July 18, 2018

This entry is part of 24 in the series Bittersweet

Oh yeah everything’s all wrong yeah
Everything’s all wrong yeah
Stranger than your sympathy
I take these things so I don’t feel
And all these thoughts from the inside out
Now my head’s been filled with doubt
Sympathy, Goo Goo Dolls


 Friday, September 20, 2002

 Quartermaine Mansion: Foyer

Courtney closed her cell phone and stared at it for a long moment. She hated this. She hated every minute of this.

Michael had cried until he’d decided that Jason would come back like his mommy—and how much longer until he could talk to his mother? AJ had tried to keep it together. Had wanted to check in on his family, so they’d packed Michael up and come to the mansion.

But AJ wasn’t letting it out. Wasn’t talking to her. Wasn’t talking to anyone really. Just sitting with his grandmother in the garden today, sharing old stories of Jason. Alan and Monica had gone to work, trying to be normal.

Trying to forget.

And Courtney wasn’t really sure what she was supposed to be doing here.

“Courtney?”

She turned to find Ned stepping out of the foyer. “Oh. Hey. What’s—what’s up?” She tucked her phone in her back pocket. “Do you guys need anything? I can—”

“We’re okay.” He closed the door behind him. “I left AJ and Grandmother out there, so I can check on Grandfather, but I overheard you on the phone with Gia. I didn’t want to intrude.”

“Oh. No, it’s okay.” Courtney bit her lip. “Gia’s just worried. Elizabeth has been a lot like Alan and Monica since Jason went missing. She was trying to keep breathing, to stop herself from thinking the worst, but now the worst has happened—” She stopped. “I’m rambling.”

“You’re worried about AJ. And I imagine you’re pretty worried about Elizabeth.” Ned folded his arms. “It hasn’t hit him yet, you know? This summer—I think he came as close as he ever probably would to having his brother back and that’s…” Ned looked away. “It’s gone. I have a little brother, too. He’s much younger than me, but I love him. I can’t imagine—” He shook his head.

“I figure it’s gotta be harder for you guys,” Courtney said after a moment. “I mean, it’s not even the first time you’ve lost Jason.”

Ned nodded. “Yeah, I think that’s—that’s what makes this so awful. We lost Jason Quartermaine, and God, I don’t think we ever let Jason Morgan forget it. He ran away from this family because of it. And a lot of other reasons, but that was part of it. You know…” He rubbed his chest absently. “We told ourselves it was a matter of time. He made his choices, this was how it was supposed to be—we all expected him to die violently—” His voice failed. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Courtney folded her arms tightly under her breath. “I didn’t—I only know Jason through AJ and Elizabeth, so I’m sad. But it’s for you guys. And for her. Because he seemed like a nice guy. And even if he had a dangerous lifestyle, it doesn’t make it easier for the people who loved him.”

“No.” Ned exhaled slowly. “No, it doesn’t. Have you spoken to Elizabeth? Grandmother asked about her—”

“She’s…managing,” Courtney said. “Gia’s with her. I just…I don’t know how she’s going to do this. He just…he just asked her to move in with him. She was so happy—” Her voice broke. “Sorry. It’s not even—this just sucks.”

“Yeah, yeah it does.” Ned touched her shoulder lightly. “For what it’s worth, it gives my grandmother comfort knowing he was happy at the end. Elizabeth was good for him, and I’m just sorry they didn’t get to see where it would go. You let me know if she needs anything, all right?”

“Yeah, thanks Ned.”

“And don’t worry about Junior. He’s done a lot of work in the last year or so. He’s battled his demons—I’m not saying he’s won completely, but he’s…. settled. You gave him that, Courtney—”

She shook her head. “He likes to say that, too, but I’m not some kind of miracle. I’m just a girl who rushed into marriage with a man she barely knew on a hope and prayer. We both got lucky it’s working. But Jason told him—he told him at the chip ceremony that AJ did the work. He’s the one that didn’t take a drink.” Her lip trembled. “It meant the world to him that Jason was there, but to say that—God, I don’t think Jason ever knew what he did for AJ that night.”

Ned dipped his head and took another deep breath. “They were so close once. I like to think they could have been again.” He cleared his throat. “I should check on Grandfather.”

Sunday, September 22, 2002

Quartermaine Mansion: Foyer

Elizabeth smiled briefly at Alice, the maid, who directed her to the garden where Lila, Courtney, and Emily were having tea.

And then she couldn’t quite bring herself to cross through the family room out onto the terrace and into the garden.

Because until now, she had been able to stay in a bubble, inside her own world at the Brownstone with Bobbie and Gia.

But she wasn’t the only person who had lost Jason, and she would have to share her pain with others. She had to, because hiding her grief and running from it three years ago had been the wrong choice.

“Elizabeth?”

She turned to find AJ emerging from the dining room. “Oh. Hey.”

“Hey.” He approached her, his hands in his pockets. “I won’t ask how you’re doing. It’s a stupid question, and—I can see it.”

“Yeah?” Elizabeth asked with a sigh. “Am I that transparent?”

“You’re thinking about how to keep it together for Grandmother and my sister. So that Courtney doesn’t have to worry about you, too. Or am I just…projecting?” He shrugged. “Because what’s what I’ve been doing since the second—” AJ looked down. “Anyway. I wanted to call, but Courtney said you were mostly…keeping to yourself.”

“Yeah, for the last two days.” Elizabeth crossed her arms, closed her eyes. “I fell asleep for the first time last night. Bobbie wanted to have Tony give me a prescription for something, but I didn’t want to close my eyes. I didn’t want to wake up in a world and know—I could lie to myself when he was just missing. But I can’t now.”

Her eyes burned as the first tear slid down her cheek. “He’s not here, and I just—I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. How to breathe. I guess it doesn’t matter, because I keep doing it. But it’s like every breath I take is…. a shock. How can I breathe without him?”

Elizabeth wiped her tears as AJ said nothing. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—I’m okay. I mean, I’m not. I’m…managing—”

“There were a couple of moments there that I thought…” AJ said slowly, “this summer…I mean…I thought if Jason and I had enough time…maybe we could be brothers again. It was a stupid dream, and I know he’d never claim me that way. But I thought it. And I just—it’s never gonna happen now. He’s my little brother and he’s gone, and I can’t seem to wrap my head around it.”

“I know. I’ve been through this. I know what the shock feels like, but somehow—” She shook her head. “It still feels brand-new.” She managed a short laugh. “My grandmother called this morning. She…she called a few days ago, too, but I ignored it. I almost ignored it again this morning, but for some reason, I wanted to hear her voice, and you know what she said? She said…it was hard to believe it right now, but that there would someone else someday. I mean, hadn’t I learned that after Lucky was gone?”

“God.” Elizabeth dug her heels into her eyes. “Like it’s the same. I was a teenager. This—this is different. This—I don’t know how to explain it. She, of all people, ought to know you can’t compare grief.”

She exhaled slowly. “I should get out to the garden before they send a search party.” She hesitated. “I’m sorry, I didn’t even ask about Michael—”

AJ shrugged. “We talked to a counselor yesterday. Right now, Michael is convinced it’s going to be like Carly.” He rubbed his temple with his thumb. “That we’re all just mistaken. It’ll sink in for him. Or it won’t. He’s almost six, but…”

“One day, he won’t even remember Jason,” Elizabeth murmured. Her chest ached, and she just wanted to go home. To curl up in her bed, draw the curtain, and ignore the world.

But that wouldn’t solve anything. Wouldn’t make it better.

“God, I hate knowing that’s true.” AJ cleared his throat, looked away as his eyes glittered. “You need anything, Liz. You just let me know.”

Quartermaine Mansion: Terrace

Emily’s eyes were swollen and rimmed with red, while Lila was clutching a handkerchief in her hand. Courtney was quiet, solemn.

And Elizabeth wanted to be anywhere else.

“Elizabeth.” Her best friend rose to her feet and crossed to the doorway. “Oh, God.”

“Hey.” Elizabeth closed her eyes, struggled to keep back the flood of tears that threatened to swallow her whole. She had to get through this moment. Had to get through this day.

She clung to Emily for just a moment before stepping back. “It’s good to see you but I wish it were for any other reason.”

“Yeah.” Emily swallowed as they sat down on the long iron bench adjacent to Lila’s wheel chair.

“Mrs. Quartermaine,” Elizabeth said as she took one of Lila’s delicate hands in hers. “Hey.”

“Oh, my darling—” Lila’s voice was thin and shaky. “Thank you for coming. I cannot imagine—” She closed her eyes. “I just cannot accept any of this is real.”

Elizabeth dragged the heel of her hand under her eyes, sweeping away her tears. “I know. I keep thinking it’s a nightmare I’m gonna wake up from, but…then I realize it’s not.”

“I talked to him just a few weeks ago—” Emily managed, her voice raw. “He sounded…God, Elizabeth, he was happy. You made him so happy.”

“Thank you,” Lila murmured. “For giving him that. It hurts so very much right now, my darling. But someday, knowing the love you brought to one another, it will bring comfort.”

She closed her eyes. Pressed her hands to the lids. “I want to believe that. I just can’t seem to think past right now. It hurts so much.”

Emily wrapped an arm around her shoulder, and Elizabeth leaned into her. “I can’t even pretend it’s going to be okay,” Emily said softly. “Because I can’t accept that it ever will be. It’s not supposed to be this way.”

It is for me, Elizabeth very nearly said, but she could hear the wallowing in those words, the self-pity, and she bit them back. Emily and Lila didn’t need her devastation. They had their own.

But she was never going to be allowed to be happy for more than a moment in time, and it was time Elizabeth learned to accept that. If she could just stop…dreaming she deserved more, maybe the fall wouldn’t hurt so damn much.

Monday, September 23, 2002

Kelly’s: Diner

Bobbie touched Gia’s shoulder. “You mind if I take this seat?” she asked indicating the chair across from her. “I wanted to grab a quick lunch between shifts at the hospital.”

“Oh, yeah.” Gia pushed her notebook aside. “I have a class in an hour, so…” She shrugged. “Not that I can seem to concentrate. I mean, it’s stupid. I didn’t lose anyone. Jason didn’t even like me all that much.”

“You’re an acquired taste,” Bobbie said with a small. She gave her order to Penny and sighed. “I can’t tell if Elizabeth is managing or pretending to manage. She’s always been good at putting up a front.”

“She keeps it together for a while, and then something breaks her down. It’s only been three days, so I think she’s still kind of in shock.” Gia picked up her iced tea and sipped it. “I feel like this is my fault. I pushed her at him.”

“Gia—”

“She wanted to lie to herself, to pretend she wasn’t interested, and I forced her to admit that she was. I told myself I was just living up to our promise, you know? No more lies, not to each other and really not to ourselves. I told her I didn’t care if she pursued him, but she shouldn’t lie to herself.”

“And what? You think it made it worse because she—she lost him—” Bobbie caught her breath. Pressed a fist to her chest. “I’m sorry. It’s still…it’s catching me. I didn’t—I loved him like one of my own, and I just—I keep expecting him to walk through the doors. To come to the Brownstone.”

“I tried to tell her at least she had this time, but how much more did it suck that she got a taste of what it could be like?” Gia’s eyes burned. “I hate this. I hate this caring about people bullshit. I should have just seduced him or something. She’d hate me for that, and then I wouldn’t care, and I wouldn’t feel like shit—”

“That wouldn’t have solved anything.”

“No, but—” Gia sighed. “I don’t know. I just—I don’t think I pushed her like everyone did with Lucky last year. I don’t feel like that. I just didn’t want her to…lie to herself. And then when she admitted it, yeah, I kept encouraging it, I guess. You know, maybe I was jealous. I wanted someone like that, you know?”

“Someone like what?”

“Someone whose entire existence is made better because you’re there. You know how he looked at her, how he talked to her, about her. The way he was around her.” Gia sighed, pushed her French fries around her plate. “She had this chance at that kind of love, and I didn’t think she should throw it away. Nikolas, even when it was good, he never looked at me like that. Like the world disappeared when we were together. I wanted that in my life, so I pushed her towards it, and I just…I feel like what she’s going through is my fault.”

“It’s tempting to think…it would have hurt less if they hadn’t been dating,” Bobbie said slowly. “But I wonder if it would have given her more anguish…to know she had lost that chance forever. I think…I think we regret the roads we don’t take more than the ones we do.”

“I guess.”

“You’re hurting for your friend, Gia. That’s not a bad thing. She was happy, and now she’s not. And…maybe one day…this summer will be a comforting memory.” Bobbie pressed her lips together for a moment. “She had him for a brief moment, but it was a shining moment. And… before Jason died—” She couldn’t finish. Had to start again. “At the end, she brought him love and joy.”

“I wish I could believe that,” Gia said slowly. “But all I can think of is that…she had that before. With Lucky. Why the hell would the universe do this to her again?”

“Well…that I can’t answer.” Bobbie sighed. “I don’t know why the universe does anything. When I lost my BJ, my darling, sweet, amazing BJ—I still had Lucas. But it wasn’t the same. Having another child didn’t fill the hole, didn’t mend the pain. The universe gave me another daughter.”

“Yeah, the universe was feeling pretty salty that day,” Gia muttered. “Sorry—”

“I love my daughter because I gave birth to her,” Bobbie said slowly.  “I forgave her for what she had done to my marriage because I recognized that same self-destructive streak in her that I have fought against my entire life. I could understand the way her mind worked. The way she just reacted—the damage she could do. I could live with all of that because I knew she had inherited it from me—”

“And you’ve been blaming yourself for Carly ever since,” Gia said bluntly. “I get Carly. I used to be Carly. I used to hate the world—” She stopped. “My brother left home when I was still a kid. I’m a lot younger than him—I think you know that. When he left, things didn’t stay okay. My mom was always looking for another guy to fill the space that Marcus’s father, that my father had left her—”

“Gia—”

“It doesn’t matter.” Gia shook her head. “I learned to look out for myself. To always put myself first, because I was damn sure the only one who could. I thought what I wanted meant more than anyone else. Carly’s like that, Bobbie. Except she managed to hook up with a bunch of people who just excuse that kind of selfishness as a character flaw. As something to overlook. I hated Elizabeth. You know that. I did awful things to her. Said them to her face. Behind her back.”

Bobbie’s eyes softened. “Gia, she doesn’t—”

“Because I didn’t see her, you know? I just saw the way everyone else reacted to her. They treated her like this precious porcelain that belonged to Lucky Spencer, and Laura was bending over backwards to give her the modeling contract that I damn well deserved—I knew about Tom Baker. And I used it against her.”

Bobbie exhaled slowly. Sat back and just looked at her. “That’s pretty cold.”

“Yep. And I didn’t have a problem with that. She wasn’t right for the job. I was. Take what you want, that was my motto. And then I overheard Nikolas and Lucky talking about her the day of the wedding. Talking about how Lucky didn’t love her anymore, but he owed her this. And I just got pissed off. Because everyone had lied to me, and I was supposed to swallow it to go along with it. But now they were lying again. So, I went to her because I wanted to throw it in her face.”

She paused, took a sip of water. “I wanted to show her I was a better person. That I wouldn’t keep her in the fucking dark like she did to me. And so, I told her with hatred in my heart that her precious Lucky didn’t even love her. That he only pitied her. Like she was a dog.”

“What happened then?” Bobbie asked quietly.

“She looked at me, with tears in her eyes, and she thanked me. She said she’d been having her doubts, but that she thought she owed this to Lucky. But now…now I had set her free. She didn’t have to sacrifice her life anymore. I was going to shove her face in it, but she looked at me like I was doing her a favor. Like I was some kind of sign from the universe.”

“And three days later, you asked to rent the apartment from me. To live together.” Bobbie tipped her head. “What changed?”

“I stopped looking at her as the enemy, and she stopped seeing me as the bitch who blackmailed her best friend. Because being with Nikolas had only made me more selfish, and I was starting to hate myself. When I realized that I had gone into that room to destroy Elizabeth’s life just because I didn’t like her—I knew I was taking it too far. I didn’t want to be that girl anymore. She didn’t want to be who she was either. So, we figured, fuck it, let’s try and save each other.”

“It’s not your fault, Gia, that Elizabeth is hurting right now.”

“And it’s not your fault, Bobbie, that Carly is who she is. You gave her love, compassion. Understanding. A place to raise her son. What else were you supposed to do to keep this from happening?”

Bobbie closed her eyes. “I can’t look at her. I haven’t seen her much since Jason went missing. She’s avoiding me, and that means she’s involved. Somehow, someway. And she knows I’m at the end of my rope.”  She sighed. “But you’re right. This isn’t my fault either. I have to let her fall. Let her hit rock bottom. She needs to have that moment, Gia, where she doesn’t like that person she sees in the mirror. And right now, she’s still the victim. It’s still someone else’s fault. Someone else’s responsibility to fix.”

“Until that stops, there’s nothing you can do.”

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Elm Street Pier

Elizabeth stepped off the last stair and turned to the left. There it was. The bench where she and Jason had sat so often in those early days. Where she had poured her heart out.

Where he had left her only months later.

Where they had been reunited.

Where she had betrayed him for the first time when she had thought he had attacked Lucky.

She sat down and looked out over the harbor, out at Spoon Island. She hadn’t thought about Nikolas Cassadine in months. He still lived out there. Still lived in Port Charles. But he was removed from her life, and she grieved for that. They had been through hell together once, and she’d thought that meant she was important.

That she deserved honesty. And respect.

She knew Gia was back at the apartment, her classes completed for the day. She knew she had to really go home. To try and do some of the studying she’d been ignoring. Pretending to do. If she was going to use her degree to distract her, it was probably time…to actually use it as a distraction.

But she just couldn’t.

If she tried to bury her grief, it would drown her. She knew that. She had to get through it. She had to live it, but…

Jason was dead. He was dead. They were having a memorial tomorrow, burying him on Friday. Three weeks after she’d last seen him, he would be in the ground.

Jason was dead.

And she still couldn’t wrap her mind around that.

Dead.

It was the first time, even in her own mind, that she had acknowledged it. Jason was dead. Shot to death in some filthy warehouse. Left to rot in the harbor. His funeral would require a closed casket—

A sob bubbled out of her throat and she fought it back. She was tired of losing it. Tired of the tears. They didn’t change anything.

There were some footsteps just around the corner, where the pier met Bannister’s Wharf. And then she saw the figure that bled out of the early evening shadows.

Zander Smith walked towards her, hands in the pockets of a light jacket, his dark hair cut short.  She hadn’t seen him since the bar fight, since Jason had told her he’d been fired and gone to Miami.

He stopped in front her. “Hey. I—I didn’t expect to run into you here.”

She frowned. Narrowed her eyes. “I thought you left Port Charles.”

“I did.” Zander swallowed hard. “I had to. It was…” He looked away, shaking his head. “I kept looking around, seeing Emily, and hating it. I wasn’t good enough for her, but I wanted to be. And every day I was here, I was reminded of that.”

Elizabeth slowly got to her feet. “Why do you think I’d care—”

“Because I was an asshole to you, and Morgan—” He closed his mouth. “I got what I deserved, but I—my boss set me up in Miami. And so, I heard about him. And I knew…I just…I knew Emily would be home—”

“You thought you’d come back, try to slide into her good graces?” Elizabeth demanded.

“Listen—”

“You are nothing,” she hissed. “Nothing. You’re not half the man Jason is—was—” Her voice broke. “I wish it were you. I don’t understand why it’s not. How can you be alive and someone like Jason—”

Zander just stared at her. “I know you’re upset, but c’mon, I only—I only bothered you for a like a minute. Why—”

“Because he’s dead. And you’re here. Trying to use it like he was just—an obstacle.” She strode towards him and shoved him. Hard. He fell back a few steps. “You think you can worm your way back into Emily’s life—what, is Sonny next? Do you think that Jason is gone, and you can just step right back in? Back to your goddamn corner office and promotion?”

“What the hell—”

“He’s dead—” Elizabeth whirled away, dragged her hands through hair, trying to draw back some of the anger. “And you’re like a fucking scavenger. A vulture here to pick at the pieces before his body is even cold.” She faced him again. “What is wrong with you?” she cried.

“Look, I never—” Zander shook his head. “I don’t want to make this worse for you. I’m sorry. I didn’t—” He looked away. “I’ll send Emily a letter or something. I was gonna go tomorrow, but I don’t—it’s not worth it. I’m sorry, Elizabeth.

“You’re only sorry he ever came home and screwed up your cozy life,” she snarled. “Go to hell.”

“You know what?” Zander shot back, his face flushing. “I had it right the first time—you’re a fucking bitch—”

“Back off!” The unexpected growl came from the top of the stairs, and Elizabeth saw just a blur as Lucky Spencer took the steps two at a time and shoved himself between the two of them. “What the hell is wrong with you, you piece of shit?”

“Oh, of course.” Zander sneered. “Here you are. Think you’re going to lap up Jason’s leavings? She’ll just jump back to you like she jumped to Jason—”

Lucky took Zander by the collar, his knuckles white. “Walk away. You stay away from that memorial tomorrow. You stay away from Emily, from Elizabeth. From all of us.”

“Go to hell,” the other man growled, but he jerked away from Lucky and stalked in the opposite direction, the way he came.

Lucky turned back to Elizabeth, dragging his hand through his hair. “Hey. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”

“What are you—” Elizabeth cleared her throat, trying to process his presence. “I thought you were in New York.”

“Emily called when Jason went missing…and then she told me—” Lucky swallowed. “It’s not what Zander said, I’m not trying—I just…”

He waited a moment, trying to gather his thoughts. “Emily told me what happened, and all I could think was that I had to make sure you were—I don’t know. That you weren’t alone. We were friends for so long, Elizabeth. You held me together when my entire family fell apart. Every time my world fell apart, you were there. Even when it hurt you.”

“Lucky—”

“So, I just…I don’t know. I wanted to be here for Emily, too, but I just—I wanted to try to see if I could be a friend to you again.” Lucky hesitated. “So here I am.”

“Okay.” Elizabeth folded her arms tightly. She looked back out over the lake as the sun set behind them, casting the Gothic mansion into shadows. “We’re burying him in two days, Lucky. I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do this again,” she admitted.

He put his arm around her shoulders, and for just a minute, she could remember what it had been like once to lean on him. To trust that he would be there for her.

“The thing about you, Elizabeth Imogene Webber,” he said, and smiled when she grimaced at the sound of her hated middle name, “is that you never give yourself enough credit. But let me say that it’s bullshit that you even have to do this again.”

She sighed and let him walk her towards the steps and away from the bench.

June 17, 2016

This entry is part 1 of 24 in the series Bittersweet

Get up, get out, get away from these liars
‘Cause they don’t get your soul or your fire
Take my hand, knot your fingers through mine
And we’ll walk from this dark room for the last time

Open Your Eyes, Snow Patrol


Sunday, April 14, 2002

Vista Point

After a long shift at Club 101, there was nothing Carly Corinthos loved more than taking her brand-new convertible racing along the high hills that bordered the north side of Port Charles. She’d shake off the frustrations of her day, letting them dissipate into the cold night air.

Spring had come early to upstate New York that year—the days were warm and sunny, the cherry blossom trees lining her mother’s street had bloomed nearly a week ago, but the nights still held the bitter chill of winter.

But Carly wasn’t thinking about the ice in the wind as she whipped around another corner. Everything in her life was finally just as it should be. She had her beautiful son, a great relationship with her mother, a cordial relationship with her ex-husband, a satisfying career—

She was even considering moving into her own house, but Michael loved the Brownstone and the quiet neighborhood with the park nearby. He liked being around his grandmother, around his uncle Lucas, and he liked when Elizabeth looked after him or picked him up from school. Her son was thriving for the first time in months, and Carly wasn’t ready to rock the boat.

But soon, maybe. Or perhaps she’d ask her mother to rent the last empty apartment, even though it was across the hall from Marcus Taggert. It would give her some privacy, some space to herself and keep Michael in the same environment, with the same people.

She whipped around another corner and began to slowly decelerate, easing up on the gas and slowly tapping the breaks. Her brief free time was over, and it was time to get some sleep before having Sunday morning breakfast with Michael.

This was going to be year of Carly Corinthos and—

She took the last corner—the final one before she began the descent from the cliffs towards downtown Port Charles—but a flash of headlights blinded her vision. She jerked to the side, her car grinding against the guardrail that separated the road from the edge of the cliff.

There wasn’t time to scream, wasn’t time to think—There was a loud screech of metal, a grinding as a car slid past her.

Then her car was through the rail, teetering over the edge. Her hands shaking, she slowly reached for the car door—

Then everything went black.

Brownstone: Elizabeth and Gia’s Apartment, Kitchen

Elizabeth raised the carafe of coffee to her nose, wrinkling as she looked at her scowling roommate. “Did you stay up all night again, Gia?”

“Finals,” came the mutter from the dining table that had never seen a plate of food. The last four months had seen it put into use as a double desk—Gia for her political science and psychology classes and Elizabeth, who was struggling with art history and business.

“I know, but you could have at least cleaned out the coffee pot for me.” Elizabeth rinsed the carafe before setting it back on the pot. “I could make the argument that if you hadn’t spent the majority of the semester flirting with your classmates, you wouldn’t have to put in so much effort now—”

“But you value your life, so you won’t.” Gia Campbell lifted her head from her studies and frowned. “Why are you up at—” She blinked blearily, trying to focus on the wristwatch on her arm. “Shit. Five o’clock?”

“Morning shift at Kelly’s. I have to open.” She stifled a yawn. “But I was up late working on a paper about Monet’s use of color.”

“None of that means anything to me—” Gia broke off her smart remark as a cell phone rang shrilly. “Ugh. It is too early for that nonsense. You need to change that ring tone—”

“I’ll get right on that—” Elizabeth fished in the pocket of her robe and blinked at the caller screen. “Why is Lucas calling me—” But she had flipped it open before finishing her question. “Lucas—”

“Can you come downstairs? Right now?”

“Is Bobbie okay? What’s wrong?” Elizabeth asked, already heading to her bedroom. The phone cradled between her ear and neck, she slid out of her pajama shorts and found a pair of jeans.

“Carly—she had an accident. Mom’s freaking out. She wants to go to the station, but she’s in no position to drive. We need you to come downstairs and watch Michael. Can you?”

“Ah, yeah. I’ll be right down.” Elizabeth closed her phone and dragged over a pair of sandals to slide her feet into. “Gia, can you call Courtney and ask her to open this morning? Carly had a car accident, Bobbie’s freaking out—”

“How bad?” Gia asked. “Elizabeth—”

“I don’t know, but it must—” And then Elizabeth stopped, her face pale. “Bobbie wants to go to the police station. Not the hospital.”

“And Carly should have been home from the club hours ago. This is bad, isn’t it?”

“And it’s about to be worse,” Elizabeth sighed. “Because Courtney—”

“Is married to AJ, which means the Quartermaines—”

“God, I hope she’s okay,” Elizabeth murmured, grabbing her keys, her purse and the phone. “Can you call her?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

AJ and Courtney’s Apartment: Bedroom

The shrill ring of their land line was a harsh wake-up call.  Courtney Quartermaine jerked out of a deep sleep, blinking at the offending plastic piece of junk at her bedside.

“What the hell?” her husband AJ demanded at her side, his words slurred. “I had the second shift—”

And she’d closed the night before and hadn’t been able to fall asleep until nearly one. Still, phone calls at—she looked at the clock—five-ten in the morning were never a good sign.

“Hello?” she all but yawned into the phone.

“Hey, sorry to call so early,” Gia said, “but there’s some kind of emergency. Carly was in a car accident of some sort, so Bobbie needs Elizabeth to look after—”

“Oh, no. Come on, Gia. I just closed—” Then the implications slid into Courtney’s sleep-fuzzed mind. “How bad was the accident?”

“What accident?” AJ asked. “Was it Elizabeth? Is that why you have to go in?”

“I don’t know how bad, Courtney, but Bobbie’s going to the police station, not the hospital, and they waited to call her until now when Carly should have been home almost three hours ago.” Gia sighed. “Elizabeth wouldn’t ask, but Penny is still being trained, and—”

“I’m the only one who’s trained for the opening shift, yeah.” Courtney sighed. “I’ll be there, but I might be a bit late.”

“I highly doubt Bobbie is going to care if Kelly’s opens at all, so it’s not going to matter.”

Courtney hung up and looked at her husband. God, this was the last thing she wanted to tell him because she knew the devastating implications if Carly didn’t survive. “Carly didn’t come home from the club last night apparently, and the cops called Bobbie this morning.”

“They waited—” AJ closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “That’s not a good sign.”

“Gia didn’t think so. Bobbie’s going to the station to get more information, I guess she’s too upset to drive, so Lucas is taking her, and Elizabeth is going to watch Michael—”

“So, you need to open.” AJ swung his legs over the side of the bed. “I should get to the mansion—”

“Do you really need to?” Courtney asked, shoving the comforter back. “It’s so early, and maybe they won’t know yet—”

“When Grandfather finds out that Carly has been in a bad car accident, the first thing he’ll do is find a lawyer to challenge Bobbie for custody. I have to head him off.” He hesitated. “Because we don’t know anything yet. If we go after Michael now before Carly’s condition is clear, then we risk alienating the family court judge.”

“And if it’s the worst-case scenario?” Courtney asked softly. “AJ—”

“I don’t know what’ll happen,” he admitted. “But I have to head off my family from making this situation worse.”

Harborview Towers: Corinthos Penthouse, Living Room

The news trickled to Sonny almost two hours later, when Max knocked on the door to the penthouse.  Sonny paused at the foot of the stairs, two steaming cups of coffee in his hands. “Yeah?”

“Uh, Boss?” Max stepped over the threshold, his face hesitant. “Benny’s here. And there’s—there’s some news.”

If his business manager was here this early, this couldn’t be good. Maybe it was fortuitous that his lawyer was currently warming the sheets upstairs—though Alexis would be mortified if he fetched her now.

“Benny, what’s up?” Sonny crossed the room, setting the coffee on the table as he met the older man at the desk, his hangdog expression so much more pronounced. “Benny?”

“There was a car accident around three this morning,” Benny said. He set his briefcase on the desk. “We’ve spent the last few hours piecing together what the police know.”

“Man, not one of our guys—” He stopped. “Three this morning,” he finished.

“A witness called in a report—he saw a car swerve off the road, crash through the guardrail, and go over the side. He was on the phone with 911, calling in the make and model and the license plate when the car went over.”

“God.” Sonny closed his eyes. “Not the stupid red Porsche she bought with the divorce settlement—”

“By the time the authorities made it to the scene, by the time the Coast Guard was called in—” Benny stopped, exchanged a glance with Max, who stood solemn and silent. “Sonny, it’s the same part of the road—I mean, it’s where—”

“Where Brenda died,” Sonny murmured, remembering the reports back then. “Jax saw the car go over the cliff, but the currents there are so strong that the car was swept away. The depths of the lake in that region—”

“The Coast Guard is still searching,” Benny reported. “Mac decided to wait until morning, until he had something definite to tell Bobbie before waking her. When the Coast Guard realized the search would be extensive, and that it was unlikely she survived—he called her about five.”

“Damn it,” Sonny murmured. A pit formed in his stomach. “Ah, tell our source at the PCPD to keep us informed. I wanna know if it’s—if it was an accident. Find Cody and Milo. I want them over at the Brownstone. Um—” He stopped. There were steps to take, things to be done, but he couldn’t—

He couldn’t think.

“Cody and Milo are already on their way. Bobbie and Lucas were at the station for a while, but Felicia drove them both home about thirty minutes ago. Elizabeth was with Michael. She’s staying with them until around noon. Courtney’s been stuck at Kelly’s with Penny and Don by herself.” Benny looked at Max. “Everything is good here?”

“Ah, yeah, yeah it is. We got it under control, Mr. C,” Max told him.

“Thanks.” He dismissed them both and returned to the coffee mugs, only lukewarm now. He stared at them for a moment, wondering if he ought to dispose of them.

Alexis Davis stepped around the landing, dressed in the business suit he’d peeled off her the night before. “I heard.” She cleared her throat and came down the second flight of stairs. “I’m sorry, Sonny.”

“Ah, yeah.” Sonny looked at her, blinking. “I—”

“I think we should just chalk last night up to a mistake.” Her cheeks flushed as she refused to meet his eyes. “It didn’t—it never happened.”

“Alexis—” he began, but she rushed past him and out the door. He thought about going after her, but he didn’t have the time.

He crossed back to the desk, reached for the phone, and started to dial. It was time to track down Jason and bring him home.

Oasis Strip Club: Back Office

“You’ll like the Paradise,” Dominic Savarolli—Nico to his friends and intimates—told his protege. “It’s not as refined as things here at the Oasis, but you won’t have to complete with Coleman for the girls.”

Zander Smith leaned back, a bottle of Rolling Rock clasped in his hands. “I’m not much interested in the girls who work here,” he told his boss. “But I like the idea of being in charge.”

Nico grinned. “Yeah, I’ll bet you do. I’ll talk to Sonny, but he’s a rubber stamp at this point. He don’t care who runs the crews as long as we make them money. He wants me to expand to Las Vegas, he’s gonna have to let me put who I want in charge of the bookies and games here.”

“Sonny’s never cared much for me,” Zander admitted. “After I dealt drugs for Sorel, he only let me live because I was useful.”

“True, true,” Nico replied. “But he put you to work with me instead of removing you permanently. You’ve done good work for me. And Sonny trusts me. I’ve been in the business through four bosses, I know talent when I see it.”

And Zander was banking on Sonny deferring to Nico under those circumstances. His boss was in his early forties and had been running the Oasis and several clubs of its kind as fronts for gambling casinos for the better part of two decades. He’d started as a runner under Frank Smith and had managed to survive the rough transition between Moreno and Sorel.

When Sorel had been offed by his own kid, Nico had elected to toss his support behind a merger with Sonny rather than backing the upstart Mickey Roscoe.

Zander had briefly considered going to Roscoe. Mickey liked him better—they had worked the rave scene together for a few months, Mickey as the supplier and Zander as the guy on the scene. But Mickey didn’t have the balls or head for this game, and now, all these months later, only accounted for a handful of bookies and a single holding company on Pier 52. He didn’t have the juice to take on Corinthos, so Zander—ever the opportunist—had stuck with what he knew.

And now Nico was prepared to hand over the lucrative Port Charles gambling trade, so he could concentrate on the casinos in Atlantic City, the Caribbean, and a new one in Las Vegas. It was exactly the opportunity Zander had been counting on.

The door opened, and Nico’s long-time right hand entered. Lenny Hauptmann’s thin face looked drawn. “We got ourselves a situation, Nicky.”

Nico grimaced, but Lenny had almost two decades on him and had watched him rise up in the ranks. Lenny liked the money and the girls—occasionally dipped in the product Nico still ran in the clubs under Sonny’s nose—but he didn’t want the power. He was happy to see his Nicky enjoy the fruits of their combined labor.

“What’s up, Len?” Nico rose from his desk. “Ollie didn’t report in? He’s got his boys tracking down the last the money owed from the Super Bowl—”

“It’s not business, Nicky. The boss’s ex drove herself over the cliff last night. Or something. No one knows exactly what’s going on, but her car is somewhere in the lake.”

“Carly?” Zander asked. “She’s dead?”

“They don’t know that yet,” Lenny reported. “But word on the street is they’re not holding out much hope, what with the currents this time of year and the location of the crash. You know what this means, Nicky.”

“Yeah.” Nico rubbed his eyes. “Call the boys. Start flushing out the product.”

“What’s going on?” Zander asked. “Nico—”

“Carly’s dead, her boy is up for grabs. Jason Morgan is gonna come back, and he ain’t gonna let us get away with dealing the product. Sonny don’t care as long as the books balance. Jason? He’s funny about this kind of thing.”

“Jason Morgan? No way. He hasn’t been around for a year. He didn’t even come home when his sister was in the accident.” Zander felt the usual twinge when Emily entered his thoughts, but he’d put her out of his life.

He’d been a different man for her, but she hadn’t wanted him. Fine. He had his own life to lead.

“Nicky’s right, Smith. Morgan’s gonna come back, even if it’s to settle the estate. No way that dumb bitch didn’t leave the kid to him. I remember when Moreno almost blew the kid up. Pure accident, of course,” Nico murmured. “But Morgan nearly took him apart. And then walked away. He loves that boy like a son. He’ll be home.”

“Ah, Morgan doesn’t really…” Zander coughed in his hand. “He doesn’t care for me much after everything that happened with his sister.”

Nico shrugged. “He knows you’re working for Sonny. Morgan ain’t never involved himself in low-level decisions. I’ll get Sonny to sign off on it without Morgan in the room. Don’t worry, Zander. Sonny wants me to go make money in Vegas, he’s gonna have to let me do it my way.”

Zander wished he could have the confidence of the man behind the desk, but he had a sinking feeling that if Jason Morgan did return to Port Charles, any chance of his rising higher than bone-cracking thug had died along with Carly Corinthos.

Quartermaine Estate: Family Room

AJ was convinced that the best decision he’d ever made was to walk away from this family two months ago. He’d had moments in the ensuing weeks as he and Courtney had struggled to pay bills on her tips until he’d completed training as a forklift operator and started working at the waterfront.

It was backbreaking work and he often fell into his bed at night, exhausted from the manual labor. But he knew he was making it on his own, and he hadn’t had the urge to drink in in weeks.

He had one now as he stood in the estate’s family room, just steps from the mini bar. His mother was at work, but his father and grandfather were debating the merits of one family law attorney over another. Alan wanted to stay local, while Edward wanted to bring in the best in the state. If not the world.

“They haven’t even declared her dead yet,” AJ muttered as he sat in the sofa and put his head in his hands. “Jesus, Grandmother.”

“I’ll talk to your grandfather, my love, but you know how he can be,” Lila Quartermaine said in her soft, gentle voice. “I agree with you.”

“How can you?” he demanded. “They haven’t even asked me what I think yet.”

“Because I know your heart, AJ.” Lila reached for his hand and squeezed it once he placed it in her palm. Her grasp was not as strong as it had once been, but the comfort was there. Here was a woman who, even at the depths of her disappointment in him, believed he could do better.

“If she is dead—” And there was a surprising swell of grief for the thought that his nemesis and one-time friend had departed this world. “If she is dead,” AJ began again, “I can only imagine what Bobbie’s going through. I can’t—how can we tell her now that she might have lost a second daughter, we want to take her grandson?”

“They’re not considering Bobbie. They only see a chance to have Michael in their lives—”

“To shape him, to make him into the kind of Quartermaine they think he should be,” AJ muttered, the resentment all but swallowing him whole. “Their chance at a new generation.”

“I suppose that is one way to consider it.” Lila said. “But I think they’re attempting to get ahead of the situation.”

“Because Jason will be coming home,” AJ said, leaning back. “Sonny never adopted Michael, and I would bet anything Carly left Jason guardianship. It’s not Bobbie we’ll have to deal with. Carly would never leave this up to her. She’s too close to the family.”

“And if they can file a suit before Jason arrives, they hope to fast-track and present a fait accompli.” Lila focused her soft blue eyes on her grandson. “But you would prefer to wait. To give Michael time to adjust. To allow Bobbie space to grieve.” She smiled at him, pride shining in her gaze. “And that’s exactly what we’ll do. You leave it to me.”

Mumbai, India

Hotel: Jason’s Room

It was two days after the accident by the time Sonny’s myriad of phone calls finally tracked Jason to a hotel in Mumbai, India, where he’d been spending the last few weeks.

Jason had taken in the news—including the fact that there had been no update and Carly was all but declared dead—and promised to be home as soon as possible.

Neither of them had spoken of the complications created by Carly’s death or his return—that custody of Michael would be a pitched battle, that Sonny would have to create space for Jason to come back to his job—because his rivals would assume Jason would be back at Sonny’s side whether he was or not.

They spoke of none of these things—only that Jason would catch the next flight out of India. He threw his things into a duffel bag, checked out, and headed home.

August 18, 2016

This entry is part 2 of 24 in the series Bittersweet

Last time I talked to you
You were lonely and out of place
You were looking down on me
Lost out in space
We laid underneath the stars
Strung out and feeling brave
I watched the red orange glow
I watched you float away

Somewhere Out There, Our Lady Peace


Friday, April 19, 2002

Brownstone: Living Room

The room didn’t look any different than the last time Jason had been here—the same comfortable pieces of beige furniture, the first fresh flowers of spring, the photos of Bobbie’s family on the mantel.

There were a few signs that an active five-year-old boy resided here: a set of crayons and coloring book on the table. A small activity table set near the television.

Jason stood in the middle of the room, feeling awkward. Out of place. His chest was two sizes too tight to hold his lungs. Carly’s mother—Bobbie Spencer—sat on the sofa, looking pale, a bit lost and faded.

It would take some time for the courts to deal with the legalities—it would be a few weeks before a funeral service could be held. Though there would be no body to put to rest, Carly would have a marking stone a few paces from BJ, the adopted daughter Bobbie had buried eight years earlier.

“I’m just not sure what to do,” Bobbie murmured. “She’s only been in my life for, what, six years? And barely four as my daughter…” She closed her eyes. “What do I do, Jason? How do I raise that little boy?”

“The same way you raised Lucas and BJ.” Jason took a seat next to her, almost perching on the edge of the sofa. “Bobbie, I don’t know what Carly wrote in her will—”

“She’ll have left everything to Michael, in a trust. Alexis wrote a will for her after they settled the divorce.” Bobbie’s eyes met his, some warmth in them. “You and I are the executors, but guardianship—she’s left that to you.”

Which didn’t surprise him at all, but it was a terrifying prospect nonetheless. “I don’t intend to change his living arrangements,” Jason told her. “I know he’s been with you the better part of the year. The last time I spoke to Carly, she said Michael was doing well in kindergarten, that he loved being here.”

“It’s been a good year,” Bobbie murmured. “The divorce was difficult on them both. Sonny managed to get AJ to terminate his rights, but I think they were right to stop the adoption. If Carly was ever going to have a life away from Sonny, a chance—” She stopped, her eyes closing again. “But she won’t now. It’s over.”

“Bobbie—”

“I’m okay.” She took a deep breath. “I know the coming months are going to be difficult. I’ve had some guarded conversations with Alan at the hospital, Edward stopped by to offer his condolences—Elizabeth stopped him from speaking to Michael.”

Jason put that information aside for the moment. “I’m surprised they haven’t filed anything yet. It’s been almost a week—”

“Lila convinced them to give me space. She sent a lovely note of condolence.” Bobbie patted his hand. “I don’t know how long she’ll be able to hold them off, so you should be prepared.” She hesitated. “Elizabeth is close to AJ’s new wife, Courtney. She might be able to give you a better idea as to whether AJ intends to follow his grandmother’s dictate.”

Jason wasn’t entirely sure he was ready to see Elizabeth, not this soon. He knew that something had happened on New Year’s Eve—that rather than marrying Lucky as planned, she’d left him at the altar and moved into the Brownstone with Bobbie. But he’d never pressed Sonny for details. Whatever he might have shared with her was over. She’d made her choice.

A reluctant choice, he knew. One made out of obligation and loyalty, not love. But a choice nonetheless.

But Bobbie was had a point—Elizabeth might be able to give him some insight into AJ’s plans, and that was worth taking the risk of seeing her again.

“Is she at work?”

Bobbie frowned and looked at her watch. “Yes, I’m almost sure. She had some morning classes, but she’s working the lunch and dinner shift at Kelly’s today.” She rose to her feet. “I don’t know what I would have done if Elizabeth hadn’t moved in a few months ago with Gia. She was here that morning when we found out. She stayed with Michael until Lucas brought me home from the station.”

“She’s always been reliable,” was all Jason could offer. “If you need anything, Bobbie—”

“I know where to find you.” Her smile was wobbly and faded almost as soon as it appeared, but it had been there. “Thank you for coming home, Jason. We needed you.”

Kelly’s: Courtyard

Elizabeth grimaced when she saw AJ Quartermaine step through the arch connecting the courtyard to the parking lot. Courtney wasn’t working today, and it was past the usual lunch shift for dock workers—

Which meant AJ likely had a purpose for coming here that didn’t include a burger and fries.

“AJ,” she murmured as she stacked several dishes into her tub. “You’re a bit late for lunch.”

“I have a guy covering for me. I was hoping to catch you after the lunch rush.” He gestured toward the table she was cleaning off. “Do you have a minute?”

Against her better judgment, Elizabeth sat, resting the tub of dirty dishes in her lap. “AJ, I really don’t want to talk about Michael—”

“I know, and I don’t want you to feel like you’re in the middle. I just—” AJ sat and raked his fingers through his dirty blonde hair. “Look, I know how good you are to him, how much you mean to Bobbie. I just—I wanted to know if you’d heard from Jason.”

Elizabeth raised her brows, her heart beating fast at the name. She knew Jason would be arriving any day now—his travel plans hadn’t been stable, Sonny said. “Sonny talked to him. He’s coming home. He wasn’t sure when.”

AJ nodded. “That’s what I figured. Look, I just—I wanted to make sure you knew that I don’t intend—I’m not going to be like my father or my grandfather. I don’t see Carly’s—” A grimace passed over his face. “I don’t see Carly’s death as an opportunity to get my son back.”

Elizabeth tilted her head to the side, not trusting him. “That doesn’t mean you’re not going to use it. AJ, I know Courtney loves you, but in your own way, you’re as ruthless as any of the other members of your family. You want your son.”

He scowled. “Does that make me the villain then?” AJ demanded. “I never got the chance to screw up. I had him for exactly one year and he was fine—”

“I’m not involved in any of that,” Elizabeth cut in, but she could admit he had a point. Jason and Carly had had their reasons, but AJ had never had a choice in the matter. She even suspected some blackmail or other illegalities had been in play when he’d unexpectedly terminated his parental rights last fall.

“I know, I’m sorry.” AJ drew back and took a deep breath. “Look, Elizabeth, I know how much your friendship has meant to Courtney. You’ve gone out of your way to make her feel at home here. She loves you.”

At the mention of his wife, Elizabeth bit her lip. “And I love her, too. She came into my life when I needed someone new, and I’ve been happy to extend friendship to her. Honestly, AJ, the fact that you had the good sense to fall for her is the reason…” That she didn’t think AJ was a complete waste of space, but that didn’t mean she trusted him.

“I get it. I do. I just…yeah, I want my son. I don’t think that makes me a bad person. But I don’t want to make anything more difficult for Bobbie or Michael. They need time, they need space. I’ve told my family that. I can’t control them, I can’t be sure they won’t file a suit on their own. My grandmother is doing what she can to hold them off—”

“But it’s like holding back a freight train,” Elizabeth sighed. “What do you want from me, AJ? Is this just a friendly warning?”

“I don’t want to bother Bobbie right now. I thought if you could pass the message for me—”

“Some things never change.”

They both looked up at the interruption, the tone familiar and annoyed. Elizabeth rose, blinking in surprise as Jason stepped away from the shadow of the arch which had hid him from their view. “Jason? When—”

“Jason, I—” AJ began.

“You’re still getting someone else to do your dirty work.” Jason folded his arms, his stance tense.  “You think you’re a good guy because you’re not going to drag a grieving mother into court the minute she buries her daughter?”

“Jason,” Elizabeth began. “AJ was just—” But his scathing glance cut off her words in mid-sentence. He didn’t often look at her in anger, and she wasn’t sure she appreciated it now. What the hell did he even know about this situation?

“I was just telling Elizabeth that I’m going to do what I can to keep Grandfather out of this,” AJ said, waving a hand at Elizabeth as if to tell her he would fight this battle. “But make no mistake, Jason. You’re not going to keep me from my son. Not this time.”

AJ looked at Elizabeth, apology in his eyes. “I’ll see you around.”

When he was gone, Elizabeth turned to Jason, scowling. “Was that necessary? How long were you standing there?”

“Long enough to hear him try to con you,” Jason retorted. “Don’t you know better by now? AJ is always playing an angle—”

“I’m not an idiot,” she shot back. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and reminded herself that this feud between the brothers was bitter, long-lived, and had nothing to do with her. That Jason had likely been traveling for days, was dealing with the death of a close friend, with acquiring the guardianship of a little boy he loved more than life. “I don’t want to fight with you, Jason.”

His features smoothed out a bit and he dipped his head. “I’m sorry. I just—”

“See red when the topics of AJ and Michael come up, yeah. That’s not news to me.” She reached for the tub of dishes and perched it on her hip. “When did you get in? Sonny wasn’t sure—”

“This morning. I stopped at Jake’s to get a room.” Jason held the door open for her, then followed her inside. The diner was relatively deserted—their main fare at Kelly’s were the dock workers and high school students. A couple sat in the back, nursing some milkshakes and a college student was pouring over a biology textbook with a large mug of coffee at his side.

She dumped the dishes behind the counter and nodded to Don. “You can take your break. I’m all done in the courtyard for now.” To Jason, Elizabeth said, “Did you want some coffee? Something to eat?”

“Ah, sure.” Jason sat on the stool, his elbows on the counter. “I saw Bobbie. She looks…all right, I guess.”

“Because she can keep busy.” Elizabeth set the mug of black coffee in front of him. “She’s planning the services, signing papers for the trust Carly set up. Fielding calls from reporters, dealing with the cops—”

Jason frowned. “The cops? Wasn’t it ruled an accident?”

“It’s still ongoing, according to Mac and Taggart. I mean, I can’t see how it would be anything other than accident. Sonny told Bobbie there’s nothing to worry about, but you know the PCPD and the newspapers—”

“Yeah.” Jason scrubbed his hands over his face. “Yeah, I know.” He hesitated. “AJ. Earlier—”

“Let’s…” Elizabeth took a deep breath. Better to set the boundary lines now. “If AJ says something to me, I’m comfortable passing it along, even without him saying so. We’re not friends, and I’ve never pretended otherwise.  But Courtney is my friend, and unless she gives me the okay—”

Jason held up a hand. “I get it. I have no problem with that—”

“AJ didn’t really say anything more to me than you than you overheard. He’s planning to give Bobbie some space, I guess wait for Michael to, I don’t know, adjust to not having Carly, but—”

“He’ll be filing for custody.” Jason exhaled slowly. “Yeah, I guess that’s not much of a surprise. I guess he thinks he’s being the hero for giving Bobbie five seconds to mourn her daughter.”

“By Quartermaine standards?” Elizabeth arched her brow. “Considering I’ve already had to chase your grandfather and father away from the Brownstone more than once?”

At his scowl, she rolled her eyes. “Look, you don’t have to be friends with them, but you’re about to go in front of a judge to argue why you need to keep Michael with you. The fact you are, technically, his biological uncle, is going to be a point in your favor—”

“They’re not my family,” Jason said darkly.

“Jason—” She sighed. “No one is asking you have Thanksgiving with them, but if you walk into that court room and talk about how they’re not your family, you’re going to look petty. Immature. I can’t imagine it’ll reflect well on you.”

He was quiet for a moment, before grimacing and shaking his head. “If I go into a court room with AJ on the other side—”

“Hey…” Elizabeth reached across the counter to touch his hand, hesitant at first. This wasn’t part of the plan, but she couldn’t stand that look on his face. “Look, don’t worry. You’ll have Alexis on your side—”

“I lost before—”

“Because—” She bit her lip. “Because Carly was in the picture then. And she and AJ—”

“Were a united front.” He nodded. “Okay, I get it. I just—Michael’s been through so much.”

“I’m confident, that between you and Bobbie, you’ll do right by Michael.” Their eyes met. Held. After a long moment, she released his hand and stepped back, feeling her cheeks warm. “I wanted to say how sorry I was about Carly. She was doing so good these last few months. You would have been proud.”

“She sounded good the last time we spoke.” He finished his coffee. “I need to stop in to see Sonny.” He reached into his wallet and dropped a twenty next to the coffee mug. “I’m sorry,” he said again. “I didn’t—I don’t want to fight with you.”

“It’s fine.” She paused. “I don’t want to fight with you either, Jason.” And because she needed to say it—for both their sakes, she continued, “I want us to be friends.”

He looked at her, tilting his head slightly in that way she’d always loved, then nodded as if he’d heard the words she’d left unspoken. “So do I. I’ll see you around, Elizabeth.”

When he gone, she picked up his empty mug and tucked the twenty into her apron. She managed a smile as Penny Reyes arrived for her shift.

“Hey, Liz!” the pretty Filipino girl said with a bright smile to match the vibrancy of the new pink streaks in her dark hair. “Sorry, I’m late but I was at the salon.”

“No problem, Penny. We’re dead, anyway. I like the hair.”

“Thanks—hey, was that Jason Morgan I saw leaving?” Penny tied her apron around her trim waist. “He looks even sexier than the last time I saw him. Some men age like fine wine, and man—” She wiggled her eyebrows. “Didn’t you used to date him?”

“Not exactly,” Elizabeth murmured. She often forgot that most of the town believed she and Jason had had a brief affair during that winter in her studio when he’d been shot.

“If I were you, I would get me a piece of that.” Penny picked up the carafe of coffee and moved to refill the biology student’s cup.

“Well, you’re not me.” Elizabeth reached under the counter for the receipts from the morning shift and headed to the back table to update the books.

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

This was not the way he’d hoped his old friend would finally return home.

Sonny offered Jason a bourbon—an offer that was often extended, but rarely accepted. Today, however, Jason took the tumbler. “Is there any chance this wasn’t an accident?” Jason demanded.

Sonny sighed and, bourbon in his hand, crossed to the window. Though the building’s name boasted of its view of the harbor, Sonny had chosen to live in the penthouse that overlooked downtown Port Charles.

From his vantage, he could see the park, the ritzy neighborhood that held wealthy families like the Quartermaines—he could see General Hospital, the way the Port Charles Hotel still towered over most of the skyline—though some of newer apartment buildings and office buildings were starting to compete.

Port Charles had been changing, growing for more than a decade. Sonny had encouraged it, invested in it. The larger the city was, the less time the police had to focus on him.

Now he wondered if it had grown too large to control. He’d merged his territory with the swath of town Sorel and Moreno had controlled, folding their men into his, taking over some of the piers and holding companies they had utilized. There were pieces he didn’t know as well, areas he hadn’t been personally involved in.

But Jason was home now. He could take a breath. He could depend on Jason.

He turned back to Jason. “Accident investigators didn’t find any evidence,” Sonny said finally. “Bobbie hounded Scott Baldwin and Mac Scorpio. She refused to give up, even when the Coast Guard had declared it impossible. An expert from the state agency finished up his own look yesterday.” He sighed. “Our source got it to us. Carly was taking the corners too fast, she didn’t brake in time—”

“But you looked into it anyway, didn’t you? Anyone could have messed with her brakes,” Jason said. “Sonny—”

“Without her car to look at, to confirm…” Sonny tilted his head back. “Yeah, I wondered. I have our guys looking into Mickey Roscoe. He’s the only holdout from the merger. Seems to think he can take me down. He doesn’t have the backup. There’s nothing to be gained from taking out Carly. It’d be suicide for him.”

“Right, but—”

“I thought about the Quartermaines,” Sonny cut in. He turned back to meet Jason’s eyes. “After I…convinced AJ to terminate his parental rights, he was livid. He…convinced my sister to run away with him, told me that if I didn’t make sure he got his son back, he’d…” He chuckled. “He’d marry her.”

Jason exhaled slowly. “Not much for revenge, I guess. He’s not a…” He waited a beat. “That’s probably as villainous as he could get. I can’t see him—or anyone else in the family—going after Carly. It might get an obstacle out of the way, but Alan and Monica—they’re close to Bobbie. And as ruthless as the old man is—”

“Outright murder isn’t their style. I mean, I’m not saying they wouldn’t ever arrange an accident—I’ve heard some stories about them—particularly Alan—that would turn your hair white. I’m saying I can’t pin this on them.”

“So, an accident,” Jason said after a moment. He tossed back the rest of the liquor, grimacing.

“We’ll keep our eyes and ears open, Jase.” He hesitated, looking down into his glass. “Carly was a fighter. I can’t stand to think—” He stopped. Neither of them needed the image of Carly’s death in their heads.

They were both quiet for a long moment, remembering the woman that had changed both their lives so drastically.

Sonny cleared his throat. “I imagine you’ll be sticking around.” He settled himself at the dining table, feeling exhausted down to his bones. “With Michael involved—”

“AJ already made his intentions clear.” Jason joined him, his hands clenched in fists as they rested on top of the table. “I found him pleading his case to Elizabeth at Kelly’s. He’ll give Bobbie some time, but he’s going after him.”

Sonny pursed his lips. “Yeah, I can see where he’d think she would be his best bet. God knows, she’s too nice for her own good. Probably hoping she’ll put in a good word with Bobbie.” He eyed his friend. “Or you.”

“She knows better,” Jason muttered. He looked away. “She’s still living at the Brownstone?”

“Did you think she would be back with Spencer by now?” Sonny asked. When Jason didn’t answer, he continued, “Yeah. Lucky’s not too fond of his aunt—maybe if Elizabeth had been stuck at Kelly’s, she might have drifted back. But Bobbie gave her and Gia a place to stay and as far as I know, a clean break from all of that.”

“She looked better than the last time I saw her,” was all Jason offered. “I got a room at Jake’s for now. But I’m sticking until Michael’s custody is settled. Probably longer.”

“Yeah, the Quartermaines will still be hassling Bobbie for visitation until Michael’s children are in college,” Sonny muttered. He considered a moment. “I’ve been expanding certain areas of the business. Considering some legitimate options here in Port Charles, looking into beefing up the Atlantic City casino. Maybe even going into Las Vegas with one of the guys out there.”

Jason hesitated. “You might be stretching yourself a bit thin, Sonny.”

“Not if I have the right guys in place,” he replied. “I’m concerned that some of the men I inherited from Sorel and Moreno aren’t exactly…game players. Dominic Savarolli, do you remember him?”

“Yeah, didn’t you two come up together with Frank Smith?” Jason squinted. “He ran numbers for Frank, then Moreno. He stuck with Sorel until he didn’t have a choice. You don’t trust Nico?”

“I’m concerned because he’s pushing the expansion,” Sonny clarified. “And he’s been pretty vocal. Maybe you look into Nico and his crew. That’s where most of Sorel’s men are. Johnny and Tommy didn’t want them, and you know Francis prefers to hire his own guys to train.”  He shrugged. “If I expand, and maybe you don’t want to stick around Port Charles, you can always go deal with things out west.”

“Yeah, maybe.” Jason handed him back the tumbler. “I’ll give Benny a call and get some background. Thanks, Sonny.”

Brownstone: Kitchen

Bobbie set a cup of tea in front of her…well, in front of the only daughter she had left. Elizabeth had come into her life as a terrified victim, someone her nephew wanted to look out for. To protect. And for the love of her nephew, Bobbie had stepped in to provide support. That special, sweet boy was gone, but Elizabeth…

Elizabeth had remained, claiming her own spot in Bobbie’s heart, to the point she had faced down that same irate nephew after the disastrous wedding. And now, with the loss of Carly, she was clinging to this makeshift family she’d constructed in the Brownstone with Lucas, Michael, and Elizabeth.

“Did Jason stop by Kelly’s?” Bobbie asked, casually, as she took a seat next to Elizabeth with her own cup of tea. “I meant to call you.”

Elizabeth offered a half smile. “No, you didn’t.”

“No, I didn’t want to warn you,” she admitted. “I thought it might be more awkward if you were expecting him. You haven’t said much about the fight you had last year, but I know it’s pained you. I hope you and Jason can work it out.”

“Nothing to work out,” the brunette responded. “We’re friends. That’s it. He’s worried about you and Michael, and it didn’t help that he got to Kelly’s at the same time AJ was telling me he was going to give you some space before he filed for custody.”

Bobbie closed her eyes. “Oh, those boys. They never do anything the easy way. I’m sure Jason was livid.”

“It certainly wasn’t the best reunion they could have had.” Elizabeth hesitated. “I know it’s none of my business, but I don’t think keeping AJ out of Michael’s life is going to be as easy as it’s been in the past. When AJ asks for custody, I think a court might seriously consider him.”

“So do I,” Bobbie sighed. “He’s been sober for the better part of a year. He has a good, stable, and steady job. His wife works, and we both know Courtney is lovely. She’d be a wonderful stepmother. When you add in the fact that technically AJ voluntarily surrendered his parental rights—at least as far as the court is concerned—”

“Would it be so bad?” Elizabeth asked. “I mean, look, I wasn’t around when Carly was pregnant, when she was keeping Michael from AJ. I don’t know what she went through then. I only know AJ through Emily and Courtney, and to be honest, while I’ve always seen the destructive behavior, I’ve never—”

“You’ve never seen AJ as the villain my daughter painted him to be.” Bobbie leaned back in her chair. “I loved Carly, I did. I saw myself in her, which is why I think I was able to look past the worst of her behavior. She was so…terrified of being rejected first, of being hurt—”

“So she put up a wall,” Elizabeth cut in. “A brittle facade that looked indestructible to others, but when it came right down to it, was easily shattered.” She stared down into her tea, her an empty expression in her eyes, but Bobbie knew better.

She sighed, tilting her head toward this young woman who, God help her, reminded her so much of herself. “Elizabeth…”

“Why did Carly work so hard to keep Michael away from AJ?” Elizabeth asked. Her eyes were warm now, as if the brief moment hadn’t happened.  But they would have to come back to this—Elizabeth wasn’t ready to talk, and Bobbie wasn’t one to push.

“Carly,” Bobbie continued, “was not concerned in the slightest about AJ or his drinking when she was pregnant. She just knew…she saw what we all saw—Tony was hanging by a thread then. He’d lost BJ, he’d let himself be seduced by a younger woman. He’d talked himself into a life with her, this baby was his second chance. And I think Carly wanted the stability Tony offered. The idea of a family.”

“And AJ was an obstacle to that family.”

“He was. So, she schemed to keep him from learning the truth, but then he…he threatened to take her to court. To demand a paternity test. And Carly panicked because she thought the Quartermaines would take her baby. She went to Jason, who was struggling after the accident in his own way. He promised to protect her and the baby from his family, because he saw them as ruthless and amoral. This was never about AJ.”

“But it is now,” Elizabeth said. “After Carly lost her son—” She hesitated. “I never believed he pushed her, you know? I can see them arguing, I know he was drunk at the time, but still—”

“I think Carly made herself believe he pushed her, because then she didn’t have to blame herself. I think she lost her balance and fell. It’s a twisted, horrible situation, Elizabeth, and I’m not sure anyone will be happy with the outcome.”

“Is anyone ever?” Elizabeth lifted her brows, her expression a mixture of wry humor and resignation. “You know, I’m here if you and Michael need anything.”

“I know.” Bobbie leaned over to squeeze her hand. “And I’m so grateful to have you.”

August 24, 2016

This entry is part 3 of 24 in the series Bittersweet

Well, you can say what you want
But it won’t change my mind
I’ll feel the same
About you
And you can tell me your reasons
But it won’t change my feelings
I’ll feel the same
About you

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’d 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.

“Aunt Bobbie!”

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 haven’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 of all things. 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 had 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, 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 lip, 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.”

September 1, 2016

This entry is part 4 of 24 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 her head was 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 pina 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 responsibilities—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 reading is 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.”

September 8, 2016

This entry is part 5 of 24 in the series Bittersweet

These feelings won’t go away
They’ve been knockin’ me sideways
I keep thinking in a moment that
Time will take them away
But these feelings won’t go away
Sideways, Citizen Cope


Thursday, April 25, 2002

Brownstone: Kitchen

“I loved my daughter,” Bobbie murmured, “but I’m not sure I ever understood her.” She stirred her tea a bit restlessly. “To set up a scene like that—”

Elizabeth bit her lip, her heart aching for Bobbie, but she was unsurprised to learn that the reading of Carly’s will had been a disaster. Carly had designed it for shock value — in the event she passed before Michael was an adult, she asked that Edward and AJ be invited to the reading of her will along with Jason, Sonny, and Bobbie.

Not there had been any surprises—Even Elizabeth knew Carly had set up a trust for Michael with Jason and Bobbie as executors, that Jason had been left guardianship, but…

“I know Edward can be difficult,” Bobbie continued. “He’s cantankerous, stubborn, arrogant—but he didn’t deserve what she wrote. What she said about him.”

“Is Jason legally bound to what Carly wrote?” Elizabeth asked. “To state that Michael is to never have a single piece of contact with anyone in the Quartermaine family before his eighteenth birthday—can that even be enforced?”

“No, not likely.” Bobbie shook her head. “Jason and Alexis are meeting about it today, but it just makes this situation more tense. AJ hasn’t filed yet, but I know he wants visitation at the very least, and truthfully…”

“You’ve considered it,” Elizabeth murmured. “You know that’s why Carly didn’t leave you guardianship.”

“I’m too soft, she used to tell me. But, yes, I’m sure she knew that my loyalty isn’t hard and fast. I often tried to get her to soften her stance on the Quartermaines.” She touched Elizabeth’s hands. “But I’m worried that Jason may dig his feet in the sand over this. Has Emily spoken to you about the fallout after his accident?”

“In some ways, but I know Jason…” She bit her lip. “He’d never admit it, but I think he felt rejected by them. They kept looking at him, wanting him to be this other person. Wanting him to be their idea of who Jason used to be. And the more they pushed, the more he drew away.”

“When you add in the fact that the one trait all Quartermaine men possess is their stubborn nature—it’s just become worse since Jason went to work for Sonny. Edward saw him denying all the advantages their family offered. And when this business with Michael happened—”

“It made everything even worse.” Elizabeth bit her lip. She didn’t want to be involved. She didn’t want anything to do with this, but she could feel herself being sucked in anyway. “Bobbie—”

“I feel awful asking this, but I don’t think Jason will listen to me about this.”

“Bobbie—”

“You have influence with Jason. You may not want to see it, but—”

“No, not—”

“You do.” Bobbie squeezed her hand. “Jason has to see that a long drawn out custody battle isn’t in anyone’s best interest. He may drag Michael through this and lose—”

“I can’t ask him to change his mind about AJ,” Elizabeth cut in, her tone sharp. “Don’t ask me to use what little connection I have with Jason to do that. I know AJ isn’t a bad person, I know how much he’s worked on himself, but I can’t pretend Jason’s fears aren’t real—”

“I just want Jason to be realistic about his chances. Elizabeth, if you care about Jason—”

“I have to get to work.” Elizabeth got to her feet. “I’ll talk to him, Bobbie. But this has to be his decision.” She bit her lip. “Did you tell Jason that you wanted him to make a deal with the Quartermaines? Does he know this is how you feel?”

“I mentioned it at the reading,” Bobbie admitted. “Just…be his friend, Elizabeth. He needs someone on his side.”

The trouble was, Elizabeth though as she left the kitchen and grabbed her purse from the front room, that she couldn’t very keep her distance from Jason and preserve a light, superficial friendship with him if she was constantly feeling pressured to be more.

And it was important that she stayed light and easy this time. Like the first few months of their friendship—she couldn’t afford anything more.

Not now. And not ever again.

Alexis’s Office

“You don’t think I’d win in court,” Jason said after a long moment, tossing his copy of Carly’s will on Alexis’s desk. “You agree with Bobbie.”

“I have to be honest with you,” Alexis said, her eyes understanding. “I think it depends on the next few weeks. At the moment, AJ is sober, with a good, steady job. A stable marriage to a perfectly lovely young woman. He comes from a well-respected family. Yes, he’s had issues with alcohol before but nothing on his record. You can bring up the accident, but that’s six years ago and he was never charged.”

“Because the Quartermaines covered for him—”

“When you add in the fact that AJ voluntarily surrendered his parental rights in order to give Michael a stable life after not being involved for so long, it makes him look like he has Michael’s best interests in heart. He hasn’t filed yet, he’s giving Michael space—”

“And the next head he bashes into a rock might be Michael’s,” Jason said, his teeth clenched. “Only he might not ever wake up. Is that a risk you want to take?”

“What we do have on our side is that AJ did agree to give up Michael a year ago. He did allow Carly to have full custody after the divorce. He’s only been in his son’s life for about eight months out of five years.” Alexis hesitated. “However—”

“They’ll mention that first year I was lying about Michael’s paternity, which isn’t going to look good for me.” Jason rubbed his face. “Even if we tried to spin that—”

“AJ could ask Robin to come in from Paris and testify to exactly what you told her about why you were lying. It’ll show you knew.” Alexis bit her lip. “What about character witnesses? Elizabeth Webber lives at the Brownstone. Does she have anything to offer about AJ not being suitable? The two of you are friends, aren’t you?”

“We haven’t really talked about it, but she’s also friends with Courtney, and I think—” He was pretty sure Elizabeth half-agreed with Alexis and Bobbie. She might even think AJ was a good person. She had a soft heart.

But good people didn’t destroy lives.

“Jason, I know how much you care for Michael, and I want to do right by you. I just—I’d be giving you bad legal advice if I told you we had a slam dunk on our hands. We have to hope AJ screws up before this comes to court. Or you have to come to another agreement with him. Supervised visitation—”

“No, I’ll—I’ll figure something out.” Jason rose to his feet. “Thanks, Alexis. I know you didn’t like Carly much, but—”

“I like you,” Alexis said after a long moment. “You’ve always been a good client, Jason. I’ll do my best for you and Michael.” She bit her lip. “And I hate to admit it, but this time—”

“It might not be enough,” he finished. “Yeah, I’m getting that.”

Kelly’s: Dining Room

The beauty of having an actual best friend who knew all the dark places inside, who argued with you when you were lying to yourself was that somehow, she was always on your side.

Elizabeth sighed as she finished relating the conversation with Bobbie to her best friend and hoped they weren’t going to argue again.

“So, what are you going to do?” Gia folded her arms and leaned over the counter. “I mean, Bobbie’s not wrong. There’s, like, no way Jason can win in court. He’s the biological uncle, yeah, but he doesn’t exactly scream stable father.”

“Jason was a great father when he had Michael,” Elizabeth retorted. “Michael should be so lucky—” She stopped and shook her head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t—”

“I challenged your man’s honor. I got what I deserved,” Gia said with a wicked smirk. So maybe they weren’t going to argue today, but Gia would still get her licks in.

“I really hate you.” Elizabeth poured water into a coffee pot as she considered for a moment. “I don’t know. I mean, Jason’s getting the same spiel from Bobbie and Alexis. What could I even add? Am I supposed to make it worse?”

“You’re supposed to be his friend,” Gia said. She tilted her head. “You say that’s all you are now, but you’re not exactly acting that way. Friends get involved when people are about to get their lives shattered. If Jason goes to court, if he loses, that’s it. AJ will never let him see Michael.”

“I know.” And if that happened, not only would Jason lose Michael to AJ again, he’d feel guilty about letting Carly down, about not protecting Michael. And if something happened to Michael because of it…

“You’re going to have to stop pretending you’re going to be able to stay neutral,” Gia continued. “There is no neutral. You can be with AJ and Courtney—and that’s fine. You can be with Jason, that’s fine, too. But you can’t be on both sides.”

“Why can’t I be on Michael’s side?” Elizabeth asked, exasperated. “No one is one hundred percent right here, you know? I think AJ would be insane if he kept Michael from Jason. That’s a connection, a link to Michael’s mother that’s necessary. Important. And Jason’s not wrong for being worried that AJ might not stay sober. That Michael might be put in danger. But—”

“But maybe Jason isn’t thinking about Michael.” Gia shrugged. “AJ’s never hurt Michael as far as we know. Or anyone else, not really. Other than himself.  You know who he did hurt? Jason Quartermaine. He killed his brother. And the man in his place has spent his entire life so far knowing he’s only here, that he’s only in existence because AJ crashed that car. When he pictures what might happen to Michael, he’s thinking about that—about rebuilding his life from the bottom up.”

Elizabeth bit her lip. “I know that people might think Jason is being unreasonable—”

“Who said that?” Gia lifted her brows. “First of all, I think Jason has a fantastic reason to never want to lay eyes on his brother again. Did you not hear the part where I said AJ destroyed Jason’s life? I’ve only lived in Port Charles for five minutes, but I see the way people talk about Jason Quartermaine. It’s the way my mother always talked about Marcus. Why couldn’t I be like my brother? He was smart, kind—he was going places.”

“The way my parents treated Sarah.” Even now, after all these years, she knew Alan and Monica Quartermaine hadn’t really reconciled themselves to the son they had now no matter how much they tried.

“Exactly.” Gia jabbed a finger at her. “It’s easy to look at Jason and only see the hot guy with a fast bike and a lot of money. But he worked his ass off to be someone else. Do you remember when Tony came over the other day and tried to talk Bobbie into cooperating with the Quartermaines? It’s not the first time they had that conversation, based on how much yelling we could hear upstairs. But the way he talked about Jason—the words he used—”

“Tony’s an ass,” Elizabeth muttered. She could still hear the rage, the bitterness in Tony’s voice as he’d called Jason a brain-damaged thug. A nothing. A nobody.  Whatever sympathy Tony had had for Bobbie was clearly not as fervent as his hatred for Jason. He would always loathe the man who had stolen Michael from him. “Gia—”

“I know the way my brother talks about him. He makes him sound like nothing. Anger Boy, right? From before Jason figured out how to control himself.” Gia shrugged. “Jason Morgan has been around for six years, and for every one of those years, he’s been seen as less by the people in this town who should have had some damn compassion for him. I don’t blame Jason for wanting to protect Michael from that. I mean, is he overreacting? Maybe.”

“But, in his heart, he’s still Michael’s father, and that’s his job,” Elizabeth murmured. “Damn it.”

“You’re going to have to get involved, Webber.” Gia arched her brow. “What are you so scared of?”

Elizabeth bit her lip and sighed, because it was pointless to keep pretending there wasn’t more behind her desire to keep her life simple, and Gia knew that better than anyone. And it didn’t serve either of them for her to lie about it anymore. “I think you and I both know the answer.”

“That you’ll find yourself broken and have to rebuild from the ground up all over again for, like, the twelfth time? Yeah. I get it.” Gia leaned forward, a wicked glint in her eyes. “Aren’t you tired of playing it safe?”

“Not even a little bit.” Elizabeth offered her friend a half smile. “I’ll do what I have to do, but it stops there. Jason wants to protect Michael, and I’ll help him do that. But I have to protect myself. No one else will do it for me.”

“As long as you know you’re doing it. I don’t care if you stay away from Jason, Elizabeth. I care if you’re lying to yourself. You’re not doing that, so we can shelve it for now.” Gia reached in her bag, “Now excuse me, I have my last final tomorrow, and I might survive it if I have enough coffee.” She stopped and looked at Elizabeth. “Don’t think this conversation is over. You can play it safe all you want, but you know that’s not going to work for long.”

“Gia—”

“But I do have a final tomorrow, and I have to go worry about my life for bit. I’ll come back to yours when the semester is over.”

Quartermaine Estate: Living Room

Edward Quartermaine was flirting with a heart attack as he raged at his two eldest grandsons. He was berating AJ for ever getting involved with that damned floozy, for Ned for talking him out of filing his own custody suit and just having the temerity to be in this room and not out there fighting for Michael—

“Mark my words, if we wait much longer, Jason will take him out of the country and that will be the end of it,” Edward jabbed his finger at AJ.

“Jason isn’t going to do that,” Ned said, his tone calm. Even disinterested. AJ wondered how his cousin managed to stay detached from Edward’s bullshit. Because he hadn’t grown up in this house? Is that why Ned seemed to escape the worst of the poison?

“Why the hell not?” Edward demanded. “He’s done everything he can to keep that boy from this family—he has legal guardianship—what’s stopping him?”

Ned hesitated and looked to AJ. AJ shrugged. He didn’t know how to explain his own conviction that his brother didn’t intend to steal Michael away in the night. Since the moment the truth had come out, Jason had done everything by the book. He’d gone to court to keep custody, yeah, but when the time came to surrender it, he’d done so.

Except when he’d blackmailed AJ into giving Carly full custody after the divorce, but AJ had himself to blame for that after setting the warehouse on fire. He had deserved that punishment.

It had been Sonny that hung him on the goddamn meat hook and threatened his life for no other reason than Carly wanted him out of Michael’s life for good. But Jason had never threatened AJ’s life.

“Grandfather, I just don’t think Jason would do that,” Ned continued when AJ had nothing to offer. “He wouldn’t do it to Bobbie for one thing.”

“Oh, I’m counting on the kindness of thugs—” Edward dismissed this theory with a wave of his hand.

AJ had heard that phrase, or a variation of it, a thousand times since Jason had gone to work for Sonny. Thug. Criminal. Degenerate. Worthless. And yet, somehow, in this moment—he couldn’t listen to it anymore. He’d reached his boiling point.

“Don’t call him that,” AJ said.

At his grandson’s quiet command, Edward broke off his rambling rage, blinked, and looked at him. “Excuse me?”

“Thug.” AJ swallowed. “That’s why we’re in this mess. Because you—because we drove Jason away. All of us. I may have destroyed Jason Quartermaine, but the reason Jason Morgan isn’t part of this family has very little to do with me.”

“Oh, hell.” Ned closed his eyes. “Here we go.”

“Say that again,” Edward demanded. He strode toward AJ. “Blame me again for this mess—”

“You drove him away. You rejected him. If you hadn’t treated Jason like garbage, if you hadn’t made him feel damaged and like nothing, then maybe he would have told Carly to go to hell when she wanted him to lie—” AJ pressed his lips together and swallowed. “Jason didn’t think much of me back then, but he didn’t hate me. Not me. Not then. It was this family. This house. This suffocation. The constant pressure to be someone we’re not—”

“You and your brother had potential!” Edward boomed. “I just pushed you, tried to make you reach it—”

“You’ve never let me forget that I killed my brother! That I destroyed him! I drank to shut all of you up! And I killed the only member of this family who ever gave a damn about me—” He closed his eyes, his throat tight. “And now that same brother can barely stand to look at me. I’m done looking for your approval. For wanting to be part of this family.”

“AJ—” Ned said, holding his hand out. “Hey. Listen—”

“Why the hell have I tried so hard?” AJ demanded. “What’s the point? You know, I may not agree with the way Jason lives his life, but I sure as hell understand the direction he took. Away. And that’s where I’m going to go.”

He turned on his heel and stalked away, telling himself it was the last time he was ever going to pay lip service to his grandfather. He’d get his son back, and he would make sure Michael knew every day of his life that he was loved just for who he was, and not for who he might be if only he were a better person.

His son would be a better man than his father if it was the last thing AJ did.

Gia and Elizabeth’s Apartment: Living Room

“This isn’t even English,” Gia declared as she slammed her book shut in disgust. “How am I supposed to absorb this in time for a test next week?” Before Elizabeth could open her mouth, Gia stabbed a finger at her. “And do not tell me that if I had kept up with my reading and notes all semester—”

“Hey, I don’t seem to have your problem and I’m a double major,” Elizabeth said sweetly as she highlighted a passage in her textbook. “You think learning the principles of finance in this country is fascinating? You picked your major, suck it up.”

“I don’t even remember why we’re friends,” Gia muttered. She grabbed her coffee mug. “You need a refill?”

“Nah, I think I’m switching to some herbal tea.” Elizabeth rose. “I’ll make it.”

Just as Elizabeth set the tea kettle to boil, there was a knock at their door. Gia scowled. “Didn’t we warn everyone in existence that we were studying this week? I will have someone’s head—”

She yanked open the door and blinked. “Oh. Jason. Hey.”

“Hey.” Jason hesitated as he took in Gia’s pajama pants and tank top. “Is this a bad time?”

“Well, finals are next week and as your friend and mine loves to remind me, I’ve spent too much time partying and not nearly enough with the books.” She sighed. “Webber? You got a visitor!”

“Oh.” Elizabeth bit her lip as she stepped out from the small kitchen area into the living room. “Hey, Jason. Gia and I were just—”

“I should have called,” he said after a moment. He shifted his weight from one foot to another, looking uncertain. “But—”

“No, I was gonna—” Elizabeth said. She glanced down at her jeans and t-shirt before handing Gia a fresh mug of coffee. “Mind if I bail on you?”

Gia waited a beat, wondering why people worked so hard at making themselves miserable. She could see the way Jason was looking at Elizabeth, trying not to let his interest show, and she saw how Elizabeth flushed and avoided his gaze. Idiots. Well, she was going to do her part and kick them out.  “And not have you smugly sailing through your study guides while I drown in reading? By all means, abandon me to educational psychology and constitutional law.”

“You mind if we go outside?” Elizabeth asked Jason as she took her purse and a light jacket off a chair.

“Ah, no.” Jason stepped back to allow her to leave the apartment in front of him. He looked once more at Gia. “Uh, good luck?”

“I’m going to need it,” was the reply as Gia closed the door, but she flashed a smug smile of her own.

Jason followed Elizabeth down the steps and out the side entrance of the Brownstone. She slid her jacket on and turned to him. “What’s up?”

“I didn’t mean to bother you,” Jason said, his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket. “I know how busy you are—”

“Hey. You don’t show up on my doorstep at eight at night without a reason, Jason. We’re friends,” Elizabeth said. And she meant that. She might want to avoid any emotional entanglement with the man, but she would never pretend they didn’t have history.

And she liked that Jason could count on her. She didn’t have so many friends left in the world that she could afford to jettison a loyal one.

He tipped his head toward the road where his bike was parked. “You want to take a ride?”

Elizabeth bit her lip, and almost said no. Talking here, outside her warm, safe home—that was smart. Protected. Climbing on that bike, wrapping her arms around his broad chest, riding close to him—

But he looked concerned, and she knew he was dealing with a blow after losing Bobbie’s support earlier that day, so she swallowed her misgivings. What was the harm in one ride?

Vista Point: Cliff Road

Elizabeth was unsurprised that Jason was taking the turns with a bit less recklessness than she remembered. These were, after all, the last roads Carly had traveled before plunging to her death. She trusted Jason’s driving—she knew he’d never be truly reckless with her along, but still she could feel the difference as they leaned into the final curve before reaching the summit at Vista Point.

But instead of revving the engine to make the last climb, the bike began to rumble and slow. He pulled to a stop in front of the mangled guardrail, and turned off the engine.

Silently, they both climbed off the bike and Jason pushed down the stand, taking the helmet from her.

“You haven’t been back since you came home, have you?” Elizabeth asked softly, her words nearly disappearing in the winds and sound of water rushing as the lake currents swirled below.

“Couldn’t.” Jason turned and looked at the guardrail. At this evidence that Carly hadn’t merely disappeared, but had, in fact, died.

“Bobbie told me about the will reading.” Elizabeth wrapped her arms around her torso as they walked toward the dusty shoulder where Carly’s car had, presumably, hung on the precipice. “I’m sorry.”

“It wasn’t anything I didn’t expect.” Jason braced his hands on the guardrail and looked out over the harbor. “Carly hated the Quartermaines. It was just like her to try to one up them even when she wouldn’t be here to see it.”

Elizabeth bit her lip “Bobbie wanted me to talk to you,” she said.

“I thought she might.” Jason turned, and they continued their silent walk. He’d stopped just short of the turn off for the parking lot for Vista Point’s summit view and park, but neither of them suggested they climb back on the bike and take it to the top.

“I’m supposed to, I don’t know, make you see that it’s going to be painful and there’s no guarantee you’ll even win.” Elizabeth sighed. “I’m not gonna do that, Jason.”

She heard him sigh as they crossed the highway, empty now as it usually was this time of night. There was nothing up this way save for the views at Vista Point, and it wasn’t a popular location anyway. It wasn’t high enough to be truly impressive, and there were more majestic views of the lake and harbor elsewhere in town.

So, she wasn’t surprised to find the parking lot deserted or the see empty benches and walkaways that dotted the summit of the hill.

He was quiet until they sat on one of those benches, the view of the harbor comforting to her even with the Gothic mess of Wyndemere looming out of the mists of Spoon Island.

“Why not?” he asked. “You’re not wrong. Alexis has described in great detail that I’m not likely to keep the guardianship intact when AJ challenges it.”

That thread of defeat, even resignation in his tone, stirred her. Jason didn’t quit. He didn’t give up. “Bobbie means well, and you know Alexis is on your side.”

“What about you?”

She didn’t answer at first, because she could feel, maybe for the first time, that maybe she did have influence over Jason. What if she told him right now that he should give in? That AJ wasn’t all bad, and maybe Jason was being too protective?

“I think you have to do what’s right for Michael,” Elizabeth said carefully. “He’s what matters.”

Jason leaned back against the wooden slats of the bench, stretching his arm along the side. “You’ve spent time with him. What do you think is right?”

He would have to ask the difficult question. “I don’t know,” she said. “He’s a bright little boy, you know? He loves living with Bobbie. He loves Lucas. I mean, the kid is his uncle technically, but Michael looks up to him like an older brother. And Lucas is so good with him. He never had much use for Carly—I can’t blame him there—but he’s been kind to Michael. Whatever happens, I hope Bobbie and Lucas can remain a vital part of his life.”

She waited a moment. “But that’s not what you want me to tell you. You want me to tell you’re right to keep Michael from AJ. That you should fight tooth and nail to keep custody.”

“I want you tell me what you think,” Jason said. He looked at her, his eyes sober and steady. “I’ve been home two weeks, and I’ve seen you. I know you spend time with Michael. That you care about him. But I know you’re friends with Courtney, that you know AJ as her husband and not just—”

“Emily’s older brother.” Or the devastating drunk, but that she left unspoken. Elizabeth hesitated, considering her words. “I can tell you honestly that the AJ I’ve known since Courtney came into his life is the best version. I haven’t seen him slur his words, there’s no hint that he’s drinking. I know he fought with Edward, Alan, and Monica after he married Courtney and stopped going after custody. Courtney isn’t sure, but she thinks that they left the mansion because he wouldn’t leave her. They found an apartment with his savings. He studied hard to get a license to operate a forklift, and as far as anyone knows, he’s doing well at his job.

“But,” she continued, “I’m worried he married Courtney to dig at Sonny. That his motives weren’t altogether pure. He’s been good to her, he treats her well, but I worry that it’s a smoke screen. That if his marriage falters, it might change things. I honestly don’t know, Jason. I worry that his sobriety is temporary. That he still struggles with the Quartermaines. I think we both know they’re a heavy trigger in his drinking.” She leaned against the back of the bench, propping her elbow on the top, and sliding her fingers through her hair. “I honestly can’t tell you what I think should happen.”

“A court may still decide to give him custody.”

“They might,” Elizabeth admitted. “I don’t have a lot of experience with this, but Gia’s been asking some friends of hers who intern in a family law firm. With Carly gone, and without any good reason, a family court judge might err on the side of the father. She said that courts also don’t…they don’t appreciate when one parent goes to extreme lengths to cut a biological parent out of their life, and—”

“Carly did that in spades. Yeah, Alexis mentioned that, and the fact that I helped—” He scrubbed his face. “How long do you think AJ will wait before he files?”

“Honestly? Maybe until Memorial Day. Michael finishes his school year then, and I know part of the reason he’s waited is to give Bobbie space and keep Michael’s life relatively stable. Not having to move during the school year would be a good idea.” She bit her lip. “I’m sorry, Jason. I don’t feel like I’m being much help.”

“You are,” he assured her. “And I’m not mad at Bobbie or Alexis. If I make AJ take this to court, then Michael gets dragged into counseling, into court rooms. He’ll spend weeks talking to people. It’ll upset him. If I do any of that, it has to be for the right reason. I can’t— I can’t do that to him just because I—”

Because he wanted to keep him, Elizabeth finished, but she offered another suggestion so Jason wouldn’t have to admit how much he just wanted to be Michael’s father. “Because it’s what Carly would have wanted.”

“This is harder than I thought it’d be,” Jason admitted. “I thought—when I found out Carly was gone—I knew she’d leave me custody, but I always intended to leave him with Bobbie. I mean, I’d be around if he needed me, but I didn’t expect—” He hesitated, but this time Elizabeth didn’t step in to finish his thought. She had a feeling he was struggling towards a conclusion he didn’t want to admit, but it would be the best thing for him if Jason was the one to articulate this.

“I didn’t expect AJ to be…” He paused again and looked at her, but she wouldn’t do this for him. “Doing well,” he finally managed, which was close enough to the truth.

“You have time to consider this,” Elizabeth told him. “As long as AJ waits to file, you have time.”

“Yeah.” Jason exhaled slowly. “There’s—there’s another reason I came over tonight. Why I wanted to see you.”

Despite herself, her heart began to race slightly. “Oh?” she asked, hating how breathless her voice sounded. “What’s up?”

“Zander,” Jason said, his face tightening. “The other day at Kelly’s—”

“We talked about it,” Elizabeth said dismissively, feeling a mixture of relief and disappointment that it was a mundane reason after all. “He’s an ass.”

“Who might be getting worse,” Jason told her. “I can’t give you many details, but until I came home—Zander was—” He hesitated, probably trying to think of how to explain something illegal to her in a way that wouldn’t sound illegal. “He was up for a promotion.”

A smile tugged at the corner of her lips. “Oh, yeah? A corner office with a view of the harbor?”

Jason, despite himself, offered a half smile. “Something like that. It would have—it would have been lucrative for him. I shut it down. I don’t trust him, and I don’t want him in a position to do more harm.”

“Okay,” Elizabeth drawled. “So that explains why he was pissed at you.” She sighed, sitting up straight and tucking her leg underneath her. “Let me guess, he can’t come at you directly for derailing his climb up the ladder, but harassing me is a handy way to deal with his annoyance.”

“He didn’t know yet for sure that I was…going to block him,” Jason told her. “He probably suspected it, but now he knows for sure.”

“Which means he might amp up his annoying behavior.” Elizabeth pursed her lips. “Yeah, I don’t have time for that in my life. We have a week to week tenant lease on most of the rooms at Kelly’s, except for Lucky, because he’s Bobbie’s family. But I can give Zander a week’s notice.” She looked at him. “Or should I not evict him? If he’s at Kelly’s, you know where he is. You can keep an eye on him.”

“I’d rather he be anywhere but Kelly’s,” Jason admitted, “and I was gonna suggest you might kick him out, but I don’t know if I like giving him a concrete reason to dislike you. Not when he’s already going to be pissed at me. Don’t—don’t do anything about it yet. I’ll put some eyes on the diner. You’ll let me know if he bothers you?”

“I can handle him, Jason,” she started to protest.

“You shouldn’t have to when it has nothing to do with you,” Jason told her, holding up a hand to stop her. “I know he’s not likely to do any serious harm to you. He’s an idiot, but he has enough street smarts to know—” He stopped short, but she wondered at what threat he might have leveled to Emily’s ex-boyfriend if it became necessary. Better she be left in the dark.

“I’ll let you know,” she said finally. “I should be getting home. I have an early class.”

September 15, 2016

This entry is part 6 of 24 in the series Bittersweet

Some people out there
Are always talkin’ around
Seems they’re never really happy
Unless they’re puttin’ somebody down
You know the thing they fear the most
Is that someone’s gonna see right through
Their thin disguise and made-up lies
It’s sad, but true

Heard Ya Talkin’, Jeremy Kay


Thursday, May 2, 2002

Queen of Angels: Chapel

It was strange to stand with Bobbie and Jason as part of the receiving line, but Bobbie had asked Elizabeth to stay with her when Lucas had balked at attending. He’d elected to stay home and hang out with Michael, and Bobbie had thought it would be the better use of his time. So, Elizabeth stood there next to Bobbie as people offered their condolences.

She wondered when she saw the large crowd how many of them were there because they’d genuinely liked Carly—and how many had attended out of love for Bobbie?

There was a tense moment as she spied AJ and Courtney in the line. She saw Jason’s muscles bunch—could feel the irritation, the annoyance rising off him as if it were steam rising from a pot of boiling water.

“Bobbie,” Courtney said with a smile, as she came to the older woman first. She leaned in and kissed Bobbie’s cheek. “I’m so sorry for your loss. Carly and I didn’t know each other well, but she was so full of energy. I’ll miss her drama at the diner.”

“Thank you,” Bobbie managed, as Elizabeth gave her friend a grateful smile. The blonde’s words had been some of the few genuine offers of sympathy. Many likely thought Bobbie was better off without the tornado of Carly Corinthos.

“Bobbie, if there’s anything you need,” AJ said, as he carefully avoided looking to Bobbie’s right. “You call me.”

“Yeah, anytime you need me to cover,” Courtney said to Elizabeth. She bit her lip and looked at Jason. Good manners won over her innate shyness as she offered her hand to Jason, who accepted it. “Elizabeth has told me so much about you and Carly. I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thanks,” Jason said. Courtney hesitated then stepped forward, moving past the line.

AJ cleared his throat as he considered his brother. Elizabeth could hardly breathe. Surely—they wouldn’t cause a scene here. But AJ was a Quartermaine, an unpredictable breed at best.

“No matter our difficulties,” AJ said finally, “I know Carly mattered to you.” Which, Elizabeth supposed, seemed the safest way to describe the strange relationship his brother had had with AJ’s ex-wife. “Losing a friend is never easy.”

He offered his hand, and Elizabeth could feel the eyes of everyone in the immediate area drawing in a collected breath.

But not Elizabeth. She knew Jason better than that and knew he’d let AJ set the tone for this scene. Whatever trouble they had, she hoped Jason would see the sincerity in the older man’s eyes.

So, she wasn’t surprised when Jason accepted the hand and shook it. “Thank you,” he replied, his voice devoid of any expression.

AJ and Courtney moved on, the crisis averted. Elizabeth sucked in another breath when she saw Edward and Lila at the end of the line—the last Quartermaines in the room.

Alan and Monica had elected not to come, Bobbie said, having offered their condolences at another time. Ned had been through already with Alexis, and his sympathy had been genuine, his interactions with Jason civil, but Ned had always been the most mature member of the family.

“Don’t worry,” Jason murmured to Elizabeth as his grandparents drew closer. “Grandmother won’t let him start anything.”

True enough, Lila’s gentle presence had forestalled any attempt Edward might have made to antagonize Jason. There had only been a stray comment about family being important, and Edward being willing to do whatever was good for that family, but Elizabeth paid little attention to it.

Bobbie thanked Elizabeth profusely for standing by her at the viewing and in the receiving line, but then she left with Felicia and Mac in order to head to the reception at the Brownstone.

Elizabeth had driven to the church with Gia, but her roommate had had to leave immediately after the service for a study group session, which left Elizabeth with the option to either walk to work or…

“Do you have a ride?” Jason asked.

She had a feeling Gia might have had an ulterior motive when making plans to abandon to her at the church. She’d known Elizabeth was scheduled to work, that Bobbie wouldn’t be able to take her home. She sighed and looked at him. “No, I—I’m supposed to be at Kelly’s—Penny and Don have been there all day—”

“I’ll take you,” Jason told her. “I’m in the parking lot.” And because she could think of no reason to refuse that didn’t sound insane and petty, she nodded.

They left the shadowy anteroom of the church and moved into the brilliant sunshine of the early May afternoon. Elizabeth shaded her eyes with one hand as she rummaged one-handed in her purse for her sunglasses.  “I already miss winter,” she muttered.

“There’s sun in the winter,” Jason said blandly as he touched the small of her back to propel her toward the parking lot. She ignored the tingles of his warm skin as they brushed the thin fabric of her black dress and increased her speed, leaving those fingers behind

“Well, if you’re going to be literal,” she began as they passed through the thin black fence, but she cursed herself when they all but crashed into a trio of people she’d been trying to avoid.

Damn it. She was usually more aware of her surroundings, but no—today of all days—

“Well, I’m not surprised to find you sniffing after her already,” Lucky said, ignoring Elizabeth and directing his disgust at Jason. “It’s only been, what? Five minutes since we broke up?”

“Oh, for Christ’s…” Elizabeth huffed and shoved the sunglasses up over her forehead. Even if they were only in the parking lot, this was still a church, she reminded herself, and Sarah was still her sister. So, she plastered a smile on her face and took a deep breath. “I didn’t see you three inside.”

“We caught Bobbie before the ceremony,” Nikolas said, his expression dark with disappointment. Likely in her, for her choice of friends. Jackass. “I thought it was best we didn’t cause a scene.”

She didn’t have a damn clue what kind of scene they might have caused, so she ignored his comment and started past them.

“Lizzie, do you need a ride somewhere?” Sarah asked, even as she wound her arm through Lucky’s. Elizabeth blinked at it for a moment, trying to figure out why the movement bothered her so damn much.

“Let’s just go,” she finally said to Jason. “It’s like talking to a brick wall.”

“Lizzie, you’re not going to get on that bike!” Sarah protested as Jason and Elizabeth rounded the trio and closed the short distance to the motorcycle. “You’re in a dress!”

“Cool it, Sarah. You know there’s no talking to your sister,” Lucky said, bitterness lacing his retort. “Why aren’t you with my aunt?”

Elizabeth ignored them as Jason handed her the helmet and straddled the bike. Don’t give in, don’t give in. Don’t look at them—

“You really know how to cut and run when it gets tough, don’t you?” Lucky managed to call over the engine. Stunned by this attack, Elizabeth looked at him then, seeing the misery, the anger in his expression.  What the hell was his problem?

“Elizabeth?”

She turned back and looked at Jason, his brow lifted. “If you want to stay,” he began, using a resigned tone that she remembered too well.

And she remembered all the times she’d walked away from Jason and stayed with Lucky. Every single mistake she’d made. Jason was hurting today—he had said goodbye to a friend, he was facing a difficult custody battle. And now he was looking at her with that same understanding.

Maybe she didn’t intend to pursue her feelings for him, but she’d be damned if she let him for one more minute think that she was contemplating leaving him for Lucky.

“Can you take the long way to Kelly’s?” she asked, climbing behind Jason and tucking in her skirt so it wouldn’t fly up. “Penny and Don can wait. I want to be anywhere but here.”

Brownstone: Kitchen

The reception had waned by the time Jason arrived—Bobbie was in her kitchen, picking at a sandwich he was sure someone had put in front of her.

With the memorial done, Bobbie had nothing left to plan. There was no next step, nothing to focus on. He worried that she might fall apart now.

But she surprised him with a genuine, if sad, smile as he pulled out a chair to sit with her. “I wondered if you would stop by once people had started to leave.”

“I took Elizabeth to Kelly’s,” he told her. And had stayed for lunch to be sure that if Zander stopped by, he’d be there to give him a warning in person. He hadn’t, and Jason had felt a mixture of relief and disappointment. He wouldn’t mind having Zander’s face to punch today.

“Oh…” Bobbie leaned back. “I didn’t even think—she drove with Gia, but Gia had to leave.” She pressed a hand to her forehead. “I should have made sure—”

“No one expects you to take care of everyone. Elizabeth is an adult.”

“I know, but…” Bobbie sighed. “I just…it struck me as I sat here with my dearest friends in the world. No one misses her.”

Jason blinked. “Bobbie—”

“No one genuinely misses Carly’s presence save for you, me, Michael, and perhaps Sonny, but he holds his grief inside. Everyone else?” Bobbie looked away, toward the backyard where Jason realized he could hear a rumble of voices and the thump of a basketball hitting a hoop. “They feel sorry for me, but I imagine many of them think I’m better off.”

Jason started to protest, but found he couldn’t. Carly had not endeared herself to many in her few years in Port Charles, and had actively sought to antagonize most. Her absence might even bring relief to some.

“I know people think Carly was destructive. Conniving. Manipulative. And she was.” Bobbie’s smile was warmer now. “She came by it naturally. I gave her away to give her a better life, but I wanted one for myself, and I did whatever I had to do to get the life I thought I deserved. I schemed. I lied. I had an affair and destroyed my marriage long before she came to town. Once I was past the shock, the sorrow that my child had not had a good life, I could see everything we had in common. Everything that I had passed to her.” She sighed and met Jason’s eyes. “I can only hope she’s found peace now.”

She rose and crossed to the coffee pot. “Can I make you some coffee?”

“Sure,” he said, because it would give her something to do and he could see she needed that now. “About Michael—”

“I hope you’re not angry with me,” Bobbie cut in as she filled the pot with water and turned it on. She looked at him. “It’s not that I don’t want him with you. I remember how good you were to him. I’ve always wished he was your son. It would have made everything easier.”

“But he’s not,” Jason murmured. “And wishing doesn’t take away the problem we have. I spoke with Elizabeth.”

“Oh.” Bobbie drew her brow together. “Oh. I forgot I had asked her—I feel awful about that. I know she doesn’t want to take sides—”

“I needed someone to be honest with me about AJ,” Jason said. “If Michael ends up—” He couldn’t articulate the possibility, so he just stopped. “Anyway, it’s not important. I just—I’m listening to what you and Alexis are telling me. I know the odds aren’t in my favor. I haven’t decided yet what to do. Elizabeth thinks we—that I have still have time.” He hesitated again because it wasn’t in his nature particularly to pry, but— “We ran into Lucky as we left.”

Her expression changed, distaste creeping in. “I’m sure that was pleasant,” she said, acid dripping from every word.

“She told me a little bit of what happened,” Jason continued. “I know that she left him at the altar, moved in here with Gia. I’m not—” He waited. “I don’t know what I’m asking. I guess I just—”

“You’ve noticed the changes.” Bobbie poured the coffee into a mug, then set it in front of him. She returned to her chair. “I’ve known Elizabeth since she moved to Port Charles. I can remember the brash, irresponsible teenager Aunt Ruby kept on at the diner even though she was pretty hopeless. She was flighty, vibrant, clever—”

Bobbie sighed. “Ruby always said she was reminded of me at that age. I wasn’t much older than Elizabeth when I—” She bit her lip and looked away. She didn’t have to clarify what she left unspoken. Jason knew she’d been a teenager when she’d started as a prostitute in Florida.

“Anyway.” Bobbie coughed, and continued, “Ruby kept her at the diner to keep an eye on her. She saw so much of herself, of me, in Elizabeth.” She tilted her head. “And then, one day, it was gone. All the promise, the bright shining light—extinguished in an instant.”

“I know she was…” He couldn’t say it, hated thinking it. He could remember Emily divulging the truth to him at the garage after Tom Baker had held them hostage in his studio, and while it had saddened him then—he hadn’t really understood it until he spent time with Elizabeth, had seen the scars the attack had left on her soul. It wasn’t abstract any longer, but a real horror that had happened to someone he cared about. “I know what happened to her.”

“I watched her battle back from that, putting herself together piece by piece. It was a struggle,” Bobbie admitted, “but I—I was so proud of her…for finding a new sense of herself. I could see the woman she was going to be emerging. The flightiness—her superficial nature—that had deepened into a bottomless well of compassion, of caring. I could see her shining again, and I could see my nephew shining with her. She didn’t just put herself back together that year, Jason, she kept my fractured family together and didn’t even know it. Lucky was going to leave Port Charles, but she kept him here. And he and Luke were able to patch things up.

“She used to tell me that Lucky fixed her,” Bobbie continued, a tear sliding down her cheek. “I could never understand why she wouldn’t see what she’d given him. Just when I thought she’d battled herself completely back—” Her throat closed. “Well, you were there the night of the fire. You know what she lost. What never came home.”

“Bobbie—”

“The changes you see, the ones I’ve seen since January—” Bobbie cut in, shifting the topic back to the present. “I see that vibrancy returning, but she’s…” She bit her lip, frowning as if searching for the right words. “She’s guarded. In a way I haven’t seen in a long time. I worry that she’s so focused on protecting herself that…”

She looked at Jason. “I can’t tell you much about what happened with the wedding beyond the brainwashing. I think it was merely the final straw. Elizabet doesn’t like to speak about it. I know that she was unhappy before you left, that she was almost miserable in the months that followed.  I wasn’t sure getting married was the right idea, but Lucky had pushed for it, and Elizabeth seemed to…” Bobbie pursed her lips. “I don’t know. I can’t explain it. She seemed to swallow herself up and disappear entirely into Lucky. Until the wedding. And then she woke up.”

Bobbie shifted and leaned back. “Lucky was upset, Laura was beside herself—she’s been in denial about the boy who came home as much as anyone of us, but she put so much pressure on Elizabeth. If Elizabeth could just wait a bit longer, love him a bit more, maybe Lucky would be okay again. They both wanted me to talk to her, but I was relieved when she called off the wedding. Gia broke up with Nikolas at the same time. They asked to rent an apartment, they went back to school—” She lifted her hands. “And that’s what I know.”

And it told him very little, but he should have expected that. And what did he really want to know? That Lucky was out of her life? Did he want that to be the truth?

“If you care about her, Jason,” Bobbie said, softly, “then give her some time, some space. I would never call her delicate or fragile, but—”

He almost laughed at that and saw similar humor fill her dark eyes. “No, that’s definitely true. Bobbie—” He stopped when he couldn’t find the words to say. She leaned over and squeezed his hand.

“I think of her as part of my family,” she told him. “Just like you. I know you’ll do right by each other.” She rose to her feet. “I should call the hospital and check in.”

“Thanks, Bobbie.” Jason stood. “I should be getting to work anyway.”

Kelly’s: Dining Room

 

Elizabeth offered Sonny a sad smile as the mobster took a seat at the counter and flipped over his coffee cup. “Hey.”

“Hey.” He waited as she poured the thick, dark liquid into the porcelain mug. “Was it okay? No one made any scenes?”

“It was…” she murmured, searching for the right words as she returned the carafe to the hot plate. “It was quiet. Reserved.”

A small corner played at the corner of Sonny’s mouth. “She would have hated that.” He hesitated as he stirred a bit of sugar. “I think I thought…I really thought she’d show up to her own funeral.”

Because they hadn’t found a body. Because Carly would always be at the bottom of the lake. Trapped in her car. Her stomach swirled at the thought.

“It would be her style,” Elizabeth replied. “But not this time. No one showed up at their own funeral.” She smiled at him. “Not that it means anything. Lucky didn’t come to his either and…well…you know.”

“True enough.” Sonny sighed. “A funeral should feel more final,” he said after a moment. “Like closing a book and putting it on a shelf.  I can’t…” He shook his head slightly. “I can’t stop thinking about those cliffs. About Brenda’s accident at the same place.”

“Sonny…”

“I worry for Jason,” her friend said, cutting her off. “The Quartermaines…they’re just lying in wait.” He grimaced, lines shadowing the dimples in his cheeks. “I should have adopted Michael. I just…”

“It made perfect sense at the time.” Elizabeth closed a hand over his. “Carly started a new life. No one saw this coming. And it’s not like AJ has always been a prime candidate for fatherhood. It’s just…it’s bad timing, Sonny—”

“He’s not saying much about his chances in court, but I can imagine…”

“They’re not good.” Elizabeth sighed, dipping her head as she concentrated filling a sugar canister. “Sonny—”

“Jason mentioned you two don’t see each often,” Sonny cut in. “Are you…are you mad at him?”

“Mad?” Elizabeth jerked her head up. “No. No, of course not. Why would I—God, it should be other way around, Sonny…” She sighed. If Jason had mentioned something to Sonny, it must be really be bothering him. “I just…all of that is behind me. That person. I made stupid decisions, I said and did awful things—”

“Elizabeth, you were in a difficult—” Sonny stopped and took a moment, as if gathering his thoughts. “I married Lily. You know this about me, right? My marriage to her.”

“I do—”

“I married her because…well, let’s just say it wasn’t my first choice.” He hesitated. “And I loved Brenda. I never stopped. I was going—I was going to leave Lily for Brenda, but then…Lily was pregnant. And I wanted to give that family—” He closed his eyes.

Hating that he was going back to that time in his head, Elizabeth winced. “Sonny, really—”

“I stayed with Lily out of obligation. Because I thought it was the right thing to do.” He paused. “And maybe it would have been okay. She would have been a good mother. I would have been faithful, loved my children. But it wouldn’t have been what either of us deserved.”

“I get it,” Elizabeth said before he could go on. “And I know I was with Lucky out obligation. I do—”

“You’ve got Jason wrapped up in all of that, Elizabeth. You made yourself miserable trying to be someone else, to want something else. And none of that had anything to do with Jason or how you two felt about each other.”

“That’s…” She closed her eyes. “It’s not just about trying…to be a better person, Sonny. I can’t…” Her throat thickened, and she could feel the pressure behind her eyes. “Yeah. It’s about last year. And how I hurt Jason. And how I want to get as far away from being that person as I can. But if it were just about that, I think I could…I could just…be okay.”

“It’s about fear,” Sonny murmured. “Fear that when you open to yourself to someone, they take a piece of you. And you never get it back. I get it.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t want to tell you how to feel or what to do about those feelings. You got enough of that from my former partner and his idiot son.”

Elizabeth laughed then as one tear slid down her cheek. She swiped at it. “I know, Sonny. I’m—I’m terrified that the next piece I give away…” She couldn’t quite articulate it, but he nodded.

“Yeah…” He dropped a fifty next to his empty coffee cup. “So, let’s just leave it at this. I think Jason needs a friend. Someone who will care about what happens to Michael as much as he does, but someone who won’t lie to him. Someone who has his best interests in heart.”

“I…” Elizabeth bit her lip. “Sonny—”

“If that can’t be you for whatever reason,” he continued gently without any judgment in his eyes or voice, “then you need to make sure he’s clear on that. You need to let him go to find someone else.”

Friday, May 3, 2002

Oasis: Parking Lot

Jason slid off the bike and eyed the clump of men outside the club. He hated the strip joints Sonny still controlled, but the only thing they could do was be sure they were run fairly and that the women working there were taken care of. Nico had used the Oasis as his headquarters since Frank Smith had put him in charge a dozen years ago, so Jason wasn’t as familiar with this place as he was with the Paradise Lounge.

He recognized only one of the trio smoking cigarettes in front of the entrance. Zander Smith sneered as Jason approached. “Look who’s slumming.”

Jason just stopped and leveled a stare at the idiot. “I’m here to pick up the books from Lenny,” he said. “He inside?”

“I’m not his fucking secretary,” Zander shot back. One of the men looked at the other with an uneasy expression.

“He’s waiting for ya,” the shorter man said, elbowing Zander in the gut. “Knock it off.”

Jason ignored them both before heading toward the entrance. He had the door halfway open when Zander called out again. “How’s your girlfriend, Morgan? Still got her legs glued shut?”

“Fucking death wish this one’s got,” he heard one of the men mutter.

“Smith,” the other hissed. “Shut the fuck up!”

Jason turned, debating what to do, if anything. If Zander had been alone, Jason might have simply ignored him. But to let a slur pass against Elizabeth was to send a message to the men next to him—to anyone who worked on Nico’s crew—that she was open game.

She may not be his girlfriend, but no one in this organization was going to treat her like trash.

Calmly, Jason strode toward Zander and was unsurprised when the scum began to retreat rather than hold his ground. When Zander was against the wall of the building, Jason’s hand shot out and pinned him there by the neck.

“I’m sorry,” Jason said coolly. “Did you say something to me?” He squeezed a moment, feeling the satisfaction as Zander’s dark eyes, seething with hatred, bulged slightly, his cheeks flushing with the effort to breathe.

“Go to hell,” Zander managed.

“Go get Lenny,” a voice behind Jason hissed.

“What was that?” Jason demanded. “You want to try again? What did you say?”

“Nothing,” Zander muttered finally. Jason released him, and the younger man collapsed to the ground, panting.

“Tell Nico and Lenny that they can send their books to the warehouse,” Jason said, turning the man who remained. “And they should rethink their welcoming committee.”

Without sparing a glance for his sister’s ex-boyfriend, Jason returned to his bike and climbed on. Maybe it was time to do something more permanent about their Zander Smith problem.

Saint Andrews Academy

When Michael trudged out of the double doors of his private school, Elizabeth stepped away from the parent whose small talk had threatened to bore her to death. His small features were etched in misery, his book bag dragging behind him.

“Hey, kiddo.” She flashed a smile at the teacher’s aide who returned the gesture before turning to the next kid she was handing off to a parent or guardian. “Have a bad day?”

“Hey, Liz,” Michael said. He blinked up at her, his dark brown eyes shaded by the blond hair they’d forgotten to trim. She slid her hands through it to brush it out of his eyes. “Grammy had to work?”

“Yep.” She reached the bag at his side and slung it over his shoulder. “We’re going back to the Brownstone to have snacks and hang out until she gets home. What do you want for dinner?”

“Nothing.”

She eyed him carefully as they crossed the manicured lawns back to her beat up car, but let it go for now. Michael, despite the turmoil of his life, was generally a good-natured kid. If something was bothering him, eventually he would cough it up. They had several hours before Bobbie’s shift ended.

She tossed his back in the front seat and checked to make sure his booster seat was firmly attached. “How about a movie?” she offered. “We can stop on the way home and rent something.”

“I guess,” he replied with a sigh.

“Video games then?” She slid into the driver’s seat and started the car. “I’m sure we can get Lucas to set up his Sega or Playstation downstairs.”

“Maybe.”

Elizabeth bit her bottom lip. “Michael, did something happen at school? Did you have a fight with someone in class?”

“No.” But after a moment, he spoke again. “Liz, am I too much work for Grammy?”

Elizabeth drew up to a red light and glanced at him in her rear-view mirror. “Of course not. She loves you. We all do.”

“’Cause I don’t wanna be a burden.”

“Burden?” she echoed. What the hell? How did a five-year-old even know what that word meant? Who the hell was talking to him? “Michael—”

“He said he was my grandfather, and I was gonna live with him soon. I don’t wanna leave Grammy, Liz, but maybe she don’t want me anymore.”

Elizabeth pulled over at the next parking lot, and twisted in her car to face the sullen boy. “What happened at school today?”

September 22, 2016

This entry is part 7 of 24 in the series Bittersweet

I don’t know where I am
I don’t know what I’ve done
I just go over it and over it again and again and again
I can’t sleep at night
I can
’t breathe
Numb, Airborne Toxic Event


Friday, May 3, 2002

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

Sonny scowled, closing the folder of a business plan from Benny he’d intended to ignore anyway. He rose to his feet. “The little punk said what?”

Jason’s expression was tight, the muscles in his shoulders bunched with an unleashed fury. The pragmatic side of Sonny’s brain was relieved Jason hadn’t strangled Zander in broad daylight in front of witnesses when their peace was fragile.

But most of him wished Zander was lying at the bottom of the cold dark Port Charles Harbor. He’d been right to hold him back, right to test him. Goddamn bastard.

“One little setback and this is how he reacts?” Sonny shook his head. “Hothead. No goddamn common sense. Instead of doubling down, trying to prove himself, he mouths off.” He crossed the room the mini bar, but poured himself a glass of water instead of the bourbon he wanted.

He’d found himself turning to liquor more often than not, and while he rarely drank to excess, it struck him as a crutch he couldn’t afford.

He turned back to Jason. “You warn Elizabeth that Zander’s on the warpath? I don’t want him harassing her.”

“I talked to her.” Jason waited a minute. “I had Francis give me a guy to hang out at Kelly’s when Elizabeth works. That’s where Zander would likely catch her. She can handle herself, but—”

“He’s been warned,” Sonny cut in. “He shouldn’t need another damn warning. He shouldn’t have needed on in the first place. Every man in the organization knows—” He stopped, took a breath. “Jason, you know that anyone who’s been around for a few years, they think Elizabeth is—”

“I know.” Jason looked away, but Sonny caught the faint hint of red at his cheeks. “They still think I was—that winter I was shot—”

“When Nikolas Cassadine announced it at the Christmas party, after the bomb in her studio—when it became clear you were staying there—” Sonny tilted his head. “After I put a guard on her after you left. We never made it clear she wasn’t—” He paused. “What I’m telling you is, Jason, that I can talk to Francis, to Johnny. They can spread the word discreetly. If you want it known that she’s not—”

“Would it matter?” Jason asked. He met Sonny’s eyes, then shifted away. “If—if we say anything, it just draws more attention to her. We don’t go after women. It shouldn’t matter who they are. If he’s talking about Elizabeth that way—can you imagine how he’d treat the women who work at the clubs Nico wants him to run?”

“Yeah.” Sonny exhaled slowly, taking note of the fact Jason had declined to clarify Elizabeth’s status. She would remain linked with Jason unless they changed it. That relationship would carry weight with most of their men. And might prove dangerous to those who would use it against them. “We’ll send him a message. And those who work with Nico in general.”

He crossed to his desk, picked up the receiver. “Right now, Zander collects money for Nico. He doesn’t do any of the physical work, but he keeps the rest of the guys in line, particularly for some of the more lucrative bookies. He’s done with that now. I want him back on muscle. Any trust I had is gone now, and I don’t reward dumb fucks.”

“He’s gonna be pissed about that,” Jason said. “Might make it worse.”

“There were witnesses that heard him go after a woman under my protection. Mock you, challenge your authority. I don’t give a shit about Zander’s personal feelings. He wants to come at me? Let him.” Sonny scoffed. “He won’t. He’ll keep coming at weaker targets because he doesn’t have the balls. You let him live once. He crosses us again, we’re not so nice the next time.”

Oasis: Back Office

“God damn it, Zander.” Nico pounded his fist on the table. “You got a fucking death wish, you little shit?”

Zander scowled, slumping in his chair. “What, I’m fired now?” He expected no less after Jason Morgan had nearly strangled him. He’d known it was suicide to insult Elizabeth to his face, but he couldn’t resist the temptation—he knew insulting that bitch would crack Morgan’s legendary cool.

But it hadn’t. Oh, yeah, Morgan had shoved him against the wall, but he’d done with a calm expression. As if he were swatting a fucking fly. Fucker. He hated that bastard. He’d pissed Jason off, but not enough to lose it.

“No,” Nico retorted. “But you’re back to cracking heads and busting knees.” He huffed. “I’m gonna have to find someone else to take over for me when I go to Vegas,” he told Lenny. “I thought this fucker could be fixed—I thought if I gave Sonny some time, but no.” His eyes were like laser slicing through him when he looked back at Zander. “You got a thing for this bitch? Is that why you can’t keep away?”

“What?” Zander demanded. “No!”

“I got eyes on you, you moron. I know you went after her at that diner you live at. I know you harassed her—that’s why Sonny called last week.” He lit a cigarette. “You didn’t tell me that happened.”

“It wasn’t important—”

“You ended your career, you dumb shit. You fucked up your life over a whore so I hope you at least fucked her first,” Nico muttered. He sucked in a long drag, then exhaled, the wispy smoke disappearing into the dimly lit room. “Is that what this is about? You wanted her, she wanted Morgan?”

“I don’t—” Zander stopped, took a deep breath. “No,” he said, a bit more calmly. “I don’t care about Elizabeth Webber. I shouldn’t have said anything about her. Or to her.”

“Little late for that.” He looked at Lenny. “Call Ollie. Tell him to send me Paulie.” Nico tipped the ash of his cigarette into a ceramic ash tray at his side. “You can go work for Ollie. Paulie will take your place here. He’s due to move up.”

“Damn it, Nico—”

“If I want Corinthos to give me the go ahead on Vegas,” Nico said, his tone tight, “I gotta toe the fucking line. I already put my neck out for you once, you piece of shit. I ain’t doing it twice.” He leaned back, considered him a long moment. “You play your cards right, Smith, you let Morgan cool off, and you stay away from this woman—maybe when I get to Vegas, I can convince Sonny to send you out to me. But get your head together. Women aren’t worth losing money and power.”

It hadn’t been about a woman. Nothing to do with her. Just what she represented. Who she was to Jason Morgan. The man had everything, but hell if he’d let anyone else get a toe up in this world.

One day, someone was going to put a bullet between Jason’s eyes, and Zander was going to raise a toast in celebration.

Gia and Elizabeth’s Apartment: Living Room

Courtney refilled her glass of Moscato—her third of the evening, and she had a feeling it wouldn’t be the last. “I could learn to hate the Quartermaines.” She could still remember the way they’d looked at her, judged her. Found her wanting. They didn’t care much for AJ, but they sure as hell didn’t think she was good enough for him all the same.

“I’d ask what Jason thinks about all of this,” Gia said, swirling the liquid in her wine glass as she reclined on the sofa, “but I’m not an idiot. You haven’t told him yet.”

Elizabeth snorted, curling up at the other end of the sofa. “I tell Jason that Edward Quartermaine is harassing Michael at school, and I won’t have to worry about being in the middle of a custody battle. I’ll be bailing Jason out of jail for assault and battery.” She blinked. “You think he’d get bail?”

“Well, as long as he doesn’t murder the dumb bastard,” Gia considered, “I think he’d be in clear. They usually only withhold bail for serious felonies.” She lifted her glass in a mock salute. “You start sleeping with him, you’re really going to have start boning up on your criminal law.”

“Haha,” Elizabeth muttered darkly.

“She didn’t deny it this time,” Courtney pointed out to Gia. “Good sign, I think.”

“I don’t see the point in wasting my breath.” Elizabeth sighed and set her wine glass on the coffee table. “I should tell him.”

“Uh, like yesterday,” Gia said. She flicked her fingers at Courtney. “This one is going to tell her husband, I’m sure.”

Elizabeth turned stricken eyes to Courtney. “You’re going to tell AJ?”

Courtney swallowed and shrugged. “I kind of have to, don’t I? I mean, AJ had a huge fight with his grandfather a few days ago after the will reading. And if you’re telling Jason, I think AJ should get a chance to defend himself. What if Jason thinks AJ put his grandfather up to it?”

“Did he?” Gia raised her eyebrows.

“No!”

“Courtney.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “I just—I want to do the right thing. Maybe I shouldn’t say anything to anyone. You don’t tell AJ, I won’t tell Jason—”

“Well, that’s just a stupid reaction.” Gia huffed. “Elizabeth, you have to tell Jason. He’s Michael’s legal guardian, and Edward Quartermaine is screwing with the kid’s mind. I mean, I’m sure he means well, but trying to get in good with the kid behind everyone’s back just screams manipulative.”

“I know, I know. I just—” Elizabeth pursed her lips. “I don’t know. It’s been…almost normal. Michael was starting to bounce back a bit. When I tell Jason, his first instinct is going to be to go after Edward. I don’t want that. I don’t want Jason to have to deal with that. He has enough grief with the Quartermaines.”

“It’s cute how concerned she is about a guy who’s not her sex toy,” Gia told Courtney. She looked back at Elizabeth. “Listen. You can’t not say anything. You’re gonna feel guilty. And if you keep quiet, Edward Quartermaine is just going to keep going to Michael’s school. They won’t turn him way—too much money. Too much influence. He’s gonna keep confusing and upsetting Michael, and eventually, it’s going to come out that this is happening, and that you knew.”

Elizabeth dipped her head. “Yeah. Yeah, I know. I just—” She bit her lip. “I don’t know. It’s stupid to think I could stay out of this—I just don’t want to fall into bad habits.”

“Bad habits?” Courtney echoed, but Gia was shaking her head.

“You know telling someone is the right thing. You know it, because you’ve always been a goody-two shoes—”

“Oh, shut up—”

“Gia,” Courtney tried to break in, because she didn’t like the tone in either woman’s voice or their flushed cheeks. But it was if she wasn’t there.

“So, you wanting to remain silent is about this stick you have up your ass about Jason. You think I haven’t noticed you pretending you’re going to keep him at arm’s length? You’re doing the same bullshit now you did last year, only you don’t have Lucky to blame anymore.”

Elizabeth shot to her feet, her eyes dark with anger. “What the hell does that mean?”

“It means,” Gia began as she carefully got to her feet, “that you’re still telling yourself you don’t want Jason that way. You’re being his friend, but you’re sending the same damn signals you sent last year. I watched you when he came to see you a few days ago. He’s giving you the same looks, and you’re not shutting it down—”

“That’s not true—”

“What the hell are you so afraid of?” Gia shot back.

“Gia, come on,” Courtney murmured, standing. She didn’t want them to fight like this. She touched Gia’s arm. “Don’t—”

“You have no right—” Elizabeth stopped, and closed her eyes. “Gia—” Her voice broke, and so Gia’s face softened.

“I don’t know how we ended up being friends or roommates,” Gia continued, “but here we are. I don’t want to be like the idiots who pushed you at Lucky last year. That’s not what I’m trying to do, Elizabeth. I just—” She bit her lip. “You were miserable last year going after that modeling job, dating Lucky. You were pretending to be someone you’re not. When you left Lucky, when we decided to do this new life thing together, what did you tell me?”

“I—” Elizabeth sighed and sank onto the sofa. She closed her eyes. “That I didn’t want to pretend anymore. I didn’t want to be someone I wasn’t.”

Gia sat next to her. “If you really don’t want anything romantic with Jason, that’s fine. But you’re sitting here, contemplating not telling him something about Michael you know he has to know, and you’re doing it because you can’t pretend when you’re with him. As long as you don’t see him, you can play this game.”

“Elizabeth,” Courtney said, a bit uneasy. “I don’t know everything that happened with Lucky, and I don’t expect you to tell me. I just—I think Jason should know Edward is around Michael. I’m going to tell AJ, so he can do something about it. Jason and AJ want to put Michael first. We should help them do that.”

“I know.” Elizabeth lifted her wine glass to her lips. “Hand me my cell phone.” She looked at Gia. “That’s why we ended up friends. You’re the only one who ever called me on my bullshit. Once that stopped scaring me, I realized how important it is.” Her lips twitched. “Bitch.”

“Skank.” Gia handed the silver phone over to her. “I won’t wait up.”

Brownstone: Front Step

When Jason pulled up, Elizabeth was sitting at the top of the steps.

“I’m sorry to call you so late,” she said, shifting a bit to the side to make room.

“It’s okay,” Jason responded as he climbed the steps to take a seat next to her.  “You said something was wrong.”

“I wrestled with telling you this for a lot of reasons,” Elizabeth said. She twisted so that she was half facing him, her back against the cool stone. “Most of them aren’t important, but I mostly just…I know it’s going to make everything worse. You’re going to be so angry…”

“Elizabeth…” He leaned forward, trying to capture her eyes but she kept them down, looking at her lap. “Did something happen? Are you okay?”

“It’s not about me,” Elizabeth replied. “It’s…I pick Michael up during the week. Two days, sometimes three. Today, he was in a bit of a mood. Not a bad one, just…quiet. He’s been quiet since Carly…but it was different today. It took some prying—Jason, Edward arranged for Michael to come to the headmaster’s office.”

Jason sat up, his shoulders tensing. “He harassed Michael at school?”

“He told Michael it was going to be their little secret. His way of getting to know him before Michael came to live with them. So, he wouldn’t be so scared.” Elizabeth shook her head, her voice thickening. “When Michael said he wanted to stay with his grandmother, Edward told him it would be easier at the mansion. More family. It wouldn’t be such a burden to look after him.”

“A fucking burden?” Jason repeated. He lunged to his feet. “He told Michael he was a burden to Bobbie?”

“Jason…” Elizabeth stood. “I know you’re angry, and I’m sorry. I just—you needed to know this was happening. I didn’t tell Bobbie yet. I wanted to see how you wanted to deal with it—”

Deal with it? He was going to go to that damn house and throw Edward Quartermaine into the fucking lake. What the hell was he thinking? “Carly’s only been gone for a few weeks,” Jason managed through a clenched jaw. “He couldn’t wait—”

“Jason…” Elizabeth sighed and wrapped her arms around herself. “I know, and I know you think confronting him is the right thing to do, but—”

“It won’t solve anything,” he muttered. “It’ll make me feel better, but that’s not the point.” He sat back down and dragged his hands through his hair. “What did you tell Michael?”

“I told him that Bobbie loved him, that you loved him. That he was home with her and no one was taking him anywhere.” Elizabeth dropped next to him. “I know I probably stepped out of line, I just didn’t want him worrying that he might—he’s been through so much during this last year. Leaving Sonny’s, losing him out of his life. Coming here. Carly working, then when she died…he can’t handle more instability. He shouldn’t have to.” She hesitated. “I told Courtney and Gia. Courtney is telling AJ about it.”

“Why?” Jason demanded. “He probably put the old man up to it—” He looked away even as he said it.

“You know that’s not true,” Elizabeth murmured. “I don’t want to champion him because, well, I don’t know anything for sure, but if AJ were behind it, he wouldn’t send Edward as his emissary.”

“No,” Jason muttered. “He wouldn’t. He would have gone himself.” He waited a moment. “I’ll have to talk to Alexis again. I want her to be ready to challenge any suit they bring my way. Edward might not wait for AJ to file on his own.” He shook his head. “Michael’s staying with Bobbie. He’s not going anywhere near them—” He glanced over, then frowned. “What? You look like you want to say something.”

“Edward going behind everyone’s back—it looks bad for him. But if AJ wasn’t involved—that’s not going to change his custody case.” Elizabeth asked softly. She closed her eyes. “Jason. I hate this. I hate that I have to say this—but I think you’re running out of time to make a decision.”

Jason flinched. “AJ can’t be trusted. You said so yourself—”

“I know that,” Elizabeth said. “I just…I don’t know, Jason. Maybe you should talk to AJ. Come up with a third solution. I don’t want Michael to go through a custody hearing, have to talk to doctors and judge and watch you and AJ fight over him only for you to lose.”

“You want AJ to have Michael?” Jason demanded. “After everything he’s done—”

“I’m not saying that. And I’ve never said that,” Elizabeth retorted. “And I’m not in any position to judge anything anyone else does, okay? I don’t know. I just—I want what’s best for Michael. I’m just—” She bit her lip.

“Spit it out, Elizabeth.”

“I know all the reasons you don’t want AJ to have custody,” Elizabeth said finally. “And you know I agree with them. Jason, I’m just so scared that a judge isn’t going—he’s not going to take them seriously. If you and AJ fight this out, if you force a judge to rule—” She swallowed. “Jason…”

“I know.” He exhaled slowly, and looked away, looked straight ahead to the other row of brownstones across the street. “Thanks for telling me about AJ. I know—I know you’re not comfortable telling me anything Courtney says to you.”

“Well, I figured it was fair warning.”

Jason hesitated. “Why else?”

She blinked at him. “Why else what?”

“You said you struggled with not telling me for a lot of reasons,” he said slowly. “I can’t—I don’t think they were all about Michael.”

“Jason—” She bit her lip. “No, I guess they weren’t.” She rubbed hands over her denim clad knees. “I just—I don’t want things to be like they were before. I want us to be friends, I do. I just—” She tilted her eyes to the sky. “I’m not sure we can be.”

He sucked in a sharp breath—he hadn’t expected that. “Elizabeth—” He exhaled slowly. “Why can’t we be friends?” he asked. He almost scowled at he saw a tiny smile flit across her petite features. “What? What’s funny?”

“Nothing…it’s usually…I’m used to being the one asking that —” Elizabeth sighed. “Why were we friends in the first place?”

“What?” He lifted his brows. “When? Last year?”

“Ever. You felt sorry for me and gave me a ride. How did…” She looked at her fingernails, painted some sort of dark shade he couldn’t make out by the light of the street lamps. “How did that turn into everything else?”

“I—” Jason hesitated. He’d never really thought about how they’d become so close. They just…they just were. Or had been. “I don’t know. I guess you were just…you were someone I could talk to.”

“Maybe it was that morning I found you in the snow. Maybe that’s when it changed.” She sighed. “I always felt like I took advantage of you. Like…you were there because I saved your life once and you just…”

“We weren’t friends because I felt obligated,” Jason finished her thought. “That’s not what I do. Yeah, after that winter—after you dragged me to your studio and forced soup down my throat, sure, if you’d needed something, I would have done it. You saved my life. But that’s not why—” Not why he’d been so scared the night the bomb was in her studio. Why he’d felt as torn about cutting things off after that…

Why saying goodbye a few weeks later had hurt so much.

“Why does it matter?” he said instead. “Do you need to know why I care about you?”

“Because I did take advantage of you last year,” Elizabeth said.

He shook his head. “I don’t see it that way—”

“Oh, come on…” She rolled her eyes. “Don’t—don’t do that. Don’t pretend I didn’t—” She bit her lips. “Anyone else would have called me a tease or something worse—”

“I’m not anyone else.” He took her chin in his hand, forcing her to look at him. “And you don’t get to tell me what happened last year. I was there, and I know what you were going through—”

“Jason—”

“And you can’t keep punishing yourself. Is that this is about?” He released her and got to his feet. “We can’t be friends because of what happened?”

She stood. “Because there’s no place in my life for you.”

He took the hit and didn’t flinch. “If that’s true, Elizabeth, then I can respect that. But I don’t believe you.”

“You don’t get to tell me how to feel,” she shot back, echoing words he’d once spoken to her. “I can’t go back. I can’t do any of that again—”

“Any of what?” he challenged, feeling the frustration crawl up his throat. “Damn it, Elizabeth, what did I do—”

“I’m never going to be broken again, do you get that?” Her voice cracked, a tear slid down her cheek, iridescent in the pale streetlight. As soon as the words left her mouth, her shoulders slumped, the anger slid out of her posture.

Jason closed his mouth, because he didn’t know how to respond to that. How to argue with that. He didn’t even know why he was pushing this except— “I—”

Elizabeth sighed and scrubbed her hands over her face. “I’m sorry. I don’t—you didn’t—I did it to myself. I let people tell me how to feel, how to live. I let them direct my life. I’ve worked my ass off for the last five months to be the person I was supposed to be. I can’t…I can’t go back. I can’t be that person again. After the rape, after losing Lucky, after the wedding—I keep starting my life over again. I can’t do it again. I just can’t.”

“I’m not asking you to. I just…” Wanted to see her. Be around her. Take her to the cliff roads. “I just—”

“But it hurts too much…” A tear slid down her cheek, glinting in the dim light. “It all hurts, and I can’t stand it. I hate this. I hate that when I see you, it’s like nothing has changed—”

He took her by the elbow and drew her in closer. “Elizabeth—”

“Even the way you say my name—” Her voice broke and she dipped her head, leaned into him. “I just want to be…” She trailed off, as if she didn’t know how to finish that.

“I want you to be whoever you want to be,” Jason told her, running his hand from her elbow to the top of her shoulder then back again. “You’re still putting pressure on yourself. If that’s because of me—”

“It’s because of me…” Elizabeth sighed again and stepped back. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m making things into a huge deal. What did you used to say? A solution doesn’t have to be complicated to be right? Maybe…I just have to stop.”

“There’s no law that says we have to do anything or be anything,” Jason told her. He tipped her face, so their eyes met. “You keep telling me you’re a different person now.”

“A better one,” she said with conviction. “And maybe it’s time I show you.”

He tilted his head toward the street. “How about a ride?”

“Perfect.” As they started towards his bike, she asked, “What are you going to do about Michael? About Edward?”

He sighed, as he handed her the helmet strapped on the back of his bike. “I don’t know. I suppose I’ll call Alexis in the morning to see what she recommends. I might want to go…” Yell at someone, break something… “But it won’t solve anything. I have to do what’s good for Michael.”

Though if Edward making this move at Michael’s school was the reason Elizabeth had finally started to tear down the walls between them, well, maybe he might even find room to be grateful to the old bastard.

September 29, 2016

This entry is part 8 of 24 in the series Bittersweet

I came in like a wrecking ball
I never hit so hard in love
All I wanted was to break your walls
All you ever did was wreck me
Yeah, you, you wreck me

Wrecking Ball, Miley Cyrus


Saturday, May 4, 2002

Quartermaine Estate: Foyer

 AJ stormed through the door and into the foyer, ignoring the protests of Alice the maid as he bellowed for his grandfather. His pulse was racing, his muscles quivering—he couldn’t remember the last time he had been quite this goddamn livid.

Instead of Edward, Ned stepped out from the front parlor, a sheaf of papers in his hand. “Junior, having a bad day?” he asked dryly.

“Where is he?” AJ demanded, his hands so tightly fisted at his side that they ached. “Where the hell is our grandfather?”

“Taking a meeting at ELQ,” came the quiet and gentle tone of Lila behind them as Reginald wheeled her in from the conservatory. “And you’ll use a decent tone when you’re in my home.”

“Well, it’s Monica’s—” Ned began the old refrain, but AJ cut him off with an annoyed glance. “Sorry. Reflex.”

“I’m sorry, Grandmother, but he’s gone too far this time,” AJ said, struggling to keep his tone even.

“That may be, but he is still your grandfather, AJ.” Lila lifted her chin, but her eyes were somber. Resigned. “What’s he done now?”

“He went to my son’s school,” AJ told them, still reeling from Courtney’s revelations. “I don’t know how he managed to convince the headmaster, but he’s been meeting with Michael for the last few days. Telling him he’ll be coming here to live, that he’s a burden on Bobbie—”

Ned closed his eyes and shook his head. “That’s a new low. Even for him.”

“AJ—” Lila attempted.

“You should be grateful that I’m here and not Jason. Elizabeth, I’m sure has told him by now, and if you think I’m angry—”

“He’ll raze the old man to the ground,” Ned said. He looked to their grandmother. “You need to speak with him. If Grandfather upsets Michael, it might hurt AJ’s chances in court.” He hesitated and looked at AJ. “For what it’s worth, I’ve tried to talk to him. I knew he was angry after the will reading.”

“I know.” AJ dipped his head. “I was, too.” And hurt that Carly had tried to reach out from the grave to devastate him and his family. And what had they done to her but love Michael and want to be in his life? “I know Grandfather just wants to be part of Michael’s life. I love him, Grandmother, but I can’t let him ruin my chances.”

“I understand, AJ. And I will speak to him.” Lila pursed her lips. “Reggie, I’ll need to you to contact Jason—”

“Let me—” AJ waited a moment, taking a deep breath. “Let me speak with him. I need him to know that I wasn’t part of this, that I don’t condone it. If it comes from you, it won’t mean as much.”

“Fair enough.” Lila tilted her head. “I hope that you and Jason can work something out. I’d hate to see this dragged into court.”

“It’s not my first choice, Grandmother, but I’ll do whatever has to be done.”

Kelly’s: Courtyard

Elizabeth wrinkled her nose as she spied the older man striding towards the courtyard from the parking lot. This was all her day needed.

“Ah, Elizabeth, just the young lady I wanted to see.” Edward offered her a broad smile, with a bit of chagrin in his eyes. She sighed. She should have known.

“I’m not running interference with Jason,” she told him as she scooped another set of dirty plates into her plastic tub. “You did the crime, Mr. Quartermaine, you do the time.” She paused and looked at him. “Has he found you yet?”

“Ah, no, but I spoke to my wife…” Edward cleared his throat, straightened his shoulders. “It’s a crime to see my great-grandson?”

She closed her eyes and cursed herself. Why did he have to do this? Why did he have to put that note of hurt, of despondence into his voice? She was such a sucker.

“It’s a crime,” Elizabeth said, setting the tub down and turning to him, “when you tell a five-year-old boy who’s just lost his mother that he’s a burden to his grandmother.”

At that, Edward did look slightly embarrassed. “I’m not saying I haven’t made mistakes—”

“I’m not talking to Jason for you,” Elizabeth said. “You’re wasting your breath—”

“This isn’t about Jason. I wanted—” He hesitated. “When AJ files for custody, it’s likely you’ll be called—”

“And you’d like me not to talk so much about what Michael told me.” She rolled her eyes. “You’re wasting your breath. If I end up having to testify, even if I wanted to omit it, Alexis would ask.”

“Elizabeth, I’ve always thought of you as one of the family,” Edward with his smile firmly in place, even if his jaw was slightly more clenched. “You’ve always been so good to Emily. And you’ve been close with Jason—”

“I’m going to do what’s best for Michael, Mr. Quartermaine.” Elizabeth picked up her tub of dirty dishes and discarded food. “I think it’s about time someone started putting him first.”

“But—”

“Goodbye, Mr. Quartermaine.”

Elm Street Pier

Jason slowed his steps when he saw AJ on a bench at the bottom of the steps. Other than another member of the Quartermaine family, AJ was might be the person he wanted to see least in the world right now.

But he’d promised Elizabeth last night that he’d give AJ the benefit of the doubt when it came to Edward bothering Michael. He wasn’t convinced AJ wasn’t working with the Quartermaines to get custody, but he had to admit—it didn’t exactly seem like something AJ would do.

“Jason.” AJ got to his feet when Jason stepped off the bottom of the steps. “Hey. I was hoping to catch you on the way to the warehouse.”

“Is this about Michael?” Jason asked bluntly.

“I know Elizabeth told you that Grandfather was…that he was harassing Michael at his school.” AJ looked away, his skin mottled with suppressed anger. “I can imagine how angry you were when you found out, because I was, too. I still am.”

Jason looked out over the harbor. “Elizabeth said you didn’t have a hand in it.”

“She’s right. Look, I want my son. I think I’ve been up front about that. I haven’t pretended for a second that I don’t intend to use everything I can to get that done. Including asking Elizabeth to testify—”

Jason swung back again with a glare. “I told you. Leave her out of it—”

“I don’t want to have this argument with you again,” AJ cut in. “I just want to make it clear there’s no way in hell I would ever allow Grandfather to say those things to Michael.” He looked down at his hands, and for the first time, Jason could see the thick calluses that had developed, an indication of the hard labor AJ now did as a forklift operator. “You don’t remember our childhood—”

“I don’t want to talk about—”

“I wish I didn’t,” AJ cut in. “The last thing I want is Michael to go through what we did. Every little thing was measured, considered. If we brought home art projects, we were judged on them as if they were candidates for a museum. Every grade, every test was agonized over. The pressure to be the Quartermaines Grandfather wanted, that Mom and Dad wanted—” He swallowed. “I crumbled under the weight of it. I wasn’t strong enough to drown them out. I drank to make them stop. You went with the flow. You were smarter than I was—”

“That’s not who I am now,” Jason said roughly, for the first time recognizing the pain in the older man’s expression. “I’m not Jason Quartermaine—”

“No, you’re not,” AJ said quietly. “But you were once. And I’m afraid that if Grandfather has his way, Michael will grow up with that pressure. With soul-crushing expectations. I’m sure Michael is as smart as you were—as you are now—don’t shake your head, Jason. I know what you do for a living, and you don’t do it for long if you’re an idiot.”

“AJ—”

“I want to be a father to my son,” AJ told him. “But I promise you, Jason, if I have that chance, I won’t let Grandfather do those things to him. I’ve talked to Grandmother. I’m making it clear that I won’t participate in any custody suit he files on his own, and I won’t allow Grandfather anywhere near Michael if he continues to act this way.”

Jason dipped his head, taking a deep breath. He wasn’t sure what to do with this information, with this insight into a man he preferred to ignore. But he knew AJ was being honest with him, and if there anything Jason respected — it was honesty. “I called the school and told them if I found out Edward met with Michael again, I’d have Alexis sue them.”

“Good, good. Uh…” AJ scratched the back of his neck. “I have to get to work. My shift starts soon.” He started down the pier, but then stopped and turned back. “I hope—I hope we can come to some sort of agreement about what’s best for Michael. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

He left then, not waiting for Jason to answer. Not that Jason knew what he would say. In less than three weeks, everything he’d taken for granted about the uselessness of the man who was technically his brother had shifted and changed.

And he didn’t know what the hell to do about it.

Jake’s: Bar

“This day.” Elizabeth tossed back a long swig of her beer, then wrinkled her nose. “Oh, man. Who suggested the cheapest beer?”

“The girl who wanted to go on a Caribbean vacation this summer, which means we have to save every penny.” Gia shrugged and considered the thick dark liquid in her pint glass. “Not sure this is worth it. Next time, we just get the big bottle of wine.”

“But then we’d miss all this atmosphere,” Courtney said with a bright smile as she gestured toward the rest of the room, filled with dock hands and men playing beer. The trio of girls were the only females—save Jake behind the bar.

But no one approached them or gave them a second look. Courtney was Sonny’s sister, Gia was a cop’s sister, and Elizabeth…

Elizabeth decided not to think about why men who worked for Jason and Sonny were ignoring her.

“So, how did telling the boys about Granddaddy Q go?” Gia asked, folding her arms on the table. “You worked all day—”

“You didn’t come back last night after telling him?” Courtney raised her eyebrows. “Do we have something else to put on the agenda?”

“No,” Elizabeth drawled with a roll of her eyes. “It was okay. He was pissed as hell, like I’m sure AJ was. I talked him out of going right to the mansion, but it was a close call.” She lifted a shoulder. “We talked, and then we went for a ride.” When Gia started to wiggle her eyebrows, she laughed and punched her roommate lightly in the shoulder. “No, I mean on the bike. I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I’m done pretending that we’re just…friends.”

“Thank God.” Gia raised her hands in the air. “Hallelujah!”

“AJ looked ready to kill this morning,” Courtney said. “He went straight to the mansion to confront his grandfather.” Her mouth twisted in a slight grimace. “I suppose I don’t have the influence on him that you do with Jason.”

Elizabeth winced, but shook it off. “He must have talked to Lila, because Edward showed up at Kelly’s. I’m not sure if he thought I could make peace with Jason or he could talk me out of mentioning any of it at a custody hearing, but I told him no way.”

“Even if you wanted to leave it out,” Gia said, “Alexis isn’t going to let this slide. She’d use it against AJ as a sign the Q’s are demonic, but yeah, there’s no way this isn’t going to be a thing.”

“It’s insane. How did he think Michael was going to keep this to himself?” Courtney asked with another sigh. “I hate that Edward might have messed with AJ’s chances, but you’re right. This is a mark against the Quartermaines.”

“They’re never more dangerous than when they’re trying to help,” Elizabeth said with a rueful smile. She grimaced. “Damn it. Why does he have to be here tonight?”

Zander emerged from a clump of men that had been at the pool table. He grabbed a chair from another table, turned it around and straddled it. “Slumming it tonight, ladies?”

“Who asked you to sit down?” Gia demanded, but Zander ignored her, focusing his gaze on Elizabeth who met his eyes dead on. She wasn’t intimidated by him.

She could take care of herself, and moreover, this was Jake’s. The bartender had given them a friendly wave when they’d arrived, and the bar itself was full of men who worked for Sonny. She’d like to think after all the problems Zander had had at his job lately, he’d show some common sense.

But clearly that was too much to hope for as Zander’s eyes narrowed. “You talk to your boyfriend lately?”

She lifted one eyebrow. “Why? You looking to pass another message to him? I’m not interested.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think so.” Zander smirked. “He’s not walking around like a man who’s satisfied. Maybe Gia’s more his speed.”

“Are you kidding me right now?” Gia demanded.

“I mean, I merely suggested yesterday that maybe he needed to get laid,” Zander continued, ignoring her. “And he nearly put me through a wall.”

“I wish he’d throw you over a cliff,” Courtney muttered.

“I wondered what those bruises were from,” Elizabeth said sweetly as she gestured toward the dark marks at Zander’s neck. “I heard you weren’t measuring up at work.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Yeah, well, maybe if Jason was getting what he needed at home, he wouldn’t be so bitchy at work.” He tilted his head, a wicked light in his eyes. “Or maybe you’re too frigid.”

Elizabeth fisted her hands in her lap, her blood beginning to simmer.

“Zander, you should probably go,” Courtney said. She leaned away from the table, looking in a different direction. “I think maybe—”

“Yeah, Emily told me you had a hang up about sex,” Zander continued, leaning in. “I guess no one can measure up to that first time—”

“Oh, that is it—” Gia got to her feet, but Elizabeth had already beat her to it. She picked up her glass and without even blinking, tossed it in his face.

Zander scowled and grabbed Gia’s beer.

Elizabeth gasped as the cold liquid splashed her face. Without one more thought, she lunged to her feet and launched herself across the table, tackling Zander and clawing at his face with her nails.

Gia rushed in to help, but the bar had already exploded. Men were trying to separate them, jostling each other. One man took exception to a bump from another, punched him in the face, then had a chair cracked over his head by someone else from the guy’s group.

Courtney neatly sidestepped the whole thing and moved a chair out of Jason’s away, as he closed the last distance between him and the melee at the table.

She’d spied him several minutes earlier—and after all, hadn’t she warned Zander to leave?

Elizabeth felt herself being lifted up by the waist and kicked out wildly until she realized it was Jason. He set her down next to Courtney, grabbed Zander by the throat and lifted him up as well.

“When the hell did he get here?” Elizabeth demanded, wiping blood from her nose. Courtney winced, then bit her lip as she watched Jason drag Zander towards the back of the bar.

“Uh, where’s he taking him?” Courtney asked.

Gia joined them, holding her hand to her cheek. “Fucking wastes of space,” she snarled. “Someone punched me in the face.”

“I better go out there before Jason kills him,” Elizabeth managed before taking off. After a moment, Gia and Courtney followed.

Jake’s: Back Alley

But Jason wasn’t going to kill Zander Smith. He didn’t know why Zander had thrown the beer at Elizabeth, but when he had, he’d seen red and didn’t quite remember closing the distance between the stairs and the brawl.  Fucker was lucky Jason didn’t separate his head from his body.

Though it felt good to finally be using his fists against Zander’s face the way he’d always visualized, Jason saw the back door open out of the corner of his eye. Elizabeth and her friends piled into the alley, followed by Jake.

When he was sure Zander wouldn’t be able to get back up and do any more damage, Jason let him slide to the ground, landing on his back, coughing up. His face was streaked with grime and dirt from the alley, along with scratches from Elizabeth and Gia’s nails—and blood from the broken nose he’d made sure Zander would suffer.

He’d seen the scumbag punch Elizabeth in the face. Zander Smith was lucky to be walking away with his ability to breathe intact.

Jason planted his motorcycle boot on Zander’s chest and leaned down. “You get up and you go away,” he told him in a low voice. “The next time I see you, I might not let you leave alive.”

Zander coughed again and spit to the side, the saliva mixed with blood. “Fucking bitch needs you to fight her battles—”

“Call me a bitch again!” Elizabeth snarled, but Gia grabbed her elbow to keep her from striding forward. “I don’t need anyone to take care of me. I knocked you on your ass, you piece of shit—”

“Who are you and what did you do with Elizabeth?” Courtney hissed.

“Get up and go away,” Jason told him again. “Don’t look back. You’re done here.” He stepped back.

Zander stumbled to his feet and spat again. “You don’t get to decide that,” he snarled, but he didn’t press the point. He disappeared down the alley. Jason turned to the quartet at the back door.

“Just wanted to be sure you wouldn’t kill him,” Jake said blandly. “I’ll go in and turn on the sprinklers.”

Elizabeth was breathing hard from the exertion of the fight, her pulse was racing as she watched Jason stand several feet away, breathing just as hard, his muscular chest rising up and down beneath the black t-shirt he wore.

“We should—” Gia grabbed Courtney by the arm and yanked her through the door.

“Should we leave them alone?” Courtney asked. “He looked pretty angry—”

“Girl, those were mating pheromones,” Gia told her. “Let’s help Jake clear out the bar.”

“Um, we weigh like a hundred pounds,” Courtney replied, but followed her friend. “I don’t think we’re going to be a lot of help.”

Back in the alley, Jason and Elizabeth just continued to stare at one another. Should she go inside? Say something? But her throat refused to produce sound and her feet were glued to the sidewalk.

He strode forward then, slid his hand around her neck and drew her up on her toes. And then he kissed her.

She’d been kissed before—by Lucky, mostly. Once, uncomfortably by Nikolas. A few times on dates with Gia’s annoying friends—but never like this. He consumed her. The world around her melted away, and the only thing she knew was the taste of his mouth, the slight tang of beer as his tongue slid past her lips. The way his hands felt as they slid beneath the thin camisole she wore and touched her skin, scorching a trail up her back.

She could feel the cool stone of the building behind her as he backed her against it, taking his lips from hers in order to kiss her jaw, taste the skin at her collarbone, the nip of his teeth at her throat. It was everything she’d ever thought it might be, but somehow more. Everything was brighter, more vibrant.

A bottle smashed somewhere nearby and Elizabeth jerked away, drawn back to reality by the sound. She pushed Jason back a little, suddenly uncomfortable with how fast and…how consuming the moment had been.

His fingers touched the swelling at her cheek. “You’re going to have a black eye,” he murmured, with none of the aggression he’d shown just moments earlier. “I should have hit him harder.”

“I’m pretty sure he’ll have scars from me and Gia,” Elizabeth replied with a sauciness she hadn’t felt in months. “I appreciate the assist, but I had it under control.”

“I know.” He grinned then, stepping back, giving her some space to cool down. “I just finally had a good excuse to kick his ass. You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that.”

She knew her own smile must be as wide. God, Gia and Courtney had been right. She needed this electric feeling, this—sensation of being alive. She could feel all her nerve endings standing on end. “I have a pretty decent idea.”

He tipped his head toward the door. “I should go in, make sure Jake cleared the bar. You need a ride home?”

“Even if I didn’t,” Elizabeth said, arching a brow, “I’ll take one.”

Port Charles Harbor

It was just after dawn when a yacht sailed into the harbor as some of the locals were beginning their morning shift in the warehouses that lined the docks.

It had left Caracas, Venezuela two weeks earlier and had initially been scheduled to arrive the week before. But a storm off the coast of Massachusetts had delayed its northward progress, and traffic down the St. Lawrence River from the Atlantic had been congested now spring had arrived and wealthy residents were taking their own pleasure cruises from the Great Lakes to the ocean.

The yacht sliced through the murky blue water of the Elm Street Pier and slid into a slip that had been reserved for the summer.  Its crew set down the anchor, and some of workers at a nearby warehouse part gaped at the large vessel. Yachts were common in Port Charles, and wealth was not a new sight—they had their own island just outside the harbor complete with a Gothic mansion.

But this yacht was unusually large, with swarthy Columbian crew, and a name scrawled in Spanish across the bow, La Venganza. Some of the dock workers who spoke the language remarked on naming one’s boat after revenge, but everyone knew rich people didn’t have much imagination.

Several hours later, a man strolled out to the bow of the boat where the pier met Elm Street. He had a decent view of the harbor and, in particular, Pier 52. He lit a cigar and took a long pull, enjoying the bitter, smoky taste as it rolled down his throat.

“Let the games begin,” he murmured, before turning to meet with his first business associate, his grin wide and enthusiastic. “Ah, Senore Roscoe, thank you for meeting with me…”

January 8, 2018

This entry is part 9 of 24 in the series Bittersweet

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?”

“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—”

“Bobbie—”

“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.”

“Yeah, but—”

“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?”

“Courtney—”

“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?”

“Elizabeth—”

“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.

Courtland Street

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.”