she truly wants; it’s something far less tangible and far more dangerous. She wants her past back, and most of all, she wants to look in a mirror and call the woman looking back at her by name. She glances up suddenly, catches her reflection in the moonlit window.
She thinks it has kind of a nice ring to it, after all.
I never taught my kid to play ‘mother-may-I’.
Of course, when my daughter was young, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing; games were hardly a priority. I was trying my damnedest to keep her clean, keep her fed, and keep myself sober. Playing -- playing anything -- took a back seat.
I didn’t know how to be a mother. God, I didn’t want to be a mother. Horrible thing, but it’s true. You can’t be a mother and a party girl at the same time, and I loooved being a party girl.
Hell, I was twenty years old and living in Atlantic City. I’d been on my own since I was fourteen. What else was I supposed to be?
I remember the first night I met her father. I was workin’ the room, wearing next-to-nothing, a little scrap of flame colored silk. I wasn’t hooking; I hadn’t had to do that since I first ran out of my own mother’s house, angry and willful, bound and determined to make it by whatever means necessary. I was just....working the room. Lookin’ for someone with deep pockets who knew how to have a good time and wanted someone to have it with.
Damn if Mike Corbin didn’t fit the bill to a tee. Or so I thought. And, by the time I found out his ‘deep’ pockets were an illusion with no end and no bottom, it was way, way, way too late.
When I found out I was pregnant, I cursed him. Called him every name in the book. And, by then I’d been around enough that it was a very big book. What the hell was I supposed to do with a kid? Takin’ care of myself was enough of a challenge. A squalling, helpless baby wasn’t ever in the game plan. But, Mike wanted it. What is it about gettin’ a woman pregnant that makes a man feel more like a man? Didn’t matter. Mike wanted the baby, and by then, I was so far gone that what Mike Corbin wanted, Mike Corbin got.
So, eight months after the stick turned pink in the dingy bathroom of my third floor walk-up, I gave birth in a crowded hospital room with two other pregnant women and no Mike Corbin. And, when they brought her to me, scrubbed clean and rosy cheeked and lay her against my breast, the one thing, the only thing I knew was that I’d kill to keep her safe. No matter what it took.
I took her home, and swore to change my life for her, to change everything for her. To be everything for her, everything she needed. Thing is, when your life is shit and you’re fightin’ tooth and nail to carve out a better life than you had, a better life for your kid, teaching that kid how to play games is the last thing you’re worried about. I taught her how to survive, but I never taught her how to play.
Which is why these dreams I’ve been havin’ throw me every time. We’ll be in that damn walk-up we lived in ‘til she was ten only she’s grown now. And, she turns from across the room and holds out her hand -- not to me but to the man I feel standing behind me. I can’t see his face but I know who he is by the look in her eyes, full of love, full of things I never taught her, never knew to teach. She starts to run to him and just as she reaches me she stops and looks at me.
My daughter, my baby, my reason for -- everything smiles shyly, and she nods once at the man who’s become her reason for everything. “Mother, may I?” she whispers in my dream, a thing she never paused to ask me when waking. “Oh, mother, may I?”
I always wake before I answer her. I know the rules, even if I never taught ‘em to my kid. I have to say ‘yes’, don’t I? Isn’t that how the game is played? But, I get to make the rules; I get to tell her when and how and exactly what steps she gets to take. I know the rules.
I wish I’d taught them to my daughter. I wish we’d played games when she was young. I wish I could say, even once, “Ten baby steps, Courtney. As many baby steps as it takes,” before she takes off running past me, every, every night, her arms outstretched, never looking back.
The glint of a gold medallion resting against his chest. The crystal decanter half-full of wine on the stone mantle. The curve of her back bared by the sheet puddled against her hips as she sleeps.
He has always been drawn to things that gleam in the firelight.
It is, perhaps, one more way to rebel against the family legacy pulsing through his veins. It is in his blood to embrace the darkness, not the things that fight against it. In some ways, his entire life has been a struggle against the things carried down to him in his blood.
He is not entirely sure whether this current venture around the world is a battle won or lost.
What it was intended to be and what it has become are two entirely different things, and never is that more clear to him than when the sun sets each evening. There are truths that come alive then that dare not raise their head in the day. All his life, he has never had any power over the night.
When he left, when he kissed his sisters and embraced his nephew, and left, he told them -- he told himself -- that this journey was to be a journey of the soul. He was to travel the world and find a way in which to become renewed, rejuvenated. Whole. He did not, as it were, lie. It was his intent. After all, that backwater of a town in upstate New York was intended to become his home. And yet. And yet...
It is not, of course. There is an terrible, beautiful island he hates more than any place on earth that will remain, until the day he dies, the one place on this planet Stefan Cassadine will ever be capable of calling ‘home’. He has no words for the quality of despair that has come with embracing that truth. It is, however, what it is. Of all the lessons Helena forced upon him, this myth that Cassadine Island is his home is one he himself has given flesh. How could it be otherwise? Love, lust, anguish, hatred -- the deep and abiding power and the desperate futility of all of these -- he knew them first there. Thus, it will always be that that dark hell resting softly in the warm Mediterranean Sea will be the first place that comes to mind when he speaks the word ‘home’.
And yet. Port Charles.
There is nothing of grace about the decidedly plebeian town. Nothing about it draws the eye or, particularly, repels it. Passing through Port Charles, one scarcely realizes one has. And yet. When he wakes, no matter in which city of the wide world he dallies, it is the small nothing town in the upstart country across the ocean whose name springs first to his lips.
It is not with love that he speaks it. It is not even the twisted dark passion with which he speaks of the land of his birth that flavors the name ‘Port Charles’. It was, instead, something much more drab that he carries entwined with this city, so far distant from everything he ever intended to let matter to him. Obligation. Duty. These are the chains that bind him to that city, so far away now.
This is the truth he knows in the night, that he cannot unbind them. It is not renewal nor rejuvenation he has found; it is this: who you are is not always as important as what you are. To whom. He is what he is. And what he is is not, will never be, no matter how far he goes, is free.
He has always been drawn to things that gleam in the firelight. The light against the dark -- it holds an especial allure for him. There is a bravery in this small act that speaks to him. There is freedom in it he covets -- a freedom he has finally accepted will never be his.
He has always been drawn to things that gleam in the firelight. Always.