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All the Girls I’ve Loved Before

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Franco hugged Liesl and turned to look over the water toward the island where he thought she might have Peter captive. He felt a searing pain shoot through his head and down his spine. First he was falling; then he was floating. 

Then he was in the art therapy room – the one that Liesl had procured for him when she was chief of staff. She had changed his life for the better in so many ways. She was the first person who believed in him other than Kiki. Carly had proven fickle and phony. 

Liesl sat across from him wearing the same clothes she had been wearing on the docks. “You’re a good man and a good friend,” she told him. “Few people change for the better, but you have. I’m not one of those people. Please take care of Maxie and baby James for me. Look out for them the way only you can.”

“Liesl, don’t do this to yourself,” he plead. “It’s not too late for you.”

She smiled, but only sadness was in her eyes. “I’m afraid it is. Hang onto all the things you love, my friend. Don’t let me keep you from living your life happily. I’m not worth it.”

“You don’t know your own worth,” he told her.

She got up, leaned over and kissed his forehead. “I never meant to hurt you.” And she was gone.

He turned back to his blank canvas. He didn’t usually use pastels, but he felt drawn toward the baby blue chalk. He picked it up, but didn’t make a mark.

“Is that for me?”

He looked up, surprised to see Maxie and her baby. The pastel chalk in his hand matched her dress and his blanket. He thought about it for a second. “I guess it is,” he realized.

Maxie sat down with him. The baby was cooing. He was very tiny but seemed very strong. Franco knew James would have to be strong growing up without a father.

“Wait. Give me some time,” he said. “Just hold the baby like you are now.” He almost frantically began to draw their portrait. Maxie, though beautiful, was also filled with sadness. He worked in shades of blue. “Talk to me, he told her. “Tell me about your life.”

Maxie was never at a loss for words. So while he worked, she told him about all things high fashion. Then she was more vulnerable, talking about being a new mother all alone and how the nights were the hardest time.

Franco had a very good memory for details – faces, objects, colors. He pulled from his memory and added the last touches to the portrait. When he was satisfied with his work, he turned it for Maxie to see.

She stared, mouth agape. Then she burst into tears. He had drawn her and James just as they were today, but in the left corner, near the top of the portrait was a beautiful likeness of Nathan in his formal police uniform. Only his face and shoulders were visible. There was a white cloud surrounding him with hints of gold, for surely Nathan had a place in heaven.

“It’s beautiful!” Maxie gasped. She stared at it, realizing the treasure that it was, at least for her.

“I have strict orders from Nathan’s mother. If you need anything, you ask, okay? I’ll be there. For her sake, for you and for James.”

Maxie stood up. She asked Franco to hold James for a minute so she could adjust her baby bag and find a way to take the portrait without bending it.

Franco looked at the innocent face of the baby. “You’ve got a great mom who adores you,” he said. “You’ll have a happy life.”

Maxie thanked him, took James into her arms, and left.

“Really?” Nina asked him bitterly.

“What?” Franco replied, surprised that Nina has appeared out of nowhere. She was the portrait of fierce and beautiful in her green Prada. 

“You can promise to watch out for James for Maxie, and you can play house with Elizabeth and her kids, but you wouldn’t give me a child when I wanted a child more than anything?”

“I told you that wasn’t about you. I never wanted to hurt you.”

“But I watched you that year at the Nurses’ Ball helping Jake when he had stage fright. It tore my heart out. You could’ve been a good father to our child. If you would have just let it happen.”

“I told you then, I didn’t want to pass my genes on to a child. I thought I was born evil and I thought I was meant to hurt people.”

“You’re using past tense” Nina noted the blatant difference in his words now and then.

“I was wrong,” he shrugged. “Maybe if the timing had been different…”

“I knew there was a good in you,” Nina told him. “And you were the only one who saw the good in me.” She looked away, “But I guess I wasn’t good enough.”

“Nina, I had a lot of stuff going on that I didn’t understand. It was never you. You would be an amazing mother. And you have Charlotte now, right? You’re happy now aren’t you?”

“I’m not sure anymore…” her voice trailed off and she just disappeared.

“Exes really can be a bitch,” Ava practically purred. She was wearing all black.

“You would know,” he bit back. 

“Is that any way to speak to your oldest ally? We have Kiki to think about.”

“Yes, WE have Kiki to think about. One day you’ll change the trajectory of your lies when it suits you, and she’ll be my daughter again.”

”Hmmm, if you think so,” Ava cocked her head to one side, studying him.

“Just go away,” he told her, closing his eyes and shaking his head. “Be a better mother to Kiki.”

“Speaking of bitches,” he thought when he heard Heather’s voice behind him. 

“So, is that some kind of crack about me not being a good mother either?” Heather asked. She was standing behind him, dressed in orange.

He turned around to look at her. “I thought you weren’t speaking to me.”

“Yeah, you cost me me my nest egg.” 

“For when you get out of an institution for the criminally insane?”

She sneered at him.

“Don’t hold your breath,” Franco told her, actually glad to see that she was still in handcuffs.

“I was a good mother to you,” Heather stated as if it were fact.

“At times,” he allowed. “But you did give me away. And lied to me over and over. And tried to kill people I cared about.”

“I also tried to kill people to give you an alibi.”

“Which I didn’t need,” he reminded her. “Your faith in me is astounding.”

“You always made a good suspect,” she seemed to wax poetic.

“Is there a reason you’re here?” he asked.

“I just wanted to remind you where you come from.”

“I don’t need any more reminders,” he said, thinking of recent memories.

“I think you do,” Heather argued. “Tumor or no tumor, you have rage inside of you, and you are my child. We don’t handle rage well when someone we love is hurt or hurts us.”

“You know what, Heather? Maybe I do have rage inside me, but that’s not genetic. I’m also learning effective outlets for my issues like counseling and helping others. And just maybe, the tumor is what was genetically predisposed and you need to get your head examined.”

“Ingrate,” Heather spat. “I should’ve just had an abortion.”

“Go back to your personal hell and leave me be. I’m finally happy, no thanks to any contribution you’ve made to my life.” He closed his eyes because she was giving him a headache.

“Bobby, Bobby, are you okay?” he heard Betsy ask. Her voice was fueled with desperation.

He opened his eyes to see his other mother was sitting where Maxie had been before. Everything about her seemed gray. He took a deep breath and remained quiet. She reached out her hand and stroked his cheek. “I’ve been so worried,” she said.

“I’m fine,” he answered, perhaps too curtly. He put his hand over hers and then kissed her hand sweetly. “Are you alright?”

“I’m so sorry, Bobby. I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t even say his name,” Franco told her. “He’s gone. You’re safe. Andy’s safe. I’m safe.”

“I still have —“

“Mom, stop. I don’t want to go there. Not with you.” She opened her mouth, but he stopped her again. “Mom, no. We will never speak his name again.”

“I failed you.”

“Yeah, you did. Get over it. I can’t fix you. I would if I could, but I can’t. You have to find peace in your own terms.” He saw that her eyes were filled with tears. “I will always love you, Mom.” 

She nodded, eyes downcast. He supposed he should assuage her guilt, but he wasn’t there yet and didn’t know if he ever would be. He closed his eyes and waited for her to disappear. He was catching on that that’s how this mind game worked.

If anything, his headache was getting worse. Then he felt the touch of an angel. Elizabeth with was rubbing his chest. She was worried about him. He realized he wasn’t in the art therapy room anymore. He was lying down and it seemed very likely he was in a hospital bed. He recognized the sounds of the surroundings and heard Griffin talking. He didn’t particularly like Griffin though he wasn’t sure why. 

“Forget Griffin,” he told himself and he slipped back into that floaty dream like state thinking of Elizabeth.

It was his wedding day. He was standing at the front of the church waiting for Elizabeth to appear. He didn’t know if the church was full or empty because all he cared about was seeing Elizabeth.

He glanced at the crucifixion scene in the stained glass on one of the windows. Then he looked at the resurrection scene. He was, by no means, religious. However, he was familiar with the stories in the Bible. His mother had a copy and sometimes he read it when he was hiding. He even tried his hand at praying every once in a while. If God, if this Jesus person was sent to save people, then they could save him from that monster. Eventually, he gave up on praying to be saved from monsters. He rendered the Bible as nothing more than fables.

But, here he was… in a church of all places, celebrating the joy he had found with this earthbound angel named Elizabeth. The monster was dead. His brother was his best man. His dad was going to walk his bride down the aisle.

He glanced at the next stained glass window in the series, the Ascension. “Kind of slow, aren’t you?” He asked in what could be classified as the snarkiest attempt at a prayer genuinely fueled by gratitude.

“Who’s slow?” Drew asked.

”Hmmm,” he turned to his brother. “Oh, Elizabeth.”

“You know you didn’t show up last time,” Drew teased him.

“I was under a filing cabinet,” he reminded Drew.

“Here she comes,” Drew said as the traditional wedding march began.

Franco swore his heart stopped. His breath stopped. Time stopped. Elizabeth was stunning. She looked like a princess with a beautiful full long-sleeve gown covered in lace and accented with tiny pearls. She held a bouquet of fall colors brought to life with calla lilies, and, well, he wasn’t sure what else. Botany wasn’t his thing.

She smiled. He smiled back. If Scotty didn’t pick up the pace, he was going to run down the aisle and fetch her for himself.

She was getting closer and closer. He just wanted to say I do, kiss her, and run away with her.

“Elizabeth,” he called, begging her to make it to the front of the church.

Only it wasn’t a church. It was a hospital room and it was a disappointment to say the least. His head was splitting open.

But Elizabeth was there in a flash of red. He wanted to see her in white. She was kind of fussing about and Griffin was there. Not him again. And what the hell were Curtis and Sam doing there? He preferred Griffin.

But there she was, his angel smiling at him, relieved that he was safe. “I had the most amazing dream…” He said looking into her eyes.