May 13, 2024

This entry is part 15 of 15 in the Flash Fiction: Chain Reaction

Written in 55 minutes.

Morgan Penthouse: Living Room

I slept with her because I wanted to. Because I’d wanted to for years, and for the first time, I realized she still gave a damn about me. Is that what you wanted to hear?

Courtney fisted her hands at her side, her face a bright cherry red. “Does it make you feel good to hurt me this way? Because I told Ric Elizabeth switched her shifts? That means I deserve this—”

“Ric isn’t just her ex-husband,” Jason bit out, taking a step towards her and she flinched. “He’s the man who locked your so-called best friend in a goddamn panic room for three weeks. He knocked her out in front of her five-year-old son and kidnapped her, threatening to murder her and take her baby. Or doesn’t that matter to you anymore?”

“I notice he’s still breathing,” Courtney retorted. “And you sure as hell had no problem using him in Venezuela—”

“Because we needed to rescue Carly!” The words exploded louder than he’d meant them to, and she turned away from them, from the bitter anger lacing through every word. “I would have worked with anyone if it meant bringing her home safely! What don’t you get about that? And after that, he was in the goddamn system—an ADA connected to Sonny disappears right now, they’ll be crawling all over us—you care so goddamn much about Sonny and Carly, why can’t you get that? Why does any of this have to be explained to you?” he demanded. “Ric Lansing is a psychopath who was so desperate to  get revenge on Sonny he didn’t care who he mowed down in his path to get to Sonny — he went after Carly, went after you—”

“And I can’t wait to see how you excuse your precious china doll, Elizabeth, from what she did,” Courtney said scathingly. “She argued with you every step of the way, refused to believe what was in front of her face—she didn’t believe Michael—”

“She didn’t want to believe it. And I had no proof,” Jason cut in. And he’d lost Elizabeth’s trust by that point — fair or not. “She’s never backed away from it once the truth was obvious. She’s divorcing him. Trying to get him out of her life, and you handed her schedule over to him like it was nothing—because she’s nothing to you, right? Just an obstacle.”

“If you’re waiting for me to apologize, you’ll be disappointed. She deserves whatever happens to her for not believing us about Ric until the last minute. She gets to waltz around being cruel and oblivious, and you’re going to reward her for that? You’re going to leave me after everything she put you through? That’s the deal breaker?” Courtney demanded. “After this last year, you’re going to leave me for some bitch who never believes you when she should. Or are you too brain damaged to remember Zander and Lucky Spencer?”

She snapped her mouth shut the moment the words had left her mouth, and Jason took a step back, swallowed hard. “I didn’t mean that,” Courtney said. “I’m sorry. That was a low blow. I’m angry, I’m hurt, but that’s—”

“I’m leaving you because I don’t love you,” Jason interrupted. “And I’m not sure I ever did. Whatever you think Elizabeth did, you pointed the same man who terrorized Carly and Michael in her direction. How am I supposed to look at you any other way? Elizabeth—whatever happens with her or doesn’t happen—that’s none of your business. Because she isn’t the reason this is done.”

Her eyes burned with fury, tears clinging to her lashes. “One mistake. I make one mistake, she makes a million, and we’re just done. I don’t even get a second chance—you’re just cutting me out—”

“One mistake,” Jason repeated. “So all the conversations you keep having with Carly about the wedding—the ones you swear you stopped—those weren’t mistakes? Bringing it up to me when I asked you not to, telling Michael he can be in the ceremony—you’re planning for something I told you I didn’t even want. You don’t think each time I had to hear it from someone else, I didn’t see what you were doing? But I can’t blame you can, you? You just watched Carly do the same thing to me. Keep repeating something until I stopped fighting it.”

“That is not what I was doing—I needed to believe it was still happening, okay? I needed to believe you still loved me—”

“And that’s why you brought up fitting into a wedding dress in front of Elizabeth. Because you needed me to love you?” Jason repeated, and her mouth settled into a mutinous line. “No, that was vindictive—”

“Protecting the whore that ruined everything—”

“I kissed her first,” Jason interrupted, and Courtney stumbled to a stop, just blinked at him. “How does that fit into the story you’re writing for yourself? I took her to Jake’s after closing,  and I stopped her from leaving, and I kissed her first. What’s your next excuse, Courtney?”

“I can see there’s nothing I can say that’s going to change your mind. Not tonight. But you’ll see. She’ll show you who she is, she always does, doesn’t she? But this time, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself because I’m not to wait around for you to get yourself together. I loved you! I was trying to protect the life we built—”

“And you did it by using Ric Lansing. What do you think Carly’s going to think if she finds out you were talking to him? That you were trying to help him?” Jason lifted his brows again. “What about Sonny? You think that’s going to help?”

“What if I tell them what you did?” Courtney retorted. “You cheated on me with the woman that protected Ric while Carly was in a panic room—you think she’s going to make a place in your life the way I did? You think they’re just  going to roll over and let you bring her back here?”

Jason picked up his keys. “I don’t really give a damn what any of you think. I told you. Keep the ring. Keep the damn penthouse. I just don’t want to look at your face again.”

“I don’t want anything from you—” Courtney whirled around, snatched up her purse. “I’ll just go back to the safe house and make sure Carly knows exactly what you did to me—”

“Good. Go ahead. Tell Carly on the same day her husband had a mental break from reality and put his hands on her.” Jason yanked open the door when she just stopped to look at him with a scowl. “Was Carly even really your friend or did you use her to get to me?”

“You think an awful lot of yourself, don’t you? You think I’m trying to manipulate you into marrying me, that I used my brother and my best friend—”

“A year ago you hated them both. You didn’t like me much either. So, yeah, maybe Courtney, I’m asking myself a few questions I should have a long time ago.”

“I hope you die alone and miserable.” She stalked past him, and he slammed the door behind her, flattening both hands against the surface, taking a deep breath.

He didn’t know where any of that had come from, only that every word had been the truth. For the first time in months—in years—he hadn’t calculated every word he spoke, trying to protect the people around him. And when the hell had he started doing that in the first place? Hadn’t he once prided himself on being better than the Quartermaines, on speaking honestly and openly, even when it hurt?

Maybe Courtney hadn’t deserved every ounce of anger he’d flown at her tonight, but the more she’d tried to defend herself — to justify using Ric Lansing’s obsession with Elizabeth as a weapon in the war between them — the more Jason wondered just how much of the last year had been real — if either of them had loved each other at all.

He dragged his hands over his face, took a deep breath. But he’d done what he couldn’t five weeks ago. He’d made a promise to Elizabeth that he was ending his engagement, and he’d finally done it.

Now, he had to face the consequences. He had no doubt Courtney would hurry to Carly and tell her side of the whole affair, casting Jason and Elizabeth in the worst light. And maybe she’d even scurry over to Sonny at some point. He could get to Sonny first, but maybe—

Maybe Jason wondered what his so-called best friends would do when asked to choose between Jason, who’d never done anything but put them first — and Courtney, the woman who had barely been around a year.

The fact that he didn’t know — that he wasn’t sure if they’d show him the same loyalty he’d given them— it reminded him why he’d gone to Elizabeth tonight in the first place, and why leaving Courtney was just the first step in the changes he needed to make.


The weak morning sun peeked around the thick shade Elizabeth had thrown up over the sole window, hitting her right in the face. She slapped a hand over her eyes, groaned, and rolled over, hoping that the universe might grant her just five more minutes of sleep.

The movement didn’t sit right, and her stomach lurched. Elizabeth grimaced, then sat up. After leaving Jason at the entrance to the building the night before, she’d come upstairs and finished off a bag of Doritos she’d found in her small food cabinet. That, and the last of a Mountain Dew from the mini fridge, was not sitting well this morning.

“Oh, choices were made and none of them were good,” she muttered, sliding her legs from beneath the light blanket on the sofa. Her head whirled, and she had the dizzying feeling of vertigo where the world was spinning but she was staying still. Actually, it felt she was still, the world was spinning, and so was her brain, so her skull was trapped in a twisted tilt-a-whirl—

“Okay, maybe we need to think seriously about eating better.” Elizabeth got to her feet. “Because if this is a preview of what it’s going to be like waking up in my fifties, I don’t like it. We’ve got to stop late night snacking.” She braced a hand against the brick wall. “Oh, but that doesn’t explain how my head feels—what the hell—”

And then something lurched upward abruptly and violently—that tell-tale awful feeling of her esophagus being used as a cannon in the wrong direction—Elizabeth clapped a hand over her mouth, stumbled to the door, then frantically lid back the deadbolt, twisted the bottom lock, threw open the door—

And managed to make it down the hall and over the toilet just in time.

A few minutes later, after shakily brushing her teeth and rinsing out her mouth, Elizabeth made her way back into the studio, intent on heading straight for the sofa and curling up into a fetal ball of misery.

“That’s it. Vegetables forever,” she told the universe. “I’ll even learn to cook them—” As she passed her answering machine, she saw the light flickering. Curious, she pressed play, then went back to the sofa. She wrapped the blanket around herself, climbed back on the sofa and leaned her head against the back, closing her eyes.

There was a message from her grandmother, left yesterday morning. “I know you’re avoiding me, Elizabeth, but really, I wish you’d call. I want to understand what’s going. How am I to make heads or tails of any of this if you won’t explain it? You get married and then you nearly die, and then you’re getting divorced—oh, Elizabeth. I just wish you’d call.”

“Keep wishing, Gram,” Elizabeth murmured. Her grandmother would never believe the panic room story. Not about such a fine upstanding man who was working with Scotty at the DA’s office. Scotty was the son of her best friends, Lee and Gail Baldwin, and well, Scotty wouldn’t hire a madman, would he?

“Miss Webber, it’s Dr. Meadows’ office. You’re due for a follow-up, just to make sure everything is all right after….after what happened last May. You can all us at…” Elizabeth tuned out the receptionist reeling off the phone number, and had nearly dozed off to sleep, wondering why she needed a follow up.

She’d had the clean bill of health in May, hadn’t she? The miscarriage had been a tragedy, but Elizabeth had decided to look at it as the universe giving her a break. If she’d been pregnant, Ric might have hid his true nature even longer—she’d be trapped with him. Not that it was the baby’s fault, but—

And she certainly didn’t need a follow up to confirm nothing was wrong after July. She knew she couldn’t take hormonal birth control anymore, not after the embolism. She’d figure out how Ric had managed it — an overdose of estrogen was really the only explanation, the doctors had said. Maybe she’d messed up her birth control pills?

She hadn’t even been on birth control—

Her eyes snapped open and she sat up, her head protesting the movement. “Oh, shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit—” She threw off the blanket and stumbled across the room to look through the papers, trying to find the copy of the Port Charles Herald she’d carelessly tossed aside the day before. October 10.

Shit, shit, shit. Something should have happened two weeks after that night at Jake’s, and she’d just…she’d lost track of it. So much had been happening, and she’d never been that regular, not with all the stress she’d always been under—

But now—now, something was supposed to happen this week—three days ago, Elizabeth noted on the calendar where she kept track of such things.

And for the second time in a row—nothing.

That night—they hadn’t exactly been careful, had they? Elizabeth exhaled on a careful breath, pressed a hand to her abdomen, looked down. “Are you some kind of magnet?” she muttered. “Because I swear to everything if you’re knocked up again, I will be—”

Excited? Happy? Terrified?

“This,” she told her belly, “would be terrible timing, and since your possible father and I are always bad at that, I am almost definitely pregnant.”

She’d just told Jason the night before he needed some time on his own, hadn’t she? He’d talked about being exhausted by the pressure and stress of always being needed, of always having to center his life around Sonny and Carly—and of course, he’d never look at a baby that way. That just wasn’t how he was built—

But this really was not the plan.

“Okay, time to stop spiraling and be an adult. I can do this. I can do this.” She’d take a shower, she’d get dressed, she’d buy a test, and everything could wait until she found out if there was even a reason to be worried or freaking out in the first place.

May 11, 2024

This entry is part 14 of 15 in the Flash Fiction: Chain Reaction

Written in 60 minutes.

Kelly’s: Dining Room

This was not a good idea.

Somewhere in Elizabeth’s fevered brain, those words were surely being screamed, but she couldn’t hear them over the pounding of her heart, the sensation of Jason’s hands in her hair, the feeling of his skin beneath her hands as she slid them beneath his t-shirt, stumbling backwards as she felt herself being lifted onto the table, heard the crash of the napkin dispenser hitting the ground—

“Wait, wait—” With willpower she didn’t know existed, Elizabeth turned her mouth away from Jason’s, drawing in much needed oxygen, but he never missed a beat, his lips nibbling down the line of her throat, to her collarbone— “Wait—” she said again—covering his mouth with her hands, and then got his attention.

They stared at each other for a long moment, and Elizabeth nearly forgot everything all over again except how right it felt to be in his arms, to have her legs wrapped around his waist—

If they’d been anywhere else—

“Anyone can see us,” Elizabeth said, because at least that much would get through to both of them. Jason closed his eyes for a moment, rested his forehead against hers, then stepped back, carefully tugging her back to her feet, keeping one arm around her waist. “The, um, windows—”

“Yeah,” he managed, his voice rough. He looked at all the glass, giving them an excellent view of the courtyard which was thankfully empty. But anyone could have walked past and watched Jason Morgan ravishing a woman other than his fiancee on the tables inside.

“What are we doing?” Elizabeth whispered. “What are we doing, Jason? Didn’t we decide we weren’t these people?”

“What kind of people are we then?” Jason stepped back, reluctantly letting his arms fall to his side.

“I don’t know, are you still engaged?” she asked pointedly, and he sighed, looked away. “We have heat, sure. And we’re good on our own. We’ve always known that. When it’s just the two of us, it’s perfect. No surprise that the sex is good. Amazing,” she corrected when he just looked at her. “But as much as I want to be here for you, to be your friend, I’m not going to be the one you turn to when your real life gets too hard. Because if you go home to her this time, I might lose my mind—”

“I haven’t told her yet,” Jason cut in. He stooped down, picked up the napkin dispenser, set it back on the table. “I was going to. Maybe right there in the courtyard. But then something happened, and I had to take care of it. When it was over, all I wanted to do was find you. See you. Maybe I should have waited. No, I know I should have, it’s just…” He shook his head. “Never mind. Never mind. You’re right. I’ll talk to her tomorrow and then—”

“What happened?” Elizabeth asked and he fell silent. “I don’t know, am I allowed to ask that?”

“You can always ask. I just…I just can’t always answer. But—” He dragged a hand down his face. “Sonny’s having issues. I’ve never told you how bad they are, but right now, it’s as bad as it’s ever been and I don’t think what I’m doing is enough. That’s why I can’t talk to Courtney tonight. She’s with Carly at a safehouse.”

Elizabeth sat down, dread flooding her veins. “Is she all right?”

“Yeah. Mostly.” He returned to his seat across from her. “Sonny thought he saw Lily. On the balcony. He didn’t recognize Carly. When Max got inside, he had her by the wrists, was shaking her. Michael saw it all.”

She reached across the table, found his hand, covered it with her own. He turned her hand in his own, rubbed his thumb across her palm. “Max got her across the hall, and he called me. He didn’t know Lily was dead. Couldn’t remember it. He knew me, though. So…that’s something. I sedated him. He’s sleeping. And I just…I wanted to get on the bike and keep going,” he admitted in a quiet voice, so low that she could scarcely hear him. “I calmed Carly down. Courtney got home. She didn’t want to go, but I told her to. I couldn’t deal with her just then. I didn’t know what I’d say or do. I didn’t even want to look at her,” Jason bit out. “I just wanted them all to go away. They did. But they never stay away.”

He exhaled slowly, stared down at their joined hands. “So I got on the bike, and I came here. I thought if I just saw you, even if I just looked at you, I’d…I don’t know. Feel something different. And I know that’s not fair to you—”

“Don’t make me break out the line again,” Elizabeth said, and he looked at her, startled by the interruption, by what she’d said, and his laugh was short, almost a bitter sound that he immediately stifled by releasing her hand and putting both hands over his face.

“I’m going to tell her. I know how that sounds,” he added when she said nothing. “I’ve spent the last month trying to get back something I don’t think existed in the first place, and I just—I don’t want to pretend anymore. I just want something that’s mine. Instead of—” Jason stopped, swallowed hard.

“No, go ahead, finish it. There’s nothing you can say to me that’s going to change how I feel, Jason.” Elizabeth tipped her head.

“You said it, last year. Sonny’s enforcer. First, last, always,” he muttered with a bitterness that she didn’t know he had inside of him. “I told you, that stayed with me. Don’t apologize for it—” he added when she opened her mouth. “You were right. That’s all I am. I live and breath Sonny’s life. His wife, his son, his sister, that’s my entire world, and I did it to myself. I did it willingly. Courtney fits, that’s what I told you,” Jason said, and she bit her lip. “She fits because she’s made Sonny and Carly her whole life. That’s all we talk about. Is Sonny okay today? Is Carly too stressed? What should we do to make sure Michael isn’t affected? How do I handle it if it’s a bad day? Or today’s a good day, so let’s make sure we don’t do or say anything that throws it off because it doesn’t take much—I didn’t even know my sister was dying until she had to tell me.”

“She wasn’t telling anyone, Jason,” Elizabeth said, reaching for his hand, but he avoided it this time. “But I know what you mean. She wasn’t telling anyone. But if either of us had been paying attention—we know her better than anyone. Between the two of us, we’d have wrestled her to the ground and dragged the truth out. You’re not the only one who feels like let her down.”

“I just don’t want it to be like this anymore. It’s not enough. It shouldn’t have taken a year for me to figure that out, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry it did. I should have ran after you that night. Stopped you. Never lied in the first place—”

“We’re not going to do that, remember? Think about the ways we hurt each other. You told me that, and now I’m telling you. I didn’t hold on when I should have. We both made mistakes. Let’s just…let’s leave that in the past where it belongs.” She cleared her throat. “And we don’t have to get into the rest of it. I really do understand why you haven’t…why you haven’t told Courtney. I can understand you wanting to wait until this is—until Sonny’s through this—”

“I’m not—that’s not what I’m going to do.” Jason frowned, his eyes sharp, focused on her, some of the misery burned away. “I told you. I realized what was important, and I came here to tell you that. I just—I got distracted by Ric, and then—everything else. I know—I know we can’t — you need me to end things and I’m going to. But I told you. I want my life to be my own again. And I want you in it.”

Elizabeth pressed her lips together, took a deep breath. “Okay.”

“You don’t believe me—”

“I do. I do,” she repeated when he just shook his head. “It’s just—you’ve—there’s been a lot today. Emily’s news, and that scene with Courtney. Everything with Sonny and Carly, and then Ric—I just think maybe—if you’re ready to end your engagement, your relationship with Courtney, okay. I don’t know if…” She bit her lip. “This is going to sound insane, and it’s not what I want, so believe me, I hate what I’m about to say. But maybe you need time on your own. Just you. I mean, I’ll be here. Friends,” she added. “But it’s been a lot this last year. You came home, and there was Alcazar, Brenda, Ric, and—it’s just been so much. For both of us.”

“You’re probably right.” Jason grimaced, looked at his hands. “I’ve screwed this up,” he muttered. “From the beginning.”

“You did the best you could. I know you did, Jason. That’s just who you are. You tried so hard not to hurt anyone that you ended up hurting yourself the most. Everyone expects so much from you, and you’re just—you’re human, okay? Remember that. You’re not responsible for Sonny and Carly. For Courtney. For Emily. Or for me. We all make our own choices and mistakes.”

He nodded, then sighed again. He got to his feet, held out his hand and pulled her up. “I’ve missed you,” Jason said. He reached for her other hand, held them both in his, looked down at them. “This—right here—this is the most right I’ve felt in weeks. Maybe longer. That night, you know what I think about the most?” When she shook her head, he continued, “when we were just talking. Laying in bed, with you in my arms. I think about that all the time.”

Damn it. Her eyes filled. She leaned up, pressed her lips to his in a short, sweet kiss, cupping the line of his jaw. “I think about that, too. The rest of the night — that was amazing, and sure, that’s in there. But mostly, just being with you. It’s all I’ve ever needed.”

He nodded, his forehead against hers. “I have to go. Or I won’t be able to,” he admitted. “Can I—can I call you or come see you tomorrow?”

“Sure. I’d like that.”

“I’ll walk you to your building…and stay outside when you go up,” Jason said, and she laughed lightly. She scooped up her purse and the light jacket she’d grabbed.

“That’s probably a good idea.”

Morgan Penthouse: Living Room

Jason sighed, dropped his keys on the desk, then just looked at the woman sitting on the sofa. “I told you to stay with Carly tonight.”

“She called her mother.” Courtney got to her feet. “I told her that we needed to talk. And we do. First, I need to apologize for today—”

“You knew her schedule, didn’t you?” Jason asked, staring at the wooden surface of the desk. “She switched to closing, but you knew she was on the lunch shift today, didn’t you?”‘

“Yes,” Courtney said, a bit hesitantly. “I did it on purpose. I guess I wanted to know what would happen—”

“You thought I’d be reminded of how guilty I’m supposed to feel and let you set a date for the wedding.” And now he looked at her, saw the irritation in her eyes before dropping them to the ground. “Did Mike give you the schedule?”

“No. I know where he keeps it. Jason—”

He nodded, rubbed his mouth. “And then you gave a copy of it to Ric.” When her mouth just tightened, and she didn’t deny it, Jason felt sick to his stomach. “You gave him everything he needed to stalk her. That’s what he’s been doing. Every night. Did you know that?”

“I guess I don’t need to ask where you were tonight. Did you get a quickie in before coming home?” Courtney demanded, folding her arms.

“You’re not going to turn this around on me. What I did — I did. And you know, it was technically wrong because of this, but I didn’t do it to hurt you. I didn’t,” he added, when she just scoffed. “Because I just wasn’t thinking about you at all.”

“What? What does that mean?”

“It means exactly what you think it does,” he retorted. “I was with Elizabeth, and I didn’t think about you until I answered my phone the next morning. Not once. Does that bother you?” he asked.

“You’re just being cruel now to get back at me for telling Ric—”

“No, I just stopped caring what you think or feel,” Jason interrupted, and she snapped her mouth shut. “Just like you stopped caring what I thought. What I felt. I told you I didn’t want to talk about the wedding. That I wasn’t even sure I wanted to get to married. That didn’t matter to you. You set today up to hurt me, to manipulate me into doing what you wanted.”

Tears glimmered in her eyes, but Courtney just lifted her chin. “I see the gloves are off. Okay, good. Good. Now that you’re not worried about protecting my feelings, why don’t you tell me why you did it? What changed if it wasn’t the miscarriage I had?”

Jason shook his head. “You don’t want to hear this, so let’s just end it here. You can have the ring. You can have this place, I don’t care. But this is done—”

“If this is done, then I deserve to know why after everything we’d been through, after everything this last year, why did you jump into bed with Elizabeth? Why did you nearly leave me over it? Why don’t you feel guilty?” she demanded.

“Because I didn’t know there was a chance,” Jason said, and she simply stared at him.

“What? What does that mean?”

“Elizabeth told me I’d ruined any chance for us the night she walked out,” he said, the memory searing like acid. “And I believed her. But that night, I realized she was wrong. I slept with her because I wanted to. Because I’d wanted to for years, and for the first time, I realized she still gave a damn about me. Is that what you wanted to hear?”

May 8, 2024

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the Flash Fiction: Warning Shots

Written in 64 minutes.  Would you believe I originally thought I could fit all of these scenes and the last part into one update? I must have been crazy.

February 2000

Elizabeth made it back to her room almost in a daze, mechanically returning to the entrance of the dorms opening the door, boarding the elevator, pressing the right button—she didn’t remember any of it, but found herself standing outside the room, staring blindly at the closed door as if she’d never seen it before.

Had that just happened? Had it been a walking nightmare from beginning to end?

Elizabeth wrapped her hands around the knob, twisted, then pushed the door open. Inside, Emily was lounging on one of the single beds, stretched out on her stomach, her feet up by the headboard. She bounded to her feet at Elizabeth’s entrance. “Hey! I was wondering how long you were going—” She stopped. “What happened?”

Elizabeth exhaled slowly, then closed the door, and perched on the edge of her bed, planting her hands flat against the mattress on either side of her thighs. “I broke up with Lucky.”

“Shut up.” Emily dropped onto the bed, her brown eyes wide. “No way. Did you call him as soon as Jason told you—”

“He was waiting—” Elizabeth cleared her throat. “Jason came to the dorms. You knew that. Didn’t you?”

“I did. I figured you were out with him, but—” her friend tipped her head. “Lucky was waiting when you got back? I didn’t see him when I came in, but maybe he wasn’t here long.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know.” Elizabeth licked her lips. “Jason told me that Lucky knew. He knew, Em.” She closed her eyes, dipped her down until her chin rested against her chest. “He knew and he did it on purpose. On Valentine’s Day.”

“I’m so sorry. I’m so so so sorry—”

“I was going to let him get away with it, Em. I was going to forgive him. I knew he did it on purpose, but I wanted him to love me—” Elizabeth bit her lip. “Was he always this way and I just…I didn’t see it?”

“What do you mean?”

“I just—” Elizabeth rose to her feet, crossed to her desk and the picture frame resting at the corner — from a night at Kelly’s, sitting at one of the tables, arms around each other, grinning. She traced their faces. “It was perfect, Em. Wasn’t it? Did I imagine that?”

“No, I don’t think you did. You loved each other, and it was real. But—” Emily toyed with the cuff of her sleeve. “I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I realized things weren’t right, and maybe it was perfect because you guys made each other your whole worlds. Everything was about Lucky for you, and everything was about you for him. And maybe if that had stayed true, it would have been fine.”

“I know I changed my mind about living together. I didn’t realize it was such a big deal for him—but I just—I didn’t want to. I liked this. Sharing a room with you. Being normal.” Elizabeth looked at her friend. “I spent so much of high school not being normal. Not doing what the other girls did. I was too obsessed with Sarah, and then too scared of my own shadow. I wanted something else for myself, you know? Was that so awful?”

“No. No, it wasn’t. You know that it wasn’t. Lucky didn’t have to make it such a deal breaker. Didn’t have to take it personally.”

Elizabeth opened the drawer and put the photo inside of it. “You told Jason to tell me, didn’t you?”

“Don’t be mad at him. He just likes to let people make their own choices, but I just knew you didn’t have all the information—”

“I had it, I just didn’t know what to do with it.” Elizabeth met her friend’s eyes. “But when he confronted me with it, I guess I couldn’t ignore it. Still, maybe I could have…maybe I could have rationalized it. Let it go. But Lucky accused me of cheating on him. He saw Jason bring me back on the bike, and I was smiling at him.” She pressed her fingers to lips. “That’s all. I smiled at him, and maybe I looked happy. Because it was amazing, you know? Have you ever been on the bike?”

“He goes the speed limit when he has me on the bike,” Emily said glumly. “Brothers, man. But I know he’s a speed demon. So, Lucky saw you smiling and figured you were interested?”

“Worse. He asked me what Jason and I did after Valentine’s when he drove me home.” Elizabeth sat back down, stared at her hands. “He asked me if I wanted someone with more experience. If Jason was the reason I wasn’t sleeping with him, if I wanted someone to make sure I liked it this time.”

“If you—” Emily’s eyes went flat, her lips thinned as she pressed them together. “Excuse me?”

“He tried to take back and I’m sure he’s sorry — and maybe I could buy he hadn’t believed it even when he said it, but I just—I heard it and it was like—it was like everything went cold. And I was back in that moment. In the park.” She stared straight ahead, her vision blurring. “It was so cold, the snow and the rocks scraping against my back, but then I couldn’t feel any of that because then it was just pain and being ripped apart and held down—”

Emily was at her side, pulling Elizabeth into her arms. “It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s over. It was over two years ago—”

“I didn’t like it, I didn’t want it—” Her chest burned as the sobs rose in her throat, spilled out her lips. “I stood there and it was happening again, and he threw it at me because he was angry, and I don’t understand, I don’t understand, he saw me crawling out of the bushes, he took me home, Em. He was so sweet a-and g-gentle—how could he use that—”

“I’m so sorry, Liz. I’m so sorry and so angry, and I just—” Emily rubbed Elizabeth’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. He’s vicious when he’s hurt and he’s angry. I’ve seen him with his mother, and you know, he’s talked about his dad. But I never, ever thought he’d be like that with you.”

“He wanted to hurt me the other night. To hurt me and remember why I needed him. Why I loved him. Do you know why? Do you know what horrible crime I committed?” Elizabeth sat up, dragged her hands over her cheeks, rubbing away the tears. “I smiled at your brother when I told him about the art project. My smiles, Em. I smiled at another man, so he stood me up on Valentine’s Day, the day he thinks he gave back to me, and I guess the day he thinks he can take away again. And then I smiled at Jason again, and for that, I got accused of being a whore.”

“I hope you knocked him senseless,” Emily muttered. “Knocked his teeth right down his throat.”

Elizabeth smiled now, though it was just the faintest curve of her lips. “No. I told him your brother rocked my world and warmed me up for Lucky, and asked if he wanted details.”

Emily stared at her for a long moment, her lips quivering then she snorted, and they both broke into giggles. “Oh, that’s almost as good. I wish I could have seen his face.”

“He was pretty angry about that, but I just—” Elizabeth sighed. “He’s been like this for months, hasn’t he? Months of punishing me.”

Emily made a face, returned to her side of the room. “A little bit, yeah. I was thinking about it after Valentine’s Day, because I thought — it’s absolutely wild how crazy he went. Like, to set that up just to humiliate you? But he’s sort of been doing it all along. You decided to room with me for the year. Who helped us move into the room?”

“Jason,” Elizabeth said. “Lucky had some emergency, but I bet if I asked his mother, Laura wouldn’t know anything. And—” Her mouth pinched. “Thanksgiving. He was angry with me for using his car to drop you at the airport. He refused to loan it to me. I called Jason.”

“And you said you saw Jason before Christmas at the garage about the art project because Lucky wasn’t there. Didn’t you and Lucky have a fight before that day, too?”

“I’m sure we did. Every time I disagreed with him…it must have drove him crazy that Jason seemed to be there every time. I guess that’s better than him plucking some other guy out of the air to accuse me of cheating.” Elizabeth drew her legs up on the bed, sat cross-legged. “Was it always going to be  this way? If we’d gone to New York, and I’d disagreed with him, who I would have talked to? I can’t believe I’m saying it, but I’m glad I got rejected from that school.”

“Me, too. I’m sorry Lucky upset you tonight. It kills me that he did this,” Emily added. “He’ll come back, he’ll apologize. He’s good at apologies, you know. Don’t let it go. What happened tonight? He’ll just do it again.”

“I know. I know. Thanks for telling Jason to tell me the truth. I needed that wakeup call.”

“I knew if anyone could get through to you, it’d be him.” Emily wrinkled her nose. “Just don’t ever joke about my brother and sex again, okay? Because there are limits to what a sister can put up with. Ew.”

“I can’t imagine a single circumstance in which I’ll ever have to think of Jason and sex again.” Elizabeth lifted her brows. “Then again, having ridden on the bike with him with my arms around—”

“Shut up!” Emily squealed, throwing the pillow at her. Elizabeth threw it back, and a minute later they’d started a pillow fight, and the horror of her night had faded.

The next morning, Elizabeth had the lunch shift after her morning classes, and was hoping that Lucky would avoid her like the plague at least for a few days. She’d gone to bed the night before, feeling a bit lighter after her conversation with Emily, but this morning —

This morning, it had all flooded back, and it lingered now, like a thin layer around her shoulders pressing her down. Had it been real? Or had she just been fooling herself all this time? Had Lucky loved her or the mess she’d been? Had he just been good at rescuing the damsel in distress, and not so interested when the damsel had healed herself?

She lost herself in the monotony of the job, in taking orders, delivering them, making small talk with her regulars, refilling drinks, pocketing her tips — and didn’t notice when Nikolas slid onto one of the stools by the counter.

“Hey, do you have a minute?”

Elizabeth eyed him warily, went for the water pitcher to fill a glass for him. “That depends.”

“I was having breakfast with my mother and Lulu this morning, and imagine my surprise when my brother came down the stairs in a rotten mood.” Nikolas accepted the glass, popped a straw inside.

“So I guess you’ve heard then.”

“I heard his side, but I’m thinking maybe he’s an unreliable narrator.” He lifted his brows. “Unless you’re having a raging affair with the local gangster and that’s why Lucky’s out of a job and apartment—”

“Wait. What?” Elizabeth stared. “What?”

“Which part is the surprise? All of it? Or the living arrangements?”

“The living arrangements—the first part is Lucky’s fantasy. Apparently, if you smile at a man who’s given you a few rides at home, that means you’re screwing him in the backseat,” Elizabeth muttered. “Then again, there’s not really a backseat of a motorcycle, is there?”

Nikolas furrowed his brow. “You’ve lost me.”

“I’m not sleeping with Jason,” Elizabeth hissed, then glanced around furtively. Good, no one was listening. “Of course I’m not. It’s ludicrous for about a million reasons. For one, until last night, I was in a committed relationship. For two, Jason wouldn’t look at me in a million years.”

“And three, you’re not interested,” Nikolas prompted. She rolled her eyes, grabbed a tub to bus a few of the tables, then dumped them in the kitchen. “I’m not judging, you know that. I don’t exactly have the greatest history—”

“Yeah, I can see why you’re be questioning my morals since you were sleeping your uncle’s fiancee at Emily’s birthday party—”

“Hey. Low blow.” He paused. “And she wasn’t my uncle’s fiancee anymore. Or my father’s—damn it.”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry—” Elizabeth pressed her hands to her face. “This is the stupidest conversation I’ve ever had. And we’re way off topic. Lucky set me up on Valentine’s Day to be stood up and humiliated because I had the audacity to smile at Jason, and he drove me home that night. That’s his entire evidence for this affair, by the way, in case that’s important.”

“I don’t believe him, Liz. I just thought you might want to know the side of the story he’s spreading. Did you know Jason was going to fire him and give him notice?”

“No, I didn’t. But I can’t say I blame him if Lucky’s saying that kind of thing to anyone who will listen. This is ridiculous, Nikolas. Why do I have to defend myself—”

“I’m not asking you to. I guess maybe I thought it was as insane as you did, and I was trying to have a little fun with it. I see that wasn’t the right tactic. I’m sorry.”

“It’s—it’s fine. I can’t believe after all this time he went home. He never acted like it was an option before.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “Jason fired him and gave notice? Last night?”

“He said he had thirty days but didn’t want to deal with Jason anymore. You really didn’t know he was going to do that?”

No, she hadn’t, and she didn’t know why it surprised her. Maybe because Jason had known for almost a week what Lucky had done and hadn’t shown any hint of wanting to fire him or throw him out the night before—

After her shift was over, she walked the few blocks to the garage, twisting her fingers together as she stepped inside the customer’s entrance and headed for the garage bay. “Hello?”

Jason peered out from around the raised hood of a red sedan, his white shirt smeared with grease. He reached into his back pocket for a rag, wiped his hands. “Elizabeth?”

“Hey. I’m sorry if I’m interrupting something—”

“No. No.” He cleared his throat. “Lucky’s not here if you’re looking for him—”

“I’m not.” Elizabeth folded her arms, looked down at the concrete floor briefly before raising her eyes to his again. “Um, Nikolas told me that you fired Lucky. And kicked him out.”

Jason pressed his lips together, looked away. “I’m not changing my mind if that’s what you’re here to do—”

“No,” Elizabeth said quickly. “No, I’m not. I—I saw him last night. He was waiting at the dorms when you dropped me off.”

Jason nodded, exhaled on a huff. “He mentioned that. Did he—” He hesitated, made a face, as if he was annoyed with himself. “He didn’t say anything that made it worse, did he?”

“Um, well, I guess that depends on your perspective on what could make it worse, you know—anyway, it’s not important—”

“What did he do?” Jason demanded, coming around the side of the car, his eyes flattening. “He was ticked off when he got back, but if he put a hand on you—”

“He wouldn’t do—” Elizabeth’s throat closed and she looked away. “I’d like to think that’s not something he’d do, but I’m not sure I can say that anymore. It’s like I never really knew him. Or maybe I never—anyway, I don’t want to talk about it. He said—he said something awful, and it was the last straw, and I broke up with him. And I’m not changing my mind. But I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Then we won’t. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make any of this worse for you—”

“You didn’t. Um, just the opposite really.” She smiled at him, a bit shyly. “He was there with roses. White ones. And I—I think maybe if you hadn’t come by first, no—I know it for sure. If you hadn’t been there, I would have just let him go. I would have forgiven him and maybe down the road, it would have been worse, and I would have months of being unhappy and miserable instead of just a few weeks. So…thank you. I know you didn’t want to get involved, and I’m officially absolving you from having to be a part of this, okay? Whatever Lucky says, it’s not about you.”

Jason stared at her for a long moment, then tilted his head to the side. “He’s saying something that’s going to piss me off, isn’t he?”

“No, I mean, probably. But it’s also ridiculous, and no one is going to believe him or take it seriously. Okay? So don’t worry about it. It’s just—he saw me smiling at you last night, and he thought—but it’s stupid, and he knows that. He just needs a reason to tell people why I broke up with him, and he can’t ever give the real one.”

Jason sighed, then closed the hood on the car he’d been working on. “You smiled at me,” he repeated. “Yeah, I know what he’s saying. Don’t worry about it.”

“Good. Good. I just wanted to tell you that, and to thank you for last night. You and then Emily — well, it could have been a really bad night, and it wasn’t all the way, so thanks.”

“Yeah, sure.” Jason paused, then lifted his brows. “If you give me ten minutes to wash up, I’ll give you a ride back to the dorms.”

“A ride?” Elizabeth’s eyes lit up. “On the bike? Sure.”

“No arguing that you don’t need one? What happened to the bus?” But he was grinning when he said it, already heading for the sinks.

“See, you should have just offered the motorcycle months ago,” she called after him. “I’m never saying no to that.”

May 7, 2024

This entry is part 13 of 15 in the Flash Fiction: Chain Reaction

Written in 59 minutes.

Kelly’s: Courtyard

It was with some pleasure that Jason watched Ric’s face flush, the raspy choked sound that only came from the desperate attempt to pull oxygen from somewhere. His fingers clawed uselessly at Jason’s hands, his feet dangling against the brick wall.

For every tear Carly had sobbed last spring, painfully admitting that she’d needed a paternity test because of what he’d done, for the nightmares Michael still suffered from watching his mother being carried off by a madman—for whatever Ric had done to land Elizabeth in that hospital bed, flatlining — dying in front of his eyes —

For every doubt and guilt Ric had introduced to Sonny’s fragile psyche already weighed by down by too many crimes —

There was nothing Jason wanted more than to watch the life slowly leave this man’s body. To be the reason he no longer walked around with that smug smile as if he’d done something special getting away with kidnapping and attempted murder.

“You know that feeling right now?” Jason asked. “Dizzy, right? Your brain is screaming for oxygen. I could crush your throat and put you out of your misery, make it quick. But we both know you don’t deserve that. Do you know how long it takes to choke a man? To suffocate him? Eleven pounds of pressure, and brain death is four minutes. Maybe five.” Jason squinted. “Maybe if I press a little harder—”

“Eliz—” The sound was barely audible, but Ric’s eyes were darting past Jason.

“Don’t let me stop you,” Elizabeth said, and Jason glanced behind him, watched her take a seat at one of the remaining tables. “Just clean up when you’re done.”

He knew she was only saying that because he’d never do this in front of her. Never make her part of it, but one day— Jason stepped back, slowly releasing Ric from his grasp. “The next time, you won’t be so lucky.”

Ric scowled, smoothed down his suit jacket. “Are you crazy?” he managed to push out his hoarse throat. “I’m a goddamn ADA—”

“Don’t remind me. Stay away from Elizabeth. That’s the only warning you get.”

“If Elizabeth didn’t want to see me,” Ric said, clearing his throat, “then she’d have called the cops. How many times have I been here? Eating breakfast, catching you at closing—”

Jason shifted so that he was standing between them, but could see Elizabeth’s unreadable expression.

“I did call the police, Ric.” She uncrossed her legs, then rose to her feet. “Last summer. When I woke up from the coma that you put me in. I can’t prove it, no, but we both know you did something. I called the police, Ric. I told them what you’d done. What I found in our walls. I saw Carly, I heard her screaming for help. But she wasn’t there when they went to look, so I guess—” Elizabeth tipped her head. “I called the police, Ric, and now you’re an ADA instead of waiting for trial. You work in the system now. What good would it do to report you for stalking—”

“Stalking—” Ric’s eyes darted to Jason who kept his hands fisted at his sides. Just give him a reason. Just one. “Don’t be ridiculous—”

“Every morning I opened, there you were. And as soon as I switched to the closing shift to get away from you, there were you were again. I’ve asked, Ric. You don’t come in on any other shifts. Just mine. I think I know where you’re getting my schedule,” she said, and Ric’s nostrils flared. “I suggest you tell your source that I’m done being pushed around.”

Jason frowned. “What source? Who’s telling him information about—” He swallowed hard, looked at Ric, who straightened his tie.

“I think you’d better go while you’re still able to walk,” Elizabeth said. “Because in thirty seconds, I’m going to go back inside and tell Don he can head out.” She flicked her eyes to Jason. “That work for you?”

“Sounds perfect,” Jason said, half-convinced she meant it this time.

Ric scowled. “You wouldn’t—” But Elizabeth was already turning towards the door, pulling the handle. “Fine. Fine. But this isn’t over.” He stalked out of the courtyard on that line, and Elizabeth sighed, rubbed her chest before looking at Jason.

“Can you—would you finish stacking these chairs? I need to go wash my face and tell Don he can go home.”

“Yeah. Yeah, sure.”

“Come inside when you’re done, and you can ask me that question.”

He’d have to, Jason thought, though it was the last thing he wanted to talk about. He folded up the last of the chairs, set the table to the side, then went inside the diner.

Elizabeth emerged from the kitchen a minute later with her coat and purse. She set them on a table, then pulled out a chair. She dragged a hand through her hair, then looked up at him expectantly. “Well?”

He sat across from her. “Courtney. That’s how Ric knew when you were working. That’s his source.”

“I don’t know for sure, but yeah.” Elizabeth plucked a napkin from the dispenser, kept her eyes down. “She’s been coming in pretty steadily on my shifts. And today? She planned that, but it’s not my regular shift. I only picked it up a few days ago. I can’t think of anyone else who might have a reason to want to cause trouble for me.”


“Don’t apologize. What we did, that’s on us.” She looked at him now. “You went home, you didn’t lie to her about it, and she told you she wanted to try to work things out. And I didn’t do anything to stop you. I tried really hard to just step out of that because I wanted you to…to make the choice that was right for you.” Her voice faltered just a touch, but then she swallowed. Pulled it back. “We didn’t see each other for three weeks, Jason. I’m not blaming her for being angry. For hating me. I get that. But I do blame her for telling you that you could work things out and then dragging you here to make us both uncomfortable. To make you feel bad. And I sure as hell blame her for telling that psychopath my work schedule if that’s what she did.”

“I—I don’t know how to handle that. What Ric did to Carly, to Michael, I mean he kidnapped Courtney, too—” He shook his head. “But you’re right. He had to know you changed shifts. Mike never would have told him.”

“He wanted me to call you and Sonny when he found out Ric was coming in,” Elizabeth said, a half smile. “I can’t see him telling anyone, no. Look, it is what it is, and if you’re here to apologize for this afternoon, don’t. I know it wasn’t your idea. I just—” She made a face. “Don’t let her keep making you feel guilty, okay? I know—I know how easy it is to take on that kind of guilt and let it drown you—”

“I couldn’t understand why you’d choose something that made you unhappy over…anything else,” Jason admitted. “I do now. I stayed because…”

“Because you made her a promise, Jason. I know you take those seriously. And you loved her—”

“I—” Jason leaned back. “I don’t know. I thought I did. It felt like I did for a while, but maybe—” He looked past Elizabeth, squinting. “Maybe I was just lying to myself. I wanted to love her. To be happy. So I told myself I was.” He focused on her again. “And I’ve known her a year. I don’t think I ever let myself understand how hard it would have been for you to turn your back on Lucky at that point. I just—I thought you were unhappy, there was a chance maybe you could be happy with me, why wouldn’t you…” He trailed off.

“How do you reject a miracle? When he’s telling you he loved you all along, and he thought about you all the time, and that’s how he knew he’d make it—that our love kept him alive. Even when he was being brainwashed—” Her smile was wry. “A piece of him still knew I was out there waiting for him. And you know, I think he was telling me the truth. I really think that’s how it was for him. But me?” She made a face, looked away. “I thought he was dead, so I moved on. I let him go. And then when he came home, he didn’t want me. You know when he really started to get angry about it? When you came home. When he saw how I was around you.”

“I’m sorry—”

“It doesn’t really do any good to think about any of that now, I guess. Only that, yeah, it was hard to say no to a miracle. I kept him alive, he says. So how do I say, well, that’s great but I really think I want to kiss this other guy and see if maybe that’s better, so—” Elizabeth raised a shoulder. “Anyway. I get it. You make promises, and you care about people. And that’s how obligations and guilt start pushing you down until you’re drowning and you forget who you are. What you want to be. You don’t even exist anymore. Not as individual.”

Jason nodded, looked down at his hands. “I’m sorry. That I didn’t see it then. That I made that harder on you. I know I was angry and frustrated with you at the end—”

“You always do this,” Elizabeth interrupted, and he broke off, looked at her. She was leaning forward, resting her chin on her fist, her eyes soft. “Twist and turn the subject until somehow you’re reassuring me, apologizing to me.”

“I don’t like when you’re down on yourself,” Jason said after a moment. “You’re always taking on the blame for what other people do. Even now — you think there’s a chance Courtney is the reason your ex-husband is stalking you, and you can’t even hold that against me—”

“Because she’d have done that whether you stayed or not, Jason. It’s not about you. It’s about me. She thinks I’m trying to steal you, trying to tempt you away, and instead of focusing on you, she’s focused on me. Siccing Ric on me, coming in here to flash that ring, talking about the wedding—”

Jason grimaced, muttered under his breath. “I told her over and over again that I didn’t want to talk about that—” He dragged a hand down his face. “And if she’s doing this, I don’t even know how I can look at her. You and Carly don’t get along, but you didn’t even hesitate to report the panic room. Carly said you were trying to get the phone, trying to get her out when you collapsed. It would never occur to you do something like this—” He cleared his throat. “I came here to apologize for all of that, and now there’s just more I have to deal with—”

“I can respect if you want to deal with Courtney on that because Ric isn’t exactly just my ex-husband, but don’t take it on, Jason. I know you’re dealing with so much. With Carly, Michael, and Sonny. I don’t know if things are better — I hope they are. But I don’t want to be someone you worry about —”

“You’re not. I mean, I worry about you,” Jason added quickly, with a wince. “I think about you too much,” he confessed.

Elizabeth scooted her chair back. “We should—we should probably go. Before we start talking about things we promised we wouldn’t. Thank you for getting rid of Ric for me—”

Jason stood, stopped her from picking up her purse. “I came here to apologize, yeah, but also because something else happened today.”

“Jason—” she looked at him, and her eyes glimmered. “I’m tired. I want to be there for you, the way you’ve always been for me, I really do. A-nd I’ll be mad at myself later, but I don’t know if I can do this tonight and then have you go back to her—”

“I’m not,” Jason said. He caught her hand as it reached for the purse, held it. Her skin was so soft. He hadn’t touched her in nearly a month, and now he stared down at her fingers, so soft, paler against his darker skin, roughened from being outside and the warehouse. “I realized today when she told me she forgave me that I never asked her to. I’m not sorry about that night. Any of it.”

“Jason—” His name was barely audible, just really an exhale of breath between her parted lips. “Don’t—”

“I’m not sorry,” he repeated. “The only mistake I made was going home and not keeping my promise to you. I kept the wrong promise, and for that, I am sorry.”

She squeezed her eyes closed, her dark lashes against her cheeks. “I tried to do the right thing, you know. To send you away with my good wishes. Be happy, I told you, and I didn’t want to do that. You know that, right?” Her lashes fluttered again and her eyes locked on his, a little desperate. “I know I’m awful at telling you how I feel and where you stand, and I’m never clear or I’m too clear at the wrong times and we keep messing that up. I’m sorry for that. I didn’t want to use that. I didn’t want to use the regret and the maybes but I knew I could have. I did the right thing. We both did.”

“The right thing for who?” Jason wanted to know. He pressed their joined hands against his chest, tugging her forward just an inch. “It wasn’t the right thing for me.”

“You thought it was—a-nd I wanted to be what you needed — the way you always were for me, you never fought me—”

“I fought you all the time,” Jason said, with an almost exasperated laugh, and she looked at him, startled. “You’re remembering some martyr that never existed. I got angry with you, Elizabeth, didn’t I?”

“You—” She licked her lips. “Yeah. But—”

“Because I could feel this—” He cupped her jaw with his other hand, caught one of her tears with the pad of his thumb. “I knew what this was, what it could be, and I knew you felt it, too, and it drove me crazy that you couldn’t admit it. It was all I could do not to take you by the shoulders and shake you.”

“God, I wish you had,” she muttered, then bit her lip, looked at him. “Okay. So maybe I took the wrong lessons from two years ago—”

“Why are either of us thinking about the mistakes we made? I should have kissed you.”

“I should have taken your hand and never looked back.” Elizabeth looked at the joined hands still against his chest, traced the back of his hand with her index finger. “We did the right thing back then, too. I stayed and you went away. Why didn’t I think of that? Why—” She laughed, looked up at him now with bewildered amusement in her beautiful eyes. “Why didn’t I remember how it all turned out? Because here we are. Exactly where we always end up.”

“This time,” Jason promised her, “it’ll be different.” He slid his hand from her jaw to the nape of her neck, then kissed her.

*cackles* see you friday. 

May 3, 2024

This entry is part 12 of 15 in the Flash Fiction: Chain Reaction

Written in 68 minutes. Went over to finish the last scene but I don’t think you’ll argue.

Kelly’s: Courtyard

I didn’t ask to be forgiven. Because I’m not sorry.

Courtney reeled back like she’d been slapped, her cheeks pale. “What did you just say to me?”

“I’m not sorry it happened.”

“You-you—” She swallowed hard. “No, no—you have to be sorry—” She put up her hands. “You have to be sorry because it was wrong. You hurt me, and you have to be sorry you did that—”

“That’s different,” Jason said. He took a careful breath. “I am sorry you’re hurt. And yeah, what I did was wrong because of the promises I’d made you. But that doesn’t mean I would change what happened or that I’m sorry I did it. And I’d be lying to you and myself if I said differently.” And he was done lying to himself. His phone rang before he could say anything else, and he tugged it from his pocket, making a face when he saw it was Carly. But she was nearly nine months pregnant, so he answered.

“Really, right now?” Courtney demanded as he flipped the phone open, lifted it to his ear.

“Carly—” Before he could even speak her name, he could hear her crying. “Carly, what happened—”

“S-Sonny—he’s lost his mind—he thinks he saw Lily, he thinks—” Carly was barely audible. “He thinks he saw her at the penthouse on the balcony. You need to  get here. Please. Please. I can’t do this. I can’t—”

“Where are you? Are you at the Towers?” Jason was already heading for the parking lot, dimly away of Courtney trying to keep up with him. With his free hand, he fished his keys from his pocket. “Go to my place—take Michael—”

“We’re—” She sucked in a heavy breath. “We’re already there. We’ll wait for you.”

“My car is over—” Courtney started, but Jason was already at the bike, swinging a leg over the seat. “Jason, wait—”

Her words were lost in the roar of the engine, and then Jason was gone.

She stared after him for a long moment, gritted her teeth, then swung her eyes back to the diner. She had some business to take care of.

Kelly’s: Dining Room

“So,” Nikolas drawled, “that was very interesting, wasn’t it?” He ate a spoonful of chili while Elizabeth just glared at him. “You sure there’s nothing to tell?”

“I have no idea what that was,” Elizabeth murmured, trying very hard not to look out the courtyard where Jason and Courtney spoke for half a second before he took a phone call, then left with Courtney chasing after him. She looked back at Nikolas. “And butt out.”

“No fun in that,” Nikolas said with a shrug.

The door swung open a minute later and Courtney charged back in, stopping at the counter. “Are you happy now?”

Elizabeth lifted her brows, looked behind her, then back at Courtney. “Who are you talking to?”

“You, you goddamn tramp—”

“Fantastic,” Elizabeth muttered coming around the counter, grabbing Courtney by the elbow. The blonde started to protest but Elizabeth wasn’t in the mood. She dragged Courtney through the kitchen and shoved her towards the back entrance. When they were in the alley, she finally released her. “You’re not coming to my place of work to scream at me, you lunatic.”

“How dare you talk to me this way after what you did to me—”

“I did nothing to you,” Elizabeth shot back. “I didn’t ask you to marry me. I didn’t tell you I loved you. I don’t even like you. A month ago, I let you sit there and get inside my head and make me feel bad, but I’m done with that now, do you get me, Courtney? No one is going to walk all over me. I’m sorry Jason hurt you, but that is a him and you problem, and it has nothing to do with me—”

“You did something, I know you did! Because he loved me! And he stayed for me!”

“I did nothing, Courtney. I just came to my job. You’re the one who kept coming to my job to talk about the wedding that isn’t happening. You’re the one who made sure Jason came here today. What did you think was going to happen? He’d feel so guilty when he saw me he’d agree to set the date?”

Courtney pressed her lips together, glared at her. “Shut up.”

“Oh, so that’s the plan. Guilt Jason into staying with you. Guilt him into marrying you. What a great love story. A real beautiful tear-jerker. I’m so sorry it didn’t work out. Maybe if you’d given me lines or something so I could have played my part—”

“Shut up! Just stop—”

“I have seen Jason three times since that night, Courtney, and each time, I told him to go be happy. If it was with you, fine. That’s what love is. Wanting someone to be happy, to be their best selves, even if it’s not with you. I told him to go be happy. Your job was to be the woman he loved. But I guess you couldn’t manage that, huh?”

Courtney’s hand flashed out, but Elizabeth caught her. “You don’t get to stand here like the wronged woman when everything that happened today is on you. I haven’t seen Jason in almost a month. Did you know that? He went out of his way to avoid me here, and I’ve made damn sure I don’t run into him when I see Emily. We did what we were supposed to. We stayed away. But that wasn’t enough for you, wasn’t it? You wanted to make him feel bad, so you dragged him to Kelly’s—” She stopped. “How did you know I’d be here? Are you—did you get my schedule from your dad?”

“You’re just mad because you got caught—”

“Caught doing what? Courtney, I did nothing but go to work. Maybe, and I’m just throwing this out there, the problem is that you put Jason in front of me, and instead of feeling guilty, he got pissed at you. You don’t get to take this out on me. Go yell at him.”

“I plan to, but you need to understand that—”

“You’re not going anywhere, yeah, yeah. I got that. Courtney, here’s something about me you don’t know. If I wanted Jason back last month, I could have had him. I could have cried, I could have begged. I could have done a lot of things. But I chose to look at the man that I loved and think about what he needed. What he wanted. I put him first. So when you go home and play this all back in your head, think about that.”

“You think he’s going to leave me now, that he’s going to come back to me—but he chose me, Elizabeth. He chose me first—”

“Yeah, I know.” Elizabeth tilted her head. “It’s called guilt, Courtney. It’s called obligations. Making promises and trying like hell to keep them even when you don’t want to. I’m sorry you’re unhappy. I’m sorry that Jason hurt you. But you’re the one that kept including me in this little triangle, not him.”

“You slept with my fiancee—”

“I did. And I’m not sorry. Anything else?” Elizabeth asked, arching a brow. “Because I would like to get back to work now.”

“This isn’t over—” Courtney threw her hair back and stalked down the alley, turning the car towards the parking lot.

“Of course not,” Elizabeth muttered. “I couldn’t be that lucky.” She yanked open the kitchen door.

Nikolas was still finishing his chili when she returned. “No idea what’s going on, you said?”

“Shut up and eat your food.”

Harborview Towers: Hallway

Max was waiting for him when the elevator doors slid open. “Thank God. It’s a goddamn mess, Jase. Mrs. C is hysterical, Michael’s not much better. I think I got Mr. C calmed down—”

“Take a deep breath,” Jason said, and the guard obeyed. “What happened?”

“I don’t know how any of it started, but I heard Mr. C. Shouting. I went inside and he was on the balcony, yelling the name Lily over and over again. Then he started to run towards the kitchen, then to the old maid’s room — he kept screaming the name. Mrs. C came downstairs, upset and Michael was with her. Sonny grabbed her arms—”

“He grabbed her?” Jason repeated. Damn it. Damn it. “Did he hurt her?”

“He shook her hard, demanding she tell him where Lily went. It was like he didn’t recognize her—I froze, man, I’m sorry, I froze—” Max dragged a hand through his hair. “But when he started to shake her, I got her away. I got her away,” he repeated. “And I picked Michael up, and I took them to your place.”

“Okay. Okay. Good. Good. I want you to come with me, and we’re going to deal with Sonny first, okay?” Jason started for the door. “There’s a medical kit in the bathroom downstairs. Go get it. It’s under the sink.”

“Got it.”

Jason pushed open the door, found Sonny pacing by the fireplace, his black hair disheveled, his eyes red. He looked over at the entrance, the pupils of his eyes so wide the black swallowed the brown. “Jase, Jase, you gotta help me—”

“That’s why I’m here.” Jason took Sonny by the arm, gently, and steered him towards the sofa. He still recognized Jason, that was good. But— “Tell me what’s going on, and I’ll fix it.”

“Lily, I can’t find her. I can’t find her.” Sonny seized Jason’s arms. “You gotta find her. She’s pregnant, okay? And I have to protect her. But I couldn’t find her. And Reinaldo—” He jerked up, twisted to look towards the door. “I don’t know who that guy is on the door, I need Reinaldo—”

The loyal guard who’d been Sonny’s personal body guard had died six years ago in a shooting at Luke’s. “He’s not here. I’ll go get him, but this is Max—” Jason gestured at the other man who had emerged from the hallway to the door way. “This is Max, and I trust him with my life, you know?”

“You trust him.” Slowly, Jason got Sonny to sit back down, though his pulse was racing. This was bad. This was worse than he’d ever seen him.

“I do. So take a deep breath. I’m going to get you some water, and I want you to tell me everything you remember about the last time you saw Lily. Then you can rest, and I’ll go find her.”

“You’ll find her.”

“I will. You know I will.”

Sonny closed his eyes. “Okay. Okay.”

Jason left him on the sofa, then poured him a glass of water. He took the kit from Max and found the sedative inside. He loaded the syringe, then took it and the water back to Sonny. “Okay. Tell me about Lily.”

“She was—she was on the balcony.” Sonny sipped his water. “I told her to come in. It’s getting cold. She turned, she smiled at me. She—she smiled. And then she was gone. I don’t know, did she fall?”

“No. No, she didn’t.” Jason took the water glass, set it aside. “I’m going to give you something to help you. Okay? It’ll help you remember.”

“Help me remember,” Sonny repeated, watching as Jason rolled back Sonny’s sleeve, and found a vein. “How soon?”

“Soon. Lily didn’t fall, Sonny. You know that. She turned, she smiled at you, and then she went to the car.”

“The car.” Sonny squinted, then nodded. “Yes. Yes. The car. We were…” His throat worked hard for a minute, and he swallowed. “She died. She and my son.”

“Yes. They died seven years ago,” Jason said. “You married Carly. Do you remember Carly?”

“Christ. Christ.” Sonny put his head in his hands. “Carly. She’s pregnant. That’s my son.”


“What’s happening to me? What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know, Sonny. But we’re going to figure it out. Right now, I want you to relax. To rest. I gave you something to help, okay?” Jason stood, pulled Sonny to his feet. “Max is going to help you. Can you do that for me?”

“Yeah. I can do that. Carly. Where is she?”

“Safe. I’m not going to let anything happen to her or the kids. I promise. Come on.” Jason gestured for Max to take his place, and the guard hurried forward. “Put him to bed, then come across the hall.”

He waited until Sonny and Max had cleared the first landing before leaving for his place.

Carly was pacing in front of the fireplace, a hand at the small of her back, her eyes bloodshot. “Jase.”

He ignored her for a minute, went straight for the little boy curled up in a ball on the sofa. “Hey, buddy.” He crouched in front of the sofa. “Hey—” he grunted when Michael launched himself at Jason. “Okay. It’s okay.”

“Daddy was hurting Mommy,” Michael said, his voice muffled, buried in Jason’s shoulder. Jason rose to his feet, bringing Michael with him, stroking the five-year-old’s back.

He met Carly’s eyes. “You’re not going back. Not tonight.”

“No. No I can’t do this again. I can’t keep—we were okay and then we weren’t, I can’t—I can’t keep hoping it—” Carly sucked in a shaky breath. “You can’t keep fixing him, Jason. You can’t keep this up. None of us can. I was so scared—” She pressed her hands to her mouth. “And Michael—he’s seen too much—”

“I know.” Jason went to the desk, and shifted Michael to one side, reaching for the phone. “I’m going to take care of everything. Okay? Wally, it’s me. Yeah, I need you to send someone up. Get a car ready, and send some guys over to the Forest Hill house. Open it up. Make it safe. Carly’s on her way in a bit. Michael will be with her—”

The door opened and Courtney came in. He looked at her for a minute, then turned his attention back to the phone. “And so is Courtney. Thanks.”

“What am I doing? What’s happening?” Courtney crossed over to her sister-in-law. “Are you okay?”

“I can’t go through it all again. Just—”

“Carly and Michael are going to one of the safe house for a few days. Maybe longer,” he said. “And you’ll go with them—”

“Oh, I don’t—” Courtney began. “I should be here with you, a-and Sonny—”

Jason looked over at her. “No. That’s not necessary. I’ve got Sonny handled. Carly needs you more than he does.”

She waited for him to say more, but he wouldn’t. There was nothing else to say. He didn’t know exactly what had happened — or why. But something had.

Maybe it had been standing at the counter, holding a phone in his hand, looking at Elizabeth, and knowing he couldn’t touch her. Knowing that she was hugging Nikolas because it couldn’t be him. And maybe it had been sitting across the hall, watching Sonny remember Lily had died, remembering the horror of it, dragging him back from wherever his mind had taken him — and all he wanted to do was talk to Elizabeth, because she would listen and when he was done, he’d know what to do next.

It was clear to him now what he had to do, but first — he had to make sure that things here were calm enough so that he could take a few hours and go see Elizabeth.

Because that’s all he wanted to do now. Was see her.

Kelly’s: Dining Room

Elizabeth stretched her arms over her head, then leaned on the counter to watch the last table finish their meal. A couple. Maybe on a date. They were sending little flirty signals back and forth. Their feet brushing one another. Hearts in their eyes. She wondered if she and Jason had ever looked like that.

What a strange day — from the unexpected encounter with Jason to the wonderful news of Emily going into remission — the way Jason had looked at her after he’d heard the news — and maybe they were both remembering the last time they’d received good news about Emily, and how they’d celebrated in each other’s arms.

And then the tension with Courtney — the insane confrontation in the alley. Elizabeth was  honestly a little surprised that she hadn’t crumbled under the pressure or the guilt, but she just…didn’t. She’d done everything she could to respect Courtney’s space since that night. She’d never pushed back, she’d never said a word to her. She’d been polite. Kind. And maybe that’s why Courtney had snapped. Because what happened today was no one’s fault but Courtney’s.

The bell above the door jingled, and Elizabeth slowly straightened, making a face when Ric sauntered towards her. What a great way to end the day.

“The grill is closed, but we still have the cold menu,” Elizabeth said, tossing the late night menu at him. “So make it quick—”

“You look so tired,” Ric said, with a sigh. He sat at the counter. “I wish you’d let me help. Financially. I could—”

“I’d rather choke.” Elizabeth shoved a utensil wrap at him, then poured him a glass of water. She was good at her job, damn it. And didn’t even give into the temptation to accidentally overfill and splash him.


“Give me your order or get out.”

Ric’s mouth settled in an unhappy line. “Fine. The Cobb salad.”

“Great.” Elizabeth went to the window, slapped the order down. “Don, would you mind bringing this last order to the customer? I’m going to clear down the courtyard.”

“Sure thing, Lizzie,” Don said, the cook sending Ric a dark look. “You take your time out there. I’ll take care of it in here.”

She busied herself folding chairs, and sliding them into stacks. A few more weeks and they’d be able to close the courtyard down for the season. She’d probably grow old working at Kelly’s, she thought with some derision.

The door behind her opened, and Ric stepped out. “I’m not going to make it easy for you to leave me—”

“No, I don’t imagine kidnapping a pregnant woman and keeping her locked in a panic room would be easy, but don’t worry, I still found the door.” Elizabeth folded up another chair.

“You made me promises—”

“You made a few yourself, Ric. And broke every one of them—”

“I would have thought you’d be more understanding. Don’t you have a soft spot for criminals?” Ric bit out.

Elizabeth set the last chair in the stack, then looked at him, her expression stone-faced. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“How many crimes did you overlook for Jason?”

“There it is.” Elizabeth pointed at him. “I knew you’d get around to it eventually. You think I’m stupid, don’t you? You think I’m going to compare your crimes to whatever imaginary thing you think Jason’s done, and talk about how they’re worse. You should know by now. I’m not going to let you use me against Jason. Not ever again.” She started past him.

“I couldn’t use you the last time,” Ric retorted, and she whirled back. “Or don’t you remember how useless you were to me about Jason and Sonny? You didn’t know anything. But I stuck around because I fell in love with you—”

“Oh, how romantic. Can’t believe I’m divorcing you—” She rolled her eyes.

“Jason didn’t trust you, remember? You didn’t know anything. He didn’t trust you, didn’t confide in you, didn’t care about you—”

“None of that was true then or now. But you need it to be.” She tipped her head, saw him grit his teeth. “You, you need me to think the worst of Jason, and I was stupid. Gullible. Hurt. I let you manipulate me, Ric, and I’ll regret it every day of my life. You needed me to be low and sad and isolated because it was the only way I’d ever let you near me. But that’s done now.” She stepped towards him. “Because I see you for who you are now, and all I want is for you to go away.”

“I’m going to prove to you that I love you,” Ric said. He slapped his hand out to stop her from opening the door to Kelly’s. “I’m going to do what Jason never did — fight for you—”

“Do you have any arguments that aren’t about Jason? Still mad that Sonny chose him and not you?” Elizabeth demanded. “This isn’t even about me, is it? You just want to win. I’m never going to trust you again. So stop coming around, and leave me alone—”

“I’m not going anywhere—” Ric had barely managed to get the words out before he suddenly was yanked away from her, and in less than a breath, he was pinned against the brick wall on the other side of the courtyard, the chairs scattering with a clatter.

Jason had him by the neck, his hand squeezing. “Think again, Ric.”

May 2, 2024

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the Flash Fiction: Warning Shots

Written in 59 minutes. Supposed to be two more scenes, lol, but the first scene ended up being 3x as long as I meant it to. Anyway — oh, and I had written February 1999 for the last two parts but it’s set in February 2000.

February 2000

Elizabeth let the front door of the dorm swing shut as she stepped into the lobby, still smiling and a little giddy from just how fast they’d been going—she turned and stopped short when she saw a familiar figure rising to his feet from a chair next to the lobby desk. Behind the desk, Molly made eye contact and just shrugged.

Lucky strode forward, a bouquet of white roses in his arms, his eyes burning with fury — she’d never seen that from him, not directed at her, and Elizabeth found herself taking a step back. “Lucky? What are you doing here?”

“I think I should be the one to ask the questions,” he bit out. He passed a garbage can and dumped the roses inside. She flinched. “Where the hell were you? Where did he take you?”

“I—” Elizabeth looked over her shoulder, then looked back at Lucky. “How did you—”

“Your friend behind the desk was helpful enough to describe the man she saw you leave with,” Lucky retorted, and Elizabeth sent Molly a dirty glance. The other woman pretended to be looking at the ceiling.

“I’m not talking about this here,” Elizabeth said in a low, tight voice, the temporary euphoria from the ride entirely gone. She spun around and stalked towards the door she’d just entered through.

Lucky followed her to a circle of stone benches near the dorm entrance. “I can’t believe you’re acting like you didn’t do anything wrong,” he began, when she turned back to face him. “You don’t get to be mad at me, okay? You’re the one riding off with Jason Morgan—just exactly what did you do with him the other night?”

Elizabeth lifted her brows. “I’m sorry, what are you excusing me of right now? You think Jason—you think Jason Morgan and I are engaged in some torrid little affair? Do you hear yourself?”

“Don’t act like he hasn’t been circling like a goddamn vulture for months, ready to pounce. You come in acting all happy with that stupid smile on your face, and what am I supposed to think?”

“That we love each other, that you trust me—that I would never cheat on you. And my God, Lucky, Jason is—Jason isn’t that kind of guy either—”

“Tell that to Robin. Or AJ. He’s been screwing Carly for years, but I guess he must be bored—”

“Stop it! Stop it! He’s your friend, he gave you a job, a place to live!”

“Is that why you don’t want to sleep with me?” Lucky demanded. “Because you’re getting it from someone else?”

Elizabeth put up her hands, her fingers trembling, and took a step back. “W-What did you just say to me?”

“What do you expect me to think? You won’t move in with me, you don’t spend the night at my place anymore, so I don’t even get to touch you, and then I see you with him all snuggled up on his bike—what, did you think you should get someone with a little experience to make sure you liked it this time?”

As soon as the words left his mouth, even Lucky knew he’d crossed a line because his face went stark white. “That’s not what I meant—”

Her knees buckled, and Elizabeth stumbled backwards until she felt the stone bench and sat. “Did you just—did you just—” She leaned over, pressed a fist to her middle, squeezing her eyes shut. She couldn’t breath. Couldn’t think. Couldn’t do this.

“Just listen, okay? I was mad, and I didn’t think, I’m sorry—I’m sorry—”

“To make sure I liked it this time,” Elizabeth echoed, her voice barely audible even to her own ears. She lifted her eyes to his panicked expression. “Because that was the problem, right? Last time,” she repeated, and now there was some heat in those final words. “Last time, I didn’t like it. So I wanted to find someone who has a reputation, right? That’s what you’re thinking.”

“No, it’s—”

“Damn, Lucky, you caught me. I wanted to make sure it was good this time, so I called Jason, Emily’s older brother, and your employer and landlord, and asked him to come on over and show me how it’s done because last time I got it wrong. Yeah, that’s exactly where I was tonight. Do you want to know how I did it?” she stepped towards him, her hands curled so tightly into fists her nails were digging into her palm. “Where? Or are you worried maybe you won’t measure up?”

Lucky swallowed hard, his Adam’s Apple bobbing as he just stared at her. “You’re taking this all wrong. All I meant—”

“All you meant was you think that what I went through means so little to me, what you and I have is worthless, so as soon as I got mad at you, I decided I was ready after two years of not wanting anyone to touch me, but sure, Lucky, you lie to me, stand me up, humiliate me on Valentine’s Day of all days, and I figure—this is exactly the right time.”

“I realize now,” he said carefully, “that I was just jealous—”

“Jealous of Jason. Who’s done nothing but be kind to you. He gave you a job when we were living under the docks. He gave you a place to live. And, yeah, okay, he’s been nice to me. We’re sort of friends. But you can’t picture that, you can’t conceive that I might just be friends with someone—”

“You looked at at him,” Lucky ground out harshly, and she blinked. “You were looking at him last week, and you were smiling. You think I don’t know what you look like when you’re into someone?”

“At Kelly’s? Over my art project? Are you insane? Are you high? This is—” She pressed her hands to her face. “I can’t believe I’m standing here, listening to you accuse me of cheating on you with Jason. This is—this is a joke, isn’t it? It has to be a joke. Because I smiled at him? I’ve smiled at Nikolas. At Juan—”

“Not like that. Not like you do at me—”

“Well after Jason rocked my world up at Vista Point,” Elizabeth bit out, “he told me that you were lying about Valentine’s Day. About mixing up the dates. That’s why he came to see me. Because he felt bad he didn’t tell me that night. But hey, don’t worry, he warmed me up real good, and I liked it this time.”

“You don’t have to keep talking like that,” Lucky said stiffly. “I said I was sorry—”

“Oh, well, you’re sorry, I guess that fixes everything. You know—” she closed her eyes. “He told me and I wasn’t even surprised. Because I knew it. I knew it. And I was going to let it go because I needed you to love me. I didn’t think I’d survive losing you.”


“But you don’t love me.  You can’t, you just can’t and say these things to me.” She opened her eyes, tears clinging to her lashes. “What I went through, what you know I went through—I could barely let my own grandmother touch me. Accept hugs from my sister. I couldn’t stand for people to look at me. To see me. And the thought of anyone being near me that way, touching me, being inside me—” She pressed a fist to her mouth, her voice breaking. “You know, Lucky. Better than anyone. You were there for my nightmares. For my tears, after every therapy session. I trusted you.”

“You can still trust me—” His voice was soft and he forward, but she slapped his hands away.

“No, no! Because you’re going to act like you did then, and you’re going to say you understand and you’re sorry, and you think I’ll believe you, but you said it! You said it, okay? And you think I threw away everything you and I built, all the trust that I had in you by thinking I’d just sleep with someone I barely know.”

There were tears in his eyes now. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Please don’t hate me. I was just angry, and I wasn’t thinking—”

“I don’t say things like that when I’m angry. I don’t bring up the worst of your fears, your darkest moments—I don’t bring any of that up to hurt you. But that’s all you want to do, isn’t it? You just wanted to hurt me. You wanted me to feel dirty. Just like I did that night. You wanted me to remember. Why? Why did you need to do that to me? Because I was happy? Because I smiled at someone who was nice to me?”

“I know how it sounds, but—”

“You left Kelly’s and you asked Jason for a job out of town. You knew, Lucky. Don’t lie to me. You did it on purpose. You wanted to ruin that night for me. To hurt me. Don’t you see how bad that is? That day—it’s never going to be a good one for me. Because now I’m always going to remember it not just because of Tom Baker, but because of you. Why? Why didn’t you pick any other night to do this to me? Why that night? Why, damn it, I deserve to know!”

“Because—” Lucky looked away, swallowed hard. “Because I wanted you to remember last year, and what I gave you. What I could keep giving you if you just looked at me, if you put me first once in a while. That’s all—”

“What you gave me last year—” Elizabeth just stared. “What is it that you think you gave me, Lucky?”

“I—I promised to love you. That’s what we gave each other—”

“No, you wanted me to remember what you gave me. That’s what you said. Are you—” She narrowed her eyes. “Do you think that you gave me my life back? Is that what you think we did last year? What you’ve been doing for the last two years?”

“You—you said it. That I saved you—a-nd I did that. You told me that all that time—”

“I saved me,” Elizabeth said softly. “I crawled out those bushes, Lucky. I crawled to your voice, yes. But I crawled, me! I’m the one that got out of bed every day and fought back. I did those things, Lucky. You held my hand, you supported me when it was bad, when I didn’t think I could breathe. Yes, those things helped. And yes, maybe I couldn’t have pieced it back together as well without you. But I did those things, Lucky. And you don’t get to stand there and act like being a good person gives you the right to break me down when you’re angry. I smiled at Jason because he’s kind and he listened to me vent because you weren’t there. I smiled at him, and you decided that meant you had to punish me.”

Lucky dragged a hand across his mouth. “Maybe we should—we should just talk about this tomorrow. We’re both upset, and—”

“We don’t need to ever talk again, Lucky. You’ve said everything I needed to hear today. You’ve been angry with me for months, I can see that now. Picking me apart every time I didn’t do something you wanted me to do, and I just let it go, because it’s you, and I love you. I might have kept doing that, Lucky, but you went too far. Because I had the audacity to smile at another man, you punished me by destroying a night that I had just barely begun to reclaim. Thank you. For doing that. For making me see that you don’t love me. You love the broken shadow I spent months trying to fix.”

“You’re not even trying to understand where I’m coming from. Why can’t you even listen to me—”

“Because I don’t have to anymore. You said enough. You think I belong to you. That my smiles and my time and my energy and my body and my love and my soul and everything I worked so hard to give back to myself, and you think they belong to you. I will smile at Jason and any other man I want to. And one day, one day, I hope I meet someone that I love, that loves me, and that I will be able to trust them with my body. Because, despite what you think about me, I’m not sleeping with Jason. And I’m never, in this lifetime, ever going to let you touch me again. I belong to me.”

She lifted her chin. “So go home, and don’t ever come near me again. We are done.”

Lucky exhaled slowly, nodded. “Fine. Fine. I’ll go home, and I’ll wait until you calm down and we can talk about this. In a few days—in a few days, you’ll realize that this is all just a giant misunderstanding. I—I was angry. And I said things I didn’t mean. I was afraid I was losing you, but we’ll—we’ll talk about it later, okay?”

He didn’t wait for her to respond, only turned his back and walked away. Elizabeth sat back on the bench, watched as his figure disappeared around the corner, then wept bitterly, stifling her sobs with her hands.

Jason listened for the sound of a car pulling up outside, then left the office where he’d been waiting for Lucky to come back. He didn’t want to put this off another day, not after tonight.

Lucky trudged in through the door, blinking slightly when he looked up, saw Jason by the door. His expression twisted into a grimace. “What? You went to Elizabeth to screw me over, and now you’re here to yell at me some more?”

“I’m not here to yell at you. I’m giving you thirty days notice as required by law. Find somewhere else to live,” Jason said, leaning his shoulder against the door jamb. “And look for another job. I don’t want you here, and Sonny can’t use either.”

“You can’t—over this?” Lucky demanded. “Because of my girlfriend?”

“Because you’re a liar who has disrespected me more than once. I don’t trust you—”

“You think I trust you? You’ve been sniffing around my girlfriend for months. Maybe she’s too stupid to see it, but I know it—”

“I’m not having this argument, Lucky. You’ve got your eviction notice. It’s in writing, too.” He tossed an envelope at Lucky’s fight. “That’s it—”

“If you’re not after Elizabeth, then why did you even get involved? I saw you with her tonight,” Lucky cut in, his cheeks flushed. “I saw her on your bike, I saw you look at her, and she looked at you—”

Jason straightened. “You were at the dorms tonight? When?”

“Why? Worried I saw something I shouldn’t have?” he sneered.

“Worried you hurt or upset her more than you already have, you little shit.”

“Don’t worry about her. She can take care of herself. And she’ll have to, because if she thinks I’m going to crawl back to her now—”

Jason grabbed Lucky’s arm as he passed by, jerked him back. “What did you did do to her tonight? Did you make it worse?”

Lucky muttered something under his breath, jerked himself out of Jason’s grasp. “Oh, but you’re not after her, are you? When did you start to care so much?”

“I don’t know, Lucky, when did you stop?”

Lucky just rolled his eyes and headed for the back stairs. “Good luck with that bitch. You’ll need it.”

April 29, 2024

This entry is part 11 of 15 in the Flash Fiction: Chain Reaction

Written in 60 minutes.

Morgan Penthouse: Living Room


“That’s the third day this thing has been in the headlines,” Courtney said as Jason came in from the kitchen, a cup of coffee in his hand. “Do they think they can change history or something if they keep mentioning that there’s been no arrests every day?”

Jason grunted, only half-listening. The PCPD always raided the warehouse this time of year, and they never found anything, but Courtney wasn’t used to that kind of thing, he thought. He pulled the desk chair, sat, and reached for invoices. “Something will happen and distract them.”

“I just hope it’s not stressing Carly out,” Courtney said, folding the paper over, then tossing it on the table, missing when Jason’s irritation at the mention of Carly’s name. He’d never noticed it before the last few weeks, but not a single conversation could be had without one or two mentions of either Sonny or Carly.

“I’m sure she’s fine,” Jason said absently, skimming the customs notice from the vendor in Caracas. “She and Sonny aren’t even fighting this week.”

“You came in late last night. I didn’t tell you. It wasn’t a bad one, but Carly threatened to move out this time.”

“She always does that.”

“But—” Courtney made a face. “Anyway, Sonny seemed to calm down when she told him she’d make me manager of The Cellar and go on maternity leave as soon as I learn the ropes, so that’s cool, right?”

“Yeah, great.” Jason reached for a pencil, scratched out a note about the quantity on the invoice.

She narrowed her eyes. “I really love it there, you know. I think I could be good at it. And it’d make a great place for a reception. For the wedding.”

Jason exhaled slowly, looked over at her. “No.”

“You still don’t want to talk about it at all?” she scowled, folded her arms. “It’s been a month, Jason. You promised you’d try—”

He flinched, his fingers tightening around the pencil, then he stared down at the invoices. “I am trying,” he said, though the words felt like a lie even to him. “I told you I’d let you know when I was ready to talk about it.”

“Can you look away from your damn papers long enough to have a conversation with me? Because this is getting ridiculous, Jason. What was the point of you staying if you never talk to me? You don’t want to make plans, you don’t even—” Her lower lip jutted around and her eyes filled. “You don’t even touch me.”

Jason tossed the pencil aside, dragged a hand down the side of his face. “Courtney—”

“Do you know how it feels to know that the last woman you slept with, that you even kissed was her? We’re like roommates that share a bed,” she spat.

He pushed back from the desk, stood, then looked at her, wondering when he’d started to be irritated by how easy it was for her to cry, and how little it bothered him anymore. She could switch it off and on with little warning — and had that always bee true? “Do you want me to have to sex with you to prove a point?” he asked, more harshly than he meant, and her eyes widened. “That’s what you’re complaining about, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s not—I mean, okay, it’s that, but it’s—” She swallowed hard. “It’s all the ways you’re not even here, okay? Why did you even say you’d stay or try if you weren’t going to do either of those things?”

“I—” He grimaced, then nodded. She was right. He hadn’t meant to withdraw or hold himself back — but all of that had always come naturally before it had all gone crazy.  She’d always been the affectionate one, grabbing his arm, hugging him, initiating things. And he’d just let her. He  hadn’t realized that until she’d stopped. How much of their relationship was  just him reacting? He didn’t like the way that felt — that he could be capable of just using someone because they were there. He thought he’d become better than that — better than those days at Jake’s with Carly and not caring about who she was or what she wanted outside of the ten-fifteen minutes in bed.  “I’m sorry,” Jason said finally. “You’re right, and I’m sorry. Maybe—”

“Maybe we just need to start small,” Courtney cut in a rush. “Okay? You probably need to go to the warehouse a-and I need to go see Carly. She’s going to start training me. We—we’ll just meet for lunch, right? At Kelly’s. Noon?”

“Yeah, sure,” Jason said with a sigh, knowing Elizabeth worked closing and that it would be safe enough to head over. He said nothing else as Courtney gathered her things and left in a hurry.

He’d promised Elizabeth three weeks ago at Kelly’s that he’d go home and he’d put everything into this. He’d chosen Courtney, hadn’t he? The life they’d had before Carly’s kidnapping had to mean something. He’d proposed to her—

But then that night, talking to Elizabeth, Jason hadn’t realized just how much had happened in his life in those few months — between Alcazar’s murder, being arrested and put on trial, all the problems Ric had caused — when had he made the decision to spend the rest of his life with Courtney? The more he tried to pinpoint that moment — the more he realized that…he hadn’t.

It made him feel a little sick inside that he’d done that because Carly had brought it up. Courtney fit, Carly said, and Jason agreed. She did fit and it was easy with her. She didn’t push or demand and she didn’t make him feel crazy or like he was a lunatic the way Elizabeth had. So that was love, wasn’t it? She understood and accepted his life. Elizabeth hadn’t—or maybe she would have if he’d trusted her—

Jason shook his head, reached for his coffee, then made a face. It had gone too cold while he’d argued with Courtney. She was right — it wasn’t exactly fair to her that the last woman Jason had shown any physical affection for had been Elizabeth. It had driven Jason crazy to know she’d slept with Zander instead of waiting for him—

His fingers curled around the handle of the cup, his glower would have made some cross the street to get away from him. It did no good to think about those times. All the mistakes. All the pain and turmoil. He’d told Elizabeth he didn’t want her to feel bad about any of those things anymore, but maybe Jason was the one who needed to stop thinking about it.

He didn’t know exactly what to do, but every day he was more and more certain that the answer couldn’t be Courtney. He just didn’t know to fix everything he’d broken by choosing her in the first place.

Kelly’s: Dining Room

Elizabeth flashed a smile at one of her old regulars, then lifted a brow when she saw Nikolas seated at the counter. “Do you live here or something?”

“No, but Mrs. Lansbury retired,” he muttered. “Something about not wanting to cook for one person. Why are you here? Did you switch back?” he called as she headed into the kitchen to stow her purse and tie on her apron.

“I told Mike I wanted some extra shifts. I love my studio, but I think maybe it’s time to invest in a place with a bathroom. And a heating system that doesn’t require a boot to the radiator. I almost have enough for a deposit—” She pointed her pencil at Nikolas. “No.”

“I wasn’t—” He made a face. “You know, I just think that if you accepted a little help—”


“Fine.” Nikolas sighed, pushed his chili around in the bowl. “How’s the closing shift?”

“For the first week, it was okay. But then—” she bit her lip, but she had to tell someone, and Nikolas was the only person she could burden with it. Emily was still too ill and…well, those were her options, she realized with a sigh. “Ric started coming in two weeks ago.”

“The hell—how did he know? Did someone tell him?” Nikolas demanded. His shoulders tensed. “It’s time to talk Cassadine. I know people. Let me call people. I am begging you—”

“He’s an ADA now, Nikolas. Why do you think he’s still breathing?” Elizabeth said. She shook her head. “He’s forcing the divorce to go to court, which is awful honestly. New York’s laws are terrible, did you know that?”

“He’s making you prove the grounds?”

“I filed for cruel and inhumane treatment because just a regular separation would take six months, but I can’t—” She rubbed her forehead. “I don’t know. I need evidence of what he did to me. Of what he did to Carly, and if he can’t be prosecuted—”

“Once again, I know people. Hey, you know people. Why don’t we get our people together and let them solve problems?”

“I have no people. Don’t say things like that.” Elizabeth disappeared to check on tables and take orders. When she had a minute she returned to Nikolas scooping up the rest of his chili. “How are you, anyway? Have you been to see Emily?”

“If this is your idea of changing the topic to a happier one, I gotta say, you suck at it.” When she just arched a brow, he sighed. “It’s going. I know they’re moving into Brenda’s old place. I hope things work out for them, I do.”

“You absolutely do not.”

“I don’t, and I hope he cuts himself on a rusty nail and trips into a table saw,” Nikolas muttered. She smiled at that, and he sighed. “I’m okay. I’m keeping busy. It’s just—she had this stupid idea to make us pretend to be something. I started pretending, only now it’s not pretending and there’s no where for it to go.”  He looked at her. “You know how it is.”

“Nope. Not talking about it.” She lifted a stack of utensils, then grimaced when she saw the door open again. “Speaking of people who always seem to know when I work, she’s early today.”

Nikolas twisted on the stool, saw Courtney taking a table near the front, choosing the seat with her back to the counter. “She’s still coming in during your shifts?”

“Dinner the last few weeks, and always in my section. This keeps up, I’m going to wish I did have people.” Elizabeth grabbed the pitcher of water.

“If you’re going to dump that on her, give me warning. I want to watch—”

“Stop it, I’m not in high school anymore. But if I feel the need to trip—”

She carried the pitcher to Courtney’s table, pasted the smile on her face as she reached for the empty water cup. “You’re early today. Do you still want your usual?”

“No, no, I want something lighter for lunch. You better pour two—” Courtney’s face lit up when she heard the door jingle behind her. Elizabeth straightened, then turned to look at Jason, standing less than two feet from her.

Because of course it was Jason.

Jason stared at Elizabeth for a long minute, her eyes wide, fingers gripping the handle of the plastic pitcher of water, before looking at Courtney who seemed preoccupied with a menu that hadn’t changed since Ruby had started running the place.

“You’re right on time. I love how punctual you are. I was just telling Elizabeth there’d be two of us, so—” Courtney looked at Elizabeth, her brows lifted expectantly.

Elizabeth squinted slightly, the water pitcher twitching just slightly in her  hand, and Jason could almost see her thinking if it was worth the effort. Then she smiled, one of her broad fake ones.

“Sure. No problem. Let me get your water, and then I’ll take your orders.” She flipped over the cup at the other place setting, filled it. “Courtney doesn’t want her usual, so I’ll come back when you’re ready—”

“I’m ready.” Courtney handed her the menu. “Just the fruit salad. You know, I’ve got to watch my weight.”

“Yeah,” Elizabeth said sourly. “Wouldn’t want the wedding dress to split the wrong way when you’re walking down the aisle. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” She headed behind the counter where Nikolas was watching them.

Jason sat down, glared hard at Courtney who just stared at him. “You knew she’d be here.”

“She’s always here,” Courtney said, avoiding his eyes, ripping off the end of her straw. “What’s your point?”

“You knew she’d be here so you made me come here—”

“I made you come here—”

“And I told you not to talk about—”

“I didn’t,” Courtney bit out. “That was your little—” She pressed her lips together, carefully arranged the utensils, her fingers slightly shaking. “You can’t even be in the same room with her, can you? I—”

“Stop talking,” Jason said flatly when Elizabeth approached, her order pad in hand. “I’m not having anything,” he said.


“I have to get back to work soon. Change of plans. Sorry.”

Courtney glared at him, then looked at Elizabeth. “Then you might as well do the usual. And I’ll take it to go.”

“Sounds great.” Elizabeth shoved the order pad in her apron and stalked back to the counter.

“I forgave you, and this is how you treat me—” Courtney demanded.

“Did you?” Jason asked, leaning in. “Did you forgive me? Because this—” He gestured to the table between them. “Staging this? This isn’t someone who’s forgiven anything. And I didn’t—” He stopped himself before he said something he couldn’t take back.

Courtney’s lip quivered. “Didn’t what? No. Finish it. Say what you want to say.”

“What did you think was going to happen, Courtney? I’d show up, and she’d look miserable, and maybe you’d shove the ring in her face again—”

“Defending her. Of course. She gets to come out of this smelling like roses. You know, Carly always told me—”

Jason’s hand hit the table harder than he meant, and she jumped. The table behind them looked over with curiosity, but Jason didn’t care. “Do you ever talk about anything else?” he demanded.

Courtney’s eyes were wide and the hurt in them was genuine. He exhaled slowly, sat back. He hated every inch of this. Every minute he was in this room, in this situation. Was this what being happy was supposed to look like? Is this who he wanted to be?

“Oh my God!”

The shriek came from behind the counter, from a familiar voice, and Jason was on his feet, halfway across the diner before he even realized what he was doing. Elizabeth was on the phone, tears on her cheeks, but she was smiling.

“Oh my God! You’re kidding? Em, that’s—Oh, wait, wait—Jason’s here. Do you—” She held out the phone to him, her eyes shining. “She has the best news and you should get to hear it from her?”

Jason came around the counter, plucked the phone from Elizabeth’s hands. “Em?”

“Jason, hey! I’m sorry. I’d do this in person but you know I can’t be around crowds. Not yet anyway. But I just found out—I’m in remission!”

Remission. Was there a better word in the English language? “That’s amazing, Emily. The best news I’ve had all day.”

“I have to go, Mom’s here. I wanted you and Elizabeth to be the first to know, and aren’t I lucky to find you in the same place.”

Jason shook his head, but hung up the phone, looked over to see Elizabeth clinging to a relieved Nikolas. She was crying, but laughing, and he just wanted to be the one holding her. The one celebrating with her.

But he’d made that impossible. He’d done something unforgiveable, something unbelievably stupid, and he didn’t even know if he could take it back, if he could fix it.

Elizabeth pulled away from Nikolas, swiping the tears from her face. She just beamed at Jason. “This is literally the best thing that’s happened to me in weeks—remission! Can you believe it? Just a month ago—” She broke off as their eyes met. “A month ago, it was all so different, you know?”

“Yeah, I know.” He looked across the diner. Courtney had stood up, was glaring at them, and the rest of the diners were just as interested. “You’d better cancel that order. We’re not staying.”


“And I’m sorry. For all of it. For everything. Just—I’m sorry.”

Jason returned to the table, leaving Elizabeth and Nikolas behind him. “We’re leaving—”

“But—” She lifted her chin. “You have no right to act like wronged party,” she hissed. “I’m the one that got cheated on—”

“You’re right,” Jason said simply. He picked up her purse, put in her hands, and took her by the elbow. He led her into the courtyard, and she was too shocked to protest until they were outside. “I made promises to you, and I broke them. And you forgave me. But I never asked you to. That’s what I was going to say inside. I didn’t ask to be forgiven. Because I’m not sorry.”

April 28, 2024

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the Flash Fiction: Warning Shots

Written in 63 minutes.

February 1999

When the girl behind the desk had told him that the dorm didn’t allow any male visitors after eight, Jason figured maybe they could talk about it in the lobby. There were seating areas, and well, it wasn’t that complicated. He’d tell her Lucky was absolutely lying about the dates and that he’d asked for the job to go out of town. Jason would apologize for not making it clearer the other night, and then he’d leave her to figure out the next step.

But while he waited for her to come downstairs, he wandered the area looking for some place where he could tell her this, thinking of how sad she’d been that night. She wouldn’t want people staring at her or maybe eavesdropping—not after Emily had talked about Elizabeth sitting in this lobby, all dressed up, waiting for the jackass to pick her up.

By the time Elizabeth stepped off the elevator, Jason had reluctantly concluded that they probably couldn’t have this conversation in here. Maybe there was a bench or somewhere nearby. She’d suggested someplace close off campus, and he knew Kelly’s wasn’t too far. That seemed safe. He’d handed her the helmet, reminded himself to go easy. She’d never been on a motorcycle before, she’d related to him as she fastened the strap beneath her chin.

He went the speed limit for the first few minutes, but then he went into a turn a bit faster than he should have and the bike leaned to the right just a little, and he heard her laugh, her hands tightening around his waist. He sped up a little bit, taking the next turn even faster, trying to see if it was just surprise or if—

But no, she was still laughing, and she quickly learned to lean into the turns—and for some reason, instead of taking the road that led to Elm Street and the waterfront, Jason took the other one, winding up through the hills around the lake, towards Vista Point. There were more turns and chances to pick up speed. January had been icy and snow — he hadn’t really been able to get up here in a while.

When he finally pulled the bike to a stop in the parking lot, switched off the engine, Elizabeth was still laughing. She stumbled off the bike, tugged off the helmet. “Oh my God! You’re absolutely crazy! That was so fast! Everything was blurring past and the wind was rushing past—the roar in my ears! You can’t even think straight—”

“That’s why I like it,” Jason said. He parked the bike, setting the stand down. “So I didn’t go too fast?”

“No, no! I mean, well, yes, but not in a bad way—I didn’t even know it would be like that—every single turn, it was like the road got closer and closer but I never thought we’d fall, like I could always tell you were in complete control—” the words tumbled from her almost in a rush, falling over each other, and her eyes were bright and sparkling. The way they’d been that day in the airport and last week at Kelly’s when talking about her art project.

It was a relief to see it, but he also knew he might be the reason all of that faded, and he nearly changed his mind. But he’d promised his sister—and Elizabeth deserved the truth.

“I went a little further and faster than I would have normally,” Jason said. “I was going to Kelly’s, but well, it’s been a while since I’ve been up here, or had someone on the bike that might appreciate the ride. It helps when things aren’t…good.”

She bit her lip, then handed him the helmet. “You said you had to talk to me about something. I’m guessing it’s Lucky?”

“Yeah.” He stowed the helmet back on the bike, gestured towards the observation deck where there were benches. “Let’s, uh, go sit. If you’re not too cold.”

“No, I’m fine.” She followed him over to a wooden bench on the second level of the deck, and they sat down. “Did he tell you it was a mistake? He tried to call, but my cell phone is awful. I knew that—”

“I don’t know if he tried to call you,” Jason interrupted. “Maybe that part is true, but Elizabeth—he knew the dates on Friday. I confirmed them with him.”

She stared at him for a long moment, then shook her head. “No, no, because he said—”

“I should have made it clearer on Tuesday, I’m sorry. But I’ve been trying to stay out of this. It’s none of my business,” Jason continued, and she sighed, looked at her hands. She wasn’t wearing any gloves, he realized. “But at some point, staying out if it is the wrong thing to do. Especially when Lucky’s using me to hurt you.”


“He asked for the job. To go out of town. He asked for it that day I saw you at Kelly’s. He wanted to get out of town for a few days. Then I told him about the run, and confirmed it on that Friday. I told him it would be until the sixteenth. I didn’t think about—I didn’t think about the holiday. I don’t think about that kind of thing anymore,” he added.  “He knew that morning when he talked to you. Maybe he tried to call you later — only he knows that for sure. ”

She closed her eyes, the dark lashes stark against her pale skin. “He knew.”

“Yes. He was angry that day that you’d talked to me about your project. I don’t know why—” He was skirting the edge there. He did know that Lucky had seemed jealous, that he’d made some remarks in that direction. But Elizabeth didn’t need to know that in addition to everything else Lucky didn’t seem to trust her either.

“You know…” She opened her eyes, looked at him. “I knew that. That he was lying about the message. He never calls that cell phone.”

Jason squinted. “But Emily said—”

“I wanted to believe him. I needed to believe him. And if you tell the lie enough, even to yourself, you can make it the truth.” Her voice shook slightly on the last words. “But he did it on purpose. ”


“Why? W-What did I do to make him want to hurt me like that?”


“I had to have done something—” A tear slid down her cheek and she brushed at it impatiently. “You said he was mad I talked to you about my project? I don’t understand. It’s—you were just being nice to me. Why does he care about any of that?”


“I just don’t get it. It can’t be that. I must have done something else—”

“You didn’t do anything,” Jason said, almost too harshly, and she looked at him, startled. “You can’t make someone hurt you, Elizabeth.”

“But I hurt him in some way, and if I can just figure it out, I can fix it so I never do it again, and it’ll all go back to the way it used to be—” She shot up from the bench, paced to the end of the deck, looked out over the blackness of the lake. “I’ll just think about what I did, and —”

“Why are you taking this on?” Jason followed her, frustrated that she wasn’t reacting the way he expected. Why wasn’t she furious that Lucky had done this to her? The little bastard had set her up to be humiliated and was lying about it— “Why are you making this your fault? Do you hear yourself?”

Her lower lip quivered, and she squeezed her eyes shut. Now he felt like the jackass, and he was reminded why he stayed out of things. None of this was his business. He was just going to tell her what he knew and step out to let her handle it.

But now he realized the little bastard was going to get away with it, and he’d learn nothing from the whole thing. He’d just do worse the next time, and Jason didn’t think he could stand to watch Lucky hurt her one more time. Not when she always seemed to end up at the garage, looking at him with those eyes, trying to understand why it was happening at all.

“I—it has to be my fault,” she managed finally. She folded her arms, almost protectively around her torso. “Because if it’s my fault I can fix it. If it’s his…then I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”

He bit back the obvious answer of dumping the asshole and finding someone who wouldn’t make her cry, because she wasn’t ready to hear that. “Why do you have to do anything except confront him and make him tell you the truth?”

“I need it to be a mistake,” she said softly. “Because you can forgive a mistake, you know? But…how do you forgive something like this?”

“You don’t—”

“But he loves me.” Her voice was small now, almost lost on the bitter air swirling around them. “He’s the only person who ever has.”

“That’s not true—” He couldn’t believe that. Wouldn’t.

“No, no—” She put up her hands. “Okay, you just don’t understand, okay?” She spoke fast now, like before, only it wasn’t excitement making her words fall into each other, but desperation. “Okay, you don’t know what it’s like to walk through your whole life knowing you’re just being tolerated. That people love you despite your flaws, to constantly know you’re a burden and an obligation. My mother didn’t want me — I was an accident, and she had to give up this fellowship—I was never worth it to her, I could tell. I just confused my father, Steven and Sarah were always embarrassed by me, and my grandmother had to put up with me because I showed up on her front step. Lucky’s different. He didn’t have to love me, but he did, and I don’t know if anyone else ever will. So you don’t understand what that feels like, okay? Don’t stand there and judge me because I can’t—” She broke off, pressed her hands against her mouth and started to walk away, maybe back towards the parking lot.

“Maybe I don’t know what that feels like,” Jason said, “but I know what it feels like when people who are supposed to love you look at you like you’re damaged. Stupid.”

She stopped at the steps to the upper deck, turned around to look at him. “What?”

“The Quartermaines. After the accident. They were always looking at me to be someone else. Who I was, who I wanted to be was never good enough for them. They tried to control me, force me into making the choices they wanted, and when they realized I was never going to fit the mold they’d made for me, they gave up. So maybe that’s not the same thing, but it’s not that different.”

Elizabeth took a step back towards him. “No, I guess it’s not.”

“It’s—it’s better now,” Jason said, almost not sure why he was telling her any of this. But he did understand a little bit about expectations and obligations, and not fitting in with the people who were supposed to be your family. “Emily and my grandmother. Monica. Sometimes Alan. I didn’t understand them back then. They weren’t my family, and I didn’t love them. But it made me angry and everything after the accident was harder than it has to be. I could have tried to fit what they wanted me to be. But I left. I had to figure it out for myself. I learned what love was from Robin and Sonny. Emily and Lila. They taught me what it was to be a family, to love someone else. And Michael—”

His voice was a bit rough now, and he wanted to stop, but something had opened up inside of him, and he didn’t know to stop it. “I know what it’s like now to love someone more than I loved myself. To destroy your world to keep them. I did that. I hurt Robin so I could keep Michael, and now I don’t have either of them. So, yeah, maybe I do understand why you need Lucky to just be making a mistake. Because if he’s choosing to hurt you, how can he love you? And who are you if he doesn’t love you anymore?”

They stood there for what felt like an eternity, Jason’s words lingering between them. Elizabeth didn’t even realize how little he’d always talked before — he’d never really spoken about himself. It had always been her dumping on him, she realized. And now — maybe he did understand in his own way why all of this was so hard.

“A few months ago,” Elizabeth said softly, “it all felt perfect, you know? We had to change our plans and stay in Port Charles, but I thought we agreed. I thought we were a team. But now it’s like he’s a different person. Or maybe I am. Maybe I’m the one that changed. He said that since I started college, I don’t make time for him, for us—”

“And that’s just more bullshit he’s feeding you,” Jason bit out, and she realized now he was really pissed off.  “Because Robin went further away to college. There were weeks and months I didn’t see her, but I never gave her any shit for that. For not being able to talk to her every day. She’s going to be a doctor, and I wanted that for her. When you love someone, you support what makes them happy. Especially when it doesn’t cost you anything to just be happy for them. Being away from her wasn’t fun, but it made being together even better. That’s what love is. Showing up for each other when you can and understanding when you can’t. So what if you got a little preoccupied with your classes and having fun at school. You were happy. I don’t even know you, and I could see that. Why couldn’t he?”

Elizabeth smiled faintly, looked away. “You don’t even know me, and you’re standing in the freezing cold arguing with me because my boyfriend’s an idiot—”

“Not an idiot. Idiots can’t control how stupid they are. Lucky’s an asshole. There’s a difference.”

She laughed at that, then pressed her hands against her mouth again, startled by it. Her tears were freezing against her skin. “Okay, well, I stand corrected. You’re arguing with me because my boyfriend’s an asshole. My point still stands.”

“What was your point?”

“I don’t know. I think I lost it somewhere. What am I supposed to do, Jason? You’re angry and I don’t know why—”

“I’m angry—” He shook his head. “It’s not your problem that I’m angry.”

“But you are, and if I caused it—”

“There you go again,” Jason said, stalking past her towards the steps. “Blaming yourself for how someone else feels. I’m mad because I knew Lucky was treating you like garbage months ago, and I said nothing to you. I knew he’d asked for that job, and I didn’t tell you that. I don’t know what telling would have solved, but maybe I’d feel less…responsible for any of it. And I’m mad I didn’t knock his teeth down his throat for the way he talks about you when you’re not around.”

“How—” She cleared her throat, tried to force the words out because the pain of that statement stole her breath. “How does he talk about me when I’m not there?”

“I—” He grimaced, shook his head. “Not like I’d ever talk about someone I loved. I shouldn’t have said anything—”

“We’re friends, aren’t we? Friends stand in the freezing cold, mad because their friend is being stubborn,” Elizabeth said. “I mean, unless you’re really mad that you’re involved and you resent being here. Because if that’s how you feel, fine. You can just drop it and take me home. Because I’m starting to get really pissed off, too. You’re acting like I asked for any of this, okay? I didn’t ask you to hire Lucky, or for him to constantly screw with me so I end up at your garage, and I always try to leave, but you’re the one who makes me stay to miss the bus—so if you don’t want to be my friend, then fine. But—” She broke off when she realized he was smiling. “What? What are you smiling about?”

“So you can get angry. I was wondering.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Don’t act like you planned that. Because you’re annoying, but you’re not calculating.”

He lifted his brows. “I’m annoying?” he repeated. “How do you figure?”

“Because—you just—” Elizabeth threw up her hands. “I don’t know. You act like you’ve got it all together, and then you tell me all that stuff, and I was listening, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to say because you’re right about all of it. Loving someone to the point that you destroy who you are to make them happy or to keep them is stupid, and I just—I don’t want that to be me. I don’t want to be one of those dumb girls who give up everything for their boyfriend, but I think that’s who I’m starting to be. And you’re annoying because you didn’t just drop the whole thing in the beginning so I had to think about all of it.”

“Oh. Well, that explains it,” Jason said, but the corner his mouth was curved up in a half-smile, suggesting it hadn’t explained anything. “Look—I’m sorry. I really didn’t plan to make you mad. It just happened. It’s just—you were talking about how you needed to fix things. And—you know, you shouldn’t have to work harder to earn someone’s respect when they’re already not treating you the way you deserve. You know that, don’t you?”

“I know you’re right. I know it. I just don’t know what to do with any of it. It’s too big, it’s too awful,” she admitted. “It’s too much.” She looked back at him, smiled. “I appreciate you breaking your I don’t get involved rule, even though I know this is the last thing you wanted to do on a Sunday.”

Jason shrugged. “It’s fine. I haven’t been out here in a while or had anyone on the bike who seemed to like going fast.”

“Well, I did like those,” she confessed. “Can…is that as fast as you can go, or—” When his mouth curved into a full smile, her stomach fluttered.

“Only one way to find out.”

Jason coasted the bike to a stop in front of her dorm, and Elizabeth almost tumbled off the bike, stumbling. She was laughing again, trying to get the helmet unfastened, but her fingers were shaking. He  brushed them aside, undid the snap and pulled off the helmet.

“I think I’m actually dizzy,” Elizabeth said, the words breathy, punctuated with the giggles. She combed her fingers through her wild hair. “That was insane — how do you not get pulled over for speeding or-or reckless driving?”

“I’m faster than the cops,” Jason said, folding his arms. “So was  that as fast as you wanted it to be?”

“Don’t tell me you can go—” Her eyes were wide, and she bit her lips. “No, I’m not asking. I’m not. Because I really do have a test tomorrow, but that was the best time I’ve had in…forever.” She grinned at him. “Thank you.”

“Anytime,” Jason said. He leaned against the bike. “I mean that.”

“Good night.” Elizabeth headed for her door, then turned back when she was half inside the door, waved and smiled at him one more time, and went inside.

April 27, 2024

This entry is part 10 of 15 in the Flash Fiction: Chain Reaction

Written in 75 minutes. Sorry. Ran over.

Kelly’s: Dining Room

Jason flipped the white ceramic cup over, resting it right side up on the matching saucer. “Can I—”

“Yeah. Yeah.” Elizabeth cleared her throat, went to the hot plate. “There should be enough for another cup. Unless—I could brew it fresh. I don’t know how long it’s been sitting—”

“I know you’re getting ready to close. Whatever’s in the pot is fine.”

So careful with each other, not making eye contact now, she thought. She lifted the carafe, brought it over to the counter. There was just enough to fill the cup.

Behind him, one of the two final customers tossed some money on the table, and Elizabeth grabbed the green tub. She busied herself bussing the table, and then the last customer, as if realizing the time, decided to take their milkshake in a to go cup.

Within a few minutes, it was just the cook in the back, Elizabeth, and Jason — pretending to drink his coffee. She bit her lip, watched him keep his eyes on the counter, then went into the kitchen. “Hey, Don. Why don’t you finish clearing down and head home? I can close. It’s just Jason, and you know he’s good.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. Trust me. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She returned to the dining room, went behind the counter. “Did you come here for a reason or is this just an accident?”

Jason lifted his head finally, looked at her. “Both,” he said finally. His voice sounded a bit rusty. He straightened, rubbed his throat. “I came here because I needed to get out. And I thought you were working the opening shift.”

“I switched to closing. Needed a change.” From the kitchen, Don called out his goodbye, and she heard the back door open, then close.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have stayed—” Jason reached for his wallet, but she  held up her hand.

“It’s three-hour old coffee and you didn’t even touch it. I think we can spot you this one time.”

He exhaled slowly, then brought his hand back to the counter. “Then let me help you close up.”

“I’m not going to turn that down,” Elizabeth said. “I’ll clean the tables, you put the chairs up?”

“Sounds like a plan.” Jason slid off the stool, and she went into the kitchen to get the rag to wipe down the tables.

They made quick work of most of the room, until there were only two tables left. Jason turned the wrong way and they crashed into each other. He brought his hands up to her shoulders to steady her, then just left them there a moment too long. Snatched them back.

“I’m sorry—”

“Stop apologizing,” she said abruptly. Then sighed. She sat down at one of the tables they hadn’t cleaned yet. “Stop apologizing,” Elizabeth said, looking up at him. “You get to come in for coffee, okay? And it’s not like you grabbed me or—we’re not doing anything wrong.”

Jason sat in the other chair, picked up a leftover straw wrapper, began to shred it into smaller pieces. “I’m doing everything wrong,” he muttered more to himself. “I’m hurting everyone and I don’t even know if I’m doing the right thing.”

“The right thing,” Elizabeth echoed. She smiled faintly. “What does that even mean? Who decides it?”

Now he smiled, and it looked almost genuine. “I was asking myself that question a few days ago. I wish I knew.” He looked past her, towards the brick wall behind the tables. “I know Courtney was in here yesterday. If she said something about a wedding, it’s not happening.”

“Jason, you don’t owe me any explanations—”

“Yeah, I do. Maybe I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time.” He rested one arm on the table, and with the other hand pushed around the little pile of shredded straw paper he’d created. “But I know that I don’t get to—I don’t get to do what I did last week, say the things I did, and then let you walk around thinking I’m getting married anyway like none of it mattered.”

She let those words settle inside of her, soothing her. “I’d be lying if I told you that…I don’t know. If it’s not like hearing her talk about it made me cry myself to sleep or anything. I knew you were engaged. People generally get married when they’re engaged. Most of the time anyway. And plenty of people get married after they have affairs.”

His mouth tightened, but he didn’t argue with the label. He couldn’t.  “Well, I’m not. I told her that. She was telling you, asking Emily to be the bridesmaid, planning it with Carly—to make Carly happy,” he said almost bitterly. “I told her no, and she didn’t—” Jason broke off, shook his head. “This isn’t what I came here to do. I just…I need to get out.” He looked back at her. “I don’t know what I’m doing. How am I supposed to go back to what I was doing before? Pretend it didn’t happen? But—”

“But there’s that whole other part where you were happy with her, and you have a right, Jason, to make sure you’re not just…hitting a bump in the road.” Elizabeth picked at the ragged edge of her nail. “I don’t really know what I’m doing here either. There’s not a handbook for being the other woman—”

“You’re not—”

“I am,” she said gently, and he just shook his head. “Two years ago, Jason, you were the other guy, and I was sitting on your side of the table. Neither of us particularly wanted to be in that position. And I’m trying—” Her voice trembled just a little. “I’m trying to be the friend you were to me. It’s harder than I thought it would be, you know? How did you do it? How did you always put me first when I was hurting you?”

“You were hurting yourself more,” Jason said, his eyes gentle. “I always knew that.”

“But you never pressured me. You’d argue, but you’d stop when you realized I was like a brick wall, and I never ever felt like you were pushing me to make a choice. Or make a change. I knew you were disappointed, hurt, but I never felt like you were giving me ultimatums—” The corner of her mouth curved up. “Maybe you can give me some tips. How do I be that person for you?”

“I knew you were getting it enough pressure from everyone else,” Jason said. “Everyone wanted you to be something different, and you were being pulled in so many different directions. I didn’t want to be one more person you had to make happy. I didn’t want to be the reason you were hurting.”

Pulled in so many directions. She tipped her head. “It’s kind of crazy how we’re sitting here in exactly the same place now. I don’t want to be someone you have to take care of, Jason. Whose feelings you have to manage. I want to be your friend. The rest of it—everything else, I don’t know. I guess we missed our moment, and I’ll live with that regret for the rest of my life—I made so many wrong turns. You need to know I regret how I left last year. The things I said that night, and God—” She winced. “Defending Ric — it was just a parade of absolutely terrible decisions—”

“It’s not like I was much better,” Jason said, and she frowned. “I married Brenda three weeks after you walked out the door,” he told her. “That was pretty stupid.”

“I know you stayed married later because of the trial, but—” She furrowed her brow. “Why did you do it in the first place? Did—I mean, you went all the way to Vegas, so it couldn’t have been a drunken impulse?”

“At least that might have made sense.” Jason rubbed the back of his neck. “She wanted someone to take care of her when her disease took over. And she said if I didn’t, she’d break up Sonny and Carly’s marriage. I knew if anyone could, it’d be Brenda. I needed Sonny focused with Alcazar in the picture, so…I did it.”

Her throat tightened. “Why is it your job to save their marriage?” she asked softly.

Jason didn’t answer for a long moment, and she thought maybe he wouldn’t. But finally, his eyes on the table, he did. “I don’t know. It wasn’t always like this. I didn’t…I wasn’t like this before. I had a life of my own.”

“Do you have one now?” she asked.

Wasn’t that the question of the day? Did he have a life of his own now? Jason focused all his attention on the paper shreds he’d continued to rip apart until they couldn’t be divided anymore.

“I don’t know,” Jason said finally. “When you left,” he said, then looked up at her. “You told me that I was Sonny’s enforcer. First, last, and —”

“Always,” she finished. “I regret that—”

“You said you hoped it would be enough,” Jason cut in. “I didn’t want to believe that you were right. It hadn’t been true before, you know. I’d—I’d made time for you before. And for Emily, and my grandmother. I had Robin and Michael. My life was mine. I worked hard to have control of it. I didn’t blindly follow Sonny’s orders. Ever.”

“I’m sorry—”

“But I followed that order,” Jason interrupted again, “and you were leaving. And I wanted it not to be true, but then Brenda happened, and I knew that was for Sonny and Carly. I justified it in my head as trying to keep him focused on Alcazar, but it wasn’t just that. And then, you know, Courtney happened. I don’t know how or why, really.” He rubbed his forehead. “It came out nowhere. Maybe we were lonely, and it wasn’t complicated. She didn’t ask for a lot. Or argue. Or—”  He broke off, looked at Elizabeth again. “I know how that sounds. That I started things with her because she was easy. But it’s the truth, and I’m not going to lie to you.”

“I wasn’t—”

“I don’t even know if it was going to go anywhere,” he continued, because now the words were there, and they were pouring out of him. “Sonny found out and he said—he told me it had to be over. He ordered me to break up with her—and I just—if I did that, if I did that, even if I wanted to, well, you’d be right. I’d be just blindly following orders. And I refused, and then it just kept getting away from me. Every time I turned around, it was one more thing. It never seemed to stop. Ric was there, things were out of control. He hurt Carly, and went after Courtney, and then we found out he was Sonny’s brother, and then there was a moment to breathe, but Carly said you know, maybe I should marry Courtney because she’d been through so much and she’d stuck with me, and she made me happy, and she fit—so I went and I bought a ring, and I asked her, and then it was planned, and then Carly was kidnapped. It just…it never stopped.”

But now he  was stopping, and he finally looked at Elizabeth, her eyes wide. “I’m sorry. That’s—that’s not what you asked.”

“I don’t even remember the question. But I get it, Jason. You keep putting one foot in front of the other, making decisions in the minute, and not thinking about the big picture, and then you look up one day, and the world around you has changed and you didn’t even see it coming. The Cassadine stuff — that felt like that,” she told him. “I wasn’t really doing that great after I backed out of the Face of Deception. You’d left, and I thought — well I’d picked Lucky, so I had throw my whole self into it, and he proposed, and I said yes, and then the brainwashing was back, and God it was so bad. The next thing I knew, Nikolas was explaining why I had to fake my death, so I did it, and then I was standing at the altar and Lucky didn’t love me anymore. There was this car accident, and Lucky and Sarah were lying to me—and I just woke up and I realized I didn’t know who I was anymore. I didn’t know who I wanted to be. And I didn’t start making better choices,” Elizabeth added almost ruefully. “We don’t have to talk about how stupid Zander was. I didn’t want to take orders from anyone ever again, so I picked the absolute dumbest hill to die on, and I didn’t trust you enough, and Ric—” She looked away, towards the front of the diner, her eyes distant. “I got out of the hospital and I realized I’d burned my life to the ground and I didn’t really know what was left.”

Neither of them said anything for a long moment — the words had simply flowed the way they always had. He’d always been able to talk to her, and it seemed insane that it was still true.

“I have Emily, and Nikolas, I guess,” Elizabeth said. Their eyes met. “But I don’t get to keep you now. Because of what we did.”

He wanted to argue with her. That they could still be friends. They’d managed it two years ago, hadn’t they? But two years ago, he hadn’t kissed her. This time, they’d gone too far over that line to go back.

“I know I shouldn’t be here. We shouldn’t be having this conversation,” Jason said slowly. “And maybe you’re right. Maybe I don’t owe you reassurance that I’m not marrying Courtney in a month. I just—I’m trying really hard not to hurt anyone, but I’m hurting everybody, and I don’t know how to stop. If I do what I want—” He stopped, swallowed hard. “Everything falls apart. And if I do what’s right—” he stopped. He didn’t want to finish that sentence, even though leaving the words unspoken didn’t leave them any less unformed in his mind.

“I can’t tell you what to do,” she said. “Because you’re the one that has to live with your choice. It used to drive me crazy, you know, that you didn’t kiss me two years ago.” She rested her hand on her fist, smiled. “I thought, God, if you’d just leaned in a little bit, and kissed me, I could have kissed you back, and it would have been so different. But you couldn’t. It had to be my choice. Because it was my world that would be broken by it. And if I couldn’t make that choice—it wouldn’t have made it any easier if you’d pushed me over the edge.”

“It wasn’t exactly easy,” Jason said, and her smile deepened. “I wanted to. But I knew I wasn’t staying in Port Charles. If I kissed you, forced you to really see what was there, the only way to do it—you’d have to go with me. I tried, but, well, I knew you’d say no.”

“What happens,” she asked, softly, “if you do what you want? What falls apart?” Their eyes held for a moment, and he didn’t answer right away. Because maybe they both understood that what he wanted was her.

“I don’t know,” he said finally. “It’s the not knowing that’s…stopping me. But there’s…I don’t want Sonny and Carly to be the first thing I think about when I wake up,” he said suddenly. “Did they get into a fight since I spoke to them? Is Sonny going to have a good day? Is Michael going to keep being put in the middle? How many times am I going to find him curled up in a ball, pretending he doesn’t hear them screaming at each other?”

She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “And there it is. Michael. That’s why you don’t let Sonny and Carly destroy each other. Because you still love him the way you did when he was a baby. Like a father. You’ve put him first. You want to protect his world. Make sure nothing can hurt him until he’s old enough, strong enough to defend himself.”

Jason shook his head. “Michael’s not my son. I know that—”

“Oh, okay, well, then I’m glad you cleared that up. I guess you can stop loving him then. Is that how it works?”

“No. No, it’s not.” His phone rang  and he pulled it out, looked at the screen. Courtney. He grimaced, pressed the button to silence it, the left it on the table.

“If you’re the only thing keeping Sonny and Carly together, is that any kind of life for any of them?” she asked. “Are you actually doing them any favors patching them up for the next time?”

“No. But it’s not just—” Jason made a face. “Sonny isn’t just Sonny. He’s Sonny Corinthos. He’s been…not doing well,” he said finally because he’d never told Elizabeth about the darkness that swirled inside of Sonny. The rages, the blackouts. And he didn’t want to burden her with that. “When he’s like this, he’s unfocused. He’s been like this off and on since last year with Luis Alcazar, then Ric, and now Lorenzo Alcazar—”

“You’re afraid of what he might do,” Elizabeth said.

“I thought about just leaving,” Jason confessed. Her lips parted in surprise. “Like before. Just getting on my bike and never looking back. But there are people depending on Sonny keeping himself together. I can’t leave them. Not like this.”

The phone rang again, and he sighed.

“You should probably go,” Elizabeth said, leaning back in her chair.

“I know. I shouldn’t have stayed. I just—you’re not part of any of that,” he said finally. “I needed to breathe. I needed to—I needed to think about all the reasons I can’t make changes. Not right now,” he added, more for himself. More as a reassurance that maybe he could one day. He looked at her. “But I shouldn’t have made you sit through all of that. It’s not fair to you.”

“I decide what’s fair to me,” Elizabeth said, and now she was smirking.

Startled, he let out a half laugh. “Did you memorize everything I’ve said to you?”

“Everything that matters,” Elizabeth said. “I don’t want you to worry about hurting me, Jason. I can take care of myself. I’ve hurt you, haven’t I?”

“Yes, but I don’t—” He shook his head. “I don’t want you to think about that anymore. To feel bad about this last year. Or two years ago. Or two weeks ago,” he added. “We did what we did. I’m not sorry it happened,” he said, and her eyes widened slightly. “I should be. It would be easier if I was. But I’m not.”

“Me, either,” Elizabeth said. “Listen, I know what happened that night — technically it was wrong. But Courtney chose to forgive you. I know how you can get. You feel guilty because you’re not sorry. And that guilt? It can drown you, and make you do things that only hurt you worse.”

“Like wake up one morning and put on a tux because it’s front of me,” Jason said, and she nodded. “Yeah. I know. I’m working on that.” He rose to his feet. “I…Thank you. But I won’t come back. I made my choice. I need to see it through.”

“Is that what love is supposed to be?” Elizabeth asked. “Something you have to push through?” She also stood, folded her arms. “That’s not me pressuring you, it’s just a question.”

“What I said before about things happening one after another for months—then looking up and trying to breathe?” Jason said. “I don’t know…I don’t know if I feel this way because things are bad right now, and they’re hard, or if this is actually how I feel. I just don’t—I don’t want to run when things get hard.”

She flinched, looked at her hands.

“I didn’t mean it that way—”

“No,” Elizabeth said. She raised her head. “No. That’s what I did. I ran when you didn’t act the way I thought you should. I never let you in again. You’re not wrong to have doubts about that. Relationships — you know, that’s how they are sometimes. You go through bad times. You go through bad times, and sometimes you come out the other side. And sometimes you don’t. But you won’t know until you know.” She bit her lip. “But you’re right. This has to be it. Because you’ve made this choice. And if you don’t see it through, you’ll always wonder if you made the right one. You need to put everything into it. And you won’t do that if I’m here, with a willing ear, reminding you of what happened. So…let’s finish cleaning up, you can walk me to my building, and then go home, Jason..”

April 26, 2024

This entry is part 9 of 15 in the Flash Fiction: Chain Reaction

Written in 61 minutes.

Corinthos Penthouse: Living Room

“Hey, you.” Carly rose from the dining table by the windows, bracing one hand against her lower back, struggling with gravity. Jason hurried over to help, but she waved him off. “I’ve got it. Thanks. It’s nice to see you when, well—” She cleared her throat, went over to the beverage bar. “Did you eat yet? Coffee?”

“I’m good. I just—” Jason folded his arms. “I wanted to check on you. When Sonny wasn’t around.”

Her hand stilled as she poured a glass of orange juice, then she looked at him with a sad smile. “Why? Do you think I won’t tell the truth if he’s here?”

“I think,” he said carefully, “that you and I walk a careful line when he’s like this. And you’re a little bit more in the line of fire than I am. You’ve been through a lot with this pregnancy, Carly. I just want to get you to the finish line in one piece.”

“You’re too good to me. Really, I mean that, Jase. You’ve turned your whole life upside down for…” She tipped her head, her dark eyes studying him. “Longer than I think I’ve given you credit for. Right now, today, Sonny and I are okay. He’s managing his—God, he’d hate me for saying it—his paranoia or anxiety or whatever about Lorenzo. And that’s because of you. I know that.”

“I just remind him what he already knows Carly. When he’s clear-headed, he knows better,” Jason assured her. “It’s just—”

“There’s no warning when that fog descends. I know you hate being in the middle, but lately, I guess it just feels like we can’t function without you.”

Jason tried not to grimace at that, but he wasn’t able to keep his expression blank. Carly smiled thinly. “You hate that. We’re adults, and we should do this without you, I know it. I’m going to do better, Jase. I told Max not to come get you the next time—”

“I don’t—” He stopped. Because he did mind, and she knew it. “He’ll get past this. He always does.”

“Well, until then, I’m going to return the favor you’ve done for me by focusing entirely on you,” Carly declared.

“Why did all the hairs on the back of my neck just stand up?” Jason asked, and she laughed, heading for the sofa, straightening the throw pillows. “Don’t worry about me, Carly. I’m fine.”

“Well, you’re not really needed for this part anyway. Don’t worry—Courtney and I have it already in hand. I’ve almost got her talked into a backup venue — though Elizabeth agreeing almost made me change my mind—”

Jason frowned at her. “What? Venue? Elizabeth? What are you talking about?”

“The wedding.” Carly squinted at him. “Jase, I know guys aren’t really into this kind of thing, but five weeks isn’t a lot of time. You’re going to have do some things—”

“There’s no wedding,” Jason cut in sharply, and Carly closed her mouth, looked at him, baffled. “We didn’t set a new date.”

“You—Courtney said next month. October 19. Anniversary of your first kiss—though that threw me,” she admitted. “I didn’t realize how soon that all was, but whatever. It all worked out I guess. You don’t have to worry, Jase. Just put the tux on and show up—”

“We didn’t set a new date,” Jason repeated, and this time his voice had an edge that he didn’t even recognize.

“Okay. Message received. No wedding. But you should probably make sure Courtney knows that.” She folded her arms. “Is…there something wrong? I know you’d rather gnaw your arm off than tell me anything, but you can trust me.”

He couldn’t. Of course he couldn’t. He and Carly had settled into friendship, sure, but she’d attached herself to Courtney. And her hatred of Elizabeth had never ebbed for a second. Carly was the last person he could ever talk to about this.

“It’s fine. I just don’t want you going around telling people something that isn’t happening.” People like Elizabeth—did she think they’d set another date for the wedding? Barely a week after—

He swallowed hard. “I have to go,” he muttered, then left, leaving Carly staring at him, bewildered.

Kelly’s: Dining Room

Nikolas watched as Ric left, then turned back to raise his brows at Elizabeth. “Now, I know I’m not exactly a regular here,” he said, “but I’ve been here three or four times the last week. And he’s been here every time.”

Elizabeth clenched her jaw, then picked up the dishes Ric had left behind. He always sat at the counter so she’d be forced to serve him. “Every day since I started the opening shift last week. It’s like…it’s like he knows when I’m working.”

“Tell Mike. You know he’ll switch you,” Nikolas said.

“I don’t want to make any waves.” And she didn’t want another shift. Jason never came in between opening and early lunch rush. Courtney did, though. Every day for the last week. Flashing that ring. Talking about the wedding. Making sure Elizabeth could hear her.

Elizabeth didn’t know if Courtney just wanted to rub it in or hoped that Elizabeth would say something, and Courtney could make a scene — but Elizabeth wasn’t going to give her that satisfaction. If Jason had already agreed to set a date next month, well—that was his decision. His choice. And Elizabeth was the other woman — she didn’t get to be angry about it.

And she wasn’t going to compound her own misery by letting Courtney know any of it bothered her.

“I get that, Liz,” Nikolas said, when Elizabeth returned from checking on her customers. “But you have to stick up for yourself—”

“Do I? Because usually that’s your cue to tell me to worry about Lucky and his precious feelings.” The words were snapped out with more irritation than she actually felt and Nikolas sighed, looked away. “I’m sorry. I know you’re trying to help—”

“But you don’t exactly need me to tell you what to do or how to feel,” Nikolas said. “Don’t apologize for the truth, Liz. I like it better when you don’t pretend.”

“Well, then listen to me when I tell you that I don’t want to bother Mike with this—”

“With what?” Mike asked, emerging from the kitchen, wiping his hands on a dish towel. “How’s my best waitress?” he asked with a friendly smile.

“Enjoying the quiet before the rush,” Elizabeth said, sending Nikolas a death glare. He studied her for a long moment, then shook his head.

“Ric’s harassing Elizabeth on her shift—”

“Oh, you son of a—” Elizabeth bit out the last words. “What the hell, Nikolas?”

“I thought about it, and I decided that I’m okay with you being mad at me if it means Ric leaves you alone. Unless you’re thinking of a reconciliation,” Nikolas said, lifting his brows.

“No, but—”

“Then he doesn’t need to be in here every morning bothering you. I listened to you, Elizabeth, and all I heard was you not asking for what you need because you don’t want to bother people.” He dismissed her, looked at Mike. “She needs to switch shifts. Maybe a busier one when there’s more people around and he can’t corner her.”

“Did I hire you as a personal assistant or something? Don’t you have a job? A business?” Elizabeth demanded.

Mike stroked his chin. “We need someone on the post-dinner rush, closing shift, but I don’t know if that’s good—”

It was a horrible choice. That was Jason’s favorite time to come in these days, and she’d done her best to avoid him like the plague for the last year. And he’d obliged by staying away from the morning. She didn’t even realize they’d had that little unspoken agreement until right now.  “I told you, Mike, I don’t want to bother you—”

“It’s not a bother, honey. I know the damage Ric can do, and I don’t want you to worry about him. Why don’t I call Michael? He and Jason—”

“The closing shift is fine,” Elizabeth interrupted, and Nikolas furrowed his brow. “There’s always someone who lingers until we close. It’ll be fine, Mike. Thanks.”

“All right. If you’re sure. You say the word, and I’ll make that call—”

“I’ll remember that.”

Mike went back into the kitchen, and Elizabeth glared at Nikolas. “I liked you better when you were up Gia’s ass. Why don’t you go crawl back up there and butt out?”

“You’re complaining but you know you’re relieved not to deal with Ric tomorrow,” Nikolas said. He held out his cup. “I’ll have a refill.”

“You’re lucky I don’t pour this over your damned head.”

General Hospital: Treatment Room

There were a cluster of treatment chairs in the room, each with their own little cubicle and IV stands. Emily sat in one, her hair pulled back in a low tail, still pale, but her eyes were alert.

“Want one?” she asked, showing him the cherry red Popsicle she held in her hand. “It’s the one perk of chemo.”

“I’m good. Thanks.” He studied her for a long moment. “You look better.”

“Well, still dying, but not nearly dead anymore. Big step up. Don’t make that face,” Emily ordered, when he flinched. “We tell the truth, you and me. That’s our thing. I almost died.”

“You don’t have to tell me that, Em. I just…don’t like remembering that…”

“That it’s not over. But I woke up that day and all the rest of them for the last—” she furrowed her brow. “What’s today?”

“September 15,” Jason told her.

“So I made it twelve more days. That’s a victory, Jase. Let me have it.”

“I will.”

“Okay, now that I’ve done my cancer bit, it’s your turn to distract me. And you need to do a better job than Elizabeth,” Emily said. “She’s been taking the afternoon shifts, you know, because she’s back at Kelly’s. Hey, you know how in the Renaissance, artists had, like, patrons?”

Jason opened his mouth, then closed it. “What are we talking about?”

“Elizabeth being back at Kelly’s. Ric got her this art show, but it was just a way to keep her busy while he—well, you know. Anyway, she had to cancel it because—again, you know. I was thinking, could I just pay her to sit and do her art? Like all those famous artists used to do?”

He rubbed his forehead. “What does this have to do with her at Kelly’s?”

“She works too much. And never has time or energy for the art. She’s a good artist. Probably an excellent one, but I don’t know anything. I’ve been thinking since I basically died, that in my next life — which is this one — I’m going to be a better person and think about other people more.”

“You’re a good person—”

“Debatable, but you’re my brother and legally obligated to say that.” She licked her Popsicle, her brow furrowed in thought. “Are you and Elizabeth still not friends? Like, I know things were weird because you broke up with her for Courtney—”

“No, I didn’t—”

“And then there was the Ric thing—which I don’t understand but I guess I’ll have to dig into that when I get out of the hospital—but other than that, is there a reason you’re not friends like you used to be?”

Jason was getting a headache trying to keep up with his sister’s rapid-pace conversation. “Where did all this energy come from?”

“Sugar rush. I’ve been sucking on these things like, well, like candy. You didn’t answer my question.”

“I’m not talking about Elizabeth. Or why—I’m not talking about it,” Jason said firmly.

She frowned at him, then nodded. “Okay, then let’s talk about you. You know, Courtney came to see me yesterday during chemo. I’m glad you guys set the date again. But I don’t know if I’m up to being a bridesmaid by the 19th—”

“She came yesterday?” Jason asked. After he’d talked to Carly, and told Courtney that he wasn’t comfortable setting another date so soon. She’d seemed to understand that. And then she’d immediately gone to Emily and talked about it anyway.

Christ, did she think she could just plan the wedding anyway, shove a tux in front of him and he’d just…go through with it?

“Yes,” Emily drawled, “why?”

“I’m not getting married next month. Or any other month,” Jason said, then winced. “I mean, we didn’t set—”

“Oh, the cat is out of the bag. Don’t try to put it back in. You ever try to put a cat somewhere it doesn’t want to be? Impossible. I heard it. You don’t want to get married anymore?”

“I’m not talking about this.”

“Well, damn.” She looked disappointed. “You won’t talk to me about Elizabeth. Or your wedding. That’s a lot of topics not to cover. Unless they’re the same topic.” She grinned at him when he just shook his head. “I nailed it, didn’t I?”

“Eat your Popsicle.”

Morgan Penthouse: Living Room

He couldn’t shake the conversation with Emily, or the grim realization that Courtney had listened to every word he’d said and just done whatever she wanted to do anyway. Carly had just said all he’d have to do was show up—

And what if they just planned it more quietly? What if he did wake up on October 19 and there was a note and a tux, and people were just waiting on him’? What was he going to do? Jilt her at the altar? Was that what Courtney was banking on?

When he came back to the penthouse after the visit, Courtney jerked to her feet, shoving magazines into a pile, but he saw a wedding dress on one of them. He exhaled slowly.

“You didn’t listen to anything I said the other day, did you?” Jason asked. Courtney frowned, shook her head. “The wedding. I told you I’m not setting a date.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about—”

He held up a hand. “Don’t. Don’t lie to me. You’re telling people we’re getting married in a month. That’s not happening, Courtney.”

Her mouth was thin. “Well, I can’t believe she waited this long, but I knew she’d crack eventually. What, did Elizabeth come running after I was at Kelly’s yesterday?”

“I haven’t seen Elizabeth in more than a week,” Jason said. “I went to Emily’s chemo appointment today.” She winced, looked away. “You forgot you asked my sister to be a bridesmaid?”

“Well, I wasn’t sure about her chemo — maybe she couldn’t—”

“She can’t but it doesn’t matter. Because we are not getting married on October 19,” Jason said, drawing out each word not even bothered when she flinched in response each time. “Don’t try to make this my fault. I told you this. And you just ignored me.”

“You said you were staying—” Her eyes filled with tears, but he just shook his head. “You said you wanted to get back to where we were—”

“I said that I wasn’t going to throw out everything we’ve been through for this last year, Courtney, not that I wanted to go forward like nothing happened,” Jason interrupted, and she closed her mouth, looked at her hands. “If you want to set a date, if it matters that much to you, then go ahead and set it for never. Because that’s how I feel right now—”

“You don’t get to be angry with me!” she exploded, her head snapping back up, the tears gone. “You slept with another woman!”

“And you said you forgave me, or was that a lie?” he demanded. “What are we doing here? You wanted to give it another chance. And I agreed. Because it’s been almost a year, and that should matter. But you don’t get to have it both ways. You don’t get to tell me you want to work on this and then throw it in my face every time I don’t give you what you want. I don’t know if this is going to work, Courtney, so why would we plan a wedding that isn’t going to happen?”

Courtney swallowed hard. “You think you made a mistake. You’re sorry you picked me.” Her voice was quiet now, and the tears were back, but he wasn’t moved this time.

“What do you want me to do, Courtney? Marry you to prove a point? I’m not going to do that. If you think you can just point me in whatever direction you want me to go, then I don’t know what we’re doing here. I’m trying to work on this. I’m trying to tell you how I feel, and you’re not hearing me.”

“I do—I do hear you, okay? Okay? I do. You don’t want to get married right now. Okay.” Courtney took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. It’s just — Carly brought it up and I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t tell her, right? Because she’d make it a whole thing, and I don’t want anyone to know. And she seemed so excited about planning it, I just got carried away. And maybe I thought—God, I just thought if I pretended things were okay, they would be okay. But you’re right. You’re right. We’re not ready to do that. I’m sorry,” she said again. She gathered up the magazine and darted for the stairs before he could say another word.

Jason grimaced, dragged his hands down his face. She’d done it for Carly. Of course. It always came back to Sonny or Carly for them, didn’t it?

He snatched his keys back from the desk and headed for the door. He needed to get out.

Kelly’s: Dining Room

Elizabeth bussed the last few tables, checked on her two remaining customers, then went to the kitchen to drop off the tubs.

“Almost done, aren’t we?” Don, the night cook, asked. He wiped down the grill. “If they order anything else, you shoot them.”

“They’re just finishing up,” Elizabeth assured him. “But don’t worry. If I see them thinking about more fries, I’ll get the paintball gun.” She heard the bells over the door and grimaced. “Please let one of them have left—”

She went back into the dining room, then stopped. So did her new customer.

Because Jason stood there, his hand still on the handle of the door, their eyes meeting.

She didn’t know how long they stared at one another—probably too long, she thought — but finally he came in, letting the door fall closed. He made his way to the counter and took a seat.