Promises mean everything when you’re little
And the world’s so big
I just don’t understand how
You can smile with all those tears in your eyes
Tell me everything is wonderful now
Please don’t tell me everything is wonderful now
– Wonderful, Everclear
Sunday, May 5, 2002
AJ & Courtney’s Apartment: Bathroom
Courtney wrinkled her nose and examined the circles under her eyes in the mirror. “Ugh.”
“Your first bar fight?” AJ asked with a smirk as he reached past her for his toothbrush and toothpaste. “They get easier.”
“I’m not planning to make a career out of it,” she muttered. “I warned Zander to knock it off. He just had to push Elizabeth.” She perched on the edge of the bathtub as her husband began to brush his teeth. “He made some crack about Jason, and she just—she literally lunged across the table at him. I didn’t know she could do that.”
“She’s probably feeling it today.” He rinsed the toothbrush and placed it back in the holder. “I’m just glad Jason was there before it got worse.” He frowned. “That sounds weird to me.”
“Are you and he…maybe getting along better?” Courtney asked, trying to keep the hope out of her voice. If they could co-exist, then things could just…stay the same. They might have to move to a bigger apartment which they might be able to swing. Bobbie still had a two-room apartment available at the Brownstone which would work great—
“We’re not at each other’s throats.” AJ sighed and leaned against the cabinet. “You know I’m still planning to file for custody.”
“I know.” She looked down at her fingers. “And that was fine before.”
“Before Jason came home. I think Elizabeth cares about him.” She chewed her bottom lip. “Can’t you…. just avoid her testimony? Like can’t—” But he was already shaking his head. “AJ—”
“I’m sorry. I know it puts her in an awkward spot. I do. But she lives with Michael. She’s one of the people who is in his life. Even if I didn’t call her, a judge would subpoena her. Courtney—”
“I just…she was so upset by your grandfather’s visits to Michael. I don’t know everything she’s been through, AJ, but I was here for the wedding. I know she and Jason have a history. I just hate asking her to do anything that…” She sighed. “But that sounds stupid and whiny when I think about the outcome. I know how important Michael is to you—”
“Hey, it is not stupid and whiny.” AJ tugged her to her feet. “You just moved to town. You found your father, your brother. You got married five minutes later. I know how much Elizabeth and Gia’s friendship has meant to you. It is not stupid to avoid messing with that.”
“But it doesn’t change the fact I have to.” Courtney sighed and went into the bedroom to change. She pulled out a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. “Because you’re right. Elizabeth is stuck in the middle. It’s not like I put her there.”
“Being friends with Bobbie, knowing my family—yeah, she was kind of already there.” AJ leaned against the doorway. “She’s not just going to be there for me. You know Alexis will use her for Jason’s side. She’s about as close as a person comes to being neutral.” He hesitated. “The last time Jason saw me talking to her—”
“He flipped, yeah, Elizabeth told me.” Courtney tugged the denim over her hips. “I guess you want me to run interference—”
“I don’t like asking—”
“But it’s for the best.” She picked up her brush. “What should I tell her? The custody battle is still on? That she should get herself ready?”
“I don’t know.” AJ looked away. “I’m sorry, Courtney—” He broke off. “Maybe she can talk to him. I don’t want to drag Michael into court. I’ve talked to lawyers—I have a good shot—”
“I’ll talk to her.” Courtney shot him a half-smile. “It’s not like she doesn’t know this is coming.”
General Hospital: Nurse’s Station
“Bobbie, can you see about scheduling a few more scrub nurses tomorrow?” Alan asked as he handed her the surgery schedule for the afternoon.
“Sure,” Bobbie said, her tone clipped. The last thing she wanted to see right now was a Quartermaine male. Not after the conversation she’d had with Elizabeth the day before.
Alan frowned and tilted his head to the side. “We don’t have enough nurses?” he asked, puzzled.
“We’re fine on the numbers,” Bobbie said. She picked up the schedule and turned to begin plugging it into the computer. “Did you know?” she asked when he didn’t walk away.
“Know about what?” Alan asked. “Bobbie—”
“About your father visiting my grandson and telling him I saw raising him as a burden,” Bobbie snapped.
“Oh.” Alan’s cheeks reddened. “No. I knew my father was upset, but Bobbie—”
“I don’t know where your family gets the nerve in thinking your claim to Michael means any less than mine,” she continued, jabbing at keyboard keys. “He’s my grandson every bit as much as he is yours. I know you haven’t been in his life. I know my daughter was unfair—”
“It’s not like I don’t get it. It’s not like I don’t feel sympathetic, but you know how hard-headed Carly is—” She cleared her throat. “Was,” she managed to say. “She was stubborn, and she was petty. I couldn’t have changed her mind no matter what I said—”
“I didn’t know, Bobbie—”
“Any chance I had of trying to get Jason to settle this amicably with an outcome we could all support—that’s gone.” She snorted. “You’re just lucky he didn’t throw the old bastard off the roof—”
“Now, wait just a minute—” Alan slapped a hand on the counter. “I didn’t know what my father was up to, Bobbie. I never would have supported it. But he is my grandson, and AJ deserves a damn chance to be his father. He’s never had a fair one—”
“You think I don’t get that?” Bobbie demanded, unfazed by his show of temper. “You think I haven’t told Jason that? I’ve talked to him until I’m blue in the face, but no matter how sober AJ is now, no matter how good he’s doing now, Jason is never going to forget the damage AJ is capable of when he drinks. You’re asking Jason to put an innocent little boy in the hands of someone who destroyed his life—”
“How long is AJ supposed to pay for that?” Alan shot back. “Jason’s life is fine now. He thinks it’s better. He doesn’t want to be a Quartermaine, fine. But Michael is one—” He cut off when Bobbie laughed, the sound harsh and bitter.
“How long is AJ supposed to pay for that accident? Are you kidding me? If you or your father thought you had a prayer to get Michael on your own, you wouldn’t be standing here spouting off about AJ’s rights.” Bobbie snatched up a stack of charts. “You tell your father to stay away from me or I will make it my life’s mission to make sure he never sees that little boy again.”
Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room
Sonny lifted his brow when Jason arrived that morning, a black eye blooming on his face. “Rough night?” he asked, reaching for the carafe of coffee resting on a table warmer. He poured his partner a mug of their signature roast. “What does the other guy look like?”
“Zander Smith.” Jason accepted the coffee. “I want him gone.”
“That’s not news,” Sonny said as Jason joined him at the breakfast table. “What’s changed?” He frowned as Jason’s mouth thinned. “Did you get into a fight with him?”
“He was at Jake’s last night,” Jason said, his tone clipped. Angry. “Harassing Elizabeth, Courtney, and Gia. Elizabeth wouldn’t say how it started, but he said something to her, she threw a drink at him, he threw one back, and—”
Sonny blinked. “Elizabeth started a bar fight? Our Elizabeth? One hundred pounds soaking wet?” He grinned at the thought. “I would have liked to see that—”
“She started it, but he punched her in the face.”
Sonny set his coffee down, his demeanor deadly serious now. “He fought back?” It was one thing for Zander to defend himself—the drink had been too much, but you didn’t hit a woman in Sonny’s organization. Even one who hit you first. “He put his hands on her? What about my sister?”
“She stayed out of the fray. I don’t think she has Elizabeth or Gia’s temper.” Or Jason’s, Sonny thought, as a muscle ticked in his partner’s cheek. “I don’t have the authority to fire him outright,” Jason continued, “Nico doesn’t answer to me.”
“But you want him gone.” Sonny sighed and leaned back. “I don’t blame you, Jase. But we generally don’t fire guys for getting into bar fight. I’m not happy, but if Elizabeth hit him first—”
Jason leaned forward, his eyes like ice chips. “I want him gone.”
“I get that, and part of me wants to leap there.” Sonny took a sip of his coffee, taking a moment to choose his words carefully. “We’ve discussed this, Jase, as it’s not the first time Zander has harassed Elizabeth. I told you that the people who work for us have a certain view of Elizabeth. I never discouraged it, and you didn’t want to either. But we get rid of Zander Smith—outright fire him—over a barfight—you’re crystalizing that view. There’s no going back.”
Jason placed his hands on the table, the fingers curled into fists. “I know that.”
“You broke up the fight?” Sonny asked. “How bad was it?”
“I took him out to the back alley—he probably has some bruised ribs. I told him to get lost, but the order needs to come from you.” Jason hesitated. “I’m not—I can’t make the statement you want me to make about Elizabeth. We’re—we’re not there yet. But I can’t let this pass. She’s gonna have a black eye and another swing—he’d have broken her nose. If Elizabeth hadn’t followed me outside…” He shook his head.
“Jason…” Sonny leaned forward. “Look, we’ve been pushing Nico and Zander as it is. I know Nico’s skimming money. I don’t know how, I don’t know how much. He wanted to use Zander as his fall guy. I already demoted the punk once for messing with Elizabeth, but I could do that because it wasn’t about her. It was about you and your authority.”
He rubbed his jaw. “I’m just worried if we cut him loose now—it pushes Nico the wrong way. Maybe he makes a mistake and we can move in faster. But maybe he doubles down. I don’t know, Jase. Is this a risk we want to take over a bar fight where Elizabeth threw the first punch?”
“She was provoked,” Jason said shortly. “Zander went after her at Kelly’s, trashed her in front of Nico’s crew, and last night—our guys are at Jake’s. He sat down at a table with Elizabeth and your sister. With a cop’s sister. And he said something to Elizabeth that pissed her off so much she threw a drink at him. What’s Nico going to think if we do nothing?”
“Yeah, you’ve got a point there. We’ve demoted him for less lately.” Still, Sonny hesitated. “I’m just—I’m not sure you really get what you’re saying when we start firing guys for looking at Elizabeth the wrong way. We stalled his promotion because you didn’t trust him, we demoted him when he challenged your authority. Most of the men already view Elizabeth as off limits because of your past relationship, because she’s a friend of mine. We could give Zander another warning, we could let Nico make the final decision—”
“He sat down at her table and goaded her into picking a fight,” Jason said, tightly. “Because he wants to piss me off. It’s not about her for him. It’s about me. And it’s always going to be about me as long I work for you. Why are you fighting this, Sonny? Is it about Nico? About finding out how bad he’s skimming?”
Sonny pursed his lips and took a minute. “Elizabeth matters to me. My sister matters. I’m glad you were there last night. That it didn’t get too bad. We have to think about the bigger picture. At the moment, Elizabeth’s reputation has more to do with what happened three years ago. You make this statement, you fire someone who was technically defending himself—you don’t get to take that back. You’re saying something about her.”
When Jason hesitated, Sonny continued. “If he’d hit her outright, we’d have a better argument. He talked to her. She threw beer at him. She hit him first. There are a lot of guys who are just going to think she was asking for it.”
“They can say whatever they want,” Jason said, his tone calmer now, but his eyes were still hard. “She’s off limits. No one touches her and gets away with it.”
“Fair enough. As long as you go into this with your eyes open.” Sonny reached for his phone. “I’ll make the call.”
Kelly’s: Dining Room
“Yes!” Courtney threw her first in the air as the last dock worker disappeared through the doors. “Lunch rush is officially over!”
Elizabeth smirked. “You’d think you didn’t like this job much.” She winced. “Smiling hurts.”
Courtney laughed as she slid onto the stool. “Yeah, I thought you might be in pain today. You don’t look too bad for your first bar fight.”
“Hmm…” Elizabeth gingerly touched the side of her face, where a bruise had bloomed large, dark and purple that morning when she’d woke. “Yeah, I didn’t feel it last night.”
“Yeah, I bet pain wasn’t the main feature.” Courtney offered a wicked smile. “I noticed you didn’t hurry back inside and I left with Gia, so…”
“So Jason gave me a ride home.” Elizabeth bit her lip to suppress a smile at the memory. Of that moment in the alley, feeling the brick against her back, Jason’s hot skin—
“I’ll bet he did.”
Elizabeth tried to scowl at her, but failed because she just couldn’t stop smiling today. She knew all the reasons she’d stayed away from Jason—all the reasons she’d avoided a moment like last night, but…maybe it was time to stop being scared.
To stop running.
“Um, since you’re in a good mood,” Courtney said slowly, “I—I talked to AJ this morning. I hate this, Elizabeth, I do, but—”
Elizabeth sighed. “Well, at least I got the whole morning.” She poured herself a glass of water. “He’s going to subpoena me, isn’t he?”
“Yeah. I mean, well, that’s the plan. But…” The blonde laced her fingers together. “He thought maybe you could help keep this out of court.”
Elizabeth stopped. Looked at her. “Courtney.”
“I’m sorry, I hate this—”
“The only way to keep this out of court is if Jason agrees to give AJ some sort of visitation, some sort of custody agreement. You’re asking me to convince…” She stopped, shook her head. “You can’t ask me that—”
“I can.” Courtney straightened her shoulders. “C’mon. I know AJ. He’s not going to back down. He’s going to court if he has to. You know Jason. Do you think he’s not going to do the same? They both think they’re protecting Michael.”
“I didn’t know AJ when he was drinking,” Courtney continued, “but I know about the accident. I know about the fight with Carly when she had the miscarriage. I know he’s said and done horrible things when he drinks—”
“And that’s why I can’t support him. That’s why I can’t tell Jason he should give in, even a little,” Elizabeth said sharply. “Because I have seen AJ as a drunk. His sister was one of my best friends—I know his triggers, I know how destructive AJ can be. I am relieved beyond measure that you’re happy with him, that he’s done so well for so long. I can only hope it continues, but you’re asking to put a little boy that I love in that situation. Forget that Jason loves him as his own son—I love Michael, too. And I’ve seen the hell he’s been put through—”
“Why is AJ the only one who doesn’t get a second chance?” Courtney demanded. “You know how he lost custody in the first place, don’t you? Carly lied to him. Jason lied. And then Jason blackmailed him. Sonny threatened to kill him—”
Elizabeth pressed her lips together and took a deep breath. “I’m sympathetic, Courtney. I am. I know AJ never got much of a fair chance.” Elizabeth sighed. “Courtney—”
“AJ is going to file after Memorial Day,” her friend said bluntly. “And we’ve talked to family lawyers. Once the judge finds out the way Jason lied when Michael was born—he’s going to get custody. Michael is going to be forced to talk to doctors. To lawyers. To the judge. Is that what Jason wants?”
“Jason isn’t putting him through anything,” Elizabeth retorted. She slapped her hand against the counter. “That’s your husband. That’s the Quartermaines. Damn it, Courtney. Stop making this black and white. Jason loves Michael. I love Michael. I want that kid to have the best chance he can, and forgive me if I’m not entirely sure your husband is the answer.”
Courtney shoved off the stool. “You’re going to be subpoenaed whether we like it or not. Is that what you’re going to tell a judge?”
“You know AJ is sober, that he’s been working hard.” The blonde’s blue eyes pleaded with her. “You know that we’re happy together, that I’d be a good stepmother. I would protect Michael.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I don’t want to fight with you.”
“I don’t want to fight either.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “Jason is aware that his chances in court are minimal,” she said softly. “He hasn’t decided what he wants to do about that, because he doesn’t want to put Michael through all of that if it’s not going change anything. Beyond that—I don’t know, Courtney. I promise, if I end up on the stand, I’ll be honest. I know how hard AJ has worked, I’ve told Jason that too.”
“But…” Courtney sighed. “You don’t trust it.”
“No,” Elizabeth admitted. “Because he drinks to escape the Quartermaines, and I think, at the moment, he’s just running from that problem. He hasn’t solved it. Do I think he would ever hurt Michael on purpose? No. The fact that he’s given everyone space—” She tapped her fingers on the counter top. “I can talk to Jason again, but—”
“I hate this.” Courtney grimaced as customers came in. She slid off the stool. “The last thing I want to do is make things worse, Elizabeth. I know we’re on opposite sides here, but I—”
“I’m not going to let it change our friendship,” Elizabeth said, lifting her chin. “We’re just…we’re both looking out for Michael.”
Courtney flashed her a smile as she went to wait on customers, but neither of them were quite convinced.
Oasis Strip Club: Back Office
Nico was already muttered when he tossed his cell phone back on the desk. At one the tables, counting money, Lenny glanced up with an arched brow. “Corinthos call with bad news?” his right-hand man asked sourly.
“That little fucking idiot got himself fired, that’s what.” Nico stalked across the room and poured himself two fingers of whiskey. “I knew his shit with Morgan was going to be a problem, but then he went and got himself fired over a fucking woman—”
“Not the same—” Lenny straightened. “Nicky—”
Nico tossed back the entire glass, the harsh liquid pouring a trail of fire down his throat. He’d poured time and energy into Zander Smith, hoping he would be the perfect patsy to take the fall for the drug trade in Port Charles once Nico was safely ensconced in Vegas. He’d be the perfect suspect since he’d dabbled in the product before—had come up on the rave circuit.
But no, the piece of shit had to go and make personal enemies with Jason Morgan, who was notorious for his ability to focus, to find problems where no one else could see them. Like he needed the fucking extra eyes on him right now.
“The bar fight?” Lenny’s dark brows furrowed. “I thought the bitch took the first swing—”
“Yeah, that bitch is Jason Morgan’s woman. It doesn’t matter if she broke his nose and ran him over. He’s not allowed to touch her. I told him to leave her alone, didn’t I? I warned him not to push Morgan after last week, but he couldn’t help himself—”
“I told you he was a hothead.” The older man shrugged. “He ain’t got a head for this business.”
“Yeah, well, he knows too much about how we run things here.” Nico reached for his cell phone. “I gotta neutralize him, keep him on my side. Maybe I can set him up somewhere for a while until this cools down—”
“Why not get rid of him?”
“And make Corinthos look in my direction more?” Nico demanded. “Fuck that. Why go to the trouble when I can buy the little shit—” He stopped when Zander picked up on the other line. “Smith, get the fuck over here. Now.”
Kelly’s: Back Alley
Elizabeth leaned against the brick and tipped her head up to the sky, closing her eyes and wishing like hell she’d never given up cigarettes three years ago. What she wouldn’t give right now for the rush of nicotine right now…
The heavy metal door to the back of the diner swung open and she heard the heavy steps of boots rather than the light squeak of sneakers she had expected. She opened her eyes to find Jason’s concerned gaze on her.
“Hey,” he said, tilting his head. “Courtney said you were on your break.” He hesitated, and she knew his eyes were on the bruise at her cheekbone the way they narrowed. “You okay?”
“About last night? Yeah. Other than the bruise, I feel fine.” She took a deep breath, reached out and grasped a fistful of his maroon shirt, pulled him closer and kissed him. She’d spent hours last night thinking about that embrace at Jake’s, about the way his mouth had moved against hers, the heat of his fingers against her skin—
His hand cupped her jaw, tipping her head back. Jason moved closer, his other hand sliding around her waist, his skin searing where it met the small of her back.
She winced when his fingers brushed against the bruise on her cheek, and he drew back, their breathing a bit shallow. “I forgot,” she murmured with a half-smile.
“Yeah…” Another light touch of his fingertips against her cheek bone before he stepped back. “About Zander—”
“Look, I probably shouldn’t have gone after him,” Elizabeth said quickly. “He just—he said…” She looked away. The last thing Jason needed to know was Zander making cracks about her rape. They’d never find his body. “He said something that I should have let go, I just—I didn’t. And I’m sorry. I know things are tense with him at work—”
“I had him fired,” Jason cut in. “And I’m hoping you’ll evict him from Kelly’s.”
She closed her mouth, blinking at that. “You…” Fired him. “Because of the bar fight?”
“It was the last straw.” He pressed his lips together. “If you take away his room, and we take away his job—”
“He might leave town.” She nodded. “Okay. I can do that. It’s not like I love him living upstairs anyway. Still, I’m sorry if I caused trouble last night—”
“Zander never should have sat down and talked to you. Anything that happened after that is on him.” He rubbed the back of his neck and looked away, down the alley that led to the parking lot. “I don’t get what my sister saw in him.”
“Emily has a soft heart,” Elizabeth murmured, missing her old friend. Wondering if she and Emily would still be close now with everything that had happened. “She sees the best in people, and for a while, I think there was something in him worth saving. That’s not true anymore.” She bit her lip, hating to rock the boat but… “Have you talked to any of the Quartermaines about what happened? With Michael?”
He looked back at her, squinting slightly at the change in conversation. Finally, he said, “AJ said he didn’t do it. That he tore into Edward about it.” Jason leaned against the building, their shoulders brushing. “I don’t think he was involved.”
“Yeah…” Elizabeth sighed, hating this whole thing but knowing she had a responsibility to do what Courtney had asked. For Jason and Michael’s sake. “AJ is planning to file after Memorial Day. You’ll be served the first week in June.”
Jason’s cheek twitched, but he had no change in expression otherwise. “You know that for sure?”
“Yeah, Courtney and I—” Argued about it, but Elizabeth didn’t want to say that much. “She and AJ—they don’t want to go to court.”
He looked at her, his blue eyes guarded. He straightened. “Elizabeth—”
“She asked me—AJ doesn’t want to drag Michael through all of it—” She trailed off and swallowed. She could almost see the wall go up. “Jason, we’ve talked about this. You’ve said exactly the same thing—”
“You think I should give him custody?”
“No!” Elizabeth scowled. Damn it, this wasn’t the first time they’d broached the subject of settling this out of court. Did he think this whole thing would go away? “Jason, nothing has changed, okay? There’s nothing happening here that you didn’t know about it. I told you AJ was going to file at some point, I suspected it would be when Michael finished school—”
“AJ told me he plans to subpoena you,” Jason cut in, with voice almost a growl. “What are you going to say when you’re asked where Michael should live?”
Oh, no. “Jason—” Elizabeth shook her head. “Don’t make this about me. I didn’t create this situation, I’m just trying to survive it—”
“What are you going to say?” he repeated.
“Exactly what I’ve told you,” she shot back. “AJ’s sober. His marriage is solid. His wife is amazing and would make a great stepmother—”
“So you think Michael should go with him—”
“I’m not sure a judge would let me testify about my worries, about my fears that AJ’s sobriety might be temporary. I’m not an expert.” She threw up her hands. “What do you want me to say? Should I go in there and lie?”
“I also hope I get to the chance to say how much Michael loves being with his grandmother, with his uncle. That I’ve seen firsthand how much you love him.” She fisted her hands at her side. “I hate this, Jason. Don’t put me in the middle.”
His cell phone rang, cutting off any response he might have made, but his eyes were lit with irritation, his shoulders tense. “I have to go,” he said after looking at the screen. “We’ll talk about this later.”
Jason left then, his boots echoing down the alley. When he’d turned the corner, Elizabeth swore and kicked the side of a dumpster. This was why she’d been holding herself back. Staying away from him.
One step forward, eight thousand back.
Zander kicked at the gravel as he trudged past away from the strip club, passing increasingly broken and patched buildings. So what if he’d popped that uptight bitch in the face? Hadn’t she had it coming? He’d have scars on his face from her nails. Typical. Women could land the first punch, but fuck if you couldn’t return the favor.
This was all Jason Morgan’s fault. He’d come back to town like he owned the damned place and ruined everything. Why the fuck did Morgan have to have a stick up his goddamn ass about letting Zander move up? Hadn’t Zander helped them? Gone to the police about Sorel? He’d tried to change, to be a better person for Emily.
Sweet Emily, who’d thought there was something worth saving inside.
She’d been wrong, but he’d tried for her. He would have done anything for her.
But she’d left. Just like his high society father who’d knocked up one of his whores and walked away without a backward glance when she’d looked for money. His mother had wasted away on heroin first, then crack when the money ran out. She’d been dead for the better part of a decade, and he’d spent that time on the streets of New York.
He deserved to have his own crew, his own club. To collect his own money. Make his own small part of Sonny’s empire. He hadn’t lusted for the top spot—too much scrutiny, too much effort was required. Zander hadn’t been greedy or ambitious. He’d worked his fucking ass off under Sorel, then Corinthos. So what if he’d worked for Sorel? So had more than a dozen men in Sonny’s organization. Hadn’t they merged the fucking territory?
Fucking hypocrites. Holding him back. Well, he’d show them. He’d go to Miami, get hooked up with a sweet job and enjoy the sun, the water, and the bitches in bikinis. He was done playing the game in Port Charles. Done trying to be something he wasn’t.
A dark car rolled to a stop just next to him on the street, a window rolling down in the backseat. “Zander Smith.”
He stopped and squinted at the car, but he couldn’t attach a face to the voice. “What?” he snarled.
“I hear you’re looking for new employment.”
Zander scowled, but then the window rolled down fully. “Holy, shit. Mickey! What the hell are you doing?”
Michael “Mickey” Roscoe, once the right-hand man to Joseph Sorel and an enforcer under Anthony Moreno, grinned at his old comrade and pushed open the door. “Get in, kid. I got a business proposition for you.”