The angels they burn inside for us
Are we ever
Are we ever gonna learn to fly
The devils they burn inside of us
Are we ever gonna come back down – come around
I’m always gonna worry about the things that could break us
– Angels and Devils, Dishwalla
Thursday, August 29, 2002
Kelly’s: Dining Room
“Hey.” Elizabeth managed a smile for her best friend as Courtney tucked her purse under the counter and tied on her apron. “Welcome back.”
The blonde managed an exhausted smile. “Thanks for the time off—it’s been…” she sighed and shook her head. “Not great. I mean, it’s not Michael. He’s—”
“Tough?” Elizabeth offered as she measured coffee beans for the grinder. “Taking it all in stride?”
“I don’t know if that’s good or bad,” Courtney admitted. “Should he just not even blink when his mother returns from the dead? Or he is just so used to having his life upended that he just shrugs and moves on?”
“Well, he’ll probably be in therapy for the rest of his life. How’s AJ dealing with it?”
“Okay, I guess. He was worried Jason would change his mind at first the way he always does with Carly, but he hasn’t. And Carly hasn’t come back. Which makes us even more nervous.”
Elizabeth turned on the grinder and they were both silent for a few minutes while the machine roared.
“How is Jason doing with all of this?” Courtney paused. “I mean, if you want—”
“I don’t know. He’s not…” Elizabeth measured the first of the grounds into the pot, the habitual routine comforting to her. This—this she could do. “We had kind of a fight that first day after Carly came home. We’re not—we’re not not talking, but I guess he’s trying not to—”
“Are you okay?” Courtney asked after a moment when Elizabeth stopped speaking. “I know you’ve been waiting for the second shoe—”
“I don’t like Carly. Which I told him. And then she called him to come and talk.”
Courtney hesitated. “She did? But—”
“She didn’t tell him anything,” Elizabeth cut in. “Jason didn’t—he didn’t really get into it, but I’m sure she tried to guilt him like she always does.” Elizabeth waited a moment. “She called him again the next day. And then again yesterday.”
“And still hasn’t told him anything?” Courtney shook her head. “That doesn’t make any sense. Why—”
“She’s testing him,” Elizabeth muttered. “To see if she can—” She stopped. “I don’t know. Maybe that’s just me not liking her coming out. But it feels that way. It feels like she calls him to see if he’ll come running. And he does. Because he wants answers. Because he wants to fix this.”
With the coffee brewing and a signal from Don in the kitchen that he was ready to get started, Elizabeth flipped the sign on the door to open. In about ten minutes, they would be flooded with dock workers grabbing coffee and breakfast before or after a shift.
“Are…” Courtney hesitated. “Are you mad at him?”
“No.” Elizabeth considered her answer. “Just…resigned, I think. This is who Jason is. I just…I don’t know how I’m supposed to…do this. How I’m supposed to feel about it. I…I don’t want to be Robin.”
Courtney frowned. “I don’t get the reference.”
“Robin was Jason’s ex-girlfriend—”
“Who told AJ about Michael. Yeah, that much I know.”
“Robin put up with Carly for the last two years of her relationship with Jason. Carly was always a factor. In fact…Jason…” Elizabeth hesitated. “You know about the accident? That it…he had to…kind of relearn a lot of things.”
“Well, he slept with Carly even when he was with Robin. It’s not—it’s not important because I get it. And I’m not worried about that. But it’s always given Carly a sense of power over Jason. And Robin was basically humiliated in front of everyone when people thought Jason was Michael’s father—”
“Because it was during the period when they were dating.”
“Basically. And Robin put up with Carly over and over again. Jason let Carly get away with so much—you should hear the way Carly talks about Robin, and you just know she said it to her face—”
“Do you think he’ll do that to you—”
“No.” Elizabeth shook her head. “No, I don’t. I guess, mostly I don’t. He was pretty angry with Carly back when we were getting close. Carly and I got into it more than once when he was at my studio. And he stepped in. He says he’s learned from what happened with Robin. That he wasn’t fair to either of them in the end, but—” She looked at Courtney. “By the time Robin left town, I know they hated one another. Jason says he’s forgiven her, but I’m not sure he’s forgotten what she did.”
“What, you think because you made it clear you’re not really going to do much to help Carly, that it’s going to change things between you?”
“I don’t know. I feel like maybe it already has.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “And I’m not being fair, I guess. I know Carly is his friend. I may not understand it, but I’m not…I wouldn’t ask him to choose—”
“Why not?” Courtney demanded. “What’s she done to deserve his loyalty after all this?”
“She gave him Michael.” Elizabeth managed a smile for the first wave of customers as the bell over the door rang. “I can’t compete with that. I’m not going to.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I just…I’m not going to let Carly run my life or get in my face. Even to make his life easier. I’ve spent too much time letting people walk all over me. That part of my life is over.” Elizabeth picked up her order pad. “I know who I am now. And no one is going to change that. Not ever again.”
Cosmopolitan Hotel: Lobby
AJ stood from his seat when Carly strode out of the elevators. “Make it quick,” his ex-wife barked as she approached him, her arms crossed tightly. “If you’re not here to give me back my son—”
“I don’t want to be at odds with you, Carly,” AJ murmured. “I want us to figure out a way to resolve this without—without making Michael’s life more complicated.”
“Then give him back—”
“That’s not on the table,” he said quietly. Her lips pressed into a thin line. “I have my rights back. And until you petition the court to vacate Jason’s guardianship, legally, you can’t say anything about where Michael goes. Who he sees.”
“Jason will come around. He always does. He’s just mad at me right now.”
And AJ knew that was probably true. That his time was limited to make an agreement with Carly. Jason had stood by him so far, but eventually—eventually Jason would give in.
He always took Carly’s side.
“That could be weeks. Or least until you tell him what’s going on and where you’ve been since April.” AJ held his hands up, palms facing her. “Michael is asking about you. We—we told him you were alive. And he’s so happy, Carly. God, he missed you.”
“I missed him, too. And I—”
“I’ve been sober a year.” AJ took his chip out. The small gold chip that meant almost as much to him as the wedding ring he wore. “I know why you’re scared. What happened two years ago, Carly, I can’t—”
“You killed my son. You’re lucky you’re alive,” Carly hissed. She snatched the chip out of his hand. “This? This doesn’t mean a damn thing to me. Easy come, easy go.”
And then she flicked it away, sending it rolling across the lobby floor until it disappeared under a sofa.
He followed its progress, noting exactly where it had landed, and then looked back at Carly. At the smug, arrogant set of her features. “You really think Jason is going to come through for you, don’t you?”
“He always does. He just—” Carly’s lips trembled just a moment—just long enough for the mask to slip. For AJ to see that she wasn’t…quite as convinced as she said she was. “He’s just mad at me right now,” she repeated. “He’ll get over it.”
“Not until you tell him what happened.” AJ paused. “But if he does try to take Michael—it’s not going to be like before. I’m going to fight you, Carly. I gave you ammunition to keep Michael before. The warehouse fire. The…” His throat closed. “The stairs. My drinking. But none of those were the reasons you kept Michael from me in the beginning—”
“Don’t even try me—”
“You lied to keep Tony Jones happy. And then you lied because I was angry. Because you—” He dipped his head. “You destroyed my life. You…you made me think I was drinking again, Carly. To make your life easier, you made me think I had thrown away everything I had worked on. You were my friend. And you destroyed my life.”
“I had—” Carly closed her mouth. “Don’t blame me for your damage. I never forced you to pick up a bottle.”
“No,” AJ said softly. “But you made me think I had. I’ve never been in a good position to fight you, Carly. I am now. I have a good job. I have a good relationship with my family.” With Jason, for now, but AJ wasn’t hopeful it would last once Jason had forgiven Carly. “I don’t want to drag Michael through court. I think we could make something work between us—”
“Michael is my son. If you don’t give him back to me, then Jason will make you.”
“He can try.” AJ sighed. “You know where I live, Carly, if you change your mind.”
And with that, he strode away, moved the sofa, retrieved his chip, and left.
He would wait to see what Jason decided, but having had a taste of Michael in his life again—there was nothing in the world that could make him give that up.
Friday, August 30, 2002
Kelly’s: Dining Room
Elizabeth set the coffee down in front of Bobbie and then sat across from her. “I haven’t seen you much this week,” she said to her landlord. “How…how are you?”
“Oh…” Bobbie sighed, stirring some cream and sugar into the mug. “I’m surviving. Lucas is speaking me again. Apparently, since Carly didn’t move back in with us and Michael is still with AJ, he feels like he can trust me.”
“I know he’s struggled with Carly for several years,” Elizabeth said. She sipped her own iced tea. “So you…haven’t seen her?”
“Not since that first night. Have you?”
“Not since Sunday when she came to the house. Courtney said AJ went to talk to her, but—Carly thinks Jason is gonna fix everything so—” Elizabeth shrugged. Sat back. “She wasn’t in a negotiating mood.”
“God.” Bobbie pressed her fingertips to her temples. “And Jason told me he still hasn’t gotten anything out of her. Not for lack of trying, of course. I don’t understand. Why won’t she just—why won’t she tell us—”
Elizabeth sipped her water. What did it say about her that she just couldn’t dredge up any real interest in where Carly had been? Or why she wouldn’t tell Jason or anyone else? Yeah, maybe it hadn’t been Carly’s fault, but what was Elizabeth supposed to do about it? She’d reached out to the insufferable woman and had had her hand slapped for it.
And her every waking moment for the last six days had been steeped in the drama of Carly’s life. Which was fine, she supposed. It was only the first few days, and Carly had returned from the dead. She couldn’t hold Bobbie’s emotional state or Jason’s agitation against them.
But Carly had called Jason again the night before. And Jason had, again, dropped everything to go talk to her. Then Jason hadn’t come back, and from the way Bobbie was talking—there was still no update on where Carly had been. Which meant she still wasn’t talking.
“She hasn’t made any legal moves to get Michael back?” Elizabeth asked.
Bobbie frowned. “No—I think—she must think she’ll bring Jason around without—Are you—are you okay?”
“Why wouldn’t I be? I’m not—I’m not the one going through any of this, Bobbie. I’m upset for you. For Jason. And for AJ and Michael. But beyond that…” Elizabeth fiddled with the napkin on the table in front of her. “This doesn’t really affect me.”
She avoided the redhead’s eyes when Bobbie squinted at her. Elizabeth continued, “Jason will figure it out eventually. Either he’ll find a way to make Carly tell the truth or she’ll do something even worse and the truth will come out anyway.”
Bobbie pressed her lips. “You…things are all right with Jason, aren’t they? Not that I pay attention to these things, but you haven’t been home much this week—”
“I’ve been staying at my studio. Painting. Getting in some time before classes start next Tuesday. It’s my last semester, so I’ll be swamped between classes and work.” Elizabeth set the napkin down, ignoring the tears and twists her fingers had made. “Jason’s been busy. I didn’t expect anything less.”
“Worrying about Carly is a full-time job,” Elizabeth said with a false smile. “You know that.”
“I do,” Bobbie said slowly. “Jason—you know he’s worried about Michael—”
“He is. Which is why Michael is still with AJ.” For now. Elizabeth cleared her throat. “She calls him. He goes to talk to her. He’s not making much headway, I don’t think, but he will. You know how stubborn Jason can be.”
“I do,” Bobbie repeated. “But—”
“It’ll work out.” Elizabeth got to her feet. “Jason will fix this, Bobbie. He always does.”
“I have to get back to work.”
Cosmopolitan Hotel: Carly’s Suite
When Carly swung open her hotel room door and glared at him, Sonny remembered how he had hated her once. How he had seen a bitter, venomous viper whose only redeeming quality was her fierce loyalty to Michael.
He thought he had found a heart underneath all that anger and vindictiveness—that she had shown a mask to the world, but that he knew the vulnerable woman underneath.
And now he wondered if they had all just been fooled.
“We have nothing to say to one another—” She started to slam the door shut, but Sonny slapped a hand against it and stopped it. “How did you even get up here? Did you bribe someone?”
Sonny just flashed her a smile. “I’m a friendly guy.”
“We have nothing to say to each other,” Carly repeated. “You said it all when you kicked me out. When you walked away from Michael—”
“Uh uh. You do not get to make me the bad guy here, Carly. I was generous in our divorce settlement, and I got AJ to surrender his rights—”
She snorted. “A lot of good it did me—”
“I am not the one who walked away from him for five months.” Sonny tipped his head to the side. “What I can’t figure out is whether it was on purpose or…something that got out of hand. You trying to get my attention? Is that what this is about?”
“Please.” Carly rolled her eyes and walked back into the room. He followed her, closing the door. “You were just Jason in a fancy suit.”
Sonny studied her. There was something to that statement of course—they had become closer when Jason wasn’t available. Wasn’t in town. And he liked the finer things in life. Had a lot of money.
“You trying to get Jason to come home? He’d have to come home for Michael. Did you fake your death for that?”
“Maybe.” Carly lifted her chin. “What do you care?”
“I don’t,” Sonny said. “I care about Jason. And Michael.” And Elizabeth, but that wouldn’t be useful to say. “You ask someone to help you? They turn on you, wouldn’t let you leave? Because if you wanted Jason to come home, you probably should have revealed yourself before he started dating Elizabeth—”
“Like she’s competition,” Carly muttered. She lifted a glass of wine to her lips, but her fingers were trembling. “I know what I’m doing, Sonny. And it’s none of your damn business.”
“You think Jason will forgive you for putting Michael through this? For making Bobbie bury another daughter?” He shrugged. “Even if he did, it doesn’t change anything. He doesn’t love you. He told himself he did. But he knows better now.”
“What, his little twit loves him better?” she snarled, whirling to glare at him. “Because everyone is better than me, right?”
“You said it, I didn’t.” Sonny squinted. “You’re not going to dangle Michael in front of him like candy. It didn’t work four years ago, Carly. It’s not working now. He’s moved on.”
“Whatever you’re up to, Carly, just stop. You know the only people you ever end up hurting are yourself, Michael, and Jason. I don’t know what happed in April, Carly. I don’t—I don’t know if I can believe you did it on purpose.” Sonny exhaled slowly. “You love Michael too much.”
Carly just stared at him, her eyes burning with hatred. “You don’t know a damn thing about me, Sonny. You never did. I was just a toy for you to play with when you got bored. You wanted me to be someone else. Jason will give me my son back. He always comes back to me. And you know that.”
“Let him have his fun with Elizabeth. Because he’ll get bored eventually. Just like he did with the princess. He’ll remember how good we had it. How close we were to having it all—”
“And then he’ll remember why you don’t. Because you accused him of kidnapping, Carly. And then you married his brother. And Jason lost Michael. And then you and I broke his heart. His trust.” Sonny shook his head. “You know it’s never been the same. He’s never trusted either of us the same way again.”
“Jason might have been halfway in love with you, God knows why at the moment, but you burned him to the ground, Carly. No one else. You might want to blame Robin or Elizabeth, but the truth of the matter is no one took Jason from you. You destroyed him. You’re not doing it again—”
“Yeah, well, we’ll see about that.” Carly stalked past him and jerked open her door. “You can go.”
Sonny stopped at the threshold and looked back at her. “We loved each other once,” he said quietly. “And we lost our little boy. I loved him, Carly. And I hated AJ for a long time. I still do,” he admitted. “But whatever is going on, Carly, Jason and I can’t help you until you’re honest with us.”
“I don’t owe you anything—”
“Maybe not. But you owe Jason.”
Elizabeth pushed the key into the lock and turned back to Jason with a smile. “I’m glad you called—that we could go for a ride.”
When he followed her in, she turned to face him and leaned up to kiss him. Jason kicked the door closed behind him with one booted foot as he pushed her light jacket from her shoulders.
“I’ve missed you,” she murmured as she tugged his shirt upwards.
And then his phone rang. With a mutter, Jason stepped away, dug his phone from his pocket. “It’s Carly.”
Of course it was. Carly must have fucking radar, Elizabeth thought bitterly as Jason answered. Never failed. As soon as she and Jason had a minute to themselves—there she was.
Maybe she was watching them.
“Carly—I can’t—What? All right. Yeah. I’ll—” Jason cast a look at her, and she just arched a brow. “I’ll be there.”
Elizabeth closed her eyes. Of course he would.
“I have to—”
“Did you ask how high first?” she bit out, cutting him off. When he just blinked at her in confusion, Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “Carly said jump, didn’t she? So, go.”
“She’s not going to tell you anything.” She grabbed her jacket from the floor and tossed it over the sofa. “You’ll go over there, and she’ll try to guilt you. And eventually you’re going to think that the only way Carly will tell you the truth is if you get Michael back for her—”
Elizabeth faced him, jabbing her finger at him. “I am not Robin.”
He scowled. “What the hell does that mean?”
“I am not going to let Carly run my life until I loathe the sight of her and you. I don’t care where Carly was. I only care how it effects the people I love. And that includes you. And Bobbie and Michael. She does not get to waltz back in here like she wasn’t dead for five months, Jason. You grieved for her. And now it’s like—”
She closed her eyes. “It’s like we’re all just treating this like another episode in the Carly show. Well, Carly screwed up again. Let’s bail her out—”
“Is that what you think I’m doing—”
“You are drowning in guilt because Carly made you promise something completely stupid five years ago,” Elizabeth shot back. “But you know what? You promised her she could keep Michael, and she abandoned you. She walked out on you to deal with Michael on your own. And you raised him. He was your son. You made a promise to him to love him—”
Her voice broke. “And you’re so pissed at yourself because you broke a promise to Carly. Why the hell should that matter? Why isn’t Michael more important—”
“He is—” Jason sliced a hand through the air, all but growling in response. “Have I even once said I’ll get Michael back for her—”
“No. But you’re thinking about it,” Elizabeth said flatly. “You’re thinking if you can clean this up, if you can find out how Carly is in trouble this time, maybe you can make her understand why AJ has custody and everyone can live happily ever after—”
“And it hasn’t once crossed your mind that maybe Carly doesn’t deserve to get Michael back at all,” she continued, scathingly. “Nothing AJ has ever done to Michael could be as bad as what Carly’s done to him. She’s used that little boy as a meal ticket for five years. She nearly got Sonny thrown in jail and still sued him for child support and alimony. She played you and AJ against each other after she got done drop kicking Tony Jones—”
“What—” Jason held up his hands. He took a deep breath. “Wait. Let’s just…let’s just stop this for a minute, okay? Let’s—”
“I get it, okay?” he continued when Elizabeth said nothing. “Carly has…Carly hasn’t done much for me except…” Destroy his life on a regular basis. “And you’re right. I do feel guilty because it’s one thing not to keep my promise when I thought she was dead, it’s another to actively keep her from Michael. But me feeling guilty, Elizabeth? It’s not gonna change anything. Because you’re right. I don’t know where Carly has been. Or why she was gone for so long. Maybe it wasn’t her fault. I don’t know. What I know is that Michael is safe where he is. Happy. And that has to come first with me. It does. It’s just—”
“Then why do you go every time she calls?” Elizabeth demanded. “Every single time. What’s going to change this time, Jason? Why do you magically think that this time Carly is gonna tell the truth?”
“Because she’s won’t. She’s manipulating you. And I’m done watching.” Elizabeth nodded towards the door. “So, go.”
“What does that mean?” Jason demanded. “If I go, what, we’re done? What the hell does one thing have to do with another?”
“I will not play Robin’s role in this ridiculous farce,” Elizabeth said. “You humiliated her, Jason. You know that. And you drove her away. Because you kept letting Carly get away with everything. I don’t understand it and I don’t want to. Whatever is between the two of you—that’s not friendship. It’s sick. And I’m tired of it.”
“It’s been a goddamn week, Elizabeth—”
“It’s been years,” Elizabeth said, her teeth clenched. “Years. Because yeah, she’s been back for a week. But you’ve been playing her games for years.”
“I am done,” she repeated. “Because this will never change. Because if this—if you forgive her for this, if you take that little boy away from AJ because you think it will make Carly tell you the truth—”
“I never said I would do that—” But he looked away.
“Yeah, I’m not an idiot. I know you, Jason. I know how you think. And I know Carly. I can practically see the gears turning in her head. She keeps calling you when we’re together, Jason. Hasn’t that crossed your mind? Does she call you when you’re with Sonny? When you’re at work?”
“No. She calls you when you’re with me. Because she wants to see if she can still make you dance to her tune. And you’re doing it. You are walking away from me to go to her.” Her eyes burned. “This is call number five. How long do I have to put up with it before you think it’s okay for me to be upset about it? Ten? Twenty? She’s never going to tell you where she was, Jason.”
“She won’t. Not until she’s backed into a corner. And you’re letting her off the hook. Because it’s Carly, right? She does insane things. Awful things. But she always has a reason, right?”
“She’s watching you. Or someone is watching you. Because she knows when we’re together. And she knew where AJ and Courtney lived. She still has her goddamn cell phone and that should be at the bottom of the fucking lake. She faked her death, Jason. I don’t give a shit how she did or if whoever helped her turned against her. Kept her away—you think because you and Sonny don’t tell me what you’re thinking, I don’t know?”
Jason held up a hand. “I don’t want to argue with you, Elizabeth. C’mon.” His voice softened. “I love you—”
“I love you, too, but you know what? I love me more. I have to put myself first. And if I honestly thought it was just…it was just going to be these couple of days, if I thought that we were just—going to have to keep our heads down until Carly came clean, then maybe I could deal with it.”
She closed her eyes. “But you know I’m not crazy. Because when it comes to Carly, there will be a next time. There is always a next time. You’ve been on this ride for five years, Jason. Maybe you like it. Maybe you like that she sees you as some kind of superhero that can fix anything. But I’m not playing back up. So, if you want to go and have another useless conversation with Carly while she just tries to guilt you—” She gestured to the door. “Be my guest.”
Jason took a deep breath. “She’s in trouble, Elizabeth. And Michael—we need to know the answers for his sake—”
“Stop. Do not use Michael.” The tears were hot as they slid down her cheeks. “You’re better than that. You need to fix this for her. Stop lying to yourself. You’ve made saving Carly your life’s mission, and you don’t know how to stop. It’s your life, Jason. You get to do what you want. But I do not have to stand by and watch.”
She walked past him, pulled the door open. “You should go. Because if you stay now, it’ll be because I’m upset. But you want to go. I can see it.”
He exhaled slowly. “I just have to-I’ll—I’ll tell her that this is it. This is the last time—”
“I think you honestly believe that,” she murmured as Jason passed her. “But it never is. There’s always a next time.”
She closed the door even as he was opening his mouth to say something else. And shoved the bolt home.
Elizabeth pressed her forehead against the door. It was the right decision, she knew that. She needed to make herself clear. To put herself first.
She just wished it didn’t hurt so damn much.