While Emily and Elizabeth were finishing up in the kitchen, AJ and Jason sat at the dining room table waiting. AJ leaned over to the table and said, “Do they look like they’ve been crying?”
“Yeah. But they’re smiling,” Jason said.
AJ shook his head. “Women. They cry over anything. Now, men, we save it for the important things, like when the Giants lose or the Yankees have a bad game.” He smirked, “Or when their wife finds their porno collection.”
Jason raised an eyebrow. “Personal experience?”
“Nah, I got friends,” AJ said, shrugging.
Emily came out with the pot of sauce, and Elizabeth followed with the strainer of pasta. “We still have to get the iced tea and garlic bread,” Emily said, “so hold on before you dig in.”
AJ and Jason both started to rise. “We said we’d help,” Jason said.
Elizabeth pushed him down. “Our apartment, our dinner. Sit.” They returned to the kitchen.
AJ smiled in relief. “Good. For a minute, I thought they’d take us up on it. I’ve learned not to offer at home. Courtney always takes me up on it.”
Jason rolled his eyes. “You’re ridiculous.”
AJ shrugged. “Hey, I work hard. ELQ sucks, but it pays for that nice brick home in the suburbs.”
“How in the world did you talk Edward into giving you a job at the New York headquarters?” Jason asked. “The last I heard, you broke ties when Emily did.”
“I’ve only been back a year, but it was actually easy,” AJ explained. “See, I took a page from his book. I blackmailed him.”
“Was it worth it?”
“Hell, yes,” AJ replied. “I never see the family there, the vacation time is great, so Court and I always have time to spend with the kids, and let’s face it, Jase, money is always nice.”
“Do I want to know what you blackmailed with?” Jason asked warily.
AJ grinned. “The usual, another illegitimate child.”
Emily and Elizabeth reentered again, each carrying something. They sat the iced tea and garlic bread down and took their seats. “Dig in.”
There was only the sound of clinking silverware and eating as they served themselves. Finally, Elizabeth cleared her throat. “There’s something I have to tell you.”
Jason and Emily looked at her oddly, but AJ rubbed his hands together. “Ooh, I hope its gossip.”
“Sometimes, I wonder if you were a woman in a past life,” Emily said, shaking her head.
“I think I’ll forget you said that,” AJ replied. “What is it, Liz?”
“Um, I’ve written three novels…” Elizabeth took a deep breath, “And submitted them to publishers. All three have been rejected by numerous places. The last one just being a few days ago.”
AJ frowned, “Stupid sons of bitches. Don’t they know talent when they see it?”
Emily rolled her eyes. “AJ, you’ve never read her stuff.” She looked at Elizabeth. “Not that I think it’s bad, it’s just-”
Elizabeth cut her off with a smile. “It’s fine. Thanks, AJ.”
“Good. Now, who can I beat up?” AJ asked honestly.
“I’m twenty, AJ. Not ten,” Elizabeth said. “I can handle myself now.”
AJ frowned. “But I saved you from Lucky.”
Emily and Elizabeth exchanged amused glances. “I guess AJ has forgotten,” Elizabeth said, giggling, “Considering he’s the one that ran away.”
Emily laughed, “While Jason saved the day.”
“Ran away?” AJ repeated. “I don’t remember that.”
“Well, it’s not like the situation called for both of you anyway,” Emily said. “It was just Lucky, after all. Scrawny little Lucky.”
Jason frowned. “What are you talking about?”
AJ groaned. “No, no. Don’t tell him. Not if I don’t look good.”
“Actually, if that’s true, I think I would like to hear it,” Jason said.
AJ threw a napkin at his brother, “Traitor.”
Emily rubbed her hands together. “It’s a great story. You want to tell it, Liz, or should I?”
“You’d better. I’m afraid I might be too harsh on Lucky,” Elizabeth replied.
Emily wrinkled his nose. “Come on, Liz. We were only ten. I think you can let it go.”
“Let it go?” Elizabeth echoed. “Are you nuts? He ripped my poster and pushed me on the ground. I still have a scar.”
“You know Lucky was only trying to be a bully. Jason nipped that in the bud,” Emily reminded her.
Elizabeth shifted, “Doesn’t matter.”
Emily rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Anyway, we were ten, right and I think we were in the park on the fourth of July. The family had the tent set up…”
“That sucks,” Lucky Spencer said. Elizabeth turned around and glared at the slightly taller brunette. He was pointing at the big poster she was coloring of the fireworks.
“You suck,” Elizabeth replied.
Lucky smirked and kicked some dirt onto the poster.
“Hey!” Elizabeth cried. She kicked him hard in the leg. He pushed her aside and stepped on the poster and twisted his foot so that the paper ripped. Elizabeth started kicking and pushing him, but Lucky shoved her to the ground – hard. Elizabeth rolled onto her back and pulled up her jeans to see the wound on her knee. She started to cry.
“You’re such a girl, Webber,” Lucky spat.
“Hey, Spencer!” AJ said, spinning the boy around. AJ hadn’t hit his growth spurt, so even at fourteen, Lucky still had a good two inches on him.
“What are you gonna do about it, Quartermaine?” Lucky said, smirking. He pushed the older boy, who went sprawling on the ground. AJ jumped to his feet and without another glance took off. “Don’t worry, Lizzie, I’ll get Jason!”
“Get up Webber,” Lucky said. “Don’t be such a baby.”
“What’s going on here?” Jason asked, entering the clearing. He crossed his arms. Even at twelve, he was taller than AJ. Taller than Lucky, too. “What are you doing, Spencer?”
“Get away, Quartermaine. Ain’t your affair. Get up, Webber. You want to hit me?”
Elizabeth climbed to her feet. “You’re a horrible mean little boy has no friends,” she said, clenching her fists. “I heard my mother say that even your own brother won’t talk to you!”
Lucky’s face turned purple. “I don’t talk to him. And he’s not my brother!” He gave Elizabeth another push, sending her face first into the dirt.
Jason grabbed Lucky’s collar. “Don’t touch her!” He threw Lucky to the ground – a bit harder than Elizabeth had gone. Lucky jumped back up, blood smeared on his face. He went straight for Jason, but someone pulled him away.
“Hey, Cowboy, knock it off,” Luke Spencer said, holding the back of Lucky’s shirt. “What’s going on here?”
“Lucky was picking on Lizzie,” Jason said. He held a hand to Elizabeth who pointedly ignored it and stood up.
“He ripped my poster,” Elizabeth said in a small voice. “And he pushed me?”
“What?” Luke shook Lucky. “You don’t hit girls, you get me Cowboy?
“Yeah, I get you,” Lucky muttered, shrugging out of Luke’s grasp. “But she ain’t no girl!”
Elizabeth gasped and went for him. Jason grabbed her by the waist to hold her back. “Remember the last time you tried that?” he said.
She whirled around. “You keep out of this!” she cried.
Luke smirked. “All right. That’s enough. Lucky, apologize to Elizabeth.”
“I ain’t apologizing to nothing!” Lucky yelped. Luke smacked him upside the head.
“Apologize or I’ll tell your mother you hit a girl.”
“I’m sorry,” Lucky muttered. He glared at the two and stalked away. Luke followed him…
AJ glared at his sister. “You weren’t even there. You can’t trust Elizabeth’s version of what happened. She was being traumatized by that little…little…” AJ trailed off.
Elizabeth reached over and smacked him in the arm. “I resent that! I could have handled Lucky!”
“And I didn’t hear it from Beth,” Emily replied. She gestured towards Jason with her fork. “I got it from Jason.”
“And he made himself out to be a hero,” AJ grumbled. “I bet you anything I took Spencer down.”
Elizabeth laughed. “No. You were the one who was running. I definitely remember that.”
AJ shrugged. “Well, you didn’t want Jason’s help either.”
“That’s because I didn’t like Jason,” Elizabeth replied. She shot a glance at Jason who seemed amused by the whole situation. “It’s not my fault he was bigger than you.”
“Yeah, well, you always liked Jason better.” AJ sat back in his chair and sulked.
Emily giggled. “AJ, you’re twenty-four. Grow up. It was ten years ago.”
“Doesn’t matter,” AJ whined.
“Aww, it’s okay, AJ, you have a special place in my heart,” Elizabeth assured him. She kissed him on the cheek. Emily shot a look at Jason – his eyes did seem to narrow a bit and jaw clenched. But she might have been imagining that.
“So, did AJ ever do anything remotely heroic?” Jason asked, finally. “Or was that always me?”
AJ threw a small piece of garlic bread at him. “Traitor,” he said again.
“Well, there was that time he took blame for breaking that statue,” Emily said.
“Yeah, but that was only after Jason,” Elizabeth reminded her.
“True. Ooh, what about that time Sly Eckert was picking on me?”
“No. That was Nikolas.”
Emily frowned. “Did you do anything AJ?”
AJ glared at her. “You know,” he drawled, “my talents were not geared towards the white knight side. That was always the golden boy. I was entertaining.”
“Entertaining,” Emily snorted. “That’s way to put it.”
AJ clutched his heart. “I’m hurt, Em, really.”
“Oooh, I remember something. Remember when Foster was-” Elizabeth paused. “No. That wasn’t you either.”
AJ turned his glare towards her. “You know, it’s not my fault. Jason was taller than me until I was seventeen. People were more intimidated.” He turned to his brother. “Come on, Jase. Help me out.”
Jason shook his head and spread some spaghetti on a piece of garlic bread. “Hey, I don’t play the white knight anymore.”
AJ glared at him. “You’re all against me.”
“Oh, AJ. It’s just so much fun messing with you,” Emily laughed. She helped herself to some more pasta. “Besides, you had your good points. Remember my eleventh birthday party when you dumped that whole bowl of ice cream on Grandfather? I mean, how great was that?”
“I remember that!” Elizabeth said, laughing. “I thought Edward was going to kill you.”
“Well,” AJ scratched his ear. “He shouldn’t have said what he said.”
Jason leaned forward. “What’d he say?”
AJ shrugged, “Nothing important.”
Emily burst out hysterically laughing. “AJ was dating Keesha Ward at the time and Grandfather offered her a position at ELQ – if she’d break it off with AJ. Keesha responded by throwing her punch on him.”
“Which AJ followed up with the ice cream.” Elizabeth laughed. “And then there was your fifteenth birthday, AJ.”
“No need to share that,” AJ said firmly. “That was nine years ago. Water under the bridge.”
Emily wiggled her eyebrows. “What? Ashamed Ned found you in the stables with Keesha – and Brenda Barrett?”
“Brenda?” Jason said. “Wasn’t she like thirteen at the time?”
“We weren’t doing anything,” AJ said, lamely. “Keesha wanted to, er, see the new stallion. Brenda had a crush on me. She was following me around.”
“Poor girl ran screaming from the stables,” Emily said, tears starting to stream down her face.
“Good to know I kept you all happy,” AJ grumbled.
“You did say you were the entertainer,” Elizabeth reminded him.
Later after dinner, they sat sprawled out in the living room. Emily and Elizabeth appropriated the couch, Jason stretched out in the armchair and AJ lounged on the floor.
“So, Em….” AJ drawled staring at the ceiling. “Is Nikky ever going to make an honest woman out of you?”
Emily propped herself up on the couch and glared at her brother. “We’re not living together,” she said, “So that statement is totally irrelevant.”
“Already talking like a lawyer,” Jason said.
“Hey, watch it or I won’t be your lawyer,” Emily warned.
“Oh, come on, Em.” AJ sat up and leaned on his elbows. “How do you feel about the kid?”
“Kid?” Emily raised an eyebrow. “He’s a year younger than you are.”
“Which makes it a scary prospect,” AJ replied. “You’re avoiding the question.”
“And doing it quite spectacularly, I might add,” Elizabeth said.
“Thank you,” Emily replied. “As for Nikolas, we’re in love and we’re content to stay that way. We’re not at the point in our lives where we need anything more. We’re both in college, we both have dysfunctional families, and neither one of us are pushing for a commitment.”
AJ nodded, “As long as he treats you right.”
“Don’t worry,” Elizabeth said. “Nikolas treats Emily like a princess.”
AJ grinned. “And what about you, my lovely Liz, anyone special in your life?”
Without even intending to do so, Elizabeth glanced at Jason who seemed to be watching her intently. Emily and AJ both noted the glance and mentally filed it away for later use.
“Well, Beth?” Emily asked, evilly. Elizabeth glared at her.
“Yes,” Elizabeth said, glaring at both her friends. “And that’s all I’m saying about it.”
“Oh, come on, Elizabeth,” Jason said, a slight smile on his face.
Elizabeth eyed him. “What about you, Jase?” she asked suddenly. “You’re awfully quiet on the subject.”
AJ liked the way this conversation was going and he turned his head to face his brother. “Yeah, Jase, how about you?”
Jason glared at AJ much the way Elizabeth had glared at Emily earlier, “None of your business.”
“Oh, you get to question Beth, but we can’t do the same to you?” Emily asked crossing her arms. “Come on, Jase. Someone special…?”
There was no mistake about it this time – much to AJ and Emily’s delight. Jason stared straight at Elizabeth as he said, “Yes. There is.”
AJ grinned. “Want to tell us anything?” he asked.
Jason seemed to struggle with it for a second – but he finally spoke. “She’s the strongest person I know. She always wants to do things on her own – no matter how difficult that might be.”
Emily sneaked a look at Elizabeth who had a tiny smile on her face. Victory!
AJ cleared this throat. “That’s very romantic, Jase. So, Liz,” he said, turning his attention back to his other friend. “Want to tell us anything about your mystery man?”
Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. She had a feeling AJ knew exactly what he was doing. Gritting her teeth, “Not especially.”
“Come on, Beth,” Emily said quietly. “Jason found something to tell us.” She eyed her friend and smiled at her.
Elizabeth took a deep breath. “He respects the way I feel and gives me a chance to sort things out my own no matter how much he doesn’t agree. He understands that it’s important for me to handle my life on my terms, but I know that if I needed him, he’d be there.”
Anyone with half a brain would know that they were talking about each other, Emily thought happily. She had a feeling Elizabeth was on her way to making a solid decision about what she wanted. “He sounds wonderful, Beth,” Emily said. She knew he was wonderful – after all, he was her brother.
Elizabeth smiled. “He is wonderful, Em.” And again, there was no mistake. Elizabeth was looking straight at Jason when she said it. She wanted to high-five AJ but she thought that might be too much.
Elizabeth suddenly realized what she was doing and flushed. She grabbed her glass and stood quickly. “I’m going to get some more iced tea.” She headed for the kitchen. She had the pitcher out and was pouring it when she felt Jason enter.
“Hey,” he said coming to stand next to her. “I meant what I said out there.”
Elizabeth took a deep breath and looked up at him. “You never say things you don’t mean,” she said. “So I knew that. And I meant what I said out there, too.”
He nodded. “Yeah, I knew that, too.”
She put the pitcher on the counter. “I’ve been doing some thinking and Emily’s been helping. But I don’t want to talk about it tonight. Tonight’s about all of us, our friendship. I don’t want to think about bad memories, or the territory problems which will be more than likely waiting for us at work tomorrow. So,” she paused. She stepped back and looked up at him with a genuine smile. “Let’s meet for lunch tomorrow. There are some things we need to discuss.”
“All right,” Jason agreed. He reached past for her the pitcher. “Might as well fill my own glass so that I can stick to my cover story.”
Elizabeth grinned. “You know it’s almost full any way. And we’re not fooling the two of them you know? Because Emily knows what happened. She saw us this morning.”
Jason sighed. “Yeah. And I had a talk with AJ last night. So they’re both working at it.” Along with everyone else we know, he finished silently.
“I wish AJ lived closer,” Elizabeth said sadly. “I wish we could do this more often.”
Jason returned the pitcher to the fridge. “Even if I sometimes get lost with the conversation…” he trailed off, “I’m glad that we’re all still friends.”
She nodded. “I’ve missed this. That first year, we couldn’t be in the same room without fighting. I know it was hard for them. We’d been so close up until then.” She smiled. “I’m glad that’s changed.”
“Me, too,” He grinned. “Let’s get back before they think we’re up to something other than talking.
Emily watched Jason leave the room. She leaned to talk to AJ. “They are so far gone.”
He grinned. “It’s a triumphant victory, isn’t it?”
“I wish you and Courtney lived closer,” Emily said. She sighed. “I miss seeing you whenever I felt like bugging you.”
“I know, Em. And believe me, I miss you, too. Port Charles has some bad memories.” AJ shrugged. “Maybe one day Court and I will come home – maybe we’ll mend the bridges with the family. But until I’m ready to face that, we’re better off where we are.”
Emily nodded. “I’m glad you’re happy.”
“I’m glad we’re all happy,” AJ replied. “I’m glad you and Nikolas are together. He’s a good kid, I’ve always felt that way. And Liz and Jase? They’re getting there all by themselves. A little push never hurt, though.”
Emily grinned. “Hey, you want to go see Grandmother tomorrow? She might be able to give us some pointers.”
AJ nodded. “Yep. Besides, I have pictures of the kids for her.”
Elizabeth and Jason returned then and they returned to their seats. “Hey,” Emily said, excitedly. “Let’s break out the album!”
“No!” Elizabeth begged. “Not the album.” But Emily was already up and dragging a photo album off the shelf. She plopped back on the couch, smiling widely.
“Em, I’m pleading,” AJ said. Emily stuck her tongue out at him.
“Remember this one?” she asked, opening it the middle and showing it to Elizabeth. “My eighth birthday party.”
Elizabeth giggled. “AJ, I forgot about the great shrimp incident of 1991.”
“The great what?” Jason asked. “I have to hear this one.”
Elizabeth traded looks with Emily. “I’ll tell this one. It was May, and for some reason, Monica had a great idea to have seafood at Emily’s party…”
Emily stared at the fish. “This sucks.”
Elizabeth smiled sympathetically at her friend. “Yeah, it does. But don’t worry. AJ and Jason already promised that we’re gonna ditch the party later and order pizza.”
“Why didn’t Mom just listen to me?” Emily asked miserably. “I just wanted some balloons, a cake and a barbecue.”
Elizabeth shrugged. “Where are the rest of your friends?” she asked curiously. “Didn’t you invite the rest of the class?”
“Mom said they weren’t appropriate guests,” Emily said. She flopped down and sighed. “I hate fish.”
AJ came up and rubbed Emily’s head affectionately. “How’s my favorite sister?”
“She’s not happy,” Elizabeth reported.
AJ grinned. “Maybe I should cheer you up.” He reached forward and grabbed a crab leg off Emily’s plate. He started dangling it front of Emily.
“Ewww! Get ’em away from me!” Emily screeched. Elizabeth was giggling until AJ swung the leg in her direction. Elizabeth yelped and leaned back to get away and succeeded in falling off the chair.
“Smooth move, Lizzie,” Jason smirked. “I ordered the pizza. When it gets here, Reginald’s gonna come find me.”
Elizabeth looked up at Jason from her position on the ground. “You know what, Jason? Blow it out your ear,” she said.
Jason shook his head and held a hand out to help her up. “You’ve got to stop listening to Lois.”
Elizabeth ignored his hand and stood up. “What kind of pizza did you order?”
“Pepperoni and sausage,” Jason repeated. She grimaced.
“They suck. You shoulda gotten cheese.”
“If the two of you are done,” Emily said, “tell AJ to get the crab away from me.” She was leaning as far as she could without falling off the chair, but AJ was dangling the leg closer and closer.
“AJ, stop it,” Elizabeth ordered.
“Make me, Lizzie,” AJ replied, dangling it back her direction. Elizabeth took another step back and crashed into Jason.
“Knock it off,” Jason said. “Some people eat that stuff.”
Emily wrinkled her nose. “Why?”
Jason shrugged. “Some people are dumb.”
AJ opened his mouth to respond but a waiter knocked into him from behind and spilled his whole tray on him. AJ was covered in dipping sauces off all kinds, and shrimp was hanging from the pockets of his shirt.
Jason continued his statement without missing a beat. “And some people just look dumb.”
“Kids! Pictures!” Monica called.
“We must have snapped a dozen pictures before she realized AJ was a mess,” Elizabeth laughed.
“Served you right for scaring us,” Emily grumbled throwing her brother a dirty look. She turned a few pages. “Oh, hey…Beth, do you remember this Christmas…?”
Elizabeth took the album from her and looked at it. “Yeah,” she said quietly. “I have a copy of it in my room. It’s the Christmas before the accident.” She bit her lip.
“That was my favorite Christmas,” Emily said fondly. She smiled at Elizabeth. “Remember? You spent Christmas Day with us. You were over really early and we opened our presents together.”
Elizabeth smiled, but the smile never quite reached her eyes. “That was a good Christmas.”
She’d been over early because she’d spent the night with Jason – and she’d spent the day because she’d been afraid to go home. It was the first Christmas she hadn’t woken up to her parents fighting and her siblings getting presents while Elizabeth was handed a few gift certificates. At the Quartermaines, Monica and Alan had bought her a few things, and so had Lila. Jason had gotten her a charm bracelet that she didn’t wear anymore.
She hadn’t gone home for three days, and by the time she did, her parents had been so busy with parties they hadn’t noticed she was gone.
“You okay, Liz?” AJ asked curiously having seen the sad look enter her eyes.
Elizabeth flashed another smile at him. “I’m fine. It’s just…I miss the family sometimes. Before everything…I was closer to them than to my own family.” She shifted uncomfortably. Pasting a smile on her face, she flipped past that page. But the pictures after that day were few and far between. There were no longer any pictures of the four of them…mostly just Emily and Elizabeth, or AJ and Emily, or Jason and Emily. There were a few of she and Jason, and maybe one of the she, Emily and Jason. As AJ’s drinking had gotten worse, they’d stopped spending time together. And towards the end of March, she’d stopped seeing AJ altogether. He was either drinking all the time or locked in his room with a hangover.
AJ seemed to understand where her thoughts had drifted. “I remember that last Christmas as the end of era,” he said quietly. “I’d give anything to go back and do it over again.” He took a deep breath. “But I know that’s highly unlikely. I’m sorry. I know I’ve said it a dozen times, but it won’t change any time soon. I’ll always be sorry.”
“AJ…” Emily sighed. “You made a bad judgment call. The family … they let all three of us walk away. And the only person who’s made any overtures is Grandmother. Everyone else is still too angry. This is not your fault. I made the decision to walk away. Jason made the decision. You didn’t influence our decision. I hated the way they treated you and the way Jason got treated. I didn’t want to ever give them the chance to do the same to me. You have nothing to apologize for.”
Jason nodded “Same here, AJ. I don’t blame you for my choices or theirs. Don’t worry about it.”
AJ swung his eyes to Elizabeth. “What about you, Liz?”
Elizabeth furrowed her brow in confusion. “What about me?”
“Do you forgive me?” AJ asked.
She raised her eyebrows. “For what?” she asked. “AJ, you didn’t do anything to me.”
AJ stared at her. “You’re kidding me.” He sat up more and leaned towards her. “I took Jason away, I ruined our childhood-”
“You didn’t do those things to me,” Elizabeth said quietly. “And you didn’t take Jason away, AJ. He’s right here. And believe me, AJ; you had nothing to do with ruining my childhood.”
AJ gave her a strange look and shrugged, “All right. Well…” he grinned. “As much as fun as this walk down memory lane was, I better head to the hotel. I want to tuck Mel and Kyle in before they’re too tired to remember.” He stood and stretched. “Can I help clean up or anything?”
Emily shook her head as she stood. “No. Beth and I got it.” She hugged her brother tightly.
“I’ll walk with you to the elevator,” Jason said standing. AJ hugged Elizabeth as Jason hugged Emily.
Both AJ and Emily watched closely as Jason and Elizabeth hugged each other. AJ noted that Jason practically swallowed her tiny body while Emily sighed happily at the fact that they held each other for almost a full minute.
They exchanged glances – it seemed that whatever mistakes had been made in the past … were finally being righted now.