“Do you know what would be convenient?” Franco asked, inviting Elizabeth into his musings.
“What?” They were together on the sofa, curled into each other, as usual.
“If both my mothers were the same level of crazy, I wouldn’t have to go to two different mental institutions for holidays.”
Elizabeth laughed, even though it was probably something she really should not laugh about. “Hasn’t Heather refused to see you the last several times you tried to visit?”
“Yeah, but I take her a sandwich every once in a while anyway.”
“What about Betsy?”
He shook his head. “I haven’t gone to see her since they put her in Willow Wood.” He referred to the institutional care facility where Betsy had been since the spring. “I don’t know how to have a conversation with her,” he shrugged.
“Why do you think that?” Elizabeth asked, running her hand through his long hair.
“She’s fragile… I am –“ There was a very long pause. “Adjusting? Raw?”
“Maybe a little angry?” Elizabeth suggested.
He nodded. “But I don’t want to be angry with her. She was never strong. Her heart was in the right place, but she was manipulated so easily. That’s probably how Heather got her to take me in the first place. She wanted to love someone or something and she wanted to be loved.”
“She should’ve gotten a puppy,“ Elizabeth said aloud before she had time to censor her thoughts. She saw the hurt expression on Franco‘s face. “I’m sorry. I just meant if she couldn’t or wouldn’t protect you, she didn’t deserve you.”
”She tried,” Franco offered.
”Did she?” Elizabeth asked. “Did she really try to protect you?” She knew she felt more anger towards Betsy than Franco would allow himself to feel. But her perspective was different. She was a mother.
“I—“ he shrugged. “She sent Andy away. She protected him.”
”From you.” Elizabeth reminded him. “How could she take Jim Harvey’s word over yours?”
”Well, to be fair, I did push him. I told her I didn’t mean to hurt him, but I was too afraid of Jim to tell her why.”
“It’s okay to love your mother,” Elizabeth assured him. “It’s also okay to be angry at her. You don’t have to excuse her from failing to protect you, to turning a blind eye to what was happening in your home, or for bringing Jim Harvey into your home in the first place.”
”You know a lot of people judge you for letting me into your home with your children.”
”Let them,” Elizabeth said defiantly. “I know you, the real you. You are the only man I want to spend the rest of my life with and the best man to be a father to my children. I’m not swept off my feet because you’re a charming artist who has money.”
”And is hot?”
”And is hot,” she agreed, playfully swatting his arm. “When I think about Betsy and her relationship with Jim Harvey, it makes me sick. She brought a pedophile into her home when her children were so vulnerable. I want to ask her where was her Spidey-Sense? You know, that gut instinct that tells you your kid is in danger?”
“She doesn’t see bad in anyone,” Franco answered.
“She saw bad in you. You were a little kid, entirely too young to understand how to be malicious. But she believed that man when he told her you were the problem, you were bad, you were meant to hurt people.”
The corner of his lip twitched. He was supposed to react somehow, but there were so many conflicting feelings. “Your boys are so lucky,” he said, giving her a kiss on the forehead.
“I’m a long way from perfect,” she objected.
“You are even further away from being a Heather or a Betsy.”
“What do you want to say to Betsy?” Elizabeth asked. “I’m not asking you what you think you should say to her. I’m asking, if you could really tell her or ask her anything, what would it be?”
He looked down.
“I know you’ve thought about it. I’ll bet you’ve had a conversation in your mind a thousand times, but you keep it there where it won’t hurt anyone but you.”
“How do you just look right into my soul, or scarier, my mind?”
“We are two sides of the same coin,” she answered. “Tell me. Tell me what you want to tell Betsy. No one gets hurt.”
He looked away from Elizabeth and pictured his mom and she was now – older, weaker. He pictured her when she was much younger – timid, kind, but naïve. There were a hundred statements or questions he could’ve started with, but one stuck out the most: “Why?”
”Why what?” Elizabeth prodded.
“Why did you love him? Why did you believe him? Why didn’t you stop him? How could you not know? You had to know. You can’t be that stupid. There was blood in my clothes. There was blood in my bed.“ Saying the words out loud caused him to feel nauseated. “I was afraid of him and you knew that I was afraid of him. I begged you to make him go away. But you chose his money and lies. He could pay the bills and you made me his little whore. He brought home the money and you just ignored what he did to me. You let him touch you and then leave your bed to come to mine. It disgusts me that he came to me after being with you. You’re my mom. You had to know. You were the means to the end. He didn’t love you. He wanted your children.”
Elizabeth did not dare interrupt him while he was letting her into so many of his closely guarded personal thoughts.
“I don’t believe you. I know you’re going to tell me you didn’t know what was happening at the time, but you did. Andy grew up without a home because you chose Jim Harvey over him, but blamed me. You lied to me and manipulated me so that I didn’t know what was reality anymore. I lived in my own mind because it was the only safe space I had. Then my own mind wasn’t safe anymore. That day you told me he left, I was happy and I felt free for a moment. But you turned on me and said it was my fault he left. You lied. You saw him. He was so accustomed to doing whatever he wanted to me, whenever he wanted, that he got overly confident. One night he forgot to lock the door. He was on top of me, holding me down, and you opened the door and looked right at my face.” He was shaking as his voice that softer and softer. “You closed the door.”
Elizabeth pulled him to her and let him cry on her shoulder. No part of her mind could understand how Betsy had closed that door when the truth was on display right in front of her. She felt tears slipping from her eyes and she buried her face into his hair, taking in the scent of him, the scent that made her feel safe and loved.
Franco held onto her as if his life depended on it. She was the only thing holding the fractured pieces of his heart together. She gave him some time to overcome the impact of speaking the words out loud. She just held him while time seemed frozen.
“Is that when Jim Harvey left?” she asked. “After Betsy saw what he was doing?”
He nodded. “He knew I wasn’t legally adopted. He told her he would turn her in if she said anything. He told me he was tired of me and that I bored him.”
“What happened after he left?”
“I kept drawing. I always drew things when I was little. I couldn’t look at or speak to my mom for a long time. She started telling me how great my imagination was. She would look at pictures of Jim and Drew and ask who they were. Then when I told her, she said I was imagining them. They weren’t real. She said it always been just the two of us. I think maybe I decided to believe her because her lies were soothing compared to the truth. She talked about memories and good times that I didn’t remember. I couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t anymore. I wanted to forget Jim Harvey, so I locked him up in a box in my mind and I had to put Drew in there too. So, I kept drawing and kept blurring the lines between what was real and what wasn’t. Eventually, I didn’t know the difference at all.”
“I’m glad you figured it out,” Elizabeth rubbed his back in soft circles.
“Does it scare you?” he asked.
“That my grip on reality has been rather weak in the past.”
“No.” Elizabeth answered without even a pause.
“Babe, kids believe adults. It’s like Jake believing Helena about Sam being cursed. Except you didn’t have a you. You didn’t have someone who recognized there was a real problem. No one made Betsy look at what was right in front of her like you did for me and Jason, or Drew, I should say. Jake is getting better because you were persistent in helping us help him. You didn’t want him to fight the demons in his head. You got them to come out and I hope he is free now.”
“I will never understand why you love me.”
“I will never understand how anyone who knows you could not love you.”
AN: I have to make up Friz scenes because the show is annoying me so much lately.