Flash Fiction: Chain Reaction – Part 3

This entry is part 3 of 15 in the Flash Fiction: Chain Reaction

Written in 58 minutes.


Harborview Towers: Parking Garage

The reality of what he’d done didn’t really hit Jason until he’d driven the bike into his normal spot at the Towers, switched off the ignition, and climbed off. Then he looked towards the elevators and realized he had to go upstairs.

Upstairs where Courtney was waiting. The woman he’d asked to marry him less than four months earlier. If not for Carly’s kidnapping and the chaos that had ensued in its wake, he and Courtney would already be married.

And he’d spent the night in bed with another woman. With Elizabeth. Not just once, or twice. Not just three times.

Jason stood there for another moment because he just couldn’t get on the elevator. He’d told Elizabeth that he’d leave Courtney. He’d meant it. Standing in front of her door — in front of the door he had installed because men had broken in a year ago and kidnapped her. Because she was Elizabeth, and he’d been in love with her for years.  He’d put it away, Jason thought, but last night—last night, he’d thrown away a year of progress. A year of finally moving on, of putting her behind him after all they’d been through.

He stared down at the keys in his hand, hearing the echo of Elizabeth’s keys in his head. They’d dropped from her hand when he’d kissed her that last time — the promise they’d come back and they could finally be together. It had seemed so simple, so straightforward.

But now Jason had to face the woman he’d asked to spend the rest of her life with him, the woman who had stood by him through murder trials and kidnappings and crazed half-brothers bent on revenge. She’d done nothing to deserve any of this. In fact, he knew she was hurting, that the loss of the baby he’d never known existed or the loss of any possible future children weighed heavily.

He dragged a hand across his mouth. He’d cheated on her. He’d slept with someone else after making those promises, and Courtney couldn’t understand that it hadn’t felt wrong when he’d done it. That somehow it didn’t even feel wrong now. How was he supposed to start that conversation? My sister’s going to live. I slept with Elizabeth. Over and over again. I could have stopped, but I chose not to. And I can’t regret it. I wouldn’t change it.

He wasn’t going to solve the problem by standing here, Jason thought, and finally he could move forward. He jabbed the button to get on the elevator and hoped like hell by the time he was upstairs, he would have the words he needed.

But they remained elusive, and Jason still had nothing when he slid the key in the lock, pushed it open, and found Courtney waiting for him.

She’d slept downstairs, he realized, seeing her sit up, toss aside a blanket. She rose to her feet, clad in the red and gray sweats he’d last seen her in the night before. Had she waited for him all night? She hadn’t called, but—

“You’re home,” Courtney said. Her blonde hair was loose around her shoulders, and there was a red line from the crease of the pillow she’d rested her cheek on. She rubbed it. “I—I fell asleep, I guess.”

“I should have called,” Jason said, and there—a fact that wasn’t painful to say. He absolutely should have called, but the moment Elizabeth had sat next to him in the chapel everything else had ceased to exist.  He carefully set the keys on the table, kept his distance. Would his shirt smell like Jake’s? Did it—would she able to tell somehow that he’d been with someone else? And why would that matter if he was going to tell her? He’d come up home to end it, hadn’t he?

But now, staring at Courtney, at the woman he cared—loved, he corrected quickly. He loved her. He’d told her that, hadn’t he? Assured her over and over again that he didn’t love Elizabeth. It was a hell of a thing, Jason thought as he looked at Courtney, at his fiancee, to realize that he’d been lying with every word he’d spoken. To her and to himself.

“I—Monica called here. A little while ago. She gave me the good news, but I told her to call your cell because you weren’t home.” Courtney’s blue eyes studied him, remaining somewhat unreadable. Careful, maybe, might be a better description of the emotion he could sense. “I didn’t call you.”

“I—” Had realized that fact when he’d looked at his phone in the parking garage. He hadn’t consciously thought about not hearing from Courtney — only that there’d been no interruptions and being grateful. How many times had he been with Elizabeth, only to let himself be dragged away by something else?  “I know.”

“I think I was afraid what would happen,” Courtney said. The corner of her lips curled up, almost in a smile, but her eyes remained sober. Cautious. “If you’d ignore the call, send it to voicemail, or if you’d pick up and I’d hear her.”

Everything inside him stilled, and he realized that he absolutely did not want to have this conversation. He didn’t want to hurt Courtney by telling her he’d been with Elizabeth, and he didn’t want Elizabeth to deal with those consequences either. Jason swallowed hard. “Her,” he repeated, thinking maybe he was imagining this. Maybe she didn’t know. Maybe he could somehow avoid all of this. Because he’d done this before, hadn’t he? He’d had to tell Robin about Carly, and the pain in her voice, the hurt in her eyes — he’d never forgotten and he’d tried so hard to be a better man.

But here he was and it was worse, oh, so much worse. Because he’d made promises to Courtney, and he’d broken them.

And he wasn’t sorry. Sorry to have hurt her, but not sorry to have done it.

“I saw you last night.” Courtney folded her arms. “After—after everything. I saw you go into the chapel. I was going to come and sit with you, but then—then she came in, and I saw you.  I saw you leave with her.” Her eyes were on his, and they never changed. No hurt, no anger. Just truth. “And then you never came home. And you never called.”

He exhaled slowly. “Courtney—”

“It’s good news about Emily,” she cut in, and he stopped. Furrowed his brow. “I know you weren’t expecting that. I know it was basically—that it was a matter of time. I know that, Jason. And I know how much you love her. What she means to you. And I know it’s the same for…Elizabeth,” she said, finally speaking the name. “I know that. I’m—I can understand if, facing that horrible thought of losing her, you and Elizabeth—” Her voice trembled slightly. “If you found comfort in each other.”

Had it started that way? Jason thought. Yes. In the chapel. At Vista Point. But something had changed when they’d gone to Jake’s. They’d stepped out of time, somehow, and none of it had felt real. Except when he’d touched her, when he’d held her. But all of that sounded terrible, and Jason didn’t have the first clue what to do next. He hadn’t known Courtney had seen them, hadn’t realized she’d been waiting up for this conversation.

She’d all that time to prepare, and he hadn’t given her a single thought until he’d arrived in the parking garage. She’d been something standing between him and Elizabeth — an obstacle he had to clear. Not a real person who meant something to him.

“Courtney—”

“I can understand that,” Courtney repeated. She forced herself to smile. “But you came home, and—and you look so tired. You should go…you should get some sleep. It’s still early, and Sonny won’t be up for hours. He was up late, too,” she added. “They had another fight.”

Jason grimaced — all Sonny and Carly had done since her return from Venezuela was fight. They’d fought over her health, Lorenzo Alcazar, Ric Lansing’s continued survival, Michael, the new baby, the color of the carpet—anything could and would trigger a scene. “Right. I—”

Sleep sounded good, he decided. A shower and some real rest. When he woke up, he’d figure it out. He’d know what to do. He’d have the words he’d need to make this all come out right.

“I’ll do that,” he said, making his way to the stairs, careful to keep his distance from her.

Upstairs, in the master bathroom, Jason removed his clothes, tossing them into the hamper by the door. He switched on the spray—and then out of the corner of his eye, caught himself in the reflection of the mirror that hung over the bathroom sink. On his shoulder blades, there were scratches. Fingernails, he thought, and then he had one of his rare memory flashes, of Elizabeth beneath him, her neck arched back, the digging of her nails as he—

Jason shoved his head beneath the spray of the shower, twisting the knob to the right. He needed a cold shower if he was going to get through this.

Kelly’s: Dining Room

It was just unfortunate timing, Elizabeth thought, for her first day back at Kelly’s to be the lunch shift that Mike always worked.

Mike Corbin, Courtney’s father.

“Hey there, sweetheart.” Mike’s kind blue eyes twinkled when she approached the counter. “I heard the good news about Emily. Ain’t that something? Always been a fighter that one.”

“It’s definitely amazing.” Elizabeth followed him into the kitchen, stowed her purse in one of the employee lockers. “Thanks again, Mike, for, you know, just taking me back like this. I—” Hadn’t had a lot of options after she’d left the hospital, moved back into her studio. Her savings were basically gone, and the last thing she wanted to do was throw herself on her grandmother’s mercy.

Gram, who still didn’t quite understand why the marriage to Ric Lansing had fallen apart. How did Elizabeth explain the panic room to her when Ric was now working for Scott Baldwin at the DA’s office? Gram wouldn’t be able to wrap her head around it, and maybe it was just easier if they all pretended it never happened.

“You’ll always have a place here.” Mike squeezed Elizabeth’s shoulder. “Plus, school’s starting, so one of our summer girls headed back to classes. I’m just glad you’re away from that scumbag.”

“Me, too.” Elizabeth tied on her apron. “Good riddance.”

“Here’s hoping Michael handles his business the way he ought to. I don’t care if the bastard does have Adela’s eyes,” Mike muttered, and that was definitely a sentiment Elizabeth shared. She headed out to begin her shift, and to hopefully not think too much about what Jason might be doing right now.

Was he telling Courtney now? Would he tell her about last night? Or would he keep that to himself?

Or was he telling her nothing? Was he thinking, like she was, that it was all too crazy, and that something that seemed like a good idea after shots of tequila, a long night, and almost no sleep was actually a terrible one?

Did Elizabeth really think Jason was going to go home, tell Courtney it was over, and what—come back to her? It was ridiculous now that Elizabeth thought about it, but it had seemed so—oh, it had seemed so right when they’d stood in her doorway, and he’d looked at her with those eyes the way he always did, and he’d held her, and  kissed her—

She took her orders in almost a daze, on auto, completing a job she could mostly do in her sleep. There was a comfort in the rush of the lunch crowd, the dock workers flocking for their burgers, bowls of chili, BLTs, and sides of fries. She refilled countless ketchup bottles, sidestepped all the usual flirtations, avoided pinches, and pocketed the tips left.

The crowd started to ebb around two, and Elizabeth kept watching the door, though she hardly thought Jason would show up like this. He probably didn’t even know she was there, right? She’d never told him she was coming back to work. And he wouldn’t come to Kelly’s — not when Courtney’s father worked there.

And hell, if Mike found out what Elizabeth had done to his daughter, would he still look at her with those kind, compassionate eyes? The world — what would they think? The roller coaster of her year from Lucky to Zander to Jason to Ric then back to Jason? It was overwhelming — she couldn’t quite understand all her steps and choices over the last eighteen months. How could anyone else? Would anyone even bother?

Or would she been seen like Carly had back in the beginning, just a home wrecking slut who’d broken up a marriage—an engagement. They weren’t married yet. Though that didn’t matter. It shouldn’t.

Then, around three, Courtney came in. Elizabeth didn’t realize at first. She had taken a tub of dirty dishes to the kitchen to be washed, and the blonde was just there at the counter, holding a menu in front of her face even though she’d worked there for almost a year and likely had it memorized.

Her pulse skittering, Elizabeth approached Courtney like she was a ticking time bomb. Had Jason talked to her? Maybe Courtney had been asleep, and he’d probably gone to sleep, too—there’d been so little—no, don’t go down that road.

Courtney put the menu down, and looked at her, and Elizabeth swallowed.

Because it was there in the other woman’s blue eyes — lighter than Elizabeth’s, but not as light as Jason’s. In the cold set of her mouth, the stillness of Courtney’s body.

She knew.

“Dad told me you were coming back,” Courtney said finally. “Can I get a coffee?”

“Yeah. Yeah, sure. Um, decaf?” Elizabeth went to the hot plates. What if she just wasn’t going to say anything—maybe Courtney wouldn’t—

“No, regular. I didn’t get much sleep last night. And neither did you, from what I hear.”

Elizabeth bobbled the carafe, but caught it with her other hand, wincing when her hand brushed the hot glass. She turned back to Courtney, flipped over one of the white ceramic cups, and began to pour. “No,” she said after a long pause. “No, I didn’t.”

“It’s great about Emily. It really is. I don’t know her well, but she means the world to Jason. I know that. And I know you feel the same way. About Emily,” Courtney added. She reached for the cream and sugar, fixed her coffee, and then stirred. “I can understand what happened last night.”

Elizabeth’s fingers tightened around the carafe. “What?”

“Don’t—” Courtney’s eyes met hers. “Don’t do that. Jason and I talked. I know what happened. Not the details. I don’t want those. I’ll never—” And her hand shook slightly, belying her own nerves, and somehow that soothed Elizabeth. Neither of them really wanted to be having this conversation.

Because for all that Elizabeth didn’t regret last night, she knew that Courtney being here — she knew what it meant. Jason hadn’t ended anything.

And she realized that she’d been expecting it, because her heart didn’t break. Her brain didn’t freeze. There was no rush of hurt, no waves of despair.

She’d known that even as Jason said he couldn’t just go back to how things were — that it wouldn’t that simple.

“I’ll never want those. But I respect that you and Jason have a history. I knew that last year, and I know that Jason and I—that it meant you and I would never be friends again.” Their eyes connected again. “I made that choice, Elizabeth. I chose Jason. You never could.”

And oh that did hurt. Direct hit. “It wasn’t—that’s true. From one point of view—”

“From the only one that matters. His.” Courtney took a deep breath. “He chose me, too, Elizabeth. Last year. He chose me over and over again. He asked me to marry him. And this morning, he didn’t ask me to leave.” She lay her hand flat against the counter. The diamond on her left ring finger winked.

Elizabeth felt like an idiot, standing there with a coffee spot in her hands, her cheeks hot with humiliation. Because Courtney had every right to be furious with her. To scream at her. To denounce Elizabeth.

But she wasn’t doing any of those things, and somehow it hurt worse. It made it all so much more painful. Because Courtney was being fair. Fairer than she or Jason had a right to expect.

Because she could. Courtney had all the power. The ring, the promises, the life. The one Elizabeth had walked out on and never tried very hard to get back.

“So I just thought we should have this moment, this conversation. Jason didn’t send me. He wouldn’t do that. This is just between you and me.” Courtney paused. “If and when he does get in touch with you—”

Elizabeth closed her eyes at the word if because, oh, it was very much a possibility Jason might just…let it all coast. The old Jason wouldn’t, but the one Elizabeth had repeatedly hurt and walked away from? Whose kindness and love she’d thrown in his face over and over again? He definitely might have had second thoughts when he’d stopped to think what he was giving up.

“You can tell him we talked. I won’t deny it. I haven’t said anything here I haven’t or wouldn’t say to him. But this is the only free pass either of you get,” Courtney said, her eyes fierce now. “You understand that, right? If Emily’s on her deathbed again, I expect you and him to keep your hands to yourself. As long as I’m in the picture. And I am very much in the picture, Elizabeth. I’m not going anywhere without a fight.”

She pushed aside her untouched coffee, dropped a twenty next to it. She smirked. “Because unlike you, I know Jason’s worth fighting for.”

Comments

  • I know I should feel bad for Courtney but I don’t. What a witch! And Jason, ugh, he should have just finished the conversation. So here we go with the miscommunications

    According to Stephanie on April 15, 2024
  • Ugh Jason such a coward. 🙂

    According to Jules on April 15, 2024
  • I knew that Courtney wasn’t going to take this well. I hope that Elizabeth doesn’t run away from Jason. Wow I can’t wait to see what happens next.

    According to Becca on April 15, 2024
  • I totally get what Courtney said but I can’t stand her. They were both wrong to cheat especially Jason. I’m disappointed in him but I understand. Sadly, Courtney doesn’t understand their feelings. I can’t wait to see where you take this. There’s going to be so much angst. I want to cry now. Please don’t marry her, Jason.

    According to arcoiris0502 on April 15, 2024
  • I hate Courtney so much. Her stupid smile no matter what was happening. I appreciate your ability to write characters with depth, with valid pov no matter how much we might dislike them. I actually got through this without having to gouge my eyes out or throw things. Jason took the easy path and Courtney showed some courage. I now wonder what Elizabeth will do. I’m buckled in and ready for this ride. Bring on the KFC! May she go down in flames, hahahahaha

    According to Jill on April 15, 2024
  • Wow, what the hell. If Jason stays with Courtney he needs to lose Liz. I hope Liz gets pregnant and doesn’t tell him.

    According to Shelly Samuel on April 15, 2024
  • The show tried so hard to convince the audience that Elizabeth was solely at fault for the break up with Jason (because they wanted us to switch our loyalties to that cow Courtney and accept their Chosen Golden Couple), but it never worked on me. I always blamed him more than her. But it is 100% in character for Elizabeth with her self-esteem issues to take all the blame on herself, so I’m interested to see where this is going.

    According to Aj on April 15, 2024
  • Umm yeah I’m gonna need you to keep up with the daily updates on this one. Students and other real life activities just can be set aside, right?

    Seriously, holy hell this is good stuff. Talk about hooking us in from the start and getting right to the meat of things. I can already see how angsty this is going to be.

    According to LivingLiason on April 15, 2024
  • Huh, why oh why did Jason just not have the conversation. I know you have a plan but I can’t wait to see which direction this story takes.

    According to Golden Girl on April 15, 2024
  • So Liz gets pregnant and Cortney can’t have kids. Please come up with something better.

    According to leasmom on April 15, 2024
  • Great update! Courtney played them both. She knew exactly what she was doing when she threw Jason for a loop when she confronted him about Elizabeth; she played the understanding fiancé giving him an out because his sister was dying and Jason folded like a cheap suit, too cowardly to finish the discussion. Then she confronts Elizabeth who already feels guilty and has self esteem issues and she played her too. She’s a conniving witch and they fell for it. SMH. Great writing!

    According to Felicia on April 15, 2024
  • of course the big blonde understands cheating,
    she’s been there, done that,
    now it’s time for Jason to stand up and speak up
    great chaps! lovin this

    According to vicki on April 16, 2024
  • Ugh Jason. Grow a spine.

    According to Michelle on April 16, 2024
  • Great Chapter! Poor Elizabeth

    According to Tammy on April 16, 2024
  • WOW!!!! Courtney was on a roll. Are we sure she isn’t a con woman like Sam.
    I don’t feel bad for Jason, Courtney and even Elizabeth they all knew what was going on but EW always lets her insecurities get the best of her. What the hell was JM thinking not talking it out with the blonde. I hoped for a couple of minutes he would tell her and they would fight it out but he really is a coward about those type things. Courtney tricked them both.
    Now lets see what happens, please don’t send her back to Ric b/c ewww.
    Thanks for the update

    According to Pamela Hedstrom on April 16, 2024
  • I have no words. I hope when Jason and Elizabeth see each other again and are able to speak without anyone around. I hope Elizabeth will listen to Jason and not take all the blame. I’m not sure what Courtney is trying to pull.

    According to Carla P on April 17, 2024