Chapter Twenty-Nine

December 12, 2003

Elizabeth’s Apartment: Kitchen

She slid the tray of bread into the oven and set the timer for eight minutes. The kitchen had been silent since she told him it wasn’t a big deal. Silent–and heavy with awkwardness.

She stirred her sauce once more. “Jason–it’s okay that you have to work this weekend,” Elizabeth said finally.

He sighed. “I’m sorry–I scheduled this stuff now so I’d be free during the holidays. I know how much you like Christmas.” Jason shook his head. “And in trying to avoid disappointing you later, I’m just doing it earlier–”

“Hey, I’m the one who sprang it on you last minute, okay?” She went to the fridge and pulled out a pitcher of iced tea. “Am I disappointed? Sure. But it is not a big deal.”

“It is. We’ve been working on this for less two weeks and–”

“Jason, look at me.” She rounded the island and sat down on the stool next to him. “Do I look upset?”

He met her eyes and shook his head. “No, but–”

“But so what if you’re not going to pick out a Christmas tree with me? You don’t even like them. However…” she smirked. “As punishment, you are going to help me decorate so you’d better work me in for an hour or so next week.”

“I think I can do that,” Jason replied with a little smile.

“Yeah, because I bet if I looked in one of those boxes I haven’t unpacked yet, I’ll find those paper chains.” She kissed his cheek and stood to finish dinner.

He watched her stir the sauce once more before starting on a salad and found himself wondering if maybe it would work this time.

Port Charles High: Gym

Sage sipped her punch and watched Lucas dance with Georgie while she stood awkwardly off to the side with Dillon.

“So…you like your classes?” Dillon asked, scratching his forehead.

“Can’t stand geometry. Probably gonna fail it,” Sage replied. She stared into her red juice and shifted. Standing still in heels was so not her idea of a good time.

“Yeah,” Dillon nodded. “Math is not my thing, either.” He stuffed his hands in the pockets of his tux jacket. “Lucas is a lot more bearable these days. He, like, hated me. Georgie had to avoid him most of the summer.”

“Maxie mentioned that,” Sage remarked. “Said they both avoided him.”

“Well–Lucas has a good reason not to like Kyle. He was trying to get Maxie in bed and then he hid a web cam in his room and broadcasted her first time over the net.”

Sage’s eyes bulged. “And she’s still dating him?”

“Yeah, I like Maxie and all but she went through a rough time this summer. Kyle’s not the same kid he was last spring. He goes to Yale, did you know that?”

“No. I guess it’s matured him?” Sage suggested.

“I guess. We haven’t seen much of him since he left for Connecticut in September. He had a late start and had to catch up.” Dillon cleared his throat. “Yeah, but Lucas didn’t like me for no reason at all. But he’s been downright nice to me since you started coming around so I guess what Lucas has been saying is true. You’re not the girl you were when you first got here.”

“No. I was–I’ve been working through a lot of stuff this last month and like I said, I really am sorry for the way I acted when I first moved here,” Sage said honestly. “But it was really no more than you were cute and I wanted to get myself into the most trouble possible. I was trying to prove something and it just–it didn’t work.”

“I know things have been–well, weird since last week and I know it’s mostly my fault,” Dillon admitted. “Georgie and I had a really rough time because of that stunt and we’re just now getting back on track.”

“I’ve only got eyes for Lucas,” Sage assured him. “He’s been so nice to me–the first guy that I’ve met who didn’t expect me to…you know…put out. I really like him.”

“Well, then I think we should all make an extra effort since you and Maxie seem to be getting along and I know Georgie’s close with both her and Lucas.” He took her punch from her and then took her hand and led her on the dance floor next to Georgie, Lucas, Maxie and Kyle. “You mind if I dance with the pretty girl?” he called to Lucas.

“Long as you give her back,” Lucas joked.

Sage rolled her eyes. “Please. He is so not my type.” She met Georgie’s eyes as she said it, hoping she’d read the honesty through the joke. “That hair? Come on.”

Georgie giggled. “He puts so much gel in it sometimes I think it’ll cut me.”

“Hey, I so resent the turn this conversation has taken,” Dillon said, pretending to be offended. “I’ll have you know that this hair is one of a kind.”

“Yeah, who else would want it?” Kyle offered with a smirk.

Carly’s House

Sage carefully slid open the door, hoping no one would notice it was twelve-ten and she was late.

But she had nothing to worry about since her uncle was passed out on the couch with Carly tucked under one of his arms.

She grinned. Looked like they both had a good night.

December 13, 2003

Courtney’s House: Living Room

She bit her lip and ripped the tape off another box. Carly had shipped the rest of her things to Haye’s Landing that week and she was in the middle of unpacking everything while packing for her trip back to Port Charles to spend two weeks with her brother.

The phone rang and she reached for the cordless phone she’d bought earlier that week. “Hello?”

“Hey, it’s me.”

“Hey, Carly.” Courtney cradled the phone between her shoulder and cheek as she removed a photo album. “What’s up?”

“I just got my film developed from last night and I wanted to call and tell someone,” Carly remarked gleefully. “Are you busy?”

“Nothing I can’t handle while talking. Film for what?” Courtney flipped to the first page and smiled when she saw a rare photo of herself as a child with her father.

“Sage had a dance last night. Oh, she looked so adorable. We must have shopped for hours for the perfect dress.”

“So, things are good with you and Sage?” Courtney asked, flipping to the next page. These were just school photos of her. Janine had never been one for the camera and by this time, Mike was gone.

“They’re great, she’s a very sweet girl. Lorenzo just adores her and you know–I really feel like they’re so much closer now than they were originally.”

“Sounds like things are good,” Courtney murmured. Pictures of her childhood bled into her teenaged years.

“On the surface, yeah. Lorenzo and I are getting along–he’s not pushing me and I really think this could go somewhere.” Carly sighed. “But…”

“But what?” Courtney prompted.

“But Sonny’s in the back of my mind. I feel like I need to see him before he–before he goes. I’m inviting him to Christmas dinner.”

“Won’t that be awkward?” Courtney asked curiously. “With Lorenzo and Sage there?”

Carly hesitated. “Well…I think we found a way around that. You and Sonny are going to be here with the boys for dinner. And Lorenzo and Sage are going with me to a brunch.”

“Brunch? Where?” Courtney sighed as she came to the section of the album with photos of her and AJ during their brief marriage. She’d really loved him. She traced her fingertips over his face.

“Ah…you know what, Courtney…”

“With Elizabeth and Jason,” Courtney remarked softly. She stared a photo that she and AJ had taken of themselves the July they were married. He’d picked her up from Kelly’s after a long shift and he’d wrapped her arm around her shoulders and taken the photo himself. The angle was a little off but he was smiling and she was turned towards him, laughing.

And Elizabeth and Jason were in the background, standing by the door. They were no more than a blur, really. But they were there.

They were always there, she realized and Elizabeth had always been in the back of her mind. Was she–Courtney–the consolation prize? Someone who was good enough to sleep with, to pretend she was the only one because he couldn’t have the woman he really wanted?

“Courtney?” Carly’s voice was soft now. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Courtney–“

“No–okay, I’m not really fine. I just–I’m unpacking and I found this picture of me and AJ at Kelly’s a-and there they are. Together. God damn it, Carly, why couldn’t I just see it? Why did I have to torture myself for a year trying to prove I was good enough? That even though I wasn’t Elizabeth, I was good enough?” She slammed the book shut and stood.

“Honey–“

“And you know what the real kicker is? The thing that really makes me laugh? I knew it. I knew it all along. I told her to talk to him, Carly. I told Jason that Elizabeth was dying inside and she wanted him back–I tried to get them back together. I knew he loved her.”

“But you loved him–it doesn’t always matter what you know when it comes to what you feel–“

“I’m not even sure of that anymore.” She closed her eyes. “I’m just–I’m wondering if I loved Jason–or I loved being safe. He made me feel safe and he filled the empty void in me when I found out what AJ had been doing. But did I really love him?”

“Courtney…” Carly sighed. “I’m not going to tell you how you felt. I think you both needed each other. You both didn’t want to face reality and–okay, it was a rebound relationship that went further than it should. But that doesn’t mean you didn’t love each other.”

“I liked my life with AJ,” Courtney confessed. “Living in that little apartment, every piece of furniture–every possession hard-earned and fought for. I like supporting myself a–and not having to look over my shoulder all the time. I like thinking that Brian is going to show up with a cup of hot chocolate unexpectedly or that I can call him and talk to him and there’s nothing that has to be held back.” She moved to her front window and peered out onto the lawn. “I care about Brian, Carly, and he says he can give me the time I need…”

“Then what’s wrong?” Carly asked. “If he’s willing to wait and you care about him–where’s the problem?”

“The problem is that saying something and doing it are totally different. Brian says he can wait–but what if it gets to be six months or even a year before I’m ready to move on with him?”

“Then screw him,” Carly said simply. “He doesn’t have the right to make you feel bad for knowing what you are and are not ready for. You’re ending a marriage and your husband has already moved in with his new girlfriend. Don’t think I don’t know that hurts.”

“It hurts–but I think it would hurt worse if it were someone else,” Courtney admitted. “I know–I know that it sounds weird. Even crazy. But if he’d just picked someone off the street in September, slept with her and got her pregnant and then moved in with her–that would destroy me.”

“But because it’s Elizabeth…”

“Because it’s her, I can accept that’s not all my fault. I didn’t drive him to cheat on me and he’s not leaving me because he doesn’t love me.” She exhaled. “He’s leaving me because he loves her and I’m leaving him because I’m not fond of who I am when I’m with him. I hate it, actually. I hate being scared all the time and not feeling good enough and if Elizabeth can handle it–fine. He’s loved her longer than he’s even known me and somehow–that makes it better.”

She saw Brian’s car pull into the driveway and smiled. “Carly?”

“Yeah?”

“Brian just pulled up and I’m smiling. This…this is a good sign, right?”

“Oh–I think so. Lorenzo just walked in the door and I’m smiling too.” The man in questioned grinned at Carly’s words. “I’ll let you go.”

“Thanks, Carly.” Courtney hit the end button and set the phone down. She had the door open before he could knock. “Hey.”

“Hey.” He hesitated. “I’m sorry about last night–I promised I wouldn’t push and then in the next words, I did and I’m sorry–”

“No–I’m glad you pushed. And I’m still not ready for more than a friendship,” Courtney admitted. “But…I will be and I hope you’re still going to be there.”

“I’m in this for the long haul,” Brian told her. He took a step forward and gently kissed her forehead–his hand lingering on her cheek as he pulled away. “For as long as you want me, I’ll be here.”

General Hospital: Lobby

Elizabeth set her purse down on the desk. “Can you call up to Nikolas Cassadine’s office and let him know that I’m here to meet him for lunch.”

“Sure thing,” the receptionist remarked. She picked up the phone and pressed a button. A few moments later, she set it down. “He’ll be right down.”

Someone cleared their throat and Elizabeth turned. “Gram…hey.”

“Hello, Elizabeth.” Audrey hesitated. “I stopped by Kelly’s earlier this week and Bobbie mentioned that you’d already taken your leave of absence. How are you going to pay your rent? Your bills?”

Elizabeth sighed. “Jason and I–we’re living together part of the time,” she admitted. “I called to give you my new address–”

“So I can assume you’re letting him foot the bills.” Audrey pressed her lips together. “Not that he can’t afford it, of course but that’s above and beyond the point. He’s a married man, Elizabeth–”

“He’s getting a divorce and–I love him, Gram. I love him like you love Grandpa,” she said softly. “Why can’t you accept that?”

“Because you deserve better than Jason Morgan,” Audrey said firmly. “Because he will hurt you again. He will hurt you and I fear it will be worse than Lucky Spencer or Ric Lansing.”

Elizabeth’s eyes burned with tears. “I hurt him too, Gram. So many times and he still loves me. Why is it everyone assumes he will hurt me when I’m the one who jerked him around for three years and then walked out when it got a little tough?”

“Elizabeth…” Audrey stepped towards her. “I love you and it’s so hard to be angry with you but I just–why couldn’t you have loved someone else? Someone safe, someone who deserves your love–”

“He does deserve it and I tried to find someone else. I thought that I had. I went out and looked for a man who was what I loved about Jason but who wasn’t so hard to understand or difficult to get through to–and I found Ric. I tried the safe route, Gram and Ric hurt me more than anyone’s ever hurt me in my life. He lied to me, he used me, he drugged me and he nearly killed me. Yes, Jason’s life–it’s not the one I dreamed of when I was a little girl but I never have to look at him and wonder if he’s working an angle or if I’m fulfilling a purpose for him. He would never do those things to me or let anyone else do it either.”

“I don’t–I love you so much, Elizabeth. I don’t understand your decisions but they’re yours to make.” Audrey sighed and embraced her granddaughter tightly. “Does he make you smile, Elizabeth?”

She hugged her grandmother back tightly and closed her eyes, fighting back tears. “Yeah, he does.”

“Good–you don’t do it nearly enough.”

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