Chapter Four

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Bittersweet

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


Wednesday, April  24, 2002

Quartermaine Estate: Family Room

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

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

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

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

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

“That degenerate doesn’t deserve—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gia and Elizabeth’s Apartment:  Living Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Courtney had ignored them all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Last Saturday—”

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

“Listen—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Gia—”

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

“Then what the hell—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, I get it, Benny.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’ll harass her even more.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oasis: Back Office

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

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

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

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

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

And he’d lost it.

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

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

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

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

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

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Comments

  • Love the Gia, Courtney Liz friendship. You also channeled Ned nicely. Love the whole chapter

    According to Pwrmom2 on September 2, 2016