Well, they can be inviting
But some are altogether
As we die, both you and I
With my head in my hands
I sit and cry
– Don’t Speak, No Doubt
Monday, September 30, 2002
General Hospital: Nurse’s Station
Bobbie’s stomach clenched as she watched her daughter step off the elevator. Carly met her eyes and then walked toward her.
She could count on one hand how many times she had been in the same room with her daughter since the horrible night in August when Carly had shown up on the steps of the Brownstone with blood in her eye and anger in her heart.
All of that energy, as destructive as it seemed, had drained from Carly in the weeks since Jason had gone missing, since his body had been found. Carly had avoided everyone as far as Bobbie could see, and Bobbie was ashamed to admit she was relieved.
There was some truth to Carly’s accusations—that Bobbie had considered Jason family, that Elizabeth held a special place in her heart as an honorary daughter. Carly could never understand that loving others didn’t take away from Bobbie’s love for her daughter.
Bobbie could understand that—hadn’t she lived that truth? Hadn’t she always tried to be competitive? Schemed, lied, cheated to get what she thought was hers?
It grieved her to see her daughter making the same mistakes Bobbie had made, that she was unable to stop her.
“Mama.” Carly wrapped her hand tightly around the strap of her purse. “I was hoping maybe we could talk. Just for a second. I know—I know how busy you are.” She flicked her eyes at one of Bobbie’s floor nurses. “Maybe someone could cover for you?”
Against her better judgment, Bobbie turned to the woman next to her trying really hard not to eavesdrop. “Epiphany—”
“Not a problem, Bobbie. You go and take care of your business.”
Bobbie gestured for Carly to move over to the waiting area. “I haven’t seen you in a few weeks, other than at the memorial.”
“Well, I’ve been trying to get myself together. I had to hire a lawyer to fix my estate. I’ve been trying to talk Jax into giving me control of the club again—” Carly rubbed her temple. “When I go to court for Michael, I need to convince the judge I’ve got my act together—”
“Mmm-hmm…” Bobbie tilted her head. “The judge is going to ask where you’ve been. Do you plan to tell him what you told me?”
“That an enemy of my ex-husband kidnapped me?” Carly said dryly. “That wouldn’t convince anyone Michael was safe with me.” She sighed, set her purse in her lap. “The truth is, Mama, I’m not sure a judge is going to give me custody. I found out that…shortly before he—” Her lip trembled. “I guess Elizabeth or Sonny finally signed the papers or did something because Alexis told me Jason signed a new will just before—” She was quiet for a moment. “He left some money to Michael, but most of it went to her. And guardianship—he gave my son to AJ. Which is all AJ needed. He has his parental rights, he’ll have guardianship—”
“Jason did that this summer before you came back,” Bobbie said. “It was not a punishment to you. He knew if anything happened to him, the Quartermaines might go after Michael. He signed a will in May that gave guardianship to Elizabeth, and then changed it to AJ after the custody agreement was signed.” She braced herself, but Carly didn’t explode.
“Elizabeth told me what happened—how AJ—” Carly closed her eyes. “I thought signing away his rights was the end of it. I always figured if something happened to me, then Michael should go to Jason. That it would be my way of making it right.”
“Jason was never going to win in court, and it weighed on him for some time. Did Elizabeth tell you that? That it was weeks before Jason could admit that to himself. If he hadn’t negotiated with AJ—”
“Then Jason wouldn’t be able to do anything if AJ started to drink again.” Carly nodded. “Yeah, Elizabeth told me that much. And I’ve been thinking about it. AJ didn’t have to sign an agreement either. I—I asked my lawyer to get me a copy of it. Jason…still had total control over visitation.”
“AJ knew Jason was scared, and he wanted Jason to be at peace with it. Dragging Michael in court—he would have won, but everyone would have lost. No, AJ didn’t have to agree. But he did. They both put Michael first, Carly.”
“Jason was always better at doing that than I was,” Carly murmured. “Do you think AJ has it in him to be the same? I need my son, Mama. And I think…. I think the only way I’m gonna get him is if AJ lets me.”
“That’s probably true. You’re going to have to ask him and find out.”
Carly exhaled slowly. “And hope he’s a better person than I am. Because I was never going to give him a chance to be Michael’s father. He knows that. If it were me—”
“But it’s not.”
“You know…” Carly said, a tear sliding down her cheek. “You know, it’s not like I wake up in the morning planning to be a horrible a person. I just…I get scared sometimes. And I just—I react before I can think. Jason knew that about me. He loved me anyway.”
Still making excuses, Bobbie thought as Carly got to her feet, but at least her daughter was finally being realistic about her future.
She just wished that Jason hadn’t had to die to make it happen.
Safe House: Living Room
Jason scowled over some paperwork, his face pinched in pain. Unsurprisingly, the enforcer had refused any pain medication, and Johnny didn’t blame him.
First, Jason had been drugged out of his mind for a week, then he’d woken up to find his world ripped into pieces, and as if Sonny wasn’t satisfied with that, the remnants of that world had been stomped into the ground, crushed into ashes.
Sure, Jason was alive. And sure, his girlfriend knew it. But no one else did. Johnny didn’t know Elizabeth Webber all that well, but he knew enough about women to figure that no woman relished being tortured for weeks with a missing boyfriend, only to bury a false body—
Yeah, knowing the truth wouldn’t have solved that problem. Only created new ones.
“You want some Tylenol?” Johnny said after another wince had Johnny clutching his own healing shoulder. They were both chafing at being restricted to the property and the week Sonny had asked them to commit to had just turned into two weeks that morning with a phone call.
People were moving around, Sonny had told them. Flights had been purchased for Monday. Could he just have until Tuesday? Tuesday it would all be over.
Jason had agreed but had remained silent since. He hadn’t asked to speak to Elizabeth, hadn’t asked for any of the details. Tuesday would be the final deadline.
And even if Jason didn’t agree, well, Johnny was just going to go back and take out a full-page announcement. This plan had been doomed from the start, but then again, anything involving the boss’s ex-wife was usually a disaster. Came with the territory.
“No, I’m good.”
They returned to their silence, but Johnny grew bored with the Yankees game and finally switched off the television. He tapped his fingers on the armchair.
“You got somethin’ to say, Johnny?” Jason asked after a few minutes.
“No.” Johnny scowled. “Yes.” He shoved himself to his feet, gritting his teeth as his shoulder sang out in pain. “Why did you agree to Tuesday? Why are we going to be stuck in this damn house for another week while the rest of Port Charles thinks you’re dead?”
Jason stared down at the paperwork in front him. Said nothing. His face was set in that empty expression Johnny had always hated and envied at the same time. How the hell did a man just shut down like that? Wipe everything from the surface?
“You don’t have to explain anything to me, all right? You don’t care that Sonny is destroying your life, that’s on you. But you didn’t even bother to check with me to make sure I didn’t mind being stuck here. I work for you, Morgan. You and Sonny don’t own my ass.”
Jason hesitated, sat back in his chair, then looked at Johnny. After a long exhale, Jason nodded. “Yeah. Yeah. I didn’t ask. I should have. I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, well…” Johnny shrugged, uncomfortable now. “Tuesday’s it. This plan—if it even counts as a plan—it isn’t working, and I’m not doing jackshit here locked up with you. Someone’s coming at us, Jase, and we’re out of the loop. Why doesn’t that piss you off?”
“You think it doesn’t?” Jason demanded, but his voice remained empty. Cold. “You think because I didn’t pull the plug that I’m okay with this—”
“You think your girl doesn’t think that?” Johnny retorted. “Have you even talked to Elizabeth since she left? She walked in this house, and she didn’t know you were alive. That’s what Sonny did to her. She came from your fucking funeral, and he used her guilt, her worry about you to keep you in the dark. Every day you’re here. Every day you don’t talk to her about this—”
“Don’t talk to me about Elizabeth.” Jason rose to his feet, the blue in his eyes hard as flint. “You don’t know what you’re talking about—”
“I was in this room when he told her the truth. When she went to see you, I saw her. I talked to her. Don’t tell me I don’t know. Sonny did that to her. And you’re letting him get away with it—”
Jason exhaled. Closed his eyes. “I’m not. And if anyone but the goddamn Ruiz family was involved, this would already be over, but—” He looked away. “Sonny said some guys were waiting to grab Elizabeth at her studio. To bring me out of hiding, they went after her—”
“And Sonny got them—”
“If they had been connected to Javier or Manny…if they took her…” Jason swallowed. “We’ve heard the stories, Johnny. We know what they to do to women. The next time, it might be Manny.”
“The flights from Miami Sonny told me about? It’s Hector’s men coming up on Monday. The Ruizes aren’t predictable. They don’t follow the rules. They make Zacchara look right in the head.”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with Elizabeth when this is over.” Jason swallowed hard, his eyes cast aside. An uncharacteristic show of weakness. “I can’t think about that. She can be pissed at me. She can walk away from me. But I need her alive to do that.”
“Okay,” Johnny repeated. He waited a moment. “You don’t have to justify it to me, Jase. That’s not what I’m trying to say—”
“Sonny crossed a line with this. With all of this.” Jason hesitated. “But I’m not thinking about that yet. I can’t.”
Johnny nodded. “Look, it’s not like you’d ever ask me for advice, but…. you need to talk to Elizabeth.”
“I can get some burner cells, and if you give me a few days, I can make it untraceable. But you haven’t spoken to her since you found out, and while I want to believe Sonny is keeping her in the loop—”
“Yeah.” Jason met his eyes. “Yeah. Get me a phone.”
Wednesday, October 2, 2002
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Courtney folded her arms and had pitched her voice a bit lower so that Michael would remain at the counter, carefully finishing his math homework. “Michael,” she said, a bit louder, “make sure you count the apples before you write the number.”
“No, I’m not sure,” AJ said, rubbing the back of his neck. “But with Jason gone, everything is different.” He paused. “I knew he’d updated his will, I just…I don’t want to push Elizabeth into going to probate court about his estate. I know Alexis has told Carly about the guardianship. I can’t sit back and wait.”
“I just…” Courtney dipped her head. “I can’t stop myself from blaming her. Everything was fine until she came back. We were all happy. You and Jason were going to be brothers. I could see it happening, even if it was just so Liz and I could hang out, you know? And she came in like a one woman wrecking crew, and…now Jason’s dead. My best friend is miserable. And Carly gets her kid back? I mean, come on—”
“If I don’t do something to make the court see I’m trying to do right by Michael, then I look like the petty asshole. She’s going to go after me legally. I didn’t want to drag Michael into court last spring, Courtney. I really don’t want to do it now—”
“I get it,” she said flatly. “I just don’t have to like it.” She nodded to the doorway, where a hesitant Carly was hovering outside the door. “She’s here. Go see what deal you can make.”
AJ ruffled Michael’s hair and then reached out to squeeze Courtney’s hand. “I love you, you know. I wish like hell I could make this different.”
“You can’t, so I guess we just have to figure out how to live with what we’ve got.”
He sighed, and then joined his ex-wife in the courtyard, making sure that Courtney had distracted Michael at the counter.
“AJ.” Carly looked tired—and somehow worse than the last time he’d seen her at Jason’s memorial service. Her eyes were still swollen, her face pale. She wore no makeup and dressed in a simple sweater and jeans with a pair of black boots.
“Thanks for meeting me.” AJ gestured for her to sit, and when she did, he sat across from her. “By now…Alexis has told you about Jason’s will.”
“She has.” Carly pressed her lips together. “But it’s not in effect yet, she said. Sonny and Elizabeth haven’t gone to probate court yet.” She looked away, folding her arms. “I don’t know what they’re waiting for. It’s not like it’ll bring him back—” Her voice broke. “Are you going to tell me I’ll never get my son back? Do to me what I did to you?”
AJ waited a moment. “I thought about it. We both know I could probably win permanent custody if it came to that. Or that we could spend the rest of our lives dragging each other and Michael into court. I don’t want that, Carly. Jason wouldn’t want that.”
“Oh, you speak for Jason now?” Her brown eyes lit now with fury. “You know him so goddamn well? He was my best friend and I—”
“Jason and I talked a lot about Michael when you were gone,” AJ said gently. “About our dreams for him. How much he meant to both of us. I used to resent the way Jason loved him. I thought that I was the only one supposed to love him like a father. I was consumed by jealousy, Carly. You know that.”
“Yeah.” Carly exhaled slowly, closing her eyes. “Yeah, I know. And that’s my fault. I’ve been…” She looked at him. “I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about that—about what you said the day you came to see me at the hotel. I did go out of my way to cut you out of Michael’s life. And in the beginning, it was…” Carly sighed. “I don’t know. I was scared all the damn time back then. I wanted to love Tony. Life would have been easier if I did. But I just didn’t. But I didn’t want to be alone with the baby. And I wanted Jason. That night, I just figured you looked enough like him, if I got drunk enough—” She shrugged.
“I wasn’t a good candidate to be his father back then. Even sober,” AJ admitted. “I wasn’t ready to be sober for myself. I didn’t drink when we were married—until you left. But I didn’t drink because of Michael. It’s not a bad reason, but it’s just—it’s not enough. I have to be sober for me.”
“You showed me a chip.” Carly bit her lip. “A year.”
“Yeah. I got it in July.” He drew it out. Set it on the table. “They work on an honor system, Carly, so I get that you don’t trust it. I didn’t push you, Carly, but that doesn’t change my part in what happened.”
She shook her head. “Can’t—I can’t talk about that. I won’t—”
“We have to deal with it, Carly.” AJ leaned forward. “Because I know we both love Michael. I don’t know where you were for five months, Carly. But I know you love him. I love him. I want to give him a good life. And he’s been asking about you. I need you to see him. I need for him to see you.”
Her dark eyes were wet, and she licked her lips. “Is he—did you bring him?” She shot up from her chair, but before she could get to the doorway, AJ stopped her.
“I brought him. Because I think we can work this out. But we have to find a way to deal with each other. You don’t ever have to forgive me for that night, Carly. I don’t even know if I’ve forgiven myself. I had to put it away, so I could look—”
“You didn’t push me,” Carly said softly. She stepped back. Met his eyes. “I—I know that. I couldn’t—I had to blame you, AJ.”
AJ just stared at her. “Carly—”
“I was…” Carly shook her head, turned away. She wrapped her arms around herself. “A few weeks ago, I went to see Elizabeth. I wanted to understand why Jason…why you had Michael. And she said something…” She hesitated. “She said I needed it to be you. And I hated her for it. But she was right. Because if it wasn’t you, then it was me. But that’s not…”
She turned back around. “We were being hateful. The way we always were. And I was digging at you, trying to make you angry. I don’t know why it seemed so important. And you were going right back at me.”
Carly spread her hands out. Looked at her fingers. “And I shoved my hand in your face. I shoved Sonny in your face. Told you he was a better man. A better father. And you—you grabbed my hand.”
“You pulled away.” AJ’s throat was raw. “I should have walked away, Carly. I just—I wanted to hurt you.”
“Because I had hurt you first. You didn’t—” She swallowed hard. “You didn’t deserve what I did to you. I married you, but it was a lie. I never even tried to make a life with you. I think about it sometimes. If I had just…trusted you. If I had just trusted Jason, would he still be alive?”
“I was kidnapped,” she said flatly. “By someone who wanted to do something to Sonny and Jason. I don’t know why. They faked a car accident, and they drugged me until sometime in August. I didn’t even know I was supposed to be dead. And then they showed me pictures. Everyone was so happy. Like I was the only one holding everyone back and with me gone—” Carly closed her eyes. “And you know me. Destroy first. Ask questions when the dust settles.”
AJ exhaled slowly. “You were kidnapped by one of their enemies.”
“Yeah, well, whatever.” She shrugged. “I came home. I made it all worse. And Jason’s dead because of me. We’re all caught up.”
“I want to see Michael,” she said with a wave of her hand. “We can do everything else later. I just…I need to see him. Please.”
“Yeah.” AJ shook his head, trying to clear it. “Yeah, okay.”
He opened the door to Kelly’s. “Michael, your mom’s out here—”
But the words weren’t out of AJ’s mouth before his son was already halfway across the diner. Like a bolt of lightning, the little boy hurtled past him at his mother.
Carly wrapped her arms around him and lifted Michael into a fierce hug. “Hey, Mr. Man. I missed you, baby.”
“I missed you, too, Mommy.” Michael pulled back. “Daddy said they was wrong about you bein’ in heaven, but that you was real sick. Now you’re better, right?” He turned back to AJ. “Right, Daddy? I can go stay with Mommy at Grammy’s Brownstone.”
AJ’s heart ached. “Sure, buddy. I’m sure your mother and grandmother would love that.”
“But I gotta spend time with Daddy, too, Mommy.” Michael looked at his mother. “I got a room there. It’s really nice. And a backyard. Daddy and Courtney got me a swing set. It’s really cool. You should come see it.”
“I’d like that.” Carly met AJ’s eyes, and then Courtney’s who had followed Michael to the door. “I’d like to see your room and swing set. If that’s okay.”
“Yeah.” AJ nodded slowly. “Yeah, I think we can make that happen.”
Brownstone: Front Steps
Elizabeth sighed when she found Nikolas standing on the front step. “I was just on my way out—and I’m really not—”
“I need to apologize to you,” Nikolas said as she started past him. He reached out as if to grab her elbow, but let his hand fall back to his side when she stopped at the bottom of the steps. “Elizabeth—”
“You should apologize to Emily. She still gives a damn,” she bit out, but then closed her eyes. This wasn’t who she was. Wasn’t who she wanted to be.
She just didn’t want Nikolas to have some sort of epiphany about their friendship when she was lying to everyone. Any ground they might regain right now—it would only be lost when the truth came out.
But that wasn’t Nikolas’s fault.
“I tried,” Nikolas said when Elizabeth said nothing else. “But she was still too angry at me. Lucky’s not thrilled with me either.” He exhaled slowly. “After you left, Emily looked at me and—” He looked away, in the direction of the waterfront and piers. “I always knew Emily had a crush on me, you know? I never felt that way about her, so I tried so hard to be careful around her. I never wanted to hurt her.”
“But when she looked at me, I could actually see that love and affection—the respect she’d had for me? It was gone. I didn’t lose it when I slept with Katherine Bell—” Nikolas grimaced at that memory. “And I didn’t lose it when I started to date Gia, even though Gia had done so much to hurt her.”
Elizabeth sighed, looked down at the sidewalk. “I know. It’s been hard to explain to Emily why Gia and I are friends now, so—”
“But going after you, going after her brother on the day we buried him—” Nikolas shook his head. “That was the last straw for her. And I didn’t know…I didn’t understand how important it was to me that Emily respected me. Until it was gone.”
“She’s too nice to hold it against you for long,” Elizabeth said after a moment. “So, if that’s what—”
“I never—I never looked too hard at myself after everything happened. It was…that entire year—” He waited a moment. “It feels like I was somewhere else. An affair with Katherine? Losing my brother. Losing my uncle.” His voice roughened. “Katherine’s death, the lie about the baby—I kept doing and saying things, and I just couldn’t understand them.”
Against her better judgment, Elizabeth nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I know what that’s like—”
“I clung to you after Katherine—that night at your party—I thought I felt something for you.” He swallowed hard, his eyes dark. “I thought it was love. But it was loneliness. It was grief. It was trying to make something make sense. And you didn’t need me. I didn’t see it that way. I saw Jason taking you away from me.”
“You weren’t my property, but that’s how I treated you.” He scrubbed his hands over his face. “And I kept getting angry because nothing was turning out the way I thought it would. My uncle was this stranger, and then Lucky came home—and God, all that pain was my fault. Helena brainwashed him to use him yes, but she tortured him about you because of me. She stole his love for you, forced him to say things I know must have hurt him—”
“Nikolas.” Elizabeth held out her hand. “Hey. None of that is your fault. What Helena did to Lucky? That’s on her. Don’t take that on.”
He nodded, exhaled with an angry short breath. “Yeah. Well, the crap I did when Jason was back in town—not correcting Lucky. He never believed you about Jason because of me—”
“That’s probably a little true,” Elizabeth said slowly. “Your suspicion didn’t help, but Lucky could see it in my eyes. He and I both lied to each other for years, Nikolas. Lucky knew how I felt about Jason long before I was strong enough to admit it to myself.”
“I’m sorry for what part I played in all of that. And—and I’m sorry for lying last year. I thought it was for the best. I thought Lucky would remember, that you’d both be happy—but—” Nikolas shook his head. “I saw you this summer with Jason. I know you were happy with him. I hate that you’re doing this again.”
Pressure built behind her eyes, and she had to close them. Oh, God, and she had suffered for nothing. Again. Grieving a loved one who hadn’t died—being tricked and lied to—How was she supposed to keep going like this?
Tears slid down her cheeks as she finally opened her eyes again and looked at him. “It sucks,” she said flatly. “I’m tired of it.”
“I just—I’m sorry if I added to it last week. I’m sorry that it’s happening. And I’m sorry I couldn’t look past my own pride to be the friend you needed. That I couldn’t put Lucky aside to be a friend to you last year.” He hesitated. “I know it will never be the same again, but I just—I don’t want to feel like I have to avoid you. I will if you—”
“I don’t know where we go from here,” Elizabeth said slowly. “If we can ever be friends like we were, but you will always be important to Emily. We can start there.” She managed a smile. “I really do have to go to work now.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure. Thanks for hearing me out.” He stepped aside as she went to her car. She got inside and just took a minute to lay her forehead against the steering wheel. She wasn’t going to work but it was the only way to make Nikolas go away. To leave her alone. To get away from the sympathy, the kind eyes. The hints that the Nikolas she’d once considered closer than her actual family still lurked inside.
Another lie. She was beginning to choke on them.
She was tired of lying. Of being a liar, of being lied to—
She just wanted it to stop.