Part Six

Prompt #12: At Christmas, all roads lead home.
~ Marjorie Holmes

She and the boys entered the house in one straining push, Cam and Jake eager to see their presents stacked up beneath the tree in the light of day, and Elizabeth anxious to see her husband. Joy, however, remained timidly outside, her feet shuffling back and forth across the ice-slick, snow dusted front porch. Even with the door left wide open for her to follow, the younger woman hesitated, even going so far as to refuse to meet Elizabeth's eye.

"You, uh, redecorated, huh," she commented softly, nervously. As always with her former assistant, Joy tugged on her earlobe in her agitated distraction.

She responded truthfully, refusing to lie even if a falsehood would have made the other girl feel more comfortable. "Jason insisted."

Before she could say anything more, though, Joy hooked a thumb over her shoulder. "Listen, it's Christmas morning. I know the boys are excited, and I don't... I don't want to ruin the day for them... or you. So, I think I'm just going to take a walk."

"But what about breakfast," she wondered out loud. "Surely, you're hungry, and I'm going to make pancakes. You'd be more than welcome to join us. Plus, it's cold out, and..."

Her words trailed off, and she cringed inwardly at just how very insincere her requests had sounded. While she was glad that Joy was no longer staying at a homeless shelter, she wasn't quite ready to just open her own home up to her yet at that point. Plus, whether the holidays were a time for giving to others or not, Elizabeth was selfish enough to recognize her own need to spend the morning with just her family. Someday, she believed that Joy would be part of that unit, but she wasn't ready for that yet, Jason certainly wasn't, and a part of her felt that even Joy would have been uncomfortable with such an immediate, forced connection.

In response, the younger woman shrugged. "I still have a few bucks in my pocket... enough to buy a cup of coffee and a donut. That is, if there's any place open around here on Christmas day."

"Kelly's," she answered. "Kelly's will be open. They never close. Someone always needs a warm meal, and the owners recognize that."

"Right," Joy remarked, nodding her head in that empty sort of way people did to fill a silent, uncomfortable void. "So, like I said, I'll get something to eat and take a walk... in the park, I think. And I'll check in later, too, before going back to campus and seeing if there's anyone still around for me to crash with."

"If not, we'd be happy to... find you a room somewhere," Elizabeth offered, feeling terrible that she couldn't open her home up to her husband's daughter. Not yet.

But Joy didn't seem insulted and certainly not expectant. Rather, she just shrugged, the gesture meant to express that they would see what happened when the time came. It was weird that, in retrospect, Elizabeth felt like she knew so little about the girl standing before her, but, at the same time, she knew her well enough to read even her most vague of expressions and movements.

"Merry Christmas, Elizabeth, and thanks... for coming to get me last night."

She smiled her own appreciation. "Thanks for being brave enough to call me. And Merry Christmas to you, too, Joy."

With that, she quietly shut the front door, finally shivering when the house's temperate air reminded her of just how very cold it was outside. "Boys," she yelled into the living room where she knew her children were gathered and waiting for her impatiently. "Do not even think about touching those presents. And that especially means no shaking them, Cameron," she added as an afterthought. "I'm just going to run upstairs, get dressed, and wake up your dad. He got in early this morning, so he's probably still asleep. As soon as we come back down, we'll have breakfast, and then we'll finally," she teased them, grinning at the sounds of their whining coming from the other room, "open your gifts."

Before they could respond further, she kicked off her boots and started up the stairs, unwinding her scarf, pulling off her gloves, and unbuttoning her winter coat as she went. By the time she reached the open doorway of the bedroom she shared with her husband, her various cold-weather garments had been removed, and she tossed them sightlessly onto the floor beside her closet. Raking her hands through her tangled, messy curls, Elizabeth started to debate whether or not the boys possessed enough patience to wait for her to shower before she woke up their dad.

"She's okay," her husband's voice asked from behind her, making Elizabeth jump, startled. Holding a hand over her chest, she turned around to meet his worried, torn gaze, and her heart broke.

Jason was so conflicted over everything he felt for Joy. Whether the rest of the world saw it or not, underneath the rough, gruff exterior he presented to everyone else, no one had a warmer, more gentle heart than the man she loved, but, maybe perhaps because of how truly sensitive and caring he was, Jason kept his heart equally as shielded and protected. It took a lot to break down the defensive barriers he erected around his feelings, but, once someone did, they were usually in his life for good. When her husband loved, he loved for forever. That's why he was such an amazing father.

At the same time, though, Joy had lied to him, had lied to all of them, and trust was as essential to Jason as breathing was. Without trust, in his eyes, two people had nothing together. So, not only did Joy have to contend with the fact that, in his mind, she would forever be associated with the death of the daughter he shared with Elizabeth, but she also had to prove to him that she could be trusted. And that would take time, a long time, and it would also require Jason taking the risk of giving someone a second chance. To say that first impressions with her husband were important was like saying she sort of liked to draw.

"Joy's going to be alright," she finally answered him, taking a seat beside him and, without thought, reaching for one of his hands and entwining it with one of her own. "She's going to need our help, though. I thought we'd start by talking to the university on her behalf, maybe see if we couldn't get her scholarship reinstated. And she's going to need a new job. I don't... I can't work with her again, at least not right now, but she has nothing, Jason, and you know as well as I do that anyone who is your daughter biologically is never going to accept handouts... even from her father."

Although he still cringed at the mentioning of their familial connection, he didn't deny that they were related or ask her not to refer to Joy that way. It was an improvement, Elizabeth thought, a step in the right direction. "And I heard you say something about a hotel. So, I take it she won't be staying with us then?"

"No, I didn't think that would be... wise, at this point. Everything's still too raw... for all of us. While this isn't something we can sweep under the rug, at the same time, it isn't something that can be rushed either. It'll take time, time we wouldn't have if we skipped ahead fifty steps and had her move in today."

"I'm glad. Thank you," he whispered. By the slight crimson tint to his ears, Elizabeth knew that her husband was embarrassed by his fear of having a daughter he didn't know, that he didn't remember, but, in her mind and heart, he had every right to feel any way that he wanted to. They were all in an impossible situation - Jason most of all, and it was going to take some adjustments and compromises on all their parts. "And you," he caught her off guard by inquiring, though his worry for her shouldn't have come as a surprise. That's just how Jason was – always putting others before himself, especially her. "Are you okay?"

Dropping her head to rest upon his shoulder, she exhaled bitterly. "Oh, Jason, it was so... devastating! To see people living like that and realize that, if one or two things changed, that could be us, or our friends, or one our neighbors..." Her words faded away as she thought back to all those faces – especially the little ones - she had seen while waiting just a few minutes for Joy to put on her coat and get ready to leave the homeless shelter. "There were kids there," she confessed, unable to stop the emotion from surfacing in her voice and nearly choking her. "Little boys Jake's age, a little boy with Cameron's curls but eyes more jaded and haunted than any adult's I've ever seen, and so many little girls, Jason – daughters someone, at some time, had wanted so much, but now..." Just as his arms came up to wrap around her tightly, she shrugged away from his embrace, not because she didn't want to be close to him but because an idea crashed into her mind with a force that nearly sent her spiraling dizzily out of control. "I want to adopt them," she announced confidently.

"You want to adopt one of the homeless children you saw," he reworded her statement into a question, obviously taken aback by her hasty decision. Only it wasn't. While it wasn't something that she had been thinking about for a long time, it made so much sense to Elizabeth that she wondered why she hadn't thought of it before. Maybe she couldn't physically give birth to another child, but that did not mean that she couldn't become a mother again, and there were so many children in the world, in the United States, in the state of New York, hell even in the city of Port Charles that needed a good home, and they could do that; she and Jason could give many children a good home.

"No, I want to adopt all of them," she exclaimed, laughing joyfully. "We have the resources and a house that's big enough for our own traveling band... like the Partridge Family."

Standing up, Jason advanced towards her, grinning crookedly. "I have no idea what you're talking about, and I think adopting all the homeless children in New York could be slightly more challenging than you think at the moment, but I do agree that looking into our options is a good idea, but one child at a time, Elizabeth," he warned her tenderly. Kissing her forehead, though, he became more serious. "I think there's something I need to do first." Taking a deep breath and releasing it in a loud, quick gush, he added, "I need to find Joy, and I need to talk to her."

Leaning up on her tiptoes, Elizabeth took her turn at kissing him. However, she landed her embrace upon his lips. Pulling away, she said, "she's in the park. You go. I'll make a breakfast so complicated and time consuming that it'll take the boys at least twenty minutes to scarf it down. Just come back soon, okay? They're not going to wait forever to open their presents, and I'm not going to allow them to even touch those gifts until you're sitting in that living room with us."

The last thing she saw before he left was his smile, the one Jason reserved only for her.

"Boys," she called out to her sons. "How about homemade sticky rolls for breakfast?"

!

She watched as Jason - her father - shoved his glove-less hands into his jeans pocket and wondered if, unlike the rest of the world, he wasn't bothered by the near sub-zero temperatures found in upstate New York during that time of year. The fact that his leather coat was unzipped and that he had nothing on underneath the jacket but a thin, flimsy t-shirt further supported her thought. Instead of asking him about it, though, she questioned, "how did you find me?"

"I just... did," he answered. Though the response was obtuse, perhaps even purposely so, she understood what he meant. And that's what was so frustrating about the man. While she knew nothing about him, and he knew nothing about her, it was so very obvious that they were connected in someway. While she predominantly resembled her mother, perhaps only inheriting hints of Jason's bone structure, her mannerisms, her actions, and even her personality at times completely reflected a man that, prior to eleven months before, she had never even met. It was weird... yet reassuring at the same time, because, for Joy, it meant that, even if nothing ever came of their biological tie, she knew that, technically, she wasn't alone in the world. "Elizabeth and I, we bought that bench... for the baby."

"I know," she responded, keeping her sentences as short and succinct as his.

"How?"

"I just... did," she mimicked. Upon his raised eyebrow, she smirked. So, not only did Jason Morgan not feel the cold, but, apparently, while he was allowed to respond to questions obliquely, others couldn't when they were addressing his inquiries. At least she wasn't the only complicated one in their strange, new father-daughter relationship. "I saw the inscription on the brass plate," Joy eventually revealed, nodding towards the said label. Reciting what she had read on the bench moments before, she said, "in memory of a great yet fleeting joy..." It was kind of hard not to make the connection."

He nodded in understanding. "Elizabeth said that she told you we'd help you, right – with school, finding a new job, replacing some of your things."

"I don't want charity," she told him, holding up a warning hand.

"And, if it means that much to you, when you're back on your feet, you can repay us."

This time, it was her turn to nod, only in concession. "What about everything else... you know, you and me? Elizabeth? The boys?"

He finally sat down beside her and was quiet for several minutes as he considered his response. When he spoke, it was slowly, but it also lacked the usual crispness she heard in his voice. "So much about life is timing, Joy," he told her, "and yours, a month ago, sucked." Despite the seriousness of their discussion, she chuckled at his bluntness. "We'll have to work on that... together."

There was just one more thing she had to ask him before she could be satisfied with their first real talk as father and daughter. "So, you really don't remember anything about my mother, about... me?" She meant about her conception, but, whether she was technically an adult or not, she was definitely not asking her dad that particular question, at least not out loud.

"I remember seeing Keesha after I woke up from my coma, and I remember everybody telling me that I loved her, but I couldn't feel those feelings anymore. I couldn't even recall if I'd ever had them. To be honest with you, I didn't want to know anything about her or what he – Jason Quartermaine - shared with her, because, no matter what everyone else thought at the time, I wasn't him; I'm still not him."

"That must have been so weird."

"Not really," he replied, shrugging. "You have to have something to base your impressions upon to think that a situation or an event is strange. I didn't have that. Frankly, what's weird is thinking that I have a nineteen year old daughter, no offense."

For the second time that morning, Joy laughed. Standing up, she rolled her eyes towards her biological father. "None taken." Mimicking his earlier actions, she shoved her gloved hands into her own jeans pockets. "Tell the boys I said hi for me, would you, and that I hope they got everything they wanted for Christmas?"

"You can tell them yourself," he answered. "You're stopping by, right?"

"Yeah," she grinned. "I'll see you later, Jason."

"Yes, you will, Joy."

As they headed off in opposite directions – Jason back to his home with his wife and sons and Joy towards Kelly's where a donut and coffee were calling her grumbling stomach's name, the young woman found herself thinking about everything that had happened in her life during the past year – meeting Elizabeth, growing closer to the older woman, meeting her brother... her brothers... even if they didn't know that she was their sister, meeting her father, Elizabeth's miscarriage, and running away, and she found herself also thinking about the sister she would never meet and the bench that had been dedicated to her. While it was true that, for every great joy one experienced in life, a great sorrow would follow, that also meant that the reverse was true as well: for every great sorrow, another great joy was just around the corner. And she had to wonder if Jason Morgan – her father – was her next great joy.

She could do worse.