September 11, 2016

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Miscellaneous Stories

So Flash Fiction #3: Illusions of Truth, which kicked off the medieval series, is a bit shorter than the others. That’s because I had about 770 words written and tossed it. I still finished within the hour, but I thought you guys might want to see how close it came to sucking.

I try to post on Facebook when I start writing, so make sure to like Crimson Glass there if you want to know when Flash Fictions are coming.

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September 8, 2016

Not much to say here — I’ve posted Bittersweet, Chapter Five. I’ve started my semester at school and so far I’m able to kind of develop a decent routine. We’ll see if it’s still working a week or two from now.  Love you guys! See you on Saturday!

It’s unlikely you’ll get another surprise flash fiction this week  — I work tonight and tomorrow 4-8, and I also have a sub job tomorrow from 8-3, and then work again on Saturday 9-1. But definitely Saturday night 🙂

This entry is part 5 of 34 in the series Bittersweet

These feelings won’t go away
They’ve been knockin’ me sideways
I keep thinking in a moment that
Time will take them away
But these feelings won’t go away
Sideways, Citizen Cope


Thursday, April 25, 2002

Brownstone: Kitchen

“I loved my daughter,” Bobbie murmured, “but I’m not sure I ever understood her.” She stirred her tea a bit restlessly. “To set up a scene like that—”

Elizabeth bit her lip, her heart aching for Bobbie, but she was unsurprised to learn that the reading of Carly’s will had been a disaster. Carly had designed it for shock value — in the event she passed before Michael was an adult, she asked that Edward and AJ be invited to the reading of her will along with Jason, Sonny, and Bobbie.

Not there had been any surprises—Even Elizabeth knew Carly had set up a trust for Michael with Jason and Bobbie as executors, that Jason had been left guardianship, but…

“I know Edward can be difficult,” Bobbie continued. “He’s cantankerous, stubborn, arrogant—but he didn’t deserve what she wrote. What she said about him.”

“Is Jason legally bound to what Carly wrote?” Elizabeth asked. “To state that Michael is to never have a single piece of contact with anyone in the Quartermaine family before his eighteenth birthday—can that even be enforced?”

“No, not likely.” Bobbie shook her head. “Jason and Alexis are meeting about it today, but it just makes this situation more tense. AJ hasn’t filed yet, but I know he wants visitation at the very least, and truthfully…”

“You’ve considered it,” Elizabeth murmured. “You know that’s why Carly didn’t leave you guardianship.”

“I’m too soft, she used to tell me. But, yes, I’m sure she knew that my loyalty isn’t hard and fast. I often tried to get her to soften her stance on the Quartermaines.” She touched Elizabeth’s hands. “But I’m worried that Jason may dig his feet in the sand over this. Has Emily spoken to you about the fallout after his accident?”

“In some ways, but I know Jason…” She bit her lip. “He’d never admit it, but I think he felt rejected by them. They kept looking at him, wanting him to be this other person. Wanting him to be their idea of who Jason used to be. And the more they pushed, the more he drew away.”

“When you add in the fact that the one trait all Quartermaine men possess is their stubborn nature—it’s just become worse since Jason went to work for Sonny. Edward saw him denying all the advantages their family offered. And when this business with Michael happened—”

“It made everything even worse.” Elizabeth bit her lip. She didn’t want to be involved. She didn’t want anything to do with this, but she could feel herself being sucked in anyway. “Bobbie—”

“I feel awful asking this, but I don’t think Jason will listen to me about this.”

“Bobbie—”

“You have influence with Jason. You may not want to see it, but—”

“No, not—”

“You do.” Bobbie squeezed her hand. “Jason has to see that a long drawn out custody battle isn’t in anyone’s best interest. He may drag Michael through this and lose—”

“I can’t ask him to change his mind about AJ,” Elizabeth cut in, her tone sharp. “Don’t ask me to use what little connection I have with Jason to do that. I know AJ isn’t a bad person, I know how much he’s worked on himself, but I can’t pretend Jason’s fears aren’t real—”

“I just want Jason to be realistic about his chances. Elizabeth, if you care about Jason—”

“I have to get to work.” Elizabeth got to her feet. “I’ll talk to him, Bobbie. But this has to be his decision.” She bit her lip. “Did you tell Jason that you wanted him to make a deal with the Quartermaines? Does he know this is how you feel?”

“I mentioned it at the reading,” Bobbie admitted. “Just…be his friend, Elizabeth. He needs someone on his side.”

The trouble was, Elizabeth though as she left the kitchen and grabbed her purse from the front room, that she couldn’t very keep her distance from Jason and preserve a light, superficial friendship with him if she was constantly feeling pressured to be more.

And it was important that she stayed light and easy this time. Like the first few months of their friendship—she couldn’t afford anything more.

Not now. And not ever again.

Alexis’s Office

“You don’t think I’d win in court,” Jason said after a long moment, tossing his copy of Carly’s will on Alexis’s desk. “You agree with Bobbie.”

“I have to be honest with you,” Alexis said, her eyes understanding. “I think it depends on the next few weeks. At the moment, AJ is sober, with a good, steady job. A stable marriage to a perfectly lovely young woman. He comes from a well-respected family. Yes, he’s had issues with alcohol before but nothing on his record. You can bring up the accident, but that’s six years ago and he was never charged.”

“Because the Quartermaines covered for him—”

“When you add in the fact that AJ voluntarily surrendered his parental rights in order to give Michael a stable life after not being involved for so long, it makes him look like he has Michael’s best interests in heart. He hasn’t filed yet, he’s giving Michael space—”

“And the next head he bashes into a rock might be Michael’s,” Jason said, his teeth clenched. “Only he might not ever wake up. Is that a risk you want to take?”

“What we do have on our side is that AJ did agree to give up Michael a year ago. He did allow Carly to have full custody after the divorce. He’s only been in his son’s life for about eight months out of five years.” Alexis hesitated. “However—”

“They’ll mention that first year I was lying about Michael’s paternity, which isn’t going to look good for me.” Jason rubbed his face. “Even if we tried to spin that—”

“AJ could ask Robin to come in from Paris and testify to exactly what you told her about why you were lying. It’ll show you knew.” Alexis bit her lip. “What about character witnesses? Elizabeth Webber lives at the Brownstone. Does she have anything to offer about AJ not being suitable? The two of you are friends, aren’t you?”

“We haven’t really talked about it, but she’s also friends with Courtney, and I think—” He was pretty sure Elizabeth half-agreed with Alexis and Bobbie. She might even think AJ was a good person. She had a soft heart.

But good people didn’t destroy lives.

“Jason, I know how much you care for Michael, and I want to do right by you. I just—I’d be giving you bad legal advice if I told you we had a slam dunk on our hands. We have to hope AJ screws up before this comes to court. Or you have to come to another agreement with him. Supervised visitation—”

“No, I’ll—I’ll figure something out.” Jason rose to his feet. “Thanks, Alexis. I know you didn’t like Carly much, but—”

“I like you,” Alexis said after a long moment. “You’ve always been a good client, Jason. I’ll do my best for you and Michael.” She bit her lip. “And I hate to admit it, but this time—”

“It might not be enough,” he finished. “Yeah, I’m getting that.”

Kelly’s: Dining Room

The beauty of having an actual best friend who knew all the dark places inside, who argued with you when you were lying to yourself was that somehow, she was always on your side.

Elizabeth sighed as she finished relating the conversation with Bobbie to her best friend and hoped they weren’t going to argue again.

“So, what are you going to do?” Gia folded her arms and leaned over the counter. “I mean, Bobbie’s not wrong. There’s, like, no way Jason can win in court. He’s the biological uncle, yeah, but he doesn’t exactly scream stable father.”

“Jason was a great father when he had Michael,” Elizabeth retorted. “Michael should be so lucky—” She stopped and shook her head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t—”

“I challenged your man’s honor. I got what I deserved,” Gia said with a wicked smirk. So maybe they weren’t going to argue today, but Gia would still get her licks in.

“I really hate you.” Elizabeth poured water into a coffee pot as she considered for a moment. “I don’t know. I mean, Jason’s getting the same spiel from Bobbie and Alexis. What could I even add? Am I supposed to make it worse?”

“You’re supposed to be his friend,” Gia said. She tilted her head. “You say that’s all you are now, but you’re not exactly acting that way. Friends get involved when people are about to get their lives shattered. If Jason goes to court, if he loses, that’s it. AJ will never let him see Michael.”

“I know.” And if that happened, not only would Jason lose Michael to AJ again, he’d feel guilty about letting Carly down, about not protecting Michael. And if something happened to Michael because of it…

“You’re going to have to stop pretending you’re going to be able to stay neutral,” Gia continued. “There is no neutral. You can be with AJ and Courtney—and that’s fine. You can be with Jason, that’s fine, too. But you can’t be on both sides.”

“Why can’t I be on Michael’s side?” Elizabeth asked, exasperated. “No one is one hundred percent right here, you know? I think AJ would be insane if he kept Michael from Jason. That’s a connection, a link to Michael’s mother that’s necessary. Important. And Jason’s not wrong for being worried that AJ might not stay sober. That Michael might be put in danger. But—”

“But maybe Jason isn’t thinking about Michael.” Gia shrugged. “AJ’s never hurt Michael as far as we know. Or anyone else, not really. Other than himself.  You know who he did hurt? Jason Quartermaine. He killed his brother. And the man in his place has spent his entire life so far knowing he’s only here, that he’s only in existence because AJ crashed that car. When he pictures what might happen to Michael, he’s thinking about that—about rebuilding his life from the bottom up.”

Elizabeth bit her lip. “I know that people might think Jason is being unreasonable—”

“Who said that?” Gia lifted her brows. “First of all, I think Jason has a fantastic reason to never want to lay eyes on his brother again. Did you not hear the part where I said AJ destroyed Jason’s life? I’ve only lived in Port Charles for five minutes, but I see the way people talk about Jason Quartermaine. It’s the way my mother always talked about Marcus. Why couldn’t I be like my brother? He was smart, kind—he was going places.”

“The way my parents treated Sarah.” Even now, after all these years, she knew Alan and Monica Quartermaine hadn’t really reconciled themselves to the son they had now no matter how much they tried.

“Exactly.” Gia jabbed a finger at her. “It’s easy to look at Jason and only see the hot guy with a fast bike and a lot of money. But he worked his ass off to be someone else. Do you remember when Tony came over the other day and tried to talk Bobbie into cooperating with the Quartermaines? It’s not the first time they had that conversation, based on how much yelling we could hear upstairs. But the way he talked about Jason—the words he used—”

“Tony’s an ass,” Elizabeth muttered. She could still hear the rage, the bitterness in Tony’s voice as he’d called Jason a brain-damaged thug. A nothing. A nobody.  Whatever sympathy Tony had had for Bobbie was clearly not as fervent as his hatred for Jason. He would always loathe the man who had stolen Michael from him. “Gia—”

“I know the way my brother talks about him. He makes him sound like nothing. Anger Boy, right? From before Jason figured out how to control himself.” Gia shrugged. “Jason Morgan has been around for six years, and for every one of those years, he’s been seen as less by the people in this town who should have had some damn compassion for him. I don’t blame Jason for wanting to protect Michael from that. I mean, is he overreacting? Maybe.”

“But, in his heart, he’s still Michael’s father, and that’s his job,” Elizabeth murmured. “Damn it.”

“You’re going to have to get involved, Webber.” Gia arched her brow. “What are you so scared of?”

Elizabeth bit her lip and sighed, because it was pointless to keep pretending there wasn’t more behind her desire to keep her life simple, and Gia knew that better than anyone. And it didn’t serve either of them for her to lie about it anymore. “I think you and I both know the answer.”

“That you’ll find yourself broken and have to rebuild from the ground up all over again for, like, the twelfth time? Yeah. I get it.” Gia leaned forward, a wicked glint in her eyes. “Aren’t you tired of playing it safe?”

“Not even a little bit.” Elizabeth offered her friend a half smile. “I’ll do what I have to do, but it stops there. Jason wants to protect Michael, and I’ll help him do that. But I have to protect myself. No one else will do it for me.”

“As long as you know you’re doing it. I don’t care if you stay away from Jason, Elizabeth. I care if you’re lying to yourself. You’re not doing that, so we can shelve it for now.” Gia reached in her bag, “Now excuse me, I have my last final tomorrow, and I might survive it if I have enough coffee.” She stopped and looked at Elizabeth. “Don’t think this conversation is over. You can play it safe all you want, but you know that’s not going to work for long.”

“Gia—”

“But I do have a final tomorrow, and I have to go worry about my life for bit. I’ll come back to yours when the semester is over.”

Quartermaine Estate: Living Room

Edward Quartermaine was flirting with a heart attack as he raged at his two eldest grandsons. He was berating AJ for ever getting involved with that damned floozy, for Ned for talking him out of filing his own custody suit and just having the temerity to be in this room and not out there fighting for Michael—

“Mark my words, if we wait much longer, Jason will take him out of the country and that will be the end of it,” Edward jabbed his finger at AJ.

“Jason isn’t going to do that,” Ned said, his tone calm. Even disinterested. AJ wondered how his cousin managed to stay detached from Edward’s bullshit. Because he hadn’t grown up in this house? Is that why Ned seemed to escape the worst of the poison?

“Why the hell not?” Edward demanded. “He’s done everything he can to keep that boy from this family—he has legal guardianship—what’s stopping him?”

Ned hesitated and looked to AJ. AJ shrugged. He didn’t know how to explain his own conviction that his brother didn’t intend to steal Michael away in the night. Since the moment the truth had come out, Jason had done everything by the book. He’d gone to court to keep custody, yeah, but when the time came to surrender it, he’d done so.

Except when he’d blackmailed AJ into giving Carly full custody after the divorce, but AJ had himself to blame for that after setting the warehouse on fire. He had deserved that punishment.

It had been Sonny that hung him on the goddamn meat hook and threatened his life for no other reason than Carly wanted him out of Michael’s life for good. But Jason had never threatened AJ’s life.

“Grandfather, I just don’t think Jason would do that,” Ned continued when AJ had nothing to offer. “He wouldn’t do it to Bobbie for one thing.”

“Oh, I’m counting on the kindness of thugs—” Edward dismissed this theory with a wave of his hand.

AJ had heard that phrase, or a variation of it, a thousand times since Jason had gone to work for Sonny. Thug. Criminal. Degenerate. Worthless. And yet, somehow, in this moment—he couldn’t listen to it anymore. He’d reached his boiling point.

“Don’t call him that,” AJ said.

At his grandson’s quiet command, Edward broke off his rambling rage, blinked, and looked at him. “Excuse me?”

“Thug.” AJ swallowed. “That’s why we’re in this mess. Because you—because we drove Jason away. All of us. I may have destroyed Jason Quartermaine, but the reason Jason Morgan isn’t part of this family has very little to do with me.”

“Oh, hell.” Ned closed his eyes. “Here we go.”

“Say that again,” Edward demanded. He strode toward AJ. “Blame me again for this mess—”

“You drove him away. You rejected him. If you hadn’t treated Jason like garbage, if you hadn’t made him feel damaged and like nothing, then maybe he would have told Carly to go to hell when she wanted him to lie—” AJ pressed his lips together and swallowed. “Jason didn’t think much of me back then, but he didn’t hate me. Not me. Not then. It was this family. This house. This suffocation. The constant pressure to be someone we’re not—”

“You and your brother had potential!” Edward boomed. “I just pushed you, tried to make you reach it—”

“You’ve never let me forget that I killed my brother! That I destroyed him! I drank to shut all of you up! And I killed the only member of this family who ever gave a damn about me—” He closed his eyes, his throat tight. “And now that same brother can barely stand to look at me. I’m done looking for your approval. For wanting to be part of this family.”

“AJ—” Ned said, holding his hand out. “Hey. Listen—”

“Why the hell have I tried so hard?” AJ demanded. “What’s the point? You know, I may not agree with the way Jason lives his life, but I sure as hell understand the direction he took. Away. And that’s where I’m going to go.”

He turned on his heel and stalked away, telling himself it was the last time he was ever going to pay lip service to his grandfather. He’d get his son back, and he would make sure Michael knew every day of his life that he was loved just for who he was, and not for who he might be if only he were a better person.

His son would be a better man than his father if it was the last thing AJ did.

Gia and Elizabeth’s Apartment: Living Room

“This isn’t even English,” Gia declared as she slammed her book shut in disgust. “How am I supposed to absorb this in time for a test next week?” Before Elizabeth could open her mouth, Gia stabbed a finger at her. “And do not tell me that if I had kept up with my reading and notes all semester—”

“Hey, I don’t seem to have your problem and I’m a double major,” Elizabeth said sweetly as she highlighted a passage in her textbook. “You think learning the principles of finance in this country is fascinating? You picked your major, suck it up.”

“I don’t even remember why we’re friends,” Gia muttered. She grabbed her coffee mug. “You need a refill?”

“Nah, I think I’m switching to some herbal tea.” Elizabeth rose. “I’ll make it.”

Just as Elizabeth set the tea kettle to boil, there was a knock at their door. Gia scowled. “Didn’t we warn everyone in existence that we were studying this week? I will have someone’s head—”

She yanked open the door and blinked. “Oh. Jason. Hey.”

“Hey.” Jason hesitated as he took in Gia’s pajama pants and tank top. “Is this a bad time?”

“Well, finals are next week and as your friend and mine loves to remind me, I’ve spent too much time partying and not nearly enough with the books.” She sighed. “Webber? You got a visitor!”

“Oh.” Elizabeth bit her lip as she stepped out from the small kitchen area into the living room. “Hey, Jason. Gia and I were just—”

“I should have called,” he said after a moment. He shifted his weight from one foot to another, looking uncertain. “But—”

“No, I was gonna—” Elizabeth said. She glanced down at her jeans and t-shirt before handing Gia a fresh mug of coffee. “Mind if I bail on you?”

Gia waited a beat, wondering why people worked so hard at making themselves miserable. She could see the way Jason was looking at Elizabeth, trying not to let his interest show, and she saw how Elizabeth flushed and avoided his gaze. Idiots. Well, she was going to do her part and kick them out.  “And not have you smugly sailing through your study guides while I drown in reading? By all means, abandon me to educational psychology and constitutional law.”

“You mind if we go outside?” Elizabeth asked Jason as she took her purse and a light jacket off a chair.

“Ah, no.” Jason stepped back to allow her to leave the apartment in front of him. He looked once more at Gia. “Uh, good luck?”

“I’m going to need it,” was the reply as Gia closed the door, but she flashed a smug smile of her own.

Jason followed Elizabeth down the steps and out the side entrance of the Brownstone. She slid her jacket on and turned to him. “What’s up?”

“I didn’t mean to bother you,” Jason said, his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket. “I know how busy you are—”

“Hey. You don’t show up on my doorstep at eight at night without a reason, Jason. We’re friends,” Elizabeth said. And she meant that. She might want to avoid any emotional entanglement with the man, but she would never pretend they didn’t have history.

And she liked that Jason could count on her. She didn’t have so many friends left in the world that she could afford to jettison a loyal one.

He tipped his head toward the road where his bike was parked. “You want to take a ride?”

Elizabeth bit her lip, and almost said no. Talking here, outside her warm, safe home—that was smart. Protected. Climbing on that bike, wrapping her arms around his broad chest, riding close to him—

But he looked concerned, and she knew he was dealing with a blow after losing Bobbie’s support earlier that day, so she swallowed her misgivings. What was the harm in one ride?

Vista Point: Cliff Road

Elizabeth was unsurprised that Jason was taking the turns with a bit less recklessness than she remembered. These were, after all, the last roads Carly had traveled before plunging to her death. She trusted Jason’s driving—she knew he’d never be truly reckless with her along, but still she could feel the difference as they leaned into the final curve before reaching the summit at Vista Point.

But instead of revving the engine to make the last climb, the bike began to rumble and slow. He pulled to a stop in front of the mangled guardrail, and turned off the engine.

Silently, they both climbed off the bike and Jason pushed down the stand, taking the helmet from her.

“You haven’t been back since you came home, have you?” Elizabeth asked softly, her words nearly disappearing in the winds and sound of water rushing as the lake currents swirled below.

“Couldn’t.” Jason turned and looked at the guardrail. At this evidence that Carly hadn’t merely disappeared, but had, in fact, died.

“Bobbie told me about the will reading.” Elizabeth wrapped her arms around her torso as they walked toward the dusty shoulder where Carly’s car had, presumably, hung on the precipice. “I’m sorry.”

“It wasn’t anything I didn’t expect.” Jason braced his hands on the guardrail and looked out over the harbor. “Carly hated the Quartermaines. It was just like her to try to one up them even when she wouldn’t be here to see it.”

Elizabeth bit her lip “Bobbie wanted me to talk to you,” she said.

“I thought she might.” Jason turned, and they continued their silent walk. He’d stopped just short of the turn off for the parking lot for Vista Point’s summit view and park, but neither of them suggested they climb back on the bike and take it to the top.

“I’m supposed to, I don’t know, make you see that it’s going to be painful and there’s no guarantee you’ll even win.” Elizabeth sighed. “I’m not gonna do that, Jason.”

She heard him sigh as they crossed the highway, empty now as it usually was this time of night. There was nothing up this way save for the views at Vista Point, and it wasn’t a popular location anyway. It wasn’t high enough to be truly impressive, and there were more majestic views of the lake and harbor elsewhere in town.

So, she wasn’t surprised to find the parking lot deserted or the see empty benches and walkaways that dotted the summit of the hill.

He was quiet until they sat on one of those benches, the view of the harbor comforting to her even with the Gothic mess of Wyndemere looming out of the mists of Spoon Island.

“Why not?” he asked. “You’re not wrong. Alexis has described in great detail that I’m not likely to keep the guardianship intact when AJ challenges it.”

That thread of defeat, even resignation in his tone, stirred her. Jason didn’t quit. He didn’t give up. “Bobbie means well, and you know Alexis is on your side.”

“What about you?”

She didn’t answer at first, because she could feel, maybe for the first time, that maybe she did have influence over Jason. What if she told him right now that he should give in? That AJ wasn’t all bad, and maybe Jason was being too protective?

“I think you have to do what’s right for Michael,” Elizabeth said carefully. “He’s what matters.”

Jason leaned back against the wooden slats of the bench, stretching his arm along the side. “You’ve spent time with him. What do you think is right?”

He would have to ask the difficult question. “I don’t know,” she said. “He’s a bright little boy, you know? He loves living with Bobbie. He loves Lucas. I mean, the kid is his uncle technically, but Michael looks up to him like an older brother. And Lucas is so good with him. He never had much use for Carly—I can’t blame him there—but he’s been kind to Michael. Whatever happens, I hope Bobbie and Lucas can remain a vital part of his life.”

She waited a moment. “But that’s not what you want me to tell you. You want me to tell you’re right to keep Michael from AJ. That you should fight tooth and nail to keep custody.”

“I want you tell me what you think,” Jason said. He looked at her, his eyes sober and steady. “I’ve been home two weeks, and I’ve seen you. I know you spend time with Michael. That you care about him. But I know you’re friends with Courtney, that you know AJ as her husband and not just—”

“Emily’s older brother.” Or the devastating drunk, but that she left unspoken. Elizabeth hesitated, considering her words. “I can tell you honestly that the AJ I’ve known since Courtney came into his life is the best version. I haven’t seen him slur his words, there’s no hint that he’s drinking. I know he fought with Edward, Alan, and Monica after he married Courtney and stopped going after custody. Courtney isn’t sure, but she thinks that they left the mansion because he wouldn’t leave her. They found an apartment with his savings. He studied hard to get a license to operate a forklift, and as far as anyone knows, he’s doing well at his job.

“But,” she continued, “I’m worried he married Courtney to dig at Sonny. That his motives weren’t altogether pure. He’s been good to her, he treats her well, but I worry that it’s a smoke screen. That if his marriage falters, it might change things. I honestly don’t know, Jason. I worry that his sobriety is temporary. That he still struggles with the Quartermaines. I think we both know they’re a heavy trigger in his drinking.” She leaned against the back of the bench, propping her elbow on the top, and sliding her fingers through her hair. “I honestly can’t tell you what I think should happen.”

“A court may still decide to give him custody.”

“They might,” Elizabeth admitted. “I don’t have a lot of experience with this, but Gia’s been asking some friends of hers who intern in a family law firm. With Carly gone, and without any good reason, a family court judge might err on the side of the father. She said that courts also don’t…they don’t appreciate when one parent goes to extreme lengths to cut a biological parent out of their life, and—”

“Carly did that in spades. Yeah, Alexis mentioned that, and the fact that I helped—” He scrubbed his face. “How long do you think AJ will wait before he files?”

“Honestly? Maybe until Memorial Day. Michael finishes his school year then, and I know part of the reason he’s waited is to give Bobbie space and keep Michael’s life relatively stable. Not having to move during the school year would be a good idea.” She bit her lip. “I’m sorry, Jason. I don’t feel like I’m being much help.”

“You are,” he assured her. “And I’m not mad at Bobbie or Alexis. If I make AJ take this to court, then Michael gets dragged into counseling, into court rooms. He’ll spend weeks talking to people. It’ll upset him. If I do any of that, it has to be for the right reason. I can’t— I can’t do that to him just because I—”

Because he wanted to keep him, Elizabeth finished, but she offered another suggestion so Jason wouldn’t have to admit how much he just wanted to be Michael’s father. “Because it’s what Carly would have wanted.”

“This is harder than I thought it’d be,” Jason admitted. “I thought—when I found out Carly was gone—I knew she’d leave me custody, but I always intended to leave him with Bobbie. I mean, I’d be around if he needed me, but I didn’t expect—” He hesitated, but this time Elizabeth didn’t step in to finish his thought. She had a feeling he was struggling towards a conclusion he didn’t want to admit, but it would be the best thing for him if Jason was the one to articulate this.

“I didn’t expect AJ to be…” He paused again and looked at her, but she wouldn’t do this for him. “Doing well,” he finally managed, which was close enough to the truth.

“You have time to consider this,” Elizabeth told him. “As long as AJ waits to file, you have time.”

“Yeah.” Jason exhaled slowly. “There’s—there’s another reason I came over tonight. Why I wanted to see you.”

Despite herself, her heart began to race slightly. “Oh?” she asked, hating how breathless her voice sounded. “What’s up?”

“Zander,” Jason said, his face tightening. “The other day at Kelly’s—”

“We talked about it,” Elizabeth said dismissively, feeling a mixture of relief and disappointment that it was a mundane reason after all. “He’s an ass.”

“Who might be getting worse,” Jason told her. “I can’t give you many details, but until I came home—Zander was—” He hesitated, probably trying to think of how to explain something illegal to her in a way that wouldn’t sound illegal. “He was up for a promotion.”

A smile tugged at the corner of her lips. “Oh, yeah? A corner office with a view of the harbor?”

Jason, despite himself, offered a half smile. “Something like that. It would have—it would have been lucrative for him. I shut it down. I don’t trust him, and I don’t want him in a position to do more harm.”

“Okay,” Elizabeth drawled. “So that explains why he was pissed at you.” She sighed, sitting up straight and tucking her leg underneath her. “Let me guess, he can’t come at you directly for derailing his climb up the ladder, but harassing me is a handy way to deal with his annoyance.”

“He didn’t know yet for sure that I was…going to block him,” Jason told her. “He probably suspected it, but now he knows for sure.”

“Which means he might amp up his annoying behavior.” Elizabeth pursed her lips. “Yeah, I don’t have time for that in my life. We have a week to week tenant lease on most of the rooms at Kelly’s, except for Lucky, because he’s Bobbie’s family. But I can give Zander a week’s notice.” She looked at him. “Or should I not evict him? If he’s at Kelly’s, you know where he is. You can keep an eye on him.”

“I’d rather he be anywhere but Kelly’s,” Jason admitted, “and I was gonna suggest you might kick him out, but I don’t know if I like giving him a concrete reason to dislike you. Not when he’s already going to be pissed at me. Don’t—don’t do anything about it yet. I’ll put some eyes on the diner. You’ll let me know if he bothers you?”

“I can handle him, Jason,” she started to protest.

“You shouldn’t have to when it has nothing to do with you,” Jason told her, holding up a hand to stop her. “I know he’s not likely to do any serious harm to you. He’s an idiot, but he has enough street smarts to know—” He stopped short, but she wondered at what threat he might have leveled to Emily’s ex-boyfriend if it became necessary. Better she be left in the dark.

“I’ll let you know,” she said finally. “I should be getting home. I have an early class.”

September 7, 2016

Hey! So my evening plans were cancelled and I had a few ideas in my head for next scenes in my Flash Fiction series, so I just…decided to set my timer and I wrote this in 40 mins. I’m having a lot of fun writing these, and even the though the series is a continuation, I’m really pantsing it in a way I haven’t done in years. I didn’t know I was going to write the last line until I wrote it. So… Flash Fiction #5: Changing Tides. Enjoy!

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Flash Fiction: A King's Command

Prompt: All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.


Elizabeth frowned as she dropped a stitch in the gown she was mending. It was impossible to keep her concentration as life in the keep continued around—as if she were not sitting before the fire in the Great Hall.

As if she had not been their laird’s wife for the better part of three months.

People walked past her—warriors of the clan did not so much as take notice of her—they had never once shown her the deference they gave to Jason’s aunt or sister.

“And where does the fault lay for that?” she muttered as she repaired the stitch and continued with her project. During her first weeks here, she had made efforts to gain Tracy and Emily Morgan’s…acknowledgment, if not respect. She had asked Tracy to show her around, to talk about the duties Tracy carried out—but the older woman had rebuffed her, and Emily showed nothing but derision for her. Dillon was kinder, but he spent much of his time in the company of the fishermen who kept the clan fed in the between the larger hunts.

Jason spent much of his time outside the keep during the day, training his warriors and seeing to the clan’s needs. She offered no complaint about his family, though she was sure he was aware of the rift that existed. She rarely stayed in the hall after their evening meal, and Jason had started to join her earlier in their chambers.

Oh, were those not the best of evenings? They would sit before the warm fire, in their cozy little world, and he would tell her all about the world that lay outside their walls. He talked of his family’s loyalty to the king, of his clan’s history. And then they would retire for the night—nearly every night and some mornings…

Her cheeks were heated as she remembered how it felt to be his wife, to share their bodies. Jason was the best of husbands—no one could ask for more.

He had been away now for nearly three days—their monthly sojourn to stock the keep with meat they would in the coming weeks. This trip longer than most because Jason wanted to be sure they were ready for the remainder of the harsh winter. One’s breath nearly froze away from the fires of the hall, and the snow drifts were so deep that the warriors had taken sparring inside, the tables and trenchers pushed against the walls.

And while life in the clan continued much as it ever had, Elizabeth sat alone. Day after day, night after night—mending even the gowns that did not need it. She hesitantly asked if there were a loom—perhaps she might be able to work on some tapestries as she had at home. Tracy had scoffed at her and walked away without answering.

“’Tis one of the worst winters in years,” Dillon said as he sat in the chair next to her, blowing air into his hands then holding them close to the fire. “I ‘spect it is much warmer in the Lowlands.”

“I…I suppose,” Elizabeth said hesitantly. “I did not…I spent little time outdoors.” Locked in her rooms. Away from people. Away from anything that might trigger the curse. “Jason warned me the winters were…I suppose I thought maybe this close to the water—”

“Oh, aye, we have a more mild time of it than families further inland,” Dillon agreed. He hesitated and looked away, toward one of the men passing them. The man—whose name Elizabeth had never learned and likely never would at this rate—snorted before striding away. “You musn’t let them get to you, Cousin. ‘Tis Mother’s doing. She willna let you be mistress in anyway—”

“—and so the clan thinks me a lazy Sassenach,” Elizabeth said with a sigh, letting her mending fall in her lap. “Aye, I know. Cumberland is so close to England, I might as well—” She stared down at the dull-colored cloth. “I do not wish to interfere—I know your mother values her position here, but I had hoped if I were patient—”

“Aye, well, showing patience with my mother is like showing yer weakness,” Dillon said with a half smile. “I was supposed to be the leader of my father’s people, you see. But m’father died when I was just a bairn. The clan elected another leader, and Mother decided to come home when Jason’s mother died in child bed.” He shifted. “Mother has never really…recovered from losing her position.”

And so clung to this one tightly…there was nothing Elizabeth could say that would be kind towards Dillon’s mother, and while the youth recognized his mother’s flaws—he might not be so happy if she chimed in with own complaints.

“I have much to feel blessed for,” Elizabeth said, with a bright smile she hoped looked more real than it felt. “I have a lovely home, and I could not ask for a better husband. When we have our own family, I shall—” She took a deep breath. “I shall look after them and be content.” And she wanted those children so fiercely—but despite their…enthusiastic efforts…God had not yet blessed them.

“Eventually Mother will relent or Cousin Jason will set her on fire,” Dillon said. He reached for the mug of ale he had brought with him. “Shall we offer a toast to his safe and soon return?”

“Aye.” Elizabeth reached for her own ale, untouched since a maid had grudgingly brought it to her. “To Jason. May he return soon.”

She sipped the drink and wrinkled her nose. It had a slight bitterness to it—mayhap it had sat too long, but she could not ask for another mug. It would be wasteful. So she sipped it again, and continued to lightly sip as she and Dillon talked of her brief time in the king’s court and the places he hoped to see one day.

The liquid was perhaps a quarter gone when her stomach lurched. The forgotten mending slid to the floor as Elizabeth stood, trying to settle the roiling inside.

“Elizabeth?” Dillon stood. “What—”

She heard nothing else as a vision flashed in front of her—a hand tipping something into a mug—and then the world went black.


When Jason strode into the hall a day later, he found the room surprisingly quiet—no warriors sparring, no groups clustered around the fires—only his sullen sister sitting with their aunt.

Tracy rose at his entrance. “I was about to send a rider after you, Nephew.”

Her expression was heavy—and Jason realized that his wife was missing. It was the middle of the day and she was not mending or sewing by the fire. “Where is Elizabeth?”

“There was…” Emily stood. “We’re not sure what happened.”

His chest tightened, but he kept his voice even. “Where is my wife?”

“Upstairs in your chambers,” Tracy said with a sigh. “She…collapsed yesterday, shortly before the evening meal. Dillon said they had been conversing normally when—”

“Is she—” He could not speak the word, could not—already—imagine his life without the petite brunette and her shy smiles and passionate embraces. “Does she live?”

“Aye,” Emily said, though he frowned at the sullenness of her tone. He knew that the women in his family had not yet warmed to his wife, but he’d hoped with time—

“What says the healer? Has Barbara been to see her?”

“She thinks…” Tracy pursed her lips. “’Tis nonsense, of course, but Barbara suspects poison.”

“Poison—” Jason shook his head. “Nay, ‘tis not possible. She was home. With our clan. They could not—” He stopped. He would speak to their healer himself.

Without another word, he turned and strode towards the stairs.

Inside their chambers, where he had left his wife four days earlier peacefully slumbering—Elizabeth lay on her back, her pallor as pale as the snow that fell outside their window.

She lay under a pile of furs, her eyes closed—the lids almost purple.

At her side, his cousin Dillon scrambled to his feet. “Jason—” His voice slurred, and he wavered. “I wanted to come find you, to tell you—”

“Laird,” their healer murmured from the fire. She stepped away, a mug in her hand. “Your wife lives, I assure you.”
a
“Will—” Jason rounded the bed and reached for his wife’s hand as Dillon moved to make room. Her hand was limp—if not for the slight rise of her chest—

“Aye,” Barbara said. “She did not have enough to cause death, though it ‘twas a near thing.”

“We were—” Dillon’s voice was thick. “We were talking and she was sipping her ale. I don’t think she liked it, but she couldn’t ask for another—” He closed his mouth, misery etched in his expression.

Jason shook his head. OF course Elizabeth would not ask for a replacement—he had allowed his clan to mistreat his wife—she was not mistress in her own home and did not feel comfortable enough to challenge the bad taste of her drink.

“I found nightshade at the bottom of the mug.” Barbara lifted her chin. “I do not give a fig for what your aunt says, Laird. Your lady was poisoned.”

“Mother just does not want to suspect someone—” Dillon began.

“When will she wake?” Jason asked, ignoring his cousin. “Will she be all right?”

“Her breathing is already much better,” she said. “I would think within the day. But, my Laird…” She hesitated. “I do not know if your lady knew, but Dillon says likely not—”

“Knew what?” Jason faced the older woman, a bit impatiently. “Barbara—”

“She was carryin’, Laird. And she…she lost the babe.”

September 3, 2016

I actually wrote this in about forty minutes, but I was afraid if I kept going, I wouldn’t be at a natural stopping point. Plus, if I am going to continue any of the Flash Fictions, I still want them to feel like self-contained narrative units.

Tonight’s is a continuation of Flash Fiction #3. On the Flash Fiction page, you can now find this series separated from the first two flash fictions — a series entitled A King’s Command. So enjoy Flash Fiction #4: Homecoming and I’ll see you on Thursday for Bittersweet!

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Flash Fiction: A King's Command

Prompt: “We often confuse what we wish for with what is.” ― Neil Gaiman, MirrorMask


Elizabeth had forced herself to cast away the terrifying image that had flashed before her eyes—to ignore the vestige of pain that lingered in her chest for hours after the vision faded. This was her future, and her husband, that must be protected. He was kind and decent and deserved better than the betrayal that would lead to his death.

She convinced him that her behavior was nothing more than maidenly fears—and while she did not think he fully believed her, he seemed content to let it pass for now. They had a marriage to consummate and sheets to display in the morning to satisfy the king that had commanded their marriage.

She knew not why King James had chosen his boldest warrior without warning him of the curse, but perhaps he was still grateful that she had had the courage to tell him of the poisoned chalice he had nearly drunk a fortnight earlier. Perhaps the king did not consider the visions nearly as cursed as her own family, but she could not take that chance.

Jason had dismissed her fears and taken her to the large bed. There had been pain, aye—she had been warned of it. But there had also been joy and some small pleasure. She had somehow managed to please him—he had assured her so when she’d dared to ask. And he had slipped into sleep at her side.

She would find a way to prevent his death and bear him strong sons—and never allow this brave and kind warrior to regret following his king’s command.


Their journey to Castle Morgan took her deeper and further west than Elizabeth had ever before traveled.  The keep was a massive stone structure built into the side of cliffs overlooking the deep blue waters of Mull. The air was bitten with a chill as their caravan rode into the courtyard nearly three weeks after their wedding day.

“I will introduce you to my family,” Jason said as he lifted her from her horse, his hand remaining clasped in hers. “And Alice will show you to our chambers so that you may wash and rest.”

“All right,” Elizabeth said as he led her to a small group of people who did not look anxious to meet her. Jason had confided in her during their journey that much of his clan did not appreciate the command to wed an unknown Lowlander. He assured her that it would not be a problem, but she had her doubts.

“My sister, Emily,” he said as a sour brunette bowed her chin ever so slightly in greeting. “My cousin, Dillon.” He nodded at a taciturn blonde haired man who appeared nearly a decade younger than his elder cousin. “And my aunt Tracy.”

The stony-faced woman offered no greeting to her nephew’s bride, only directed her conversation towards him. “Well? Did the king give his reason?”

“’Tis of no import,” Jason said simply. “This is Elizabeth.” He placed a hand at the small of her back and met her eyes briefly before looking at his aunt. “And I am well satisfied with the king’s match.”

The girl—Emily—snorted, but when Jason offered her a warning glance, her features schooled themselves into passivity.

There would be no warm welcome here, Elizabeth could see this now. No family to fold her into their lives. Whatever role she would hold at Castle Morgan would have to be carved out on her own.

“I am grateful to be here,” she said finally. “And blessed that the king allowed it.” She waited a moment before continuing. “I hope that you will show me my new home—”

“I have many responsibilities,” Tracy cut in her, voice as icy as the wind that whipped around them. “Running this keep.” Laying down the gauntlet. Elizabeth may be wife to the laird, but Tracy would not relinquish her role easily.  “My son can show you—”

“Aunt,” Jason began, his tone no more pleased than his aunt’s, but Elizabeth reached for his hand and squeezed it. She knew he saw Tracy’s words as a slight, but Elizabeth could see the fear of being found unnecessary lurking behind the elder woman’s eyes. She did not know for how long Tracy had been chatelaine at the keep, but it was part of her identity.

“I think that sounds lovely,” Elizabeth said, flashing a hesitant smile and surprising Jason’s aunt. “I have never been to the Highlands before and I shall depend on all of you to help me through my first winter. ‘Tis slightly chillier than Cumberland.”

Emily opened her mouth, but Tracy spoke first. “Of course.” She pursed her lips. “Elizabeth.”

“Let us  go into the hall,” Jason said, moving past the trio—leading Elizabeth towards the large wooden doors. “’Tis many hours since we supped.”


“I must apologize for my family.”

His wife frowned at him as she sat by the fire in their chambers later that night. She had bathed before he retired for the night, and now her long hair was drying before the heat.

“I thought it went well at dinner,” Elizabeth offered. She drew her shawl more tightly around the thin night rail—she would near warmer clothing with the winter drawing closer. “I did not expect them to treat me as one of their own on my first day, husband.”

No, she would not expect such kind treatment—any consideration of her own comfort and needs had been met with her quiet puzzlement throughout their journey.

He had stopped often, knowing that while she could ride well, the pace was demanding more than her stamina could supply.  He had endeavored to camp near streams where she could wash and in clearings where they could comfortable put up a tent so she might enjoy privacy. His men had not been as pleased by the slow pace and extra work, but Elizabeth’s quiet and humble nature had won them over by the time the castle had been sighted this morning.

“My aunt has been mistress here since my mother’s death after Emily’s birth,” Jason said finally. “Her husband died in battle, and the clan elected to go with his younger brother as their laird as Dillon was young. She—”

“She cares very much for your clan and this castle. I can see that. I could not expect her to lay down her life’s work at the mere sight of me. She has no knowledge of my capabilities.” Her lovely mouth twisted as she looked into the flames. “Of which I have known. You may be satisfied with the king’s choice now, Jason, but I fear that you will regret it one day. I was not raised to be the wife of…” She sighed. “Anyone.”

This did not come as a surprise to him, but he could not see why. “Your father is a chieftain—daughters are for alliances. I can not imagine—”

“I cannot speak for my father’s wishes,” she said quickly, but he believed that even less than he had believed her sudden bout of maidenly fears on their wedding night. But Jason did not push her for more. Whatever secrets she protected were her own.

“There is no need for Dillon to show you the keep,” Jason said after a long moment. “I will do so—”

Elizabeth rose to her feet, her now dry hair tumbling over her shoulder. “You have responsibilities of your own, and I would like to know your family.” A shy smile tugged at her lips as he took her hand and drew her closer to him. “I dare not hope your family will be as my own, but I do hope they will…like me. Our children—” Her cheeks flushed. “They will love them.”

“Aye,” Jason agreed, though he intended to make sure his family gave Elizabeth a chance to earn their devotion. She may not have been his choice to take to wife—and there was may be a painful truth hidden in her heart—but she was kind, lovely—and seemed to determine to make their marriage a good one.  “You wish for children?”

“Aye,” she repeated as his lips brushed hers. “As many as God sees fit to give us.”

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I started a bullet journal this month — kind of obsessed with it, actually haha. Here’s a peek at my first weekend and writing spreads 🙂 You can see the flash fiction prompts I’ve organized. You may see one of them tonight, or I might get another one. You never know!

September 1, 2016

Hey 🙂 So I updated Bittersweet earlier today, but forgot to write the main post. It’s updated everywhere so enjoy 🙂  I also updated the basic Updates page (the one that lists the new additions without my inane chatter).

As usual, my dears, when things start to go my way, the world says, Whoa there. I went down the beach and promptly sliced my foot open because people are dicks and leave broken glass in the sand. Awesome. My foot hurts like hell, and I still have go to work and stand on it. I swear, this is the worst year for me and my health.

But I have the weekend off, save for a Labor Day BBQ on Sunday and the usual researching. I’m working on Bittersweet pretty steadily and it’s really starting to take shape — I’m finally getting to some of the scenes I’ve been writing in my head for almost a year.

Damaged is still on hiatus. I haven’t had the time to dedicate to it, but once Bittersweet is done, I’ll try and get Season Three done.  For those of you who like the BBC’s Sherlock, Damaged is kind of like that. New seasons when I’m available and the world cooperates 😛

This entry is part 4 of 34 in the series Bittersweet

Though these wounds have seen no wars
Except for the scars I have ignored
And this endless crutch, well it’s never enough
It’s been the worst day since yesterday
Worst Day Since Yesterday, Flogging Molly


Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Quartermaine Estate: Family Room

“I don’t know why you insist on delaying the matter!” Edward thundered as AJ rubbed his eyes. “All the best family attorneys tell me that your chances of getting Michael are excellent—”

“At what cost?” AJ retorted, tired of having this damn argument. “His mother died less than two weeks ago. I’m thinking about what’s best for Michael. Putting him first—”

“What’s best for Michael is to be here, with his family,” Edward interrupted, wagging his finger in AJ’s direction.

“That’s never been best for anyone,” Ned murmured from his relatively silent vantage point at the breakfast table. AJ scowled at his cousin, though he conceded his point.

“I’m supposed to go to Bobbie when her daughter isn’t even declared legally dead yet—the second child she’s lost to a car accident, mind you—and tell her I want to take her grandson?” AJ demanded. “Let’s not forget Jason’s made it clear there’s not going to be any peaceful out of court settlement. He’s going to fight me every step of the way.”

“That degenerate doesn’t deserve—”

And some things would never change. “Just stop, Grandfather.” AJ held up his hand. “I’ve talked to Kevin Collins, and he agrees that giving Michael some time and space to deal with his mother’s death is for the best. He doesn’t know me.” When Edward just scoffed at that, AJ continued. “He doesn’t. His entire world is at the Brownstone, with Bobbie and Lucas. With Elizabeth—”

“Oh…” Ned raised his head and shook his head. “Oh, no, don’t—”

But it was too late. Edward, clever and quick, had changed gears.  “Elizabeth is going to be the key to getting him back,” he said, ignoring Ned. “She’ll plead your case with Jason, won’t she?”

That was AJ’s hope, but there was no way in hell he was going to harass her into doing it. Even if she didn’t complain to Jason, it would only put her back up about the whole thing. No, he just had to keep doing what he’d been doing for the last two months since his marriage to a friend of Elizabeth’s. Be sober. Be mature. Be an adult.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I do hope she’ll make a good character witness at a hearing, but that’s—” He saw the unholy gleam in his grandfather’s eyes. “Oh. Oh, no. Grandfather, the last thing we need to do is antagonize Elizabeth Webber.”

“Who said anything about antagonize?” Edward pressed a hand to his chest, blinking with an innocence that the bastard hadn’t possessed since childhood. “Did I? I simply suggested she might be useful. Didn’t she date Jason briefly?”

“I don’t know, and that’s not important.” If Jason caught AJ anywhere near Elizabeth during the next few weeks, he’d rearrange AJ’s face—his little brother had made that painfully clear. “I’m not going to ask her to plead my case, to take my side. She’s Courtney’s friend, but she’s also important to Michael. I’m not doing anything jeopardize that—”

“You need to start acting like that boy’s father—”

“I think Junior is doing an admirable job of it for once,” Ned said idly, as he folded his newspaper and rose to his feet.

Both men stopped and just stared at Ned as he continued. “While Grandfather might want to make a hasty decision, AJ is going to look much better in the eyes of a family court judge. Any custody suit is going to require Michael to speak with counselors and lawyers. It’s upsetting at any age—but when he’s lost his mother?” He shrugged. “Giving him space and time to deal is going to impress people. I’m sure Bobbie is already appreciative.”

Edward pursed his lips before considering his eldest grandson. “I hadn’t looked at it in quite that light, I suppose. Bobbie has always been good to this family. More than Elizabeth, I think she’d be an impressive ally.”

AJ didn’t give a damn about any of that, but he was grateful to his cousin for steering Edward away from the edge. For now. “I just want to do what’s right for my son,” AJ said quietly.  “This isn’t the time, Grandfather.”

“We’ll table this discussion for now,” Edward finally decided. “But not forever.”

And while the old man may not have intended that statement as a threat, AJ was certainly going to consider it that way. Edward had been put off, but he wouldn’t be denied for much longer. Time would only tell when, where, and how the old bastard would make his move.

Gia and Elizabeth’s Apartment:  Living Room

“Maybe I should go to school,” Courtney declared as she tossed aside one of Gia’s study cards and reached for the bottle to pour herself another glass of wine.

“Look, we’ve seduced her with our glamorous lifestyle,” Elizabeth snickered to her roommate as she sipped her own wine and flipped the page in her macroeconomics textbook.

“No, seriously.” Courtney squinted at Gia’s book on constitutional law. “I could be smarter. Or something.”

“How much wine has she had?” Gia asked. “Courtney—”

“If I were smarter,” Courtney said after a moment of trying to remember if this was her third or fourth glass before deciding it really wasn’t important. “If I were smarter,” she repeated, “maybe the Quartermaines would think I was good enough for AJ.”

“Oh.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “Courtney, you could be a Vassar girl and the Q’s would still look down on you.”

What was a Vassar girl? Damn it. “But I’m not…whatever that is. I’m a white trash kid from Atlantic City. My mother is a waitress, my dad—”

“They didn’t pick you,” Elizabeth continued. “You’re not their choice.” She hesitated. “Though I guess…”

“It matters.” Courtney stared at the dark red wine swirling in her glass. “They’re always telling him how to live his life. He had another argument today about Michael.”

“That has nothing to do with you,” Gia told her. “In fact, if AJ gets Michael, it’ll be because you’re awesome.”

Elizabeth wrinkled her nose, but Courtney ignored the brunette’s general discomfort at the topic of Michael’s custody. “What happens when he gets him?”

Gia tilted her head. “I don’t follow.”

“He’ll have his son. He won’t need me anymore.” Courtney sighed and put her head down the table. “He married me because I’m Sonny’s sister. He keeps me around because I’m nice. Because I’ll look good for his case.”

“Honey…” She heard her glass slide away. But no one continued or picked up on Elizabeth’s half-hearted defense.  Because they’d said it before her vows. Before she’d run away to marry the scion of the Quartermaine family. Everyone had said it.

And Courtney had ignored them all.

“Listen, whatever your reasons for getting married were,” Gia said after a moment, “what does that matter? You’re happy, right?”

Courtney lifted her head slightly. “That’s not you denying anything.”

“Well…” Elizabeth drawled. “It’s not like you can complain he wasn’t up front about how much he hates your brother and wants his son.” She tapped her pen against her notebook. “And besides, what leverage could marrying you really get AJ in the long run?  He was never going to really challenge Carly for custody. Sonny was out of Michael’s life—”

“True.” Courtney sighed. “You’re right. It doesn’t matter. I’m sorry. I just thought…” She bit her lip. “He fights with Edward all the time, Elizabeth. Like…even before Carly’s death. It’s always about Michael. I just…what happens when the dust settles, and Michael isn’t a factor?”

Elizabeth opened her mouth, but Gia snorted. “Ha. Like that’s going to happen. Tell her, Webber. Jason is going to fight this in court until they’re little old men with crooked backs. And even if AJ gets custody, Jason will just appeal. Relax, babe. Michael is always going to be a factor.”

“That’s not true,” Elizabeth shot back. “Jason isn’t going to drag Michael in and out of court. That’s not like him.”

“Oh, you mean, you’ve talked to Jason for longer than five minutes?” Gia batted her lashes. “That would be different.”

“Last Saturday—”

“You had him fix the books and spent five minutes telling him about Lucky so that he wouldn’t hear it from someone else.” Gia snorted. “Other than that?”

“Listen—”

“Denial,” Gia sang as she turned a page in her text.

“Gia,” Courtney said with a blink because they’d changed topics and she wasn’t sure how that had happened. Or why her head was buzzing. “So what if Elizabeth doesn’t talk much to Jason? I mean, they’re not best friends. They—” She squinted at her brunette friend. “You didn’t actually date.”

“Exactly,” Elizabeth said. “I’m under no legal or moral obligation to talk to him. He’s part of a different life. A different Elizabeth—”

“With the same tendency to deny, deny, deny,” Gia cut in.

“I’m starting to remember why I hated you for so long.”

“Same goes, babe.” Gia sat up and squared her shoulders. “I didn’t say you had to bounce with him in bed or share long walks on the beach or bond over your love for pina coladas—”

“Gia—”

“I said that you were in denial about why you weren’t doing those things. You don’t want to bang the hottie, that’s your prerogative—”

“Then what the hell—”

Gia leaned forward, her dark eyes intense. “But I’m not going to let you sit around and pretend about the reason. No one said shit to you last year. No one ever challenged you when you lied to yourself. I’m not that kind of friend. I don’t care what the hell you do, Elizabeth. I care that you’re lying to yourself. Again.” She slammed her text shut and got to her feet. “Whatever. You do you.”

“Gia,” Courtney protested as Gia stalked out of the room. A moment later, her bedroom door slammed shut. She looked at Elizabeth. “What—”

“She’s not wrong,” her friend said sourly as she tipped the contents of her glass down her throat. She set it down with a clunk of glass against the cheap wooden dining table. “I am lying to myself. Just like you are.”

“Maybe,” Courtney admitted. “What happens when you stop?”

“’I don’t know.” Elizabeth sighed. “I’ve never been able to stop. Even when I tell myself I will…” She closed her eyes. “I just want to be safe. And happy. Why is that so much to ask?”

Courtney had no response to that, so she retrieved the wine Elizabeth had taken from her and drank.

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

“Initial background checks come back good,” Jason told Benny and Sonny. “Doesn’t look like there’s any reason to worry. No one’s making more money than they’re bringing in.” He hesitated and rose from the sofa. “I only found one thing that…concerns me.”

“Oh, yeah?” Benny asked, raising his brow.

“The Oasis and the Paradise Lounge? Their take so far since the merger is up double from last year,” Jason said. “They’re recording more in liquor sales, but—”

“Their inventory doesn’t match those sales,” Benny finished with a grin, reminding Sonny of a proud father. “You missed your calling, my boy. Shoulda been a forensic accountant. You got a mind for numbers—”

“You knew about this?” Sonny cut Benny off with a scowl. Damn accountant would go on for hours about training Jason for a regular profession if he didn’t stop him. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I only just saw the numbers myself a few weeks ago,” Benny responded. “I wanted to get a second opinion. Jason’s my second opinion.”

“I have a bad feeling I know where the extra money is coming from,” Jason said. “Nico Savarolli? Some of his guys used to work the streets under Moreno and Sorel. Selling coke and heroine. Pills. Anything they could get their hands on.”

“No, Nico knows my code. We’ll move the product through the territory, but none of it hits the streets in Port Charles. That’s the rule.” Sonny rose to his feet. “Anyone caught dealing is out—”

“Yeah, but—” Benny hesitated. “You gotta admit, Boss, that it’s been a rough year. We’ve been shuffling around the organization. We had to redistribute some of Jason’s responsibilities—we put it off the first time he left, but—” he glanced apologetically at Jason. “With the merger—”

“No, I get it, Benny.”

“And now we’re thinking about expansion. We just haven’t had the chance to put in any real oversight. I would have seen these numbers eventually, but—”

“Not until Nico had moved his new guy in to take the fall.” Sonny nodded. “He’s been pushing me to put Zander in his place.”

“Zander?” Jason repeated. “In charge of all the gambling in town? Is it possible we’re still talking about the same punk who dealt drugs to kids at raves?”

“My point exactly. And he was shoving pretty hard at it.” Sonny touched his chin. “I told him no, that I wasn’t sure Zander was ready. To be honest, I’m not wild about putting anyone else who worked for Moreno and Sorel in a position of power. Nico—I kept him on because I know him.”

“He might be turning a blind eye to it,” Jason offered, but Sonny knew he was just offering an excuse. Nico had pushed Zander’s promotion hard. Too hard. Too fast.

“I wonder what he’d do if I told him there’s no way in hell I’m ever going to let Zander Smith move up in this organization.” Sonny looked to Benny. “What are you thinking about this?”

“Without Jason to take over some of this paperwork, if you’d listened to Nico and promoted Zander or someone else—we would have started more paperwork. There’s a lot to go into development in Vegas. I’d be spending time there, I’d probably have to do some inspections in Atlantic City…” Benny hesitated. “To be honest, Sonny, I can’t promise I would have caught these numbers any time soon.”

Sonny sighed—he’d been overworking his loyal business manager. Time to deal with that. “Nico wanted to get his fall guy in place and push the expansion. His income was starting to outpace what he could cover in other areas. He’s not able to hide the money he’s making from dealing anymore, so he’s trying to get out while he can, and he’s setting Zander up for the fall.”

“We could let him,” Jason suggested. “Let Nico think he’s getting away with it. He might think we’re sloppy—”

“He hinted at moving some people around to free himself for Vegas,” Sonny murmured. “I didn’t get a name or specifics until—”

“Until Jason came home.” Benny tapped a pile of paperwork. “He needs to gum up the works fast. Because if things go at this pace—”

“There’ll be more eyes on him.” Sonny pursed his lips. “Bastard.”

“Tell him Zander’s gone as far as he can with us,” Jason said after a moment. “If Nico pushes someone else immediately, that’s a sign. There’s no way he’s got two guys at the same level and only moving one up. If he hangs back or continues to argue the point, then maybe there’s another angle.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Sonny looked to Benny. “I think it’s time you ask your brother to come on board. I can’t keep depending on you to do this by yourself. I’m sorry—I should have seen.”

Benny managed a smile. “I should have said something. I’ll give him a call.”

After a few more points of business, Benny left to do some more paperwork, but Jason remained.

“What’s up? You got a look on your face,” Sonny asked as he poured himself some bourbon. “Carly’s will reading is in a day or two. You thinking about Michael?”

“No.” Jason shook his head. “No. I talked to AJ, and while he’s definitely going to file for custody, I—” He sighed. “I believe him when he says he’s going to give Bobbie time. He may not be able to hold off the old man, but—”

“It’s first lick of common sense that jackass has shown yet.” Sonny wiggled his shoulders. “So, what’s up then?”

“A few days ago, I went to Kelly’s,” Jason said slowly, “and Zander was there with Elizabeth. She was annoyed with him, and he looked pretty hostile. She didn’t tell me much about what he was saying, just that he was harassing her in hopes she’d pass it on to me. Zander stormed out when I got there.”

“He must smell blood in the water.” Sonny leaned against the arm of the sofa. “He’s not stupid. He knows you’re home, he knows you hate the living shit out of him. The only reason he’s alive is because of Emily.”

“Elizabeth has nothing to do with any of it,” Jason muttered. “Why the hell is he going after her?”

Because Zander had heard the same rumors other men in the organization had. Knew the way Jason had reacted when Sorel had simply spoken to Elizabeth. Zander had harassed Elizabeth to annoy Jason, and it had worked. “Well, once I tell Nico that Zander’s promotion is permanently off the table…he’ll either leave her alone and come after you directly or—”

“He’ll harass her even more.”

Sonny crossed to his desk. “I’ll make the phone call. You may want to warn her that Zander might step it up. She ought to evict him. They still have the at-will week to week leases at Kelly’s, don’t they?”

“I don’t want to involve her any more than I have to.” Jason hesitated a moment, rubbing the back of his neck. Sonny set the phone back on the hook.

“What’s going on? I would have thought the two of you had cleared the air.” At the very least—Sonny thought the two might be back on the track Lucky Spencer’s return from the dead had derailed. Or hoped they would be. He liked the two of them together.

“Nothing.” But Jason looked away. “I don’t know. I get the feeling that she…” He waited a moment, and Sonny said nothing because he knew how hard it was for Jason to talk about what was going on inside his head. “She’ll sit down, and she’ll talk to me, but it’s not because she wants to.”

“Like she’s doing it to be nice.” Sonny muttered a swear under his breath at the stubbornness of idiots. Morons. The both of them. “Look—”

“And she’s already in the middle of this mess with Michael. I don’t—I know she’s juggling a lot with Kelly’s and school. I don’t want to make it worse.”

“I’m sure she appreciates your concern, but I think she’d rather be warned that Zander’s hostility might go up a notch. She’s a tough woman, Jase. Not much gets her down. Not anymore.” Sonny lifted a shoulder. “You’d be proud of the crap she’s spit back at people who don’t approve of her.  Give her a heads up. She’ll appreciate it.” He lifted the phone. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a call to make.”

If they were going to dance around each other for the next eighty years, Sonny might have to murder them both.

Oasis: Back Office

When Nico called him into his office, Zander had a feeling that this was gonna suck. He’d been expecting something shitty since news had filtered back that Jason had arrived home as expected.

Sonny might have trusted Nico’s judgment, might have let him move up—but Jason would never forgive or forget what Zander had done to Emily. Or that he’d once dealt drugs. And after the run-in with Elizabeth Webber at Kelly’s—well, fuck he might as well as have cut off his own head. He knew better.

But he’d seen the brunette and his annoyance had boiled over—a mistake in retrospect.  Harassing her might as well have been the last straw in his career, though it had already been on life-support. He should have avoided her. Should have gone upstairs and ignored it all.

He’d seen her sitting there, and he’d been reminded of the gossip about her and Jason—their affair several years ago, the suspicions they’d continued carrying on under Lucky’s Spencer nose—

Elizabeth was Emily’s best friend. She was Jason Morgan’s woman, even if neither of them had quite acknowledged that. She represented everything he was never gonna have in his life.

And he’d lost it.

“Listen Zander,” Nico said, his features twisted in an expression of compassion that Zander didn’t believe for a damn minute. Bastard worried about himself first, second, and last. Forever. “I just talked to Sonny—”

“No promotion for me,” Zander said blandly. “’Shocking. Do I still even have a job?”

“For now.” Nico raised a brow. “You think you can stop harassing Elizabeth Webber? Because we both know that’s why you’re in this position.” When Zander frowned, his boss continued. “I’m not an idiot, Smith. Don’t ever think there’s not eyes on you. In this business, someone is always watching.”

“I’ll leave her alone,” Zander muttered. “It was stupid—”

“You’re damn right—” Nico scowled. “Lay low for a few weeks. Sonny is gonna need someone to step up if this expansion to Vegas is gonna work, and we got too much money on the line for you to fuck it up now.”