Well, you can say what you want
But it won’t change my mind
I’ll feel the same
And you can tell me your reasons
But it won’t change my feelings
I’ll feel the same
– Say What You Want, Texas
Saturday, April 20, 2002
AJ and Courtney’s Apartment: Living Room
The last person AJ expected to see when he answered his door on a Saturday morning was his erstwhile younger brother.
But there Jason stood at his threshold, dressed in his characteristic jeans, t-shirt, and leather jacket. His expression was flat and without emotion, as always.
AJ sighed and stepped back. “Do you want to come in and yell at me, or do you want to do it from the hall?” he asked.
Jason hesitated a moment, then stepped into the room, standing by their small sofa. “I came to tell you I don’t want you to bother Elizabeth anymore. She doesn’t have anything to do with it.”
AJ shut the door. He hadn’t expected this particular complaint, but maybe he ought not to be surprised. He’d known there was a connection of some sort, a friendship between Jason and Elizabeth—he just hadn’t thought about it when he’d gone to see her. “I disagree. She lives with Michael; she takes him to school sometimes. She’s friends with my wife, with my sister. Elizabeth, whether you like it or not, is involved.”
“She isn’t going to be the one making the decisions about Michael.” Jason’s expression or stance didn’t change, but he drew in a breath and released it before continuing, his fists tight at his sides. “So leave her alone.”
“Again, I have to disagree. When I file for custody, she’ll likely be called as a character witness.” AJ folded his arms. “She’s friends with my wife—she can testify that Courtney would be an amazing stepmother, she knows the family, she knows I’m sober—”
“For now,” Jason retorted. “But how long is that going to last?”
And coming from Jason of all people, this was something AJ couldn’t easily refute. He, more than anyone else, had a reason to doubt AJ’s sobriety—had seen the damage that could be done. Had been a victim of it. “I go to AA meetings twice a week,” he told his brother quietly. “And sometimes, when I’m frustrated, when I get angry, I go again. There have been weeks when I’ve gone just those two times, and others when it’s been seven days.”
Jason didn’t respond to that. Maybe he didn’t have an answer.
“I’m an alcoholic, Jason. I’m always going to be one,” AJ continued. “I can’t ever change the things I did to hurt the people that mattered. After the accident—I didn’t just hurt you, you know. I devastated my entire family. They’ll never look at me the same way. If I had been sober the night Carly fell down the steps, maybe it would have been different. I didn’t push her, but that doesn’t make me any less responsible.”
Some of the tension left Jason’s shoulders, but still his expression remained stoic. “You think it changes anything? Now that you’ve admitted what you are?”
It did for AJ, but maybe Jason would always seem him as that screw up. “Is Michael what changed between us?” he asked quietly. “After the accident, you didn’t really give a damn about me. You hated that the family covered for me, you thought I was pretty useless, but you didn’t hate me. You do now.”
Jason looked away and swallowed, his Adam’s Apple bobbing lightly. “This isn’t about what happened before—”
“Isn’t it?” AJ demanded. “You protected Carly before Michael was born because you didn’t give a damn either way. But after—when Carly was gone and you were forced to be his father—he became someone else to protect. You started to wonder if he’ll be next person in the car?”
Jason pressed his lips together, took another deep breath. “I didn’t come here for this—I just want you leave Elizabeth out of it—”
“What I did to you, what I did to my family—I’ll have to live with it for the rest of my life, but I have to forgive myself, Jason. Even if no one else ever can, I have to,” AJ retorted. “Because it’s the only way I’ll have a reason to stay sober. I love my son. And I have a right to be his father. I’m not going after him right now because he’s just lost his mother, and Bobbie’s devastated. But don’t mistake my compassion for anything else. When the time is right, I’m going after him, and I’ll use whatever tools at my disposal to win. Including Elizabeth.”
Jason’s snapping blue eyes met his, lit with anger. “And the only way you’ll step near Michael is over my dead body,” he said, his tone ice cold. He stepped towards his brother. “You’ve destroyed everything you’ve ever touched.”
He yanked the door open and stalked out. AJ silently closed it behind him, wishing like hell he could hate Jason for keeping his son from him.
But Jason wasn’t wrong. As much as AJ loathed the idea, Jason loved Michael like his own, and he was protecting him. Jason might be the only person in Michael’s life who had ever put him first and kept him there.
AJ hadn’t, but would going forward. He was sober, he was married to a wonderful woman—he had his life back, and now he wanted to share it with his son.
General Hospital: Nurse’s Station
Bobbie made a note in the scheduled rotation for the pediatric ward, grateful that Audrey Hardy’s retirement at the end of December and her subsequent promotion to the head of the nursing program at the hospital allowed Bobbie to sink her mind into work and not think about what was going on in her life.
Her grandson was at home with Lucas, still bewildered and lost over his mother’s absence. Michael might be able to understand the concept that some people die—that they went away and didn’t return, but he couldn’t apply it to Carly. Mommies didn’t die, Michael had told her. They couldn’t.
So Lucas was attempting to keep Michael busy through a combination of video games and sugar until either Bobbie or Elizabeth could pick him up. They were going to reintroduce Jason slowly to him—he’d been out of Michael’s life for almost four years, and Jason didn’t want to upset Michael any more than he already had been.
Her life often felt like she was juggling chainsaws—if she took her eye off of one, if she allowed herself to be distracted—one might fall and slice off a limb.
Bobbie glanced at the grating tones of her nephew, instantly feeling annoyed at herself for hating his voice. This was Lucky, their miracle returned them.
Except she had trouble reminding herself of that. The young man in front of her wore Lucky’s face, spoke with an older version of his voice—but Lucky hadn’t come home. Not in any way that truly mattered. And she could never quite forgive him for what he’d done to Lucas, even though he’d been under Helena’s brainwashing.
“Lucky.” Bobbie pulled over a chart and scrawled her signature at the bottom. “I hope you’re not ill.”
“What?” He blinked. “Oh, no. I’m here to treat you to lunch—”
“I’m quite busy, Lucky. I’ve missed a few days.” Bobbie met his eyes evenly. “And you’ve barely spoken to me since Elizabeth moved in—” And nothing more than a perfunctory visit when the police had declared Carly dead.
“There’s no point in holding that against you, Aunt Bobbie. Not now. Elizabeth made her choice. Her loss.” Lucky folded his arms, leaning on the counter of the nurse’s station. “We’re worried about you, Aunt Bobbie. Losing Carly and all.”
To her knowledge, Lucky had never shown much more concern or even awareness that Carly was part of the Spencer family, so she knew there had to be an ulterior motive for this conversation. “Lucky, why don’t you skip the buildup and get to the point?”
“Dad and I wondered if maybe you were up to the fight you’re going to have wage against the Quartermaines to keep Michael,” Lucky admitted. “After losing Carly, after everything you’ve been through, why put yourself through it?”
“There hasn’t been any decisions made regarding Michael’s custody,” Bobbie said coolly, “and your father likely doesn’t care.” She arched a brow. “Interesting that you’ve suggested this after Jason came home.” God, Spencer men. Idiots.
Lucky scowled. “I don’t give a damn about him. He has nothing to do with this—”
“Elizabeth is close to Michael. She looks after him, she picks him up occasionally. Any proximity she has to Michael puts her in closer contact with Jason.” Bobbie leaned forward. “You need to let this go, Lucky.”
“I don’t give a damn about either of them,” Lucky all but growled. “She can screw whoever she wants. She walked away from me—”
“Because you didn’t love her anymore. Because you were going to marry her out of obligation. I’m proud of her for making that choice, for taking the hard road.” Bobbie gathered her charts. “I don’t know what happened to you while you were with Helena, Lucky, but you need to do some deep, hard thinking about who you want to be. Because the Lucky I buried would never treat her like this.”
“Well, maybe that’s the problem,” he said flatly. “You all think I should be that Lucky. No one gives a damn about what I’ve gone through—”
“You’re alive, aren’t you?” Bobbie snapped. “That’s more than either of my daughters can say. Thanks for your concern, Lucky, but I’m content with the situation as it is.”
After her nephew had stormed away, she heard a throat clearing behind her. She turned to find her ex-husband standing there. “Don’t start, Tony.”
“He’s not wrong, Bobbie,” Tony Jones remarked as he scribbled signatures on a stack of charts. Not bothering to raise his head to meet her eyes. “The Quartermaines are going to fight tooth and nail for their grandson. It’s a losing battle.”
She pursed her lips and took a deep breath. She and Tony had managed to find a balance between them—a common ground to raise their son. But Tony was part of the reason any of this was happening. If not for his affair—
“I know it’s difficult to lose Carly,” Tony said, this time looking at her. There was warmth in his eyes now—a deep sadness as they both remembered the other child they had shared once. “To a car accident, nonetheless. And despite everything, Bobbie, I am sorry for your loss. But—”
“Michael’s custody will work itself out,” Bobbie said, turning back to her own work. To the mundanity of schedules and charts. “Thanks for your concern, Tony, but I can handle it.”
Corinthos Warehouse: Conference Room
“I understand what you’re telling me, Nico.” Sonny passed him a snifter of brandy. “But I don’t know if I’m ready to give Zander Smith so much responsibility.”
“And I think you’re letting personal problems get in the way of profit,” Nico replied, his expression pinched and arms crossed. “You don’t care for him personally, I get it. Had a few rough run-ins—”
“He kidnapped Jason Morgan’s sister and took her on the run. Held a gun to her head—”
“And then she dated him,” Nico cut in, throwing his hands up in the air. “You can’t hold that against him—”
“Look, Nico, I’m not saying no. I’m not saying never. I’m just saying not right now. He’s worked for us less than a year—”
“He’s worked with some of my guys for nearly three. He has a head for this, Sonny, I promise you that—”
“He’s worked for me for a year,” Sonny clarified, hardening his tone. “That’s not long enough for me to trust him. I know you want to expand into Vegas. You want to beef up Atlantic City, I get all of that. But I want to be sure. It’s not worth it to me to pick the wrong guy so we can make a bit more money.”
Nico scowled at him. “You don’t trust my judgment?”
“Nico, why you pushing me on this?” Sonny demanded. “I told you—I’m not ready to give Zander Smith that kind of power. He’s a hothead who already flipped on one of his bosses because it was convenient for him. Until I’m convinced his loyalty is to me and not himself, he doesn’t move an inch.”
Nico set the brandy down with a clunk. “You’re costing us money. Every day I have to worry about two-bit bookies and mom and pop gambling parlors here, we’re not raking in the real money in Vegas—”
“And that’s the way it’ll be. That’s it, Nico. Don’t push me on this. I let you take over my clubs when you came on board. You told me you trusted my judgment, that you wanted to work with me because you were tired of supporting the wrong guy. I gave you a chance. I didn’t have to keep you in power or give you even more access.”
Nico raised his brows. “And I didn’t have to throw my support to you, bring you my resources. You want to wait on expansion until you feel all warm and cozy about my guy? Fine.”
No way Sonny was going to promote anyone in Nico’s crew until he was satisfied that they weren’t working with Mickey Roscoe. The general peace and quiet of the last year was fragile, but Sonny wanted to preserve it. Thank God Jason was home—he’d be objective and settle things once and for all.
Kelly’s: Dining Room
Courtney filled Elizabeth’s coffee mug for the second time that day. “How long does it take to do the books anyway?” she asked.
“When you hate math as much as I do?” Elizabeth murmured, frowning at the invoice for coffee beans. Sonny should really be giving them a better discount. “Forever. At least two more cups of coffee.”
“Glad I’m not the manager.” Courtney disappeared out the front door to serve some of the straggling breakfast diners in the courtyard. With school still in session, the dining room itself was mostly deserted, leaving Elizabeth in blissful silence for a change.
She had been happy to give Bobbie a hand with managing Kelly’s—it had given her something to fill her mind when she’d turned her back on Lucky in December, and she’d been grateful to do something nice for Bobbie after she’d likely given Gia and Elizabeth a huge break on rent for their apartment.
But days like this—when she had to make the numbers even out, had to figure out exactly why they went through so many cartons of eggs when their orders didn’t always match—
It gave her a slight headache.
“Earning your keep for a change?”
Elizabeth looked up, scowling. She hadn’t heard Zander trudge down the steps, much less sit down at her table. He’d moved into her old room after she’d departed, and she preferred to keep their interactions limited to the rent payments he paid her each week.
Emily had dumped him—best decision she’d ever made—so as far as Elizabeth was concerned, her relationship with the bastard had ended there.
“Zander, if you want something to eat, Courtney’s serving in the courtyard.”
He shrugged and reached for the coffee Elizabeth hadn’t yet touched. “I’m good, thanks.”
She set the pencil down. “Is there something you want?”
Zander dumped a spoonful of sugar in the mug and stirred. “Just wishing someone would take a machine gun to your boyfriend.”
Elizabeth blinked, leaning back. “Is Lucky bothering you?” Not that it was about Lucky, but she wanted him to say it. To put his cards on the table.
“I’m not talking about Spencer.” Zander lifted the mug to his lips, his dark eyes meeting her eyes. “I’m talking about the other one.”
“Jason—” Elizabeth bit off the denial regarding her relationship with him. Zander was in a mood, and she wasn’t going to add any fuel to whatever dumbass fire was lighting up his butt. “I would have thought since you and Emily aren’t together anymore, he’d barely notice your existence.”
“Oh, you mean like everyone else?” he retorted. “No. He’s fine with rolling back in here like he owns the place and ruining everything I’ve worked for.”
Elizabeth bit back a nasty remark about Zander working for anything and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry to hear that, Zander. I know you like your job with Sonny.”
He scowled at her. “Don’t do that. You don’t give a shit about me.”
Jackass. She rolled her eyes. “Fine. I don’t particularly, no,” Elizabeth admitted. “But if you’re sitting down and harassing me in hopes that I’ll pass it on to Jason so you can start a fight with him…” She closed her accounting book and stood. “You’re out of luck. I’m not an errand girl. You have a problem with Jason, take it up with him.”
“He should watch his back.” Zander lifted his chin. “People liked things the way it was. He’s just gonna make a mess for himself.”
She rolled her eyes and picked up the books, moving towards the counter. “Again, this is none of my business.” Elizabeth arched a brow. “Unless you’re threatening me personally, Zander. And I can’t think that’s the case.”
“Why? So you can tell Jason that and have me dumped in the harbor by sundown?” he retorted.
It was starting to sound like a worthwhile plan, but she just sighed and poured herself another cup of coffee. “Zander, you and I don’t have a problem. We weren’t particularly close when you were dating Emily, we’ve barely spoken since you broke up. If it means you’ll leave me the hell alone, I’ll be happy to tell Jason you’re annoying me.”
Anything to get him out of her face.
The door to Kelly’s swung open then, as Jason held the door open for Courtney lugging a tub of dirty dishes. She stopped when she saw Zander with Elizabeth at the counter. “Oh. Hey.”
“Jason, Zander has something he’d like to share with you,” Elizabeth said with a bright smile. Why did he always seem to show up on the tail end of conversations with men he hated? Was she a goddamn drama magnet?
Jason scowled at the sight of his sister’s ex-boyfriend, as if he hadn’t really been expecting him to still be around. Maybe he’d hoped someone would have shot him in the last year or so. Certainly Elizabeth wouldn’t have minded.
“Go to hell,” Zander muttered. He shoved away from the counter and stalked out through the kitchen door.
“Was he bothering you?” Jason demanded as Courtney followed Zander’s path into the kitchen. He closed the distance between the door and the counter in seconds. “Elizabeth—”
“He’s a mosquito, Jason. Annoying, but hardly dangerous.” She shrugged and opened the books again. “He wanted to annoy me enough to pass it on to you. I guess you’re cramping his style or something. I don’t know. I’m not getting involved.”
And didn’t it feel like she’d said that about a hundred times in the last few days? Maybe if she said it enough, it would be true.
She just wanted to live her life—to go class, go to work, have fun with some friends—and just be Elizabeth Webber. She was finally figuring out who that was supposed to be, and she didn’t appreciate people mucking it up.
“I don’t want you involved,” he muttered, taking a seat. “I didn’t want Emily involved with him either, but not like she listened.”
“She did eventually,” Elizabeth offered with no small amount of sympathy. She’d never quite cared for the drug dealer turned ally, particularly after he’d drugged her at that rave and kidnapped her best friend with a gun to her head, holding her hostage.
“Yeah, but not soon enough. I’m stuck with him.”
She flipped his mug and filled his coffee cup. “He asked to rent my room when I moved out in January. In retrospect, I should have refused, but…” She laughed to herself as she picked up her pencil to attack the books again. “I know Lucky hates him more than anyone except you, and it seemed like a good way to stick it to him.”
Jason offered her half a smile, but she could see him hesitating. Almost as if he wanted to ask her something. And because there was no point in pretending this conversation wouldn’t happen eventually. Better to get it over with before he heard another version from someone else. She arched a brow. “Or didn’t Sonny mention that the breakup was pretty bad?”
“He didn’t really elaborate,” he admitted, taking a sip. “Just that you called off the wedding and moved out.” Of course he wouldn’t ask specifics. Why make it easy for her?
“Well.” Elizabeth reluctantly set down her pencil. It was necessary to tell him this—to make sure Jason understood that she had a new life now. One she’d worked hard for and didn’t plan to give up for anyone. “I mean, it was already a disaster. You saw it. You were the only one who did, but I was miserable and too stubborn to admit it. I mean, who turns their back on a miracle?” She sighed. “Long story short, I was already regretting saying yes to it, but I thought it would get better. You know, love isn’t always easy, yada, yada.”
Jason waited a beat, frowning when she didn’t continue. “So what tipped the scale?” he asked. “Sonny said you got to the altar, then walked away.”
“Well, first, I found out that the last time Helena did her brainwashing, she actually…I don’t know, erased Lucky’s feelings toward me.” She bit her lips, deciding to gloss over the worst of it. “He wasn’t in love with me anymore. Gia overheard Nikolas and Lucky talking about it and immediately came to tell me. I was already halfway out the window—I was standing there in a wedding dress I hated, about to marry someone I wasn’t even sure I liked anymore—” She shrugged. “Gia’s thing was the icing on the cake. I only walked down the aisle so no one would ever doubt that it was my choice to end things.”
He just stared at her for a long moment. “She erased his feelings for you?” he asked.
“Yeah. I guess. So he said. Anyway.” Elizabeth wiggled her shoulders. “I don’t want really to talk about it anymore. I feel like I’ve spent the last three years talking about Lucky Spencer. It’s over. I lived it, and I’m done with it.”
He waited a moment, then tipped his head toward her accounting books. “You need some help with that?”
“Oh, thank God.” She shoved the whole mess at him. “Free coffee for life if you can figure out how I screwed this up.”