Liz felt Franco’s arms tightly secured around her waist, his lips pressed hard and seeking against her own. She was trembling, her legs barely able to hold her up, but it didn’t matter because she never wanted this moment to end. The feelings of happiness, elation, and joy swiftly came and went and she breathed Franco in for a just a second longer before reluctantly pushing him away from her. She turned her head to hide the tears that continued running down her face, while slamming down the feeling of fear starting to grip her. It was wrapped up in unwanted memories, and it wanted to engulf her wholly and leaving her broken again.
Franco’s whispered, ‘Wait, Elizabeth’, snaps her out of a brief moment of self-pity and she turns to face Franco again. She quickly brushes the tears from her cheeks in defiance of the relief she feels in seeing him alive and physically in front of her again.
“Where were you?” she bursts out, a small sob escaping her throat in spite of the anger behind her words. Elizabeth’s heart is beating so fast she’s sure Franco can hear it pounding in her chest and echoing off the crumbling stone walls of the church. She remembers, suddenly, that they should be husband and wife by now. She clutches the church pew next to her to keep from crumpling to the floor.
“Elizabeth, I’m sorr--,” Franco says, but she shuts him down, her hand held up between them.
“Franco, you know... you know how many times I’ve been down this road before,” she said, shaking now. She sees the shame reflected in Franco’s eyes, along with his concern for her, but she needs him to listen, to realize how she wants nothing more than to beat her fists against his chest and make him understand once and for all.
“You know how often we talked about trusting and confiding in each other, about our fears and our concerns, and… and you just leave me here,” she stated, waving her hands to encompass the silence of broken stained glass and holy statues that surround them, “You leave me here, all alone and confused and worried, on the day we’re supposed to give our lives and hearts to each other? With no phone call, or explanation?” Her voice sounded strained and uncontrolled in her ears but she didn’t care. She hugged herself in order to stop the shaking still wracking her body.
Franco, normally animated in his thoughts and feelings, stood frozen in place. He looked pale, and it seemed like his breath had left his body, along with all the hope in making his relationship with Elizabeth right again.
Suddenly sucking in a breathe, Franco lifted his right hand and placed it over his heart. He couldn’t hold back the tears in his eyes.
“Elizabeth, whatever you need me to do, whatever you need me to say, I will,” he pleaded, his face twisted in anguish and guilt. He didn’t want to give her excuses anymore. He wanted to be free of his past and he wanted their relationship to be free of it too.
“I made a horrible mistake. Elizabeth, I.. I was so consumed with finding out the truth of my past, that I let it get in the way of my future. You and the boys are my future. You know this,” his words held an edge of desperation, and Elizabeth could feel tears forming in the corner of her eyes again, too.
The urge to comfort Franco suddenly flooded through her, a wave so strong she almost took a step toward him. But she managed to stand unflinchingly still, her lips pressed tightly together, while swallowing down a small cry.
“I wanted to protect you,” Franco continued, his hands now tentatively reaching out for her, “I wanted to keep you from discovering that maybe I really wasn’t worthy of you and the boys. Because, maybe, I still had it in me to... hurt you.”
“You don’t need to protect me, Franco,” she replied in quiet desperation, “all I’ve ever asked is for you to put your trust in me and allow me to come to my own conclusions.”
“You’re right, Elizabeth. You’re right, I’m sorry.” His voice cut through her for a moment and she allowed him to touch her again, his hands finding a hold on her upper arms. Elizabeth abruptly felt more solid in her body. Franco always made her realize the wholeness of who she was. But could Franco ever be whole himself? She had thought so, once.
She wasn’t so sure now.
She was about to shrug him off, but Franco instinctively knew this and pulled her to him, engulfing her body with his own.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you, Elizabeth,” he whispered into her hair, fear again gripping him as he thinks this could be the last time he would hold her in his arms.
Elizabeth’s arms were trapped between their bodies, yet unmovable as they were, she managed to curl her hands into fists, while her shoulders shook from the sobs now fully coming out of her. This day was supposed to be the start of their happily-ever-after, she thought. The life she envisioned for them, that appeared so clear in her mind this morning, was now… gone.
“You did hurt me, Franco,” she said in crushing realization. Elizabeth began beating her fists on Franco’s chest like she had wanted to after breaking their kiss. She never thought she’d say those words to him but she felt the hurt to her core. “You promised you wouldn’t hurt me, Franco. You promised.”
Her face was hidden from him, her beautiful hair shrouding tears, as she continued to weakly beat at his chest, each sob and anguished word from her lips shattering his heart into little pieces. Franco knew he had one more chance to make this right, to stand before Elizabeth as a man confident in himself and in a future with the only woman he has ever loved.
“Elizabeth,” he began, his breath sputtering between the clenching pain of his heart, his voice soft yet firm above her, “I’ve never wanted anything more in life than having you look at me with love in your eyes. You gave me that, and so much more.”
She stilled her fists when she heard his words, feeling emotionally exhausted as she opened her hands and laid them flat on Franco’s chest. She wouldn’t look up at him, not yet, and though Elizabeth knew she had the strength to walk away, his voice kept her anchored to his body and close to his heart as he continued to speak.
“And instead of admitting how afraid I was of losing you, I gave in to my insecurities and shut you out from the part of me that was most vulnerable,” he finally admitted as he gently stroked Elizabeth’s hair, “I was a killer once. I had a tumor once, too. But did those two things always go hand-in-hand?”
He paused and thought about Elizabeth’s boys. Jake, his best buddy… it was because of him that Elizabeth was in his life right now. How could he look at Jake, much less be his friend, and not wonder if he was a monster still capable of… of the worst?
Franco heard a quiet --you’re not, Franco-- in between soft sniffles and realized he had been thinking out loud just then. Elizabeth still looking at him but knew her hands lie soft against his chest and he felt her lean into him a bit more. He gently rested his chin on top of her head and kept talking.
“And then my Twin painting popped up out of nowhere, and Mom and Drew happened, and… it all started unravelling for me,” Franco paused for a moment, tightening his hold around Elizabeth a bit more, before going on. “And here’s the thing, instead of opening up and talking things over with you, I used yours’ and the boys’ safety as a crutch to keep my… my psychosis in check, I guess. And so I had to keep everything I knew a secret from you.”
Elizabeth gazed up at him finally, her eyes puffy and red. She looked like she wanted to say something just then but he needed to end the secrets and lies now and, cupping her face, his thumb barely grazing over her lips, he fully gave her his truth.
“My earliest memory of Drew was... was me deliberately pushing him down a flight of stairs. I almost killed him, Elizabeth. Betsy said I almost did. That’s why she sent Drew away. Harvey seemed to confirm it, too. Kevin knows,” he could see Elizabeth wanted to jump in once again and say something but Franco cut her off, knowing if he stopped now, he may not be able to get the words he needed to say out before breaking down. He swallowed and continued, his voice wobbly and hesitant, “I thought that was all but a new memory has popped up now. In it, I… I intentionally lock Drew in a large… wooden chest. I told Kevin it was a game of hide-and-seek that Drew and I used to play a lot. But now… I don’t know,” Franco drew in a breath that he seemed to hold for an eternity before exhaling and speaking the words he most feared Elizabeth hearing from him, “I think… Elizabeth, I think I may have had it inside me all along. This urge to kill. Even before the tumor.”
Franco knew he hadn’t turned to stone once he said those last words to her but he felt like his organs had solidified inside him, sinking down to the pit of his stomach, an unmovable ache he needed to bear. He turned his face away from Elizabeth, not wanting the woman he loved to see the monster he had inside of him.
Elizabeth was too stunned to speak for a moment, her brain quickly trying to process Franco’s words. Deep down, she somehow knew that all the awkward moments and strange encounters she and Franco had had recently with Drew and Harvey, along with Betsy’s sudden disappearance weeks ago, all connected. She just didn’t know until now what the missing piece was. There were still plenty of unanswered questions yet to uncover, but it wasn’t what she wanted just now.
After everything they’ve been through, after all the challenges she and Franco had overcome, even after all this, she knew Franco loved her as deeply as she loved him.
“Franco, look at me,” she ordered. Franco didn’t hesitate and turned his head to meet her gaze. When their eyes locked on to each other, there was an instance of recognition. The tone of her voice held strength and determination, something he knew now that he needed to give back to her.
“I know you have more to say to me, Franco. I’m not going anywhere until you actually finish this,” Elizabeth said, her face calm and assured. She felt him take her hands in his, and as the soft evening sun shone through the colorful stained glass behind her, Franco bent down on one knee.
“I remember you asked me once, whether I wanted to face things together with you, or not at all. And my answer to that, again, is together. I want to take on our fears and challenges, together, for always, Elizabeth. But this time, with everything out in the open. No secrets. Monster, or not, I will continue to strive to be the best man I can be for you, Elizabeth. I never want you to doubt me, or… you know, want you to think I’m doubting me,” she smiled knowingly at his stumbling words, as he continued, “So, what I’m trying to say Elizabeth, is that I am done with the past. I only want to look forward, with you. I want a future, with you. To raise the boys, with you. I want to share everything I am with you… and to do that, I need to earn your trust again,” Franco said, squeezing her hands, a signal of reassurance from him that everything would be okay, “Elizabeth, I vow to be brave enough to share my vulnerabilities with you, no matter how scary they may seem to me. Because you’re strong enough to handle anything. I knew that before, I just didn’t trust it.”
Franco stood up, her hands still in his. He smiled at her.
“I love you, Elizabeth Imogene Webber.”