January 17, 2018

So I forgot to post an update for the main blog that Chapter Twelve was added to Bittersweet, but it all worked out somehow because I messed up setting the category for the chapter, so it got posted to the main blog and got emailed to the subscribers. Ha.

I am soooo tired from getting up at 5 AM, leaving for student teaching 6:30, going to my second job and not getting home until 7 PM. This semester is gonna suck hard.

See y’all this weekend!

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series Bittersweet

If we can make it through this storm
And become who we were before
Promise me we’ll never look back
The worst is far behind us now
We’ll make it out of here somehow
Meet me in the aftermath

Aftermath, Lifehouse


Thursday, May 9, 2002

Kelly’s: Courtyard

AJ looked up from the contract at his brother. “It looks good. What do I have to do?”

Jason shifted and cleared his throat. “Alexis wants you to get it okayed by a lawyer of your own—”

AJ held up his hand, shaking his head. “I trust Alexis, and I trust you.” When Jason’s eyes widened just slightly, AJ understood. This new era of civility was nice, but it was…discomforting after so many years of discord.

But AJ wasn’t interested in anything more than what was fair. “This is exactly what we talked about the other night, Jason.” He tapped the paper. “Increased visitation. I never wanted— I can’t imagine demanding that Michael come live with me full-time right now. That’s not fair to anyone—particularly to Bobbie and Michael. He doesn’t know me, and he’ll need time.”

Jason exhaled slowly. “You’re not angry about the supervised—”

“You have no reason to trust my sobriety, Jase.” AJ looked at the pen in his hands, twirling it. “I’m not always sure I do. I’ve done the steps, you know? I go to the meetings. I’ve been honest about why I drink. But…” He hesitated, but Jason—more than anyone else—deserved the truth. “I’ve seen guys like me there. With families and everything to stay sober for. And one little set back—one stupid thing—and they take a drink. And have to start over again.”

Jason said nothing, so AJ continued. “When Carly—when I heard about the accident, I wanted a drink.” His hands still shook at the memory—at the fierce longing for that dark, bitter taste of whiskey as it slid down his throat.

“The family was fighting again, looking at me to go after Michael, pressuring me—they wanted me to act right then—they were ready to do it without me. I just…I wanted their voices to go away. I drove to a liquor store. And I sat outside for ten minutes, arguing with myself.”

“AJ—”

“You need to know this, Jason,” AJ cut off Jason’s uncomfortable protest. “You need to know that I’m aware of my weaknesses.  No one has ever put Michael first like you. You had legal visitation and you walked away to make his life easier. I can’t—” His throat tightened. “I don’t know if I could make the same sacrifice. So, you need to know that I still think about it.”

“Okay.” Jason waited a moment. “What stopped you?”

“You,” AJ said simply. “And Courtney. Thinking about what I’d be giving up. How disappointed she’d be if I went in that store. How much I would hate seeing your face and knowing how much better you were—”

“It’s not about being better—”

“It is for me,” AJ interrupted. “And that’s something I’m working on. I don’t want to measure myself against you. I’ve done that all my life. Our parents—Grandfather—they’ve always looked at the two of us and wished—” He looked away. “You think they’re disappointed in how you turned out? Christ, at least you have the accident to blame. I don’t have that. I had all the privileges in the world and I threw them away.”

“It isn’t a contest, AJ.” But Jason looked a bit…uncertain. “But I guess—between Carly and Michael—I can see why you think that way.”

“I don’t have to be better than you to be okay,” AJ said after a long moment. “I know that. I don’t always remember it. And if sometimes—if wanting to be better than you is the reason I don’t take a drink that day, well, I guess that’s not the worst thing in the world.”

“I guess not.” Jason turned in his chair, so that he could see through the glass panels of the door to the dining room where Elizabeth and Courtney were laughing together.

“I didn’t marry her for the best reasons,” AJ said after long moment as they watched the women they cared about fill sugar canisters. “But I got lucky. Because Courtney is the best thing that ever happened to me, and that’s the other reason I don’t take a drink. I never want her to be sorry for a minute she took a chance on me.”

Jason slid the contract closer to AJ. “Take this to a lawyer. I know you trust Alexis, and I’m—I trust you, too. But we need to do this by the book, right? So that Michael is protected. I don’t want—” He hesitated, as if searching for right words. “I want us all to be on the same page.”

“Fine.” AJ hesitated. “Thank you. For giving me this chance.”

“You earned it,” Jason admitted with a bit of a grimace. He stood immediately. “I have to get back to work.” He went inside the diner, where AJ watched him talk to Elizabeth for a moment before disappearing through the back, likely to the alley where he had parked his bike.

Courtney emerged from the diner, a hopeful smile on her face. “Did it go well? We didn’t hear any shouting.”

“It—” AJ tilted his head, considering the custody agreement in front of him. “It went better than I could have hoped for.” Maybe…he and Jason could be better than civil strangers. He wouldn’t hope they’d ever be brothers, but…he’d settle for friends. Maybe.

Yacht: Study

“I think we should get to know the plan,” Zander said as he took a seat in front of a heavy mahogany desk in the dark paneled room.

“In good time, Smith.” Alcazar drew in a deep drag of the cigar. “You talk to Dominic Savarolli?”

“Yeah, yesterday.” Zander shifted slightly. “He’s pretty pissed at me about how I got fired, but he’s got no love for Corinthos or Morgan. He’s looking to move out to Vegas, and Morgan gummed up the works when he came back.”

“So, the word on the street is right — Nico’s still dealing and Corinthos doesn’t know shit,” Roscoe said, with a grin of satisfaction. “He’s a dumb fuck, always has been—”

Zander didn’t roll his eyes, but came close. This was why Moreno and Sorel had fallen apart—why no one got close to overthrowing Sonny Corinthos. Refusing to participate in the drug trade was the primary reason Sonny had charmed the citizens of Port Charles—and it was a handy way to test the loyalty of one’s soldiers.

“Nico’s been all right funneling the profits through the strip club because Sonny’s business guys didn’t notice the extra money,” Zander said, ignoring Mickey. “But lately, there’s too much profit to hide cleanly. And everyone knows Jason Morgan has a head for the numbers. With him back, it’s just a matter of time. Nico wanted to get to Vegas and dump the crap on me.”

Alcazar lifted his brows in surprise. “You knew you were to be the scapegoat?”

“I’m not an idiot,” Zander muttered. “He wants to put me in charge of all the gambling in town? I mean, it’s not Vegas or Atlantic City, but it’s not nothing either. And he’d be leaving me with the drug trade. I got nothing against dealing—people are gonna do it whether I give it to them or not. I might as well make money from it.”

He lifted a shoulder. “I figured he was gonna leave me holding the bag. I had a plan. Go to Sonny as if I had just figured it out. Sonny rewards whistle blowing. I might not be able to stay in charge, but I was willing to gamble it’d be good for my career.” Lot of fucking good it did him now. He’d waited Nico out, let the son of a bitch set him up, and now Zander was out in the cold looking for a pay day.

Nico would pay for fucking him over. When the time was right.

Roscoe eyed him now. “So, Morgan’s back to act as a fancy auditor?” He snorted. “Some lethal—”

“Shut up, Mickey.” Alcazar leaned forward, stubbed out his cigar in the ashtray. “Morgan’s looking into the books?”

“Yeah. Benny Abrams is the best in the business, but he’s got his hands full with all the expansion and merger shit Sonny’s been dumping on him. He handles the legitimate stuff, and he’s gotta make sure it all looks clean. He don’t got time to make sure everyone is dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. Jason’s always been his back up. Used to do the books for a bunch of Sonny’s stuff when he was starting out. At Luke’s and the warehouse when they first opened it.”

Alcazar nodded. “You say Nico’s on board?”

“He wants to get rid of Morgan as much as the rest of us,” Zander replied. “He says whatever you need, he’s got you.”

“Good. Good.” Alcazar nodded. “I’ll be wanting to cause trouble for them. Nothing…too drastic. Test their reactions. Find the weak spots in their network. I have…an idea for luring Jason into that ambush, but I still have to…work out what comes after.”

“I don’t know why we don’t just pick Sonny Corinthos off,” Roscoe muttered. “He’s an open target—”

“Because then Morgan tracks you down and tears you into small pieces,” Zander said, disgusted. There was a reason Moreno and Sorel hadn’t had patience for this dick head. “And then he takes over, and then you’re really shit out of luck. Most of the higher ups—they like Sonny fine. But some of them would walk through fire for Morgan.”

His elbows propped on the desk, his fingers steepled in front of his face, Alcazar considered Roscoe for a long moment. “I want you to keep your ears to the ground. I want to know how Corinthos operates. How he handles mistakes. Who his men are. Not just the ones likely to defect, but those who won’t. We need to know the most loyal soldiers, who to take out first. You’ll be the point man with Nico.”

Alcazar said nothing further, and it was clear he intended those words as a dismissal to Roscoe. The other man muttered something, but left the room.

Zander considered the man for a long time. “You want Nico as the fall guy, don’t you? When you take out Jason, you want to make sure all roads lead to him.”

“Nico has already done that for me. He’s made it clear he’s desperate to get out of town, and there’s little doubt Morgan has found the extra money. Nico already made himself a target.” Alcazar offered a cold smile. “He’s not loyal to Corinthos or Morgan. Nico did you a favor, setting you up in Miami. You’ll be comfortable there, working for my old friend Hector Ruiz. If Corinthos looks further for an accomplice, well—Roscoe won’t be hard to find.” He tilted his head. “It’s possible Nico might name you, but you’ll be alibied by Hector Ruiz.”

It was just crazy enough to work, but Zander wasn’t going to bet his life on a clean getaway. “About that Miami thing—”

“You’ll need to stay gone for a few weeks, and Ruiz is a good connection to make,” Alcazar cut in smoothly. “You’ve done what’s necessary for now. I may need you in a few weeks, but for you to stay useful, you need to stay above suspicion.”

Zander had his doubts about any of this working—not because Alcazar hadn’t taken his advice or was an idiot. But Alcazar wanted his hands clean and to achieve that, he had to put major portions of his plans in the hands of others. Anything could go wrong.

Zander would just have to stay one step ahead of all of them in order to get out of this, but oh—if he succeeded…if he could watch Corinthos fall apart after Morgan was taken out—

That was worth any risk.

Saturday, May 11, 2002

Quartermaine Mansion: Family Room

It was not often that Edward Louis Quartermaine apologized—in fact, Ned could only count perhaps three or four times in his living memory that the old bastard had allowed the words “I’m sorry” to leave his lips—and usually, his grandmother was poking at him.

But this time, Lila Quartermaine had not had to work her magic.

AJ had stopped by to see Ned, to tell his mother that he would finally have his chance—he and Jason had arrived at a custody agreement that put Michael first, but allowed AJ the opportunity to be Michael’s father.

Edward had taken the news with a bit of silence, and Ned had watched the old man with curious caution. How would Edward absorb the news that AJ had solved the issue on his own?

“It seems you knew best after all,” Edward finally managed gruffly as he skimmed the agreement. “You had your own lawyer look at this?”

“Yeah, Alexis gave me a list of a few who specialize in child custody. I called one. She said it was good.” AJ cleared his throat. “She called Alexis, and we all decided—we’re going to file it with the courts. Along with reinstatement of my rights. So legally, I’m—” he hesitated, and he swallowed hard.

“Legally, you’re his father,” Ned finished. He looked at their grandfather. “Junior did good, huh?”

“I’m sorry…” Edward hesitated. “I’m sorry I tried to—” He returned the custody agreement to AJ. “I just—I wanted to know him.”

“I know.” AJ folded the paperwork. “And I know that you have no reason to think I can do this, that I can stay sober, but—” He dipped his head. “In a few months, I’ll get my one-year chip. I’ve never—I’ve never made this long before.”

“The girl you married—Courtney…” Edward hesitated. “She’s part of it. She’s…she’s been good to you.”

“Yeah.” AJ managed a smile. “She saw something in me, and I want—I want to make sure I live up to that.” He rose to his feet. “I want to build a good life for us, for Michael. For the children I want with her. We’re on our way to doing that now. I have a good job.”

“I’d like—” Edward also stood. “I’ll release your trust fund. I shouldn’t have taken it from you, and—”

“I appreciate that, Grandfather,” AJ said, holding up a hand. “And I’ll likely to dip into it so Courtney and I can move somewhere bigger, somewhere for Michael to have his own room. But it doesn’t—I can’t come back to ELQ. Or this house.”

Edward pressed his lips together, but his eyes were sad. Not angry. “I trust you to know what’s best for your sobriety, my boy. I hope one day that may change, but for now, I can accept that.” He cleared his throat. “I’ll go find your grandmother and give her the good news.”

“You should go to the hospital,” Ned told AJ once Edward had left. “I’m sure Alan will be relieved to hear that his sons are working together.”

“Yeah.” AJ nodded, took a deep breath. “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.”

Friday, May 17, 2002

Kelly’s: Diner

Elizabeth flashed a smile at AJ and Courtney as they left for the night, and she turned down their protest about leaving her there.  She’d be fine. Jason had promised to pick her up around midnight and that was only a half hour away.

She could clean up and total the night’s receipts, then drop them at the night deposit box on their way…wherever. In the few days since their relationship had changed, they’d spent three of the four nights at Jake’s and just one at her apartment. Possibility because of the proximity to Taggart, who lived a floor above them, but she knew Jason still wasn’t sold on Gia, but time would change that.

Gia had a way of growing on you like a fungus.

“Your boyfriend late?”

Elizabeth snapped her head up at the sound of Lucky’s irritated voice. Why was he still doing this? “Lucky—”

“I know, I know. I’m supposed to use the back entrance,” he muttered, emerging from the shadows by the stairs. The diner was dim—she’d left two of three switches flipped off and now she wished she’d left it blazing.

Not that Lucky would hurt her.

She would just feel better.

“You never gave a damn before he came back.”

Elizabeth sighed and set the receipts down. She was tired of this. Tired of feeling guilty. Of feeling like somehow…she was at fault.

“Why are we still doing this?” she asked. “It’s been four months—”

“It was always him.” Lucky gestured towards the empty doorway as if Jason stood there. “Always, wasn’t it? You didn’t give a damn about me when I came home. If you had—”

“What would have been different?” she demanded. “You weren’t the same boy. I wasn’t the same girl. We both changed—”

“I was brainwashed, kept captive!” He pressed a hand to his chest, his nostrils flaring, his eyes bulging. “Locked up. You moved on with the first guy who looked at you twice—”

Her eyes burned as she stood up. “That is not true, and you damn well know it. I nearly drowned myself in grief for you. I couldn’t get out of bed some days—” Elizabeth closed her eyes, forced back the angry words. “I’m sorry, Lucky. I can’t imagine what you’ve been through. How hard it must be. But I’m done apologizing.”

“How do you think it makes me feel to know I was nothing more than obligation or pity?” he demanded, taking a step towards her. “Knowing that every minute you were with me, you wanted to be with him—”

“Not every moment,” she murmured. She exhaled slowly. “It wasn’t like that, Lucky—”

“Then what was it like?” He spread his hands out at his side. “You stayed with me. You got engaged to me. But you wanted him.”

How could she ever explain how twisted it all had been last year? How she had struggled knowing she wasn’t in love with Lucky anymore, the guilt of not living up the promises she’d made—

There would never be a way to make him understand. She could barely manage it herself.

“We made promises when we were too young to know any better.” Elizabeth said after a moment. “And yeah, I feel like hell knowing that I—” Her stomach rolled. “That I fell in love with someone else while you were alive somewhere, being brainwashed. If I had known you were alive, Lucky, I would have tried to find you—”

“Bullshit. Nikolas told me you couldn’t wait to get into bed with Jason. You think I believe you weren’t screwing him when he was at your studio?”

Elizabeth shook her head and turned away from him. She would get her things together and walk to the Brownstone. Jason could pick her up—

Lucky grabbed her elbow and swung her back to face him, his fingers digging into her skin. “Let me go—”

“Stop walking away from me!”

“Lucky—” Her breathing hitched. She didn’t recognize him anymore. The light in his eyes, the anger on his face. “Lucky, let me go.”

“What the hell was so wrong with me that you couldn’t love me?” he growled. “What the hell does Jason have that I don’t?”

The echoes of words she’d wondered about herself, wondered why everyone loved Sarah. Why her parents and her grandmother seemed to value Sarah more—

“You know it’s not like that. It’s not that easy.” She tried to step back, to pull her arm free, but he just tightened his grip and jerked her forward. “Lucky—”

“You were supposed to love me forever—”

“Lucky, let her go.”

They both turned to see AJ in the doorway, Courtney just behind him, her eyes wide with worry. AJ stepped over the threshold. “Let her go,” Jason’s brother repeated.

Lucky scowled, but released her with almost a shove, and Elizabeth stumbled backwards into one of the counter stools. Courtney started to push past AJ to get to her, but her husband held her back with his arm.

“Go upstairs, Lucky, and be glad it was me that walked in here and not my brother.” But AJ’s eyes hardened. “Don’t touch her again.”

Lucky blinked at him and then looked at Elizabeth, holding her arm. “I—” He shook his head. “I didn’t mean—”

“Go upstairs,” Elizabeth said flatly. “And pack. I want you out of here by the end of the week. This is your notice.”

“Yeah—” Lucky exhaled slowly. “Yeah, that’s probably—” But he stopped talking and moved towards the stairs. When they heard a door close upstairs, Courtney ducked past AJ.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” Elizabeth looked down at her arm, at the angry red blotches. “You—you came back.”

“Courtney had a bad feeling,” AJ said simply. He tipped his head. “Get your stuff, we’ll drop you at the Brownstone if you want.”

“I—” She started to tell him no, that she would wait for Jason. But the words wouldn’t come out.

What would Lucky have done if AJ and Courtney hadn’t come back? If— She swallowed a sob that bubbled up her throat.

“Elizabeth?” Courtney asked softly. She started tucking the paperwork back in a file. “Call Jason. Tell him you’ll be at the Brownstone—”

“I—” She closed her eyes.

“What’s going on?”

Over AJ’s shoulder, Jason stood there, his eyes scanning the diner, taking in his brother and his wife—and looking at her. Standing with her arm clutched against her chest.

AJ stepped aside as Jason moved forward. “Elizabeth?”

“I—” Elizabeth couldn’t speak as he reached her and gently took her arm in his. She winced as his fingers brushed the finger marks. “I was—I was waiting for you.” But she couldn’t make herself go on.

“I left her here to wait for you,” AJ admitted as Courtney silently tucked Elizabeth’s things in the tote bag. “But Courtney—and I—we just didn’t feel good about it. We came back, and Lucky Spencer had her by the arm—”

Jason pressed his lips together and looked down for a long moment. He was standing so close to her that she could feel the way his muscles tensed, the anger seeping through. “Are you okay?” he managed, somehow his voice sounding tender. Concerned.

But she could see the anger in his eyes. “Yeah. It’s—” She swallowed the excuse that she’d been okay, that she hadn’t been in any danger, but she couldn’t manage that lie.

She’d lied enough for Lucky.

“Thank you,” she told AJ. “For coming back. I—I want to say I would have been okay. I just—I don’t know.” She looked at Jason. “I evicted Lucky. I told him to get out. I had to give him a week legally, but—”

“He’ll be gone tomorrow,” AJ said with a steel note in his tone she hadn’t heard before. “I’ll make sure of it.”

“You—” Jason looked at him. “What?”

“If you go near him the way you look right now, Jase, Elizabeth will be bailing you out of jail. I’ll make sure he goes.”

Elizabeth squinted at Jason’s brother—because for the first time, she could see a resemblance between them. And understood that the ruthlessness she knew Jason was capable of…he’d come by it naturally. “I don’t want you to fight with Lucky.”

When Jason just shook his head, she touched his chest with her fingertips. “It’s not like before. I just—AJ’s right. I don’t want you to get into trouble because of him. It’s not worth it. I want him gone. That’s it.” She sighed, exhausted. “I’m done apologizing, feeling bad for what I did. He stepped over a line tonight, and I’m just…I’m done.”

“Okay,” Jason said finally. He looked at his brother. “If you could…do whatever you could to encourage him to be gone tomorrow, I would…appreciate it. But if he’s not—” He looked at Elizabeth. “If he doesn’t go—”

“Then you can do whatever you want,” Elizabeth agreed. “Can…we just go? I want to go.”

“You need anything else done?” Courtney asked as she handed Elizabeth her tote and purse. “Washed? Locked?”

“No, I just have to put the chairs on the table—”

“We’ll do it,” AJ said, stepping forward, sliding an arm around Courtney’s waist. “We’ll lock up.”

And Elizabeth was too tired to care. “Can we go?” she repeated to Jason. “Please.”

“Yeah.” He looked at AJ. “Thank you.” When AJ just shrugged, Jason shook his head. “No, I mean it. Thank you for coming back. If it had been me who walked in—”

They would all be revisiting the summer of Dead Ted, Elizabeth thought, trying to find a way to dispose of Lucky’s remains. And she wondered it said about her that she probably wouldn’t have cared much.

Elizabeth & Gia’s Apartment: Living Room

“Gia is staying with her mother in Buffalo,” Elizabeth told Jason as she unlocked the door. “She didn’t really get to see her much during the last year, so when she finished her finals—” And she was babbling.

Jason nodded and followed her in. He stripped off his leather jacket and tossed it over the back of the sofa. When she switched on a lamp and took off her own jacket, he reached for her arm again.

The marks weren’t disappearing—and were in fact, darkening. “You’re going to bruise.”

“Yeah.” Elizabeth looked at the marks. “He’s angry because I moved on while he was being brainwashed. Apparently, I was supposed to be a psychic and know he was still alive,” She stepped away from him, running her hands up and down her arms, trying to chase the chill from her skin. She walked towards the window.

From here, they could just see the dim waters of the lake and several of the piers, including Jason and Sonny’s coffee warehouse.

Don’t make excuses for him—”

“I—” She blinked at his irritated words. “I’m not. I’m…pissed at him. At myself. I didn’t know he was alive, Jason. I can’t be held responsible for not knowing that. There was a body. And I—I did my time. I grieved for him. You know that. He just—” Elizabeth bit her lip and looked back at the window.

“I don’t know. He didn’t come back. Not all the way. Even with the brainwashing broken, there’s nothing left of the boy I promised to love forever. My Lucky never would have touched me. Hurt me.” A tear slid down her cheek. “I nearly killed myself grieving that sweet boy. And then this angry stranger comes back with his face and what…I’m supposed to worship him forever because I used to love the boy?”

She shook her head. “To hell with that. I mourned. And I grieved. And I picked myself back up. If he hadn’t come back, if he’d stayed dead, I would have moved on.”

She turned to look at him, but his expression was shuttered. “I kept looking for that boy, Jason, because he was the first person to love me for me. And I guess…it was hard to walk away from that. But that boy is dead. And he never came home.”

She met his eyes. “He thinks you and I were together already. That winter at the studio. He’s angry with me because he thinks I spent two years lying to him about you. And then for me…to walk away from him at New Year’s and now…to be here with you, it’s a betrayal to him. And I just—I don’t understand it. I can’t…” She looked away, because Jason was remaining silent. “He’s not wrong. I did spend two years lying to him. I shouldn’t have done that.”

“You stopped.”

“I stayed almost another year drowning in misery. I nearly married him.” She tilted her head back, looking at the ceiling. “I don’t know. I’m sorry. I’m doing it again. And you’re probably wondering why the hell you’re even bothering—”

“Hey—” Jason reached out to take her hand and drew her to him. “I remember Lucky before the fire. I remember you and Lucky. I know what you meant to him, Elizabeth. I could see it. You were both young, but anyone who looked at the two of you could feel it.” He used his thumbs to wipe her tears as they slid down her cheeks.

“And I saw you the night you lost him. And in all the months that followed. I know what it did to you. When he came home, how could you have done anything else but try again?”

“I should have stopped—”

“I know what it’s like to stay with a person long past the time you’re any good for one another,” he said gently. “Robin and I did that. She was my first friend. The first person who gave a damn about Jason Morgan. She taught me what it meant to be in love. But it changed. We were different people, going different directions. And we kept trying. And at the end, I think we almost hated each other.”

Elizabeth managed a shuddering breath. “He was my best friend. And we killed any chance of having that again. And I hate it. I hate that I couldn’t see it. We nearly destroyed each other, and I’m trying to walk away from that. He’s stuck in it, and I think that anger is going to eat at him until it explodes. I—” Her breath hitched. “He scared me tonight. And it’s just…I think—”

She leaned forward, pressed her forehead to his chest. “I think I’m grieving all over again. For what we had. For who he was.”

She felt his lips press against the top of her hair. “I’m sorry. I wish…” he trailed off. “I don’t know. I’m just sorry.”

“Me, too.” Elizabeth drew back and managed a shaky smile. “Let’s…let’s talk about something else.”

“Okay.” Jason followed as she led him to the sofa where he sat down, and she curled up next to him. “AJ…actually came by the warehouse earlier today.”

“Yeah?”

“He signed the contract—the custody agreement.” Jason watched as she traced a pattern on his palm. “He, uh, asked me…to go to…”

“His chip ceremony,” Elizabeth said when Jason trailed off. “Courtney said he wanted to ask you. One year sober. She’s really proud of him.”

“Yeah. I guess. He said he’s never made it that far before.” Jason hesitated. “I don’t know. He said he was inviting some of the Quartermaines, and I just—”

“I know all the reasons you walked away from them,” Elizabeth said slowly. “But it’s good that AJ is trying to work them back into his life. They’re his triggers, aren’t they?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I guess—”

“He can’t walk from them forever, so it’s good he’s figuring out how to bring them back in.” She bit her lip. “You should go.”

Jason looked away, squinting his eyes. “I don’t know. We’re in a better place, I guess. For now. But—” He shrugged. “I don’t know. He still sees us as brothers, but—”

“Maybe you’ll never get there again,” Elizabeth murmured. “But you both love Michael. And…” She hesitated. “I know it would mean a lot to him for you to be there. But that’s all I’m going to say. He invited me, too.”

He looked back at her. “He was there for you tonight,” Jason said after a moment. “And he’s been honest with me about his addiction. I know…he still blames himself for the accident. For…I guess killing Jason Quartermaine.”

“His brother loved him,” Elizabeth murmured. “And he knows he’s the reason that’s not true anymore. It’s probably one of the worst triggers. I’m—I’m not trying to pressure you—”

“But it would be good for him if he could put the accident behind him,” Jason finished. “And if I…went…I guess that would help.” He rubbed his temple for a moment. “I don’t blame him. Not…the way I used to. I still…worry that he might drink and drive again. But…I don’t remember the life I had. And I like the one I have now.” He brushed a kiss against her mouth. “So…I’ll go.”

“Who knows?” Elizabeth managed a light smile. “You might end up liking him.”

“Don’t—That’s not funny—”

Their lighthearted banter was shattered as the sky lit up with orange and red and an earth-shaking BOOM shattered the windows that looked out towards the harbor.

Jason pushed Elizabeth to the ground, and reached behind him to draw out the gun he always kept there. Motioning for Elizabeth to stay down, he crept towards the window.

The roar of flames, the smell of sulfur permeated the air. “Jason—”

Jason looked out the window and then his shoulders slumped. “It’s okay—I mean—it’s not. But it’s not here. It’s…”

A few blocks away, the warehouse and some of the surrounding areas were engulfed in flames.

“It’s down at the pier,” he murmured. “The warehouse just blew up.”

“What—” Elizabeth jumped to her feet and joined him, stepping gingerly around the glass. “That’s what that was? I’ve never heard—”

“Maybe it was a gas line,” Jason murmured, as he wrapped an arm around her waist and drew her close. He didn’t believe it.

He knew that sound, and Elizabeth might have been familiar with it, too. If her studio had exploded the night the bomb had been planted.

January 16, 2018

I posted a survey yesterday trying to see what people are looking for from the next season of Damaged. I know like a hundred percent of my audience is on the Liason/Victor storyline train, so I wanted to see what else about the story you guys like. So if you have a minute, fill out the survey and help me figure out what to write.

January 15, 2018

Thanks for all the great responses to the last two chapters. I’m glad that everyone is as happy as I am to have this story back. I’m still working on finishing the last few chapters — with any luck, I’ll be able to finish it up this week and we’ll be on schedule to keep posting two chapters a week.

Bittersweet, Chapter Eleven

This entry is part 11 of 12 in the series Bittersweet

I can’t really tell you
What I’m gonna do
There are so many thoughts in my head
There are two roads to walk down
And one road to choose
So I’m thinking over
The things that you’ve said

Thinking Over, Dana Glover


Monday, May 6, 2002

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

Nico leaned back on the sofa, sipping his bourbon. “I know it goes against tradition,” he told Sonny as the other man lounged in the arm chair. “But I figured if I set Smith up in Miami, he’d be more likely to get out of town and stay out of trouble.”

Sonny nodded and glanced at Benny. “You talk to Hector?”

“I did,” Benny said with a nod. “It checks out.”

Nico hissed, sitting up. “You think I was lying?”

Sonny shrugged. “You were pushing Zander pretty hard, and you were angry when I shut down his promotion.”

“Angry at the little shit,” Nico bit out. “He ruined everything. Now I gotta groom another bastard to take over. I don’t belong here, Sonny. I belong in Vegas. I belong in the big-time.” And if Sonny didn’t trust him, damn it, how was he going to get out from under him?

“I’m sure that’s true,” Sonny said evenly. He set the tumbler of bourbon on the coffee table and took a cigar from his pocket, offering it to Nico, who shook his head. “You never made a grab for this job, though. I wonder.”

“I want the money,” Nico retorted. “Not the power. I can make all the money I want in Vegas. Casinos are a cleaner way to make money, and I can run more bookies out of them—” He shook his head. “You get shot at too much.”

“He’s not wrong, Boss,” Benny said with a half-smile.

“I told Smith to stay away from Morgan’s property,” Nico said. “I told him to stop fucking with Morgan. But the kid is a hothead. I didn’t know how much he hated Morgan. Probably for the best that Morgan’s home, so I could see what a little bastard the shit turned out to be. Saved me from making a huge mistake.”

Fuck that, he’d been counting on Zander’s temper to get him killed when the bad numbers were caught. He’d had the perfect fall guy, but the very thing that had made him so right for the job had made him a catastrophe waiting to happen. Damn that bitch Carly for driving off a cliff and forcing Jason home.

“It’s not personal, Nico,” Sonny said. “The kind of power you were pushing at him—” He sighed. “I mean, maybe I should have made it clear when you came on board that I kept Zander working for me because I wanted him where I could see him, but I never had any intention of moving him up. He’s only loyal to himself.”

And that’s what made Sonny soft. Thinking anyone had more loyalty to Corinthos than they had to himself. Nico would wager even Jason Morgan had his limits when it came to blind obedience. Not that anyone had discovered that particular off switch—even Corinthos fucking Jason’s woman years ago hadn’t been more than a blip.

But Sonny was living in the stone age. No one valued the organization above themselves. Not anymore. And Nico was ready for a change.

He’d play along as long as Sonny needed him to, but once he was in Vegas, he’d make his move and be free of the bastard for good.

Alexis’s Office

“Thanks for meeting with me,” Jason said as he took a seat across from Alexis the following afternoon. “I know I didn’t have an appointment—”

Alexis held up her hand to stall him. “Hey. I’m on retainer.” She cleared her throat. “I actually expected to hear from you sooner. After I found out about Edward and his visits.”

Jason hesitated, tilting his head. “Who told—” He sighed. “Ned.”

“Yeah. He mentioned it. AJ stormed over a few days ago, angry at Edward. Lila talked them both down, but I can imagine how angry you are. Ned called to give me a heads up.” She tapped a pencil against her desk. “You have a pretty solid case against the school, and you might convince a court that Edward isn’t good for—”

“I don’t want to go to court,” Jason cut in. He swallowed, knowing he was breaking every promise he’d ever made to Carly.

But she was gone now, and he had to deal with the situation as it stood now.

“I know my chances would be slim, and I don’t want to drag Michael through something when I don’t—” He paused again. “When I don’t even believe in what I’m fighting for.”

He looked past her, at the window that held a view of downtown Port Charles. “You know, in the beginning…I lied because the Quartermaines would have taken Michael from Carly. They had the clout, the power. She was nobody to them. And I didn’t—no, I know AJ would have let them control Michael’s life. To prove himself, to get their acceptance.”

He didn’t remember being Jason Quartermaine, but something in AJ’s words about their shared childhood had rang true. And he’d seen the pressure they exerted first hand.

“I don’t want to go to court,” Jason repeated. “But I don’t want AJ to have sole custody. Not yet, anyway. I’m not sure—I’m not convinced—” He dipped his head.

“There are things we can offer,” Alexis said. “We can suggest visitation at first, so Michael can adjust. He doesn’t remember the year he spent with AJ, I imagine. But he knows Courtney, which should help.”

Jason rubbed the back of his neck. “Can we…. try supervised at first? I mean, it doesn’t have to be me. I trust Bobbie, Elizabeth, or I guess, Courtney. I don’t know her well, but Elizabeth does—”

“We can ask. I’m sure it’ll help Michael become more comfortable with AJ.” She was quiet for a moment. “I know how difficult this is for you, with Carly just…with everything happening so suddenly. It’s been less than a month since she died. Everything’s changing so fast.”

“I just want to do what’s best for Michael,” Jason said firmly. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted. Dragging him into court—that’s not best. I could…I mean, hypothetically,” he said when he saw Alexis’s brows lift. “I could talk to people. Give some money. But one day, Michael—” He shook his head. “Michael will grow up, and I’d have to answer for it.”

“I’ll draft an agreement. I don’t know who AJ is using for representation, but I’ll ask Ned if he knows.” Alexis leaned forward. “When that day comes, Jason, you won’t have anything to be ashamed of.”

Kelly’s: Dining Room

“He’s meeting with Alexis today?” Courtney asked, dumping the remnants from a table into her tub of dirty dishes. It was finally closing time and she just wanted to finish this shift, go home, and soak her aching feet in a hot bath.

“Isn’t that, like, the opposite of keeping things out of court?” Gia interrupted before Elizabeth could open her mouth. “Why involve lawyers at all?”

“Gia, don’t help,” Elizabeth retorted as she tossed aside a pile of receipts and frowned at the ledgers. “Son of a bitch.”

“I imagine he’s talking to Alexis about drawing up a legal agreement that protects them all. It’s an out of court settlement.” Courtney shrugged. “I doubt AJ will care as long as it gets him Michael.” And then what?

“Jason didn’t really say anything about the specifics…” Elizabeth trailed off, muttering under her breath. She flipped back to the preceding page. “God damn it.”

“You know,” Gia said, ignoring their friend who had surely forgot to carry a number in the ledger and would spend fifteen minutes swearing at the inanimate objects, “she didn’t come home last night.”

“Really?” Courtney moved through the archway into the kitchen and dumping the dishes into the sink. She wrinkled her nose. “Hey, why did we decide to let the kitchen staff go early?”

“Because I’m going to do the dishes,” Elizabeth called back to her. “Jason isn’t picking me up for another hour, and…” She sighed.

Courtney emerged from the kitchen in time to see the brunette slam the books shut. “Hey, now that you’re sleeping with him, maybe he should take over the books.”

“I can do this,” Elizabeth insisted. “I’m majoring in business, so I can take care of this place better. I just…” She huffed. “I don’t know how we go through so damn many cartons of eggs—”

“I need to get more exciting friends,” Gia decided. “We should be out a club, but nope. We’re balancing books in a greasy diner.” She sighed. “I was fun once.”

“And a blackmailer, but let’s not quibble,” Elizabeth mused as she dug through the invoices, probably looking for the receipt for the stupid eggs.

“Fair point.” Gia propped her chin up on her hands across the table from Elizabeth. “So was the sex good?”

Courtney snickered as she dumped the last bit of coffee into the sink and put the carafes into another tub. “She was twenty minutes late for her shift this afternoon.”

“I had to go home and get clothes,” Elizabeth said with a delicate sniff. “I don’t kiss and tell.”

“Ha, that’s because there was nothing to kiss and tell about,” Gia said with a snort. “Before, no one gave a damn about your sad sex life.  It was nonexistent. Now…” She wiggled her eyebrows. “He has long fingers, you know.”

“I hate you all so much,” Elizabeth muttered.

“It was probably really bad,” Courtney said in a mock whisper. “You know, high expectations—she was probably rusty—”

“That’s not going to work,” Elizabeth replied. “You’re not going to break me.”

“He looks like he’d know what do with those hands,” Gia sighed. She perked up. “The sex is good with AJ, isn’t it?”

Courtney just raised her eyebrows. “What, you think because they’re brothers there’s some of relation there?”

“Why not—”

“Did Lucky and Nikolas have anything in common?” Courtney challenged slyly. Take that.

Gia frowned, closing her mouth and then looking at Elizabeth who looked back at her. “Huh. Never thought about it.” She pursed her lips. “I’ll tell you…he wasn’t very generous, if you know what I mean. Not much build up, and you know, if he was done first…” She lifted a shoulder. “He’d just roll over and go to sleep.”

Elizabeth opened her mouth, and then bit her lip. “I don’t think we should—”

“Oh, by all means, Elizabeth,” came a drawling and mocking voice from the staircase. The three women looked over to find Lucky standing at the foot, one arm braced against the railing. “Tell them how I stack up against your new fuck buddy.”

“Oh, here we go.” Gia rolled her eyes. “Look, pal—”

But Elizabeth held up her hand to cut off her friend. Courtney glanced between Lucky and Elizabeth, uncertainly. She had seen the blowout arguments after the wedding had been called off—Nikolas had had to physically restrain Lucky from going after Elizabeth the day she’d moved out.

Not that anyone thought Lucky would hurt Elizabeth, but he’d been so angry…

“What happened between us,” Elizabeth said coolly, “is no one’s business. Like my life now is no one’s business.” She sent Gia a hot look. “Right?”

“Right. I’m sure Lucky is a dynamo in the sack.”

Elizabeth rose to her feet. “I don’t appreciate you eavesdropping, Lucky. There’s a private entrance to the rooms upstairs after hours. You’re not supposed to use the restaurant or come here after closing.”

“You only have this job because of me!” Lucky shot back as he released the railing and strode into the dining room proper. “Don’t forget that my aunt gave you this job because she felt sorry for you.”

“Hey, let’s just finish closing,” Courtney said with a weak smile. “We’re all tired, I’m sure Lucky had a long day—”

“No one asked you,” Lucky retorted, with searing glance in her direction. “You’re just Elizabeth’s latest project. Take it from someone who knows—she’ll move on to someone more pathetic.”

“Is that what this is about?” Elizabeth demanded. “You’re mad because I moved on—”

“You know what this is about,” Lucky retorted. He took another step towards her, and the anger in his eyes had Courtney slipping her cell phone from her apron and opening it to AJ’s contact information. Just in case.

“I really don’t. We’ve been over for months.” Elizabeth crossed her arms. “And you damn well know we’ve been over for longer than that. You’re just pissed because I walked away first.”

“Actually,” Gia drawled, “it sounds like Sparky is pissed because you took so long to walk away.” She walked towards Lucky, putting herself in between him and Elizabeth. “Seems like he’s finally woken up to what we’ve all known for ages. You stayed with him out of pity—”

“Gia, that’s not what happened—”

“Gia,” Courtney protested. While she loved Gia, the woman had a penchant for stirring up trouble just to see what would happen. “Come on—”

“No, that’s exactly what happened.” Lucky eyed Gia with a mixture of relief and bitterness. “She saw it. My brother did. My parents. Aunt Bobbie. Everyone but me. You were fucking Jason back then—”

“I wasn’t—”

“You wanted to,” Lucky cut in.

And Elizabeth closed her mouth at that, her cheeks flushing.  “That’s not how it happened, Lucky—”

“And now you’re shoving him in my face again—”

“No different from you screwing her sister,” Gia said calmly, causing all eyes in the room to look at her. “You think I haven’t seen you two here? Around town? You’re sleeping with her sister and still giving Elizabeth grief. She did you a favor, Jackass, by walking out of that wedding. You’re just too dumb to admit it.”

Lucky scowled. “Whatever. You can all go to hell.” He brushed past Gia and stormed into the courtyard. Gia walked over and firmly locked the door behind him.

“You didn’t have to make it worse,” Elizabeth said, but her words were weak. She sat down. “He’s right to be angry. I’m still angry at the mess I made—”

“Hey, no one forced him to stay.” Gia looked at Courtney with her brow raised. “You can put your phone away.”

Courtney flushed. “I just…AJ’s finishing up his shift, you know? He was only a few minutes away. I thought…if it was like that day you moved out, Elizabeth—”

“I appreciate it.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “I guess I should be grateful it doesn’t happen more with me working here and him upstairs.”

Courtney shoved her phone in her apron pocket and rounded the table. “All the same, I think—maybe we should stay here until Jason picks you up.”

“Lucky isn’t going to hit me.” Elizabeth reached for her invoices. “That’s not who he is. He’s just…he’s angry at how his life turned out.”

“And he’s too weak to do anything to change it.” Gia lifted his chin. “I don’t blame him for being pissed. I was pissed when I realized what Nikolas was going to do to you. What he would let his brother do. You were pissed when you figured it out. But we didn’t sit around waiting for someone to change it. We got gone. It’s his own damn fault he’s wallowing in his own misery. He wants someone to blame, Elizabeth. Stop letting it be you.”

“I’m not innocent in all of this,” Elizabeth insisted.

“Last year, no. You were cruel to stay with him when your heart wasn’t in it,” Gia said coldly. Courtney gasped, but the other woman continued. “And you knew it, too. You knew it was different, but you lied to him and yourself—”

“Gia—”

“And the sooner you forgive yourself, the sooner you’ll stop letting him walk all over you when he takes his bullshit out on you. You were wrong last year,” Gia stressed, “but you made it right. Maybe it was later than it should have been, but you got yourself together and out of that mess. He’s just pissed because he didn’t do it first.”

“You don’t have to be so mean,” Courtney protested, but Elizabeth held up a hand.

“No, this is—” She took a deep breath. “This is exactly why we’re friends now. It’s nothing less than what she told me at New Year’s, Courtney. I knew it was true then, but I didn’t want it to be. I need someone who won’t lie to me. Even if it sounds harsh.”

“You worked hard for this new life,” Gia said, sympathy replacing the anger. “You deserve this chance with Jason. But it’s never gonna work if you can’t let go of what happened before.”

“I’m working on it. I promise.”

Kelly’s: Courtyard

Jason stepped into the courtyard and paused when he saw AJ leaned against the doorway, a cigarette in his hand. He lifted his brow. “When did you start to smoke?”

AJ offered a half-smile. “When I needed a way to deal with stress. This—” He held up the cigarette. “It might cause cancer, but it’s a hell of a lot less dangerous than alcohol.”

Jason nodded and started towards the double doors but paused when he caught a glimpse of the women inside. Some sort of music was filtering out, and he could see Elizabeth and Courtney dancing and singing to each other while Courtney filled the sugar canisters at the counter and Elizabeth mopped. Gia was nursing some sort of drink at the counter, a grin stretched across her lips.

“I thought they’d be done by now,” Jason said after a moment.

“They do this sometimes,” AJ replied. He flicked his ashes at the ground. “Listen. Courtney told me that she and Elizabeth—that they were fighting about all of this. I don’t…” He looked away and shifted, standing straight up. “I want my son. I want a chance to do right by him, but Courtney’s my wife. And her happiness matters, too. Elizabeth—their friendship matters—”

“I know.” Jason exhaled slowly. “And I know how much Courtney matters to Elizabeth. I don’t want either of them in the middle.”

“I wanted to keep the peace,” AJ admitted. “I thought if I asked Courtney to talk to Elizabeth—it would keep us all from arguing, but I was wrong.” He met Jason’s eyes. “It’s tempting to let someone do the dirty work. To take the risks. It’s a weakness to avoid confrontation, and I’m working on it.”

He didn’t want to respect AJ Quartermaine. He wanted to remember all the horrible things AJ had done, but at the moment, Jason couldn’t seem to make any of them worse than what Jason had done. Or what Sonny had done. Or Carly. No one was innocent.

He approached the window a bit closer and watched Elizabeth with her friends for a moment. She might want to think she was damaged from everything had happened over the last few years, but the way she danced and laughed with Courtney and Gia—she was so happy in there. With those women. With her friends.

He didn’t want to be the reason Elizabeth was unhappy.

“I don’t want to argue with you,” Jason said, finally. “I know what my chances are in court. I know if I dragged Michael through it all, I’d probably lose. I know that.” He turned and faced his brother. “That doesn’t change the reason I would do it.”

“To protect him.” AJ nodded. “Yeah. I know. And I wish to God I could give you guarantees, but I’d be lying. I’d be making promises I don’t know if I could keep. I can’t promise to never take another drink. I’m always gonna be an alcoholic.”

He dropped the butt of his cigarette and ground it with the heel of his work boot. “And I won’t lie and say that sometimes I miss it—the way everything falls away, the way my problems disappear. Living like that—in a constant haze—” He swallowed hard. “It makes some things easier. I don’t have to care about how much I disappoint people.”

“Listen—” Jason shifted, uncomfortable with how direct the older man was being, how vulnerable he was making himself.

“I have to be honest about why I drank the way I did,” AJ said, holding up a hand. “Because if I don’t recognize the triggers, I’ll never be able to avoid them. Some people drink just to make their problems go away for a few hours. Alcoholics drink to keep them away. But they never leave. I don’t want to ruin Michael’s life the way I nearly ruined mine.”

“Look.” And because if nothing else, Jason respected honesty, he said, “I believe you. I’ve seen you since I’ve been home. And I trust Elizabeth. I’ve met your wife. I know you’re trying. I know you’re sober. You don’t have to keep—” He shrugged. “You don’t have to keep telling me this, okay? It’s not just—I made Carly a promise,” he admitted. “She was selfish to ask for it, and I was wrong to do it, but I promised her—”

“Yeah. Well…” AJ rubbed the back of his neck. “She’s not here anymore. I wish she was. I never wanted her out of the picture. I just…I wanted to be in it.”

The door opened then, and the music poured a bit more clearly as a flushed and slightly apprehensive Courtney stood in the door way. “Um. Hey. We—we just noticed you.” Her blue eyes flicked back and forth between them. “So, um, what’s up?”

“Everything is fine,” AJ said leaning over to kiss wife’s cheek. “Jason and I were just enjoying the show.”

“Oh.” Her flush deepened. “Um. You—” She pursed her lips and whacked his shoulder. “You’re kind of a jackass sometimes.” She looked back inside. “Hey, are we done?”

“You are,” Gia said as she joined Courtney at the door. She handed the blonde her purse, her own under her arm. She eyed Jason for a long moment, a cool look in her eyes. “I know we don’t have to talk about what I’ll do to you if you mess with her. I’ll break you into little pieces.”

Jason merely raised an eyebrow at this threat, but said nothing. While Elizabeth seemed to like Gia now, he was still reserving judgment. He remembered the other woman as an opportunist and wasn’t entirely convinced by the turnaround.

Gia followed AJ and Courtney out of the courtyard while Jason went into the diner to find Elizabeth sighing over ledgers and invoices as she packed them away in her bag. “You use a calculator, don’t you?”

“I do,” Elizabeth said with a scowl as she shoved the last folder of invoices in the bag. “Which is why I can’t understand why I screw it up so much.” She wiggled her shoulders and leaned up to kiss him. “I thought you’d never get here.”

“I got hung up at the warehouse.” He cupped her jaw in his hands and kissed her again, slowly this time. “What’s wrong?”

Elizabeth sighed and rested her forehead against his chest after he’d let his hands fall down to her shoulders. “You know, I used to think it was great how well you knew my moods. Now it’s a pain in the ass.”

“You don’t have to tell me—”

“No, I just—” She glanced at the stairs. “Can we just go? I want to get out of here.”

“Okay.” Jason reached for the tote bag with the ledgers. “You want to go to Jake’s?”

They paused at the threshold of the diner as Elizabeth turned off the lights and locked the doors. “Eventually, but can we go for a ride first?” She looked at him. “I don’t want to think about anything for a little while.”

Vista Point

Elizabeth sat on the bench overlooking the harbor and eyed Jason for a long moment, wondering if she should tell him about the fight with Lucky earlier.

She hated that Lucky was still a factor in her life—she didn’t want him to be a part of this new experience—this step she’d taken with Jason.

But while she didn’t think Lucky would actually hurt her, she had been relieved Courtney and Gia had hung around as long as they did, and that Courtney had asked AJ to come pick her up in case Jason was late.

“I think I’ve made it clear that the wedding—” Elizabeth bit her lip and looked down at her fingers. “When Lucky and I broke up, it was bad. Really bad.” She peeked up at him.

Jason had turned away from the guard rail, leaning against it, but he remained quiet.

She sighed and continued. “I’m not sure—I think maybe he thought he could convince me to forgive him, to go back. I guess he had reason to think that—I mean, I always had before.” She bit her lip. “But I was done this time. I’m angry at myself for letting it continue so long, you know? I mean, I knew…”

Elizabeth shoved herself to her feet. “I knew what you said last year was true, but I wasn’t—I don’t know. I couldn’t face it. I didn’t think I was strong enough to be alone. But I was standing there that day, staring at myself in the mirror, in this wedding dress, and I knew—I knew even before Gia came in to tell me the truth—I knew I couldn’t do it.”

“Okay,” Jason said when she was quiet for a moment. “So, what happened after you walked out? Sonny—he just told me the wedding was called off. He never said—”

“I knew if I was going to make it stick, if I was going to respect myself, I had to make a clean break,” Elizabeth continued. “Gia was so angry at Nikolas and they were already on the rocks because of the stupid plan—” She shook her head. “Bobbie was pissed, too. At Luke and Laura because they wanted me to change my mind. They thought—this latest brainwashing—that I could fix it. That I was the key to bringing their son back to him, and I was…I was just staying with her at first, and Bobbie eventually had to throw them both out of the house. She stood up for me.” Elizabeth closed her eyes. “And I know it cost her.  But she told me I had to do what was right for me and to hell with everyone else.”

She folded her arms across her chest and joined him at the rail, looking towards the water. “So, Gia and I decided to rent the other apartment, and Taggert said he’d make sure to keep Lucky out.” She saw Jason scowl slightly next to her and managed a weak smile. “Taggert was pissed about what we’d put Gia through, but you know, he’s always had a soft spot for me. I hate the way he treats you, but—”

“Yeah, I get it.” Jason shook his head. “Did Taggert need to keep Lucky out?”

“When I moved my stuff from Kelly’s—” She closed her eyes, remembering that. “We were in the hallway, and I had my bag with me. Nikolas was there—he was trying to talk to Gia, to me. She’d given him back the ring, and I’d given him mine to give to Lucky—when Lucky showed up. And he just…he lost it when he saw me with my stuff. Without the ring.”

A muscle ticked in Jason’s cheek. “Did he—”

“He didn’t. I don’t know if he would have. Once, I would have said he’d have thrown himself off a cliff before hurting me or any other woman. Before. You knew him then.”

“Elizabeth—”

“I think one of the hardest things I’ve had to accept these last few months is that…that Lucky…my Lucky…” Her eyes burned, but she held the tears back. She’d shed too many tears for Lucky Spencer. “He died that night, and he never came back. I wasn’t in love with the man who returned, and he wasn’t in love with the woman I grew up to be. And we hurt the hell of out of each other pretending otherwise. The man he is today? I don’t recognize him. And that man…” She bit her lip. “He might be capable of hurting me.”

She cleared her throat. “Anyway. After that day, he came to the Brownstone a few times early on, but Taggert and Bobbie kept him away from me, and he started to avoid Kelly’s altogether once I took over managing it in February.”

“Okay,” Jason said slowly. “Then what changed tonight?”

“He came down after closing. He’s not supposed to—Bobbie made it clear to the tenants that they should use the private entrance as often as possible, but well…Lucky thinks he’s exempt.” She sighed again, sick and tired of thinking about Lucky.  “He found out we’re…” Elizabeth glanced up at him. “That we’re seeing each other. And he’s angry at me. He’s angry because I moved on, and especially that I moved on with you. Gia thinks he’s more pissed at himself for not walking away first, at me for taking so long, for staying with him when I didn’t love him. It’s all bad, and it just…. I can put it out my head most of the time, but every once in a while…” She lifted a shoulder. “It sneaks back up on me.”

“Elizabeth—”

“It’s not just the fight with Lucky,” Elizabeth cut him off. “Yeah, it worries me that he’s still angry. Because I don’t know what he’ll do. But it’s me. I haven’t…I haven’t really forgiven myself for what happened. For what I did to him—”

“You didn’t—”

“I did,” She interrupted again. “I stayed with him when I knew I didn’t love him. And I did it out of obligation. God, Jason—” She closed her eyes. “Last spring, I wanted to go with you. I wanted to run after you. I nearly did. And I thought about finding you a thousand times, begging you to forgive me—”

“Hey—”

“And every time I did that—every time I wished I were anywhere else with, with you—and I stayed with Lucky—I was lying to him. To myself. And it was wrong. And it was weak.”

“Okay.” Jason nodded after a moment. “Okay, yeah, I get that.” He tilted his head. “But you’re done with that.”

“I am. But I don’t trust myself all the time,” she admitted. “When I came to your room last night—I was going to walk away. Because it would be easier to do that than to take a chance on myself again.”

He reached for her hand and took it in his, letting his thumb rest in her palm. “But you didn’t.”

“Because I’m tired of taking the easy out,” Elizabeth said, raising her eyes to his. “Every time I kept my mouth shut and didn’t tell you how I felt. Every time you nearly kissed me, and I didn’t let you—even though it was the only thing I could think about. When I let you walk away last year. When I tried to push you away when you came home. I’ve spent most of my life being afraid. Letting fear rule my life—” She shook her head. “I’m not going to do that anymore. I can’t. I have to—” She swallowed hard. “But I’m not sure I know how to stop. I might still—I might still do it. Sometimes. I wasn’t going to tell you about the fight with Lucky.”

“Because you don’t want to talk about Lucky anymore,” Jason said. “Because of everything that happened before—” He touched her chin. “He was a part of your life, Elizabeth. Good, bad—he helped shape who you are. Like Robin and Carly did for me. You never have to worry about that. Not with me.”

She felt the coolness of a tear as it slid down her cheek. His thumb caught the second one. “Jason—”

“You never—ever—” he stressed, “have to hide from me. I want you just the way you are.”

She kissed him then, this miracle of a man who had seen the worst of her, had been the victim of her cowardice and selfishness—and had still stood by her.

And for the first time in years—she began to believe she deserved the happiness she felt right now.

Their mingled breath was shallow as she drew back, letting herself slide back down his body and rest on her feet. “Let’s go,” she murmured, kissing him again. “I want to be with you. I want to feel your hands on me. “

His hands slid down from her hair, framing her jaw, his eyes—she could drown in them— “Elizabeth—”

“What did you say last night?” she asked, warmth spreading all over, her lips curling into a smile. “I think we’ve talked enough.”

January 14, 2018

All right, I set the timer for 90 minutes to be sure I would get what I wanted done. I finished in about 65 minutes. I’m not completely sold on this — I think the Jason dialogue isn’t quite right. I haven’t hit the right note for 2018 Jason yet. But there’s some good stuff in here, I think.

Fool Me Twice – Part Five

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Workshop: Fool Me Twice

I wrote this in about 65 minutes. I had sent my timer for 90 minutes just to make sure I had enough time to get to everything I hoped to cover. No time for spellchecks or edits. Enjoy.


Webber Home: Living Room

About fifteen minutes after Cameron had gone upstairs to do work on his homework, Elizabeth had received a call from her youngest son. He had decided not to stay at Andy’s house for dinner—would she pick him up? Clearly, Cameron had informed his little brother that the house would be Franco free for the night, and it was safe to come home.

It shamed Elizabeth to know that her sons had developed ways of avoiding the man she had agreed to marry—more than any decision she’d made in her life, this would be the one to haunt her.

She watched while Aiden labored over his spelling homework and whizzed through the math worksheet. She fed both of her boys the Hamburger Helper—which did not taste good and she appreciated their lack of grimace as they ate.

They went back upstairs because it was finally time to play video games—their favorite hour of the day, she was sure—and she sat back to wait until Jason brought home her middle son.

Around six-thirty, the door opened and Jake trudged through, dropping his bookbag, coat and boots by the door—his father following with the usual white plastic bag filled with the food Jason had paid for, but Jake refused to eat with him.

Elizabeth stood up and intercepted that bag before Jason could hand it to Jake. “Hang up your coat, Jake,” she said firmly. “And there’s leftover Hamburger Helper warming in the oven.”

Jake scowled at her, his ski cap still tugged over his blonde hair. “What? I have dinner—”

Elizabeth held up the bag. “This? No. This is going in the trash.”

Jake gaped. “You can’t do that—”

“Elizabeth,” Jason said quietly. “It’s okay—”

“It’s not.” Elizabeth looked at him, saw the weariness and resignation in his eyes. “We had ground rules for this, Jake. You said you’d spend time with Jason. Give him a chance. You didn’t have to call him dad, but you were going to respect him. Sitting at dinner and not eating so he can bring the food home is not respecting him.”

Jake’s lip trembled. His eyes filled with tears. “Mom—”

“That’s not going to work,” Elizabeth said, even as her stomach rolled. She had let her son play her one too many times in the two months since he’d learned the truth. In the two and a half years since she’d had her miracle come home. “I invented that look.”

And her suspicions were confirmed when the tears quickly dried and the scowl only deepened. “Fine! Then I won’t eat! I’ll just starve!”

He started past them, but Elizabeth grabbed the fabric of his sweater and jerked him to a stop. “Hang up your coat. Put away your things. I’m not your maid.”

“What is your deal?” Jake said, shrugging her hands off. “Where’s Franco? He understands—”

“He’s not your father,” Elizabeth said. “Jason is. You don’t have to like it, but this stops today, Jake.”

“You made her do this!” Jake said, turning his anger on the very uncomfortable man standing by the door.

“Jake—”

“Jason is probably trying really hard not to tell him me to back off,” Elizabeth retorted, cutting off Jason’s protest. “He’s willing to let you get away with murder. I’ve let you get away with it too. I’m sorry, Jake, that the last two years have been hard. And I know it’s hard for you to accept the truth about Drew and Jason. But we have all bent over backwards trying to make this okay for you. And you haven’t given an inch—”

“He’s not my father!” Jake shouted, the tears streaming down his face this time real. “He never wanted me! My dad is supposed to love me and he didn’t!”

And this time, Elizabeth let Jake run past her and stomp up the stairs. She turned back to the stricken Jason and exhaled slowly. “I’m sorry. I probably—I should have given you a heads up that I wasn’t going to let him keep—”

Jason just shook his head, looked at the floor. “I don’t know what to do with him,” he admitted, his voice pained. Tight. “Maybe we shouldn’t be forcing this—”

Elizabeth shook her head. “Let’s—do you have a couple of minutes? We haven’t…we haven’t sat and talked about Jake. Not really. And we should.” She gestured towards the kitchen. “They have a have a habit of listening at the stairs, so—”

Jason followed her into the kitchen and sat at the small dining table tucked in the corner, removing his leather jacket, leaving it in his lap. “I didn’t realize he felt that way,” he admitted.

“I thought…” Elizabeth sat in the chair next to him, a mug of tea in her hands and sighed. “I thought there were something else going on. I just…” She bit her lip. “I feel like I’ve been blind to a lot of things lately.” She set the tea on the table. “When he agreed to go with you and Danny twice a week, I really thought that was a good sign, you know? He’d get to see you often, and he’d see…” She bit her lip. “He’d see how amazing you are, and it would…just get easier. But it isn’t working.”

“No.” Jason sat back. “It’s not. Should we be forcing it?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. She closed her eyes. “I just…you deserve to have a relationship with him, Jason. I took that from you—”

“You didn’t take anything from me, Elizabeth.” He leaned forward, and she opened her eyes to look at him. “We both made that decision—”

“No. No, we never made that decision at the same time.” Tired of choosing her words, exhausted from trying to protect herself and everyone else, Elizabeth just spoke. “I lied to you. And asked you to give him up. And then you walked away. Twice. But we never decided together.”

He exhaled slowly. “Elizabeth—”

“But none of that would have happened if I hadn’t been so worried about everyone else when I was pregnant. I lied to you because I thought it would mess things up for you and Sam. And because of Lucky. I should have been thinking about Jake.” She shook her head. “I lie a lot for stupid reasons.”

He tilted his head. “What changed today?” he asked. “You…look…upset.”

“I—” She closed her mouth. “No. You’ve got enough to deal with. You don’t need my nonsense—”

“Hey.” Jason’s mouth was tight at the corners. “Don’t tell me what I need. I’m sick of—” He stopped. Shook his head.

She looked at him carefully, squinting. And for the first time—she could actually see his unhappiness. “Do you remember when we first became friends?”

Confused by the change in conversation, Jason nodded. “Yeah. That night at Jake’s. You—” And at the memory, he smiled a bit. “You were pissed at me because I stepped in with that guy.”

“What I think I miss the most about those days,” she said quietly, “is the trust I felt like we had. I could say anything to you, Jason, and it just—you never judged me. Never made me feel like I was saying the wrong, feeling the wrong—I could just be whoever I wanted to be with you. And…I think…I maybe….it was like that for you.”

“Yeah.” Jason relaxed a bit his shoulders seeming less tight. “We talked about Michael. I couldn’t really do that before you. Elizabeth—”

“I don’t have anyone like that in my life anymore,” she said. “And…maybe I’m out of line for saying so, but I don’t think you do, either. I mean, I know Sonny and Carly love you, but—”

“No. I get what you mean.” He sighed, tracing his fingers on the table, an uncharacteristic restless movement for him. “They keep telling me to take my life back. I don’t even know what that means. And Carly just kept—I know she meant well. She always does. But—” He shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“I wanted to apologize—for that day at the jail when I came to see you,” Elizabeth said. He frowned slightly, so she went one. “I lied—no surprise—when I said I still believed Drew was…you. I knew the truth. And I’m sorry I pretended I didn’t.”

He lifted a shoulder. “It’s fine—”

“It’s really not. I did that because it made my life easier. I blew up my entire life when I lied about Drew’s identity. And if it wasn’t true—if I destroyed my life for something that didn’t exist—I don’t know. And I knew that Jake would struggle with it all—” She sighed. “I just…I don’t know. You don’t have to let me off the hook. You always do.”

Jason paused. “It didn’t bother me because I knew you didn’t believe it even when you said it,” he admitted. “I know you, Elizabeth. It’s not about letting you off the hook. It’s just—I know you,” he repeated. “You lie to protect yourself. And to protect other people—”

“Who never seem to deserve it,” she muttered, but a slight weight lifted off her shoulders. “I want to do better, Jason. I’m trying.” She cleared her throat. “About Jake. I would say we could keep things going the way they are—or maybe we could talk to him about why things were the way they were then, but—I’m—I’m basically going to be blowing Jake’s life up again tomorrow. And you need to be part of that decision.”

Jason arched his brows. “What does that mean?”

Elizabeth stared down at her hand, at the diamond on the fourth finger…and slowly removed the ring. She set it down in front of him. “Franco is in New York for the night, but when he comes home, I’m asking him to move out. And giving him back this ring.”

The only change in his facial expression was a slight muscle tick near the eyes. “I…I thought you said you were happy—”

“I thought I was,” she admitted. “But…today—” Elizabeth tilted her head back, looked up for a long moment. “I’ve been ignoring all the red flags. Franco makes Cameron and Aiden uncomfortable to the point that they sleep over their friends a lot or don’t come home after school until its almost time to go to bed. And they think—” She looked away, her eyes burning. “They think I love Jake more than them. And I can’t stand that. And I’ve been—there are other reasons. Franco lies to me a lot. About everything. And it’s been worse since you—since all of this with you and Drew. And I started to think about the tumor again. Because Griffin—” She cut off the ramble. “I don’t know. There are a lot of reasons. The important thing is that Jake is going to struggle with this. And he’s probably going to take it out on you. And I’m sorry for that—”

“Don’t be sorry,” Jason interrupted. “Look, I don’t think I’ve hid the fact that I don’t like him—”

“You hate him,” Elizabeth corrected with a wry smile. “Judgement free zone, right?”

“Fine. I hate him. And if I thought I could get away with it, he wouldn’t be breathing,” Jason said bluntly. “He’s a sociopath, Elizabeth. And I hate that he’s here. With any of the boys. With you.”

She sucked in a deep breath at the coldness radiating and nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess that’s fair. And that would usually be my cue to tell you about the tumor and how different he is—but I can’t. Because it means ignoring everything know has happened since the surgery. He’s still violent. And he still…struggles with doing the right thing. And even when he manages to do it, it’s almost like an accident.” Elizabeth chewed on her lip. “The thing is, Jason, the tumor did change him—”

“Damn it—”

“It didn’t make him a different person,” Elizabeth said in a rush. “It just…it changed the nature of his violence. And he does have more control over himself than I think he did before.” She wrapped her fingers around the tea mug, stared into the dark liquid. “And I excused it because it’s not like it’s the first time I’ve had to talk myself around the violence in someone I loved.”

There were a long moment of silence before Jason spoke. “You mean me.”

“Yeah,” Elizabeth said. She raised her eyes to him, but she couldn’t see any expression on his face. Couldn’t read him. God, she hated that he could do that. “I am not comparing the two of you. Or even saying you’re the same, I’m just saying—I have some experience….explaining away the choices people make.”

He scrubbed his hands over his face. “Elizabeth—”

“It’s how I made it work in my head, but it doesn’t work anymore. I’m not sure it really did. Maybe it was easier to lie to myself about Franco because I thought…” She pressed her lips together. “It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I know that I’m only punishing myself by staying with him. And I’m punishing my children. And you’ve been through enough. The last thing you should ever hear is your own son throwing out Franco’s name like Jake did tonight. I am so sorry for any of that, and I just—”

“Okay.” Jason exhaled slowly. “Okay. So you’re doing this tomorrow?”

“Yeah. And I’m telling the boys when they come home from school.” Elizabeth was relieved to have moved back to the topic at hand. “I wanted to know if—if you wanted to be here. Or if there was something you wanted me to say to Jake—or I don’t know. What do you think?”

“I don’t think I should be here,” Jason admitted. “But I think I do have to talk to Jake about…what he said tonight.” He shook his head. “You know…you were right earlier. We didn’t agree at the same time. You asked me, and I should have said no.”

“I never should have asked you to give him up,” Elizabeth said. “If we had just—I had just told you the truth the day I found out—it never would have been an option—”

“It doesn’t change the fact that I did walk away,” Jason said with a shake of his head. “I—” He swallowed. “I made promises to you. And I didn’t keep them. I understand why Jake would rather have the father who’s been here for the last two years.”

“But he deserves to have you—”

“I walked away before,” Jason said. “That was a mistake.” He met her eyes. “For a lot of reasons. I almost asked you tonight to stop taking Jake to dinner. Because I didn’t want to make it harder for him. But that’s the easy way to go. He thinks I don’t love him. That I didn’t love him then. He needs to know that I regret it.”

“Jason—”

“So we’ll talk to him about what happened. I don’t know if Drew did before—I know he has the memories, but—” Jason swallowed. “Jake should hear it from me.”

“He will come around,” Elizabeth said firmly. “We just…we have to try something new.”

“Yeah. Yeah, something has to change.” Jason got to his feet. “Listen, tomorrow…when you…give him the ring back…be careful.”

“He’s not going to hurt me,” Elizabeth said with a grimace as she also stood. “But—”

“For once, Elizabeth,” Jason said with an almost fond irritation, “don’t argue with me about this. This is not the first time we’ve had this conversation.”

“No, I guess it’s not.” Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. “I should really listen to you before I make romantic choices. You’ve literally always been right. Lucky, Ric, Lucky again, Ewan—” She sighed. “I’m irritated with myself just thinking about it.”

Jason shook his head as he put on his coat. He opened the front door and looked at her. “You’ve always been able to find the good in people, Elizabeth. It’s just that sometimes…”

“It’s not there to find?” she asked with an arched brow. “That’s not even the first time I’ve heard that today.”

“Be careful,” he repeated. “And if you need me, call me.”

“I will,” she said with a sigh. She closed the door behind him and pressed her wood against the forehead. She hadn’t intended to dredge up so much of their history, but damn if she didn’t feel better.

Just like she always did when she and Jason dropped the bullshit and were just honest with one another.

January 12, 2018

So I just finished my first full week of what my life is going to look like for the next fifteen weeks — sort of. I had five full days of work, some lesson planning, two nights at my second job, two nights of classes, and I attempted to wash and dry my hair twice.

I am exhausted. Ha.

So I’m going to shuffle the schedule here at CG a little bit. Full fledged one hour Workshop is going to be on Sundays. I’m off that day, I’ll have the energy, and I feel like Fool Me Twice doesn’t work that well as a micro fiction. The one time I tried 30 minutes, I still went over and I wasn’t wild about the finished product. So in order to really give that story space, I need to do it in an hour.

So we’re switching to Workshop Sundays. I might still do micro fictions on Friday if I’m feeling it, but they won’t be scheduled.

Bittersweet is staying on Mondays and Wednesdays. I said a few days ago that I had worked out the kinks in the story and it’s coming along nicely. I got to about Chapter 25 today of about 32 overall that are planned, and it’s really writing itself. I liked the other material, but it was starting to feel forced. When I finish posting Bittersweet, I’ll definitely come back and give  you guys the scoop for what I changed and post all the material I ended up cutting. I ended up doing something I think was a lot more interesting and gave me some great options for the sequel.

I’ll see y’all on Sunday for the full workshop new schedule!

January 11, 2018

Hey! Apologies! The chapters on the Bittersweet index page got shuffled. I forgot that my series plugin for WordPress gets cranky so it doesn’t automatically add the posts in order when I schedule them, so I have to manually add the part number.  It’s fixed now and I will be on top that issue going forward. Thanks to Eternal Liason for letting me know!

January 10, 2018

Thanks for the great response to Chapter Nine! I know it got left on an awkward moment, but I think Chapter 10 is going to make you really happy.

So an update on how the end of the story is going. I am going to make a major story change which is going to be better for the story overall, but I have to rewrite like 80% of the chapters already completed. I’m already ready to do that, I’ll be jumping into that today, and hopefully I’ll be able to knock those out in the next week or so. I am not worried about running out of chapters because I can easily switch back to one chapter a week to give me more time.

It shouldn’t be too bad, because I know exactly what I’m going to write and I’ll have a three day weekend after the end of my winter practicum and the start of my spring student teacher seminar.

Bittersweet, Chapter 10