Written in 56 minutes.
Port Charles, New York
The exterior of Luke’s would never prepare anyone for what was inside. It was a largely nondescript building with an average parking lot located on the border between respectable Port Charles and the grimy, crime-ridden waterfront dominated by smuggling, gambling, and drugs. Outside of its entrance sat a short length of a white picket fence with signs pointing in the direction of much more exotic locations like Paris, London, and New York City.
Inside, the jazz and blues club was a garish nightmare of gaudy fixtures and deep reds mixed with the dark, heavy wood furniture. The combinations shouldn’t have worked, but somehow they did —
And over the last two years, Luke’s had become home to a motley crew of outcasts and misfits who didn’t fit in anywhere else. From the owner, Luke Spencer, who claimed no ties to organized crime but had also sold some managing shares to Sonny Corinthos, rumored to control much of the crime in the are —
To their bar manager, currently ten minutes late for her shift and dashing through the front door, her bag hanging off her shoulder, her face flushed. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
Luke bent up from behind the bar, setting a box of liquor on its top. “Meeting went too long?”
The pretty brunette with her chestnut hair tossed up in an explosion of waves, made a face and pursed her lips, painted a dark maroon. “Ridiculously,” she muttered. She hung up her coat and joined him at the bar. “They’re going to bankrupt me.”
“Cheer up, Liz.” Luke retrieved a bottle of Jack Daniels and poured a shot. He slid the glass towards her, then poured another for himself. “How much longer can they drag this out?”
She sighed, tipped the shot towards him, clinking in a mock toast. “At least another sixty days. They’re going to serve an eviction notice sometime this month. After that, I have to go to court—” Elizabeth tipped back the shot, the liquid burning her throat but coating her stomach. “Again.”
“Doesn’t seem legal any of it. You sure you don’t want Sonny to make any calls?” Luke asked. “He knows a judge or two.”
“Any judge Sonny knows is in criminal court. Not probate or family.” She grabbed their empty shot glasses and tossed them into the tub meant for the kitchen. “It’s—it’s fine.”
“Having second thoughts about taking the money and running?” Luke said. He folded his arms, leaned against the bar. “No one would blame you.”
“I’d blame me, Luke. I made promises.” She dipped her head, took a deep breath. “It’s the right thing, you know that.”
“I know. But you’d be able to start over—”
“With dirty money. I’m not doing it.” Elizabeth pushed past him, picked up the clipboard. “And I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Let’s talk inventory.”
“We could do that or we could talk staffing. I hired you a new bartender,” Luke said, and she scowled. “Don’t make that face, kid. You need a warm body behind this bar on the busy nights. You need to train him on pouring the beer, which would free you up for those more frou-frou drinks that take longer to make.”
“I don’t really have the time or energy to train anyone,” Elizabeth grumbled.
“Now where would you be if I’d told you that when you walked in here looking all sad and depressed?” Luke shrugged. “Besides, how hard is it to pour a beer? As long as he’s not building a Guinness, what’s the problem?”
“Nothing. I’m just in a bitchy mood. Which is better than six months ago when I couldn’t get out of bed,” she admitted. “Or three months ago when I didn’t want to leave the apartment. So, fine. When does our new hire get here?”
“Ah, shortly. Sonny’s bringing him by.”
Sonny was, in fact, just upstairs showing the new hire where he’d stay while working at Luke’s. “It’s not much,” he said, switching on the light, illuminating the dingy room with its single bed and nightstand tucked into one corner. There was a door to a bathroom with a tiny shower stall. In the other corner of the room, there was a small kitchenette with the bare necessities. A cabinet, stove, sink, and refrigerator.
“It’s better than the room at Jake’s.” The newest member of Luke’s bar staff walked in front of Sonny, his bright blue eyes scanning the room. His dark blonde hair was worn short, little more than a buzzcut. He wore dark pants and a white t-shirt with a leather jacket. The kid had potential, Sonny thought, if he survived his first shift.
Then again, Sonny wasn’t sure he or his partner would survive that shift once Elizabeth found out who they’d hired.
Sonny smirked. “Most things are.”
“And you’re sure that this isn’t going to cause problems for you? Uh, no one is going to put pressure or anything on you? I told you why I had to leave Jake’s—”
“Jason,” Sonny said, with some patience, “you don’t know much about me yet, and that’s fine. But believe me, the Quartermaines are going to think twice before telling me what to do in my club. And Luke doesn’t listen to anyone. We don’t depend on the Quartermaine’s goodwill here.”
Jason nodded, but his jaw was still clenched. “They’ve made it impossible,” he muttered. “Since I moved out last month. They got me fired from both warehouse jobs. And from Jake’s. I tried Kelly’s, but the manager said no. Isn’t she related to Luke?”
“Ruby doesn’t want trouble. That’s different from pressure. Me and Luke? The Quartermaines know better. You wouldn’t be the first person we’ve hired they want to control. This job is yours as long as you can do it.”
“I’ve never worked a bar before,” Jason said, following Sonny out of the room, down the hallway towards the stairs. “Is that going to be a problem?”
“Nah, pouring beers isn’t rocket science. Our bar manager will handle it—” Sonny stopped at the bottom the stairs, mentally prepared himself for what would happen next. “Uh, sounds like she’s here now, so let’s go make the introductions.”
Sonny led him out into the bar, plastering a grin on his face when he found Luke and Elizabeth behind the bar. “Hey. Great timing. I’ve got your new bartender here.”
Elizabeth looked up from her clipboard, then her eyes widened when she saw who was standing behind Sonny. She whipped her furious eyes to Luke first. “What the hell is this?”
“Uh, he needed a job and we needed the help?” Luke said, trying a sheepish grin but Elizabeth wasn’t in the mood for any of that. She slapped the clipboard down on the bar, the clatter loud.
“Try again,” she said, her tone low and dangerous.
“Is there a problem?” Jason asked, stepping up to Sonny’s side, tense. “I can learn to do anything. I don’t care you’ve heard about my accident—”
“Don’t—” Elizabeth stabbed a finger in Jason’s direction, then her lips trembled, and she closed her eyes. She pressed a fist against her belly, and the flush of anger paled.
Sonny and Luke traded uncertain glances. This had seemed like such a good idea a few days ago, and now maybe they’d pushed too hard. Or should have told Elizabeth just who they’d hired.
“I can’t believe you’d do this,” she said to Luke, forcing the words out. “You were supposed—damn it.” She flew out of the bar and through the double doors leading towards the kitchen.
“Rock, paper, scissors who goes after her,” Luke suggested but Sonny just rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, I know. It was worth a try.” He disappeared, the double doors swinging behind her.
“What was that?” Jason demanded. “If she doesn’t want me here—”
“It’s not that—” Sonny pressed his lips together. It wasn’t his place to reveal all the secrets kept from this kid in the last few months, though it would make him feel better. He faced Jason. “Elizabeth’s going through a lot right now. Personally. We probably shouldn’t have sprung a new employee on her like this. Especially one she would need to train.”
“Let’s give Luke a chance to cool her down, and I’ll show you around the bar.” Sonny flipped back the bar so that they could get behind. “Maybe I can make her job easier.”
It was too much. Too much entirely, and Elizabeth couldn’t quite catch her breath. She ran through the back of the club, towards the back alley, then stopped, pressing her hands against her face.
Oh, God. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. Why didn’t life just stop—
She heard the squeak of the door behind her, but didn’t turn. Couldn’t.
“Liz?” Luke asked. “Look, I’m sorry for throwing this at you like that, but Sonny came to me the other night. He got thrown out of Jake’s. The Qs are pressuring everyone, not just you. You know? He’s lost jobs. Can’t find a place to live.”
“Stop. Just stop.” Elizabeth swallowed a sob, turned to look at him. “Jake threw him out? Why?”
“I don’t know. Didn’t Emily tell you any of this?”
“She doesn’t know much. She went back to California a few weeks after he was out of the hospital, and you know no one is going to tell her what’s really going on.” Elizabeth exhaled, her breath shaky. “It’s the contracts, isn’t it? He can’t enter into any. But they won’t tell him why.”
She bit her lip. “I’m just tired. It never stops. You know? I thought—do you know, I actually thought today that it can’t get worse, right? I’ve already hit rock bottom. How could there be anything beneath that? But there is. There always is.” Elizabeth rubbed her stomach, a bit absently. “They’re going to destroy me. They’ll evict me from the apartment, and maybe they can’t take my job, but they’ll just go after you and Sonny. Especially now.”
“They can’t do anything to me, darling.”
“I can’t—I can’t do this, Luke. Give him a place to stay, fine. But can’t Sonny find somewhere else for him to work? Does it have to be here? Does it have to be with me?”
“We thought about that. This was my idea, so don’t blame Sonny.” Luke shoved his hands in his pockets. “It’s been almost three months, honey. How long were you planning to avoid reality?”
“I didn’t—I didn’t start this,” Elizabeth said. “You know that—”
“No, I know. The Qs forced you into this situation. And until he left their house, they controlled access. The thing is, Liz, he’s been out of there almost a month. What’s stopped you from dealing with this?”
“He doesn’t know me.” The words were barely audible, but he’d heard them. His expression was pensive. “He looked at me, Luke, and he didn’t know me. After everything—I didn’t know there was anything left in me to break, but there was.” She brushed angrily at her eyes, at the tears that slid even though she didn’t want to cry. She was so tired of crying. “He looked me like I was nothing, and it just—I can’t do it.”
“You’re nothing to him now, Liz. But that doesn’t have to be the whole story. Give him—give yourself a chance. You never know—”
“I don’t have it in me to do this all over again, Luke. I can’t. Please don’t ask me.” She clasped her hands in front of her. “Please. Give him a job anywhere else. Or me. I’ll go work in one of Sonny’s club.”
“Not on your damn life. He still has strip joints—look, fine. I’ll tell the kid that we’ll move him somewhere else on one condition.”
“You go inside and tell him why.”
She closed his eyes. “I can’t.”
“You can. And you should. He didn’t do anything wrong here, honey. Except get into that damn car to stop his idiot brother. And we both know why he did that. Nothing about what he’s going through is easy, either. He deserves the truth.”
“Does it have to be now? Today?” Elizabeth asked reluctantly. “Can’t you just…can we just wait a few more days?”
“You can wait as long as you want. But he’s gonna work here until you do.”
“Damn it—” She scowled. “Luke, this isn’t fair.”
“No, it’s not. But you need to remember why you’re battling the Quartermaines in the first place. So yeah, me and Sonny thought you needed to handle this. Up until now, the only version of Jason Quartermaine he’s heard is from that family. Don’t you think you should get a turn? Or are you gonna hide from your husband for the rest of your life?”