Flash Fiction: Hits Different – Part 9

This entry is part 9 of 22 in the Flash Fiction: Hits Different

Written in 63 minutes.


Since he’d left the Quartermaine mansion a month ago, Jason had only returned twice to visit with Lila. These were always clandestine meetings, arranged by the butler who was devoted to the older woman.

Jason didn’t really understand why someone would want to spend their life taking care of someone else, but the butler Reginald seemed happy enough. And had no problem ignoring Edward’s dictate that if Jason didn’t want to follow the rules, he couldn’t step foot inside the house.  A call to Reginald was all that was necessary for Jason to find some time to talk to Lila in the kitchen of the mansion.

It had been a few days since he’d gone to the apartment, since Elizabeth had told him she intended to keep her distance. True to her word, she’d arranged Jason’s work schedule so that he never saw her — Elizabeth took the opening shift at the bar and was cleared out by the time happy hour was over.

Jason didn’t much like it, but he didn’t really understand why. Elizabeth was doing what he’d asked everyone else to do, wasn’t she? Treating him like she didn’t know him. She didn’t, Jason reminded himself. And he didn’t really know her.

But sometimes he found himself pulling out the photograph he’d never returned to her, and looking at the image of the life he’d had before the accident. The baby he held whose entire life was less than a handful of pages in a baby book.

Restless and irritated with himself, Jason decided that maybe he needed a few more answers from the people who called themselves Jason’s family, and Lila seemed as good a place to start as any other.

“It’s so lovely to see you my dear,” Lila said, holding out her hands for Jason to take. He squeezed them lightly, then sat down at the kitchen table, next to her wheel chair. “I was so happy to get your message. I’ve worried about you.” She paused. “Edward said you’d lost another job.”

Jason clenched his jaw, dropped his eyes. A few weeks ago, he’d have told her exactly what happened — he’d have told her that Edward and Alan were blacklisting him all over town. But now, he wondered what the point would be. What could Lila do? Justus might think the old lady had power, but Jason had seen no evidence of it.

“I don’t know what he’s talking about. I’ve been working at Luke’s for about a week. Bartending,” he added. “I have a room upstairs.”

“Luke’s.” Lila’s smile faded just slightly, and Jason wondered if she thinking about Elizabeth. Calculating what he might know, and she should say. “And…you like it? You’ve met your, uh, co-workers?”

“Sonny and Luke seem fine. And Mike, the guy who runs the kitchen, he’s okay. But you’re asking if I met Elizabeth, aren’t you?”

Lila stilled, then slowly nodded. “I was, I suppose, getting to that. But I didn’t know how to…so you’ve met her.”

“I’ve met her. And I know who she is.” Jason paused. “You say you’re my grandmother.”

“My darling—”

“And I like you,” he continued, “so I guess I just want to know how you can be my family and let me walk around for three months without telling me about this.” Jason laid the photograph on the table. “Justus said you thought I’d be angry at Elizabeth. Is that what it was? You were protecting her?”

“Oh. My love.” Lila picked up the photo, her fingertips trailing over the small faces. “She was such a lovely child. You brought her to me every week, you know. Every Sunday afternoon, after church.”

“Did I bring Elizabeth?”

Lila raised her eyes to Jason, tipped her head. “You never asked any questions about before—”

“No one let me forget,” Jason bit out, and she closed her mouth. “Every day — you used to do this, this isn’t how you are, this isn’t what you’re supposed to do—Every day, everyone in this house told me who they thought Jason Quartermaine was. Who they wanted him to be. But no one ever told me about this. Being a medical student and a good son, a good grandson? These were more important?”

Lila gently laid the photograph down, folded her hands in her lap. “If you will remembered correctly, young man, I never did any of that.” Her quiet voice, lined with steel, shamed Jason and his cheeks burned. “By the time you came into this house, you were already angry with the world. Yes, your grandfather acted poorly. Your parents pushed too hard—”

“They lied.”

“By omission, yes. They spoke of the future they wanted you to have because you didn’t want to speak of the past. And Ned thought maybe Elizabeth wanted to keep her distance. After all, she never came to the house and to my knowledge, she never visited in the hospital either—”

“They wouldn’t let her.”

Lila blinked, then shook her head no. “No, that’s not possible. She’s your wife, Jason. She would have the right to see you. And she could have just asked to see me, I would have made sure she was allowed in the house—”

“So you’re telling me Elizabeth is lying?” Jason wanted to know, lifting his brows. He knew the answer to the question. He’d seen the paperwork.

“I—well, she must be mistaken. It was a misunderstanding—” Lila paused. “I thought we ought to give her time to handle it in her own time. And she’s done that, I see. That’s why you’re here. Angry that we lied to you—”

“You told me the pieces you wanted me to know. You left the rest of it out.” Jason looked away. “I had a right, I think, to know.”

“You did. And Ned was wrong, and we were wrong to agree.  But I promise you, dear, I did it because I thought it was best. For you both. I hope you would have been kind to Elizabeth, but I don’t know.” Lila touched his hand. “I am glad that you know now. Are you?”

“I don’t know,” Jason muttered. He didn’t know what he was doing here. What was the point of this conversation. “Is there anything else I should know? Anything else you’re keeping from me to protect me or someone else?”

“No, I promise you, darling. There’s no other dark secret about your life before the accident. You were a wonderful young man with a lot of promise. A medical student who wanted to save lives. A good son, grandson, and brother.” Lila paused. “And a devoted and adoring father and husband. All of those pieces of the puzzle you have now. I suppose it’s up to you which you intend to keep—if any.”

Jason nodded, but said nothing. He slid the photograph back into his wallet, returned it to his pocket.

“And to answer your earlier question, Jason—” He looked up at his grandmother. “No, you never brought Elizabeth. I was always disappointed that you didn’t work harder to build a bridge between this family and your wife. Or stand up for her more. It was the first time I could remember being disappointed in you.”

His throat was tight, and he swallowed. This was a first, he thought. A criticism of the man he’d been before. “What?”

“You never did enough,” Lila said, her tone still gentle, but the look in her eyes was determined. “You never put your grandfather in his place, or pushed back against your parents. They treated Elizabeth terribly from the moment you brought her into this house, and you let them. So, no, Jason, you never brought your wife and daughter to see me at the same time. Does that answer your question?”

He didn’t even know why he’d asked it — but maybe he thought this would be the answer. And he didn’t like it very much. But these were facts wrapped in Lila’s opinion, and Jason didn’t see a reason to disagree with it. Maybe the man he’d been once had been a good one in many respects — but he hadn’t been a perfect one.

And there was something almost reassuring in that particular realization, though he didn’t understand why.

Elizabeth set a drink in front of a customer, then slid down to the end of the bar where Justus had been waiting patiently for a few minutes. “Sorry. It always gets a little busy here when there’s the shift change on the docks.”

“Yeah, I know. I, uh, was hoping I could get a few minutes of your time.” Justus raised his brows. “I’ve gone through the legal papers you gave Jason, and looked into a few other things on my own.”

Elizabeth tensed. “I told him that my lawyer—”

“Your lawyer doesn’t return phone calls, Elizabeth. Which you know, don’t you? Since he withdrew from your case a week ago.”

Elizabeth exhaled slowly. “I was kind of hoping you wouldn’t notice that,” she muttered. Then went to fill another drink order, trying to think of how to manage this situation. When she returned to Justus, she thought she had an angle. “Look, I don’t really need a lawyer, right? Especially now that you’re involved with Jason’s case. They were always going to win. The divorce and the eviction—”

“If that’s true, why didn’t you take the settlement they offered? Don’t answer that, I already know.” Justus folded his arms on the bar. “So you’re avoiding Jason—”

“There’s—there’s nothing to avoid. He’s…” Elizabeth twisted the ring on her finger, then looked down it, jarred by the casual habit. “It’s in name only at this point. A legal tie that barely means anything—”

“It might mean a whole lot if he wants to get out of this conservatorship,” Justus said, and Elizabeth closed her mouth. “I have some thoughts on that, but before I bring it up to Jason, I need to know if it’s something you’d consider.”

“Why—why would—why would you need me—”

“I know you were trying to get this whole thing dissolved before Jason ever found out it existed. I think it’s a nice thing you tried to do—stupid,” Justus added, and she scowled. “But nice. Making dissolving the conservatorship a condition of the divorce. But Edward and Alan hold all the cards. Or they did. But they should have taken your offer.”

“Why?” Elizabeth asked dubiously. “What can I even do?”

“Edward is asking the family court for a divorce on Jason’s behalf. I can’t get into the probate court records,” Justus said. “Even if I’m Jason’s attorney. But you know what I might be able to do? File an injunction to stop the divorce. Because if you and Jason walk into that court, and tell the judge you don’t want a divorce, I’d be very interested to learn how Edward works around that with a judge.”

Elizabeth stared at Justus for a long moment, then shook her head. “No. No, it wouldn’t work. Okay? It’s…you’re not thinking it through, okay? Because—because—” She couldn’t think. Couldn’t form whole words. Her brain had skittered to a stop—

She heard her name called, and went to serve another regular, furiously turning Justus’s decision over and over again in her mind, trying to find the right reason to reject it.

“Here’s why it doesn’t work,” Elizabeth said, finally going back to the end of the bar. “Because Jason and I would have to lie to the court and say we were staying married. And we’re not. Okay? We’re not. He doesn’t want that. And you’re a lawyer, you’re—you’re not supposed to let us lie.”

“I think you and I both agree that you and Jason should be making that decision on your own,” Justus told her, and she bit her lip dropping her eyes to the top of the bar. “And right now, you’re not. Edward’s making it for you, and you’re fighting it to get Jason free of my idiot grandfather. The only way that decision gets returned to you, Liz, is if you fight to make it yours. And we do that by making the judge question why Edward is in even in his court at all. And start embarrassing Edward for having a conservatorship that isn’t valid. It can’t be. Jason’s completely capable of living his own life.”

“He—I know he is. I tried—” She fisted her hand, bit her lip. “Edward is going to point out Jason and I don’t live together. We’re not married in anyway that actually matters. We barely know each other.”

“We can talk about all of that, Elizabeth. You probably have a point. If the judge thinks you’ll just get divorced anyway—but I need leverage to get at this conservatorship.” Justus leaned forward. “And this is the best one I’ve got. And listen, Jason still has to agree to this, so it’s not a done deal. But can I ask him?”

“You can ask him, but I’m not agreeing until I know what he says. It’s his life. I just want him to have his life back.”

“Then I’ll talk to him, and we’ll see what happens.” Justus lid off the bar stool. “I’ll be in touch.”

——

But it wasn’t Justus that followed up on the conversation — it was Jason. Without warning, when she fully expected him to be working the night shift with Claude behind the bar, Jason showed up at the apartment that night.

She stared at him through the peephole, considered changing her name and running away to Mexico. If she climbed through the window—

Instead, Elizabeth pulled the door open, but remained in the doorway. She didn’t think she could handle Jason in the apartment again. Once was enough.

“Hey.” Jason’s hands were in the pockets of the leather jacket he wore, his expression hidden mostly by the shadows of the hallway. “Sorry to just show up, like this, but I told Luke I needed the night off.”

“That’s Luke’s problem, not mine.” She folded her arms. Didn’t move an inch. She needed to keep this boundary. Needed to do whatever was necessary to keep Jason out of her life. He needed to be nothing more some lines on the divorce papers whenever they arrived.

“I talked to Justus. Um. He said you…that you’d talked to him.”

“I did.”

“Can—” Jason squinted. “Can I maybe come in, and we can talk about it—”

“No. No. I’m sorry. I can’t—” Elizabeth closed her eyes. “Look, just wait right here, okay? I’ll go get a jacket and we can talk outside.”

She closed the door before he could answer, and went to get a thin jacket and a pair of sneakers. When she went back to the hallway, Jason was still waiting. “I’m not trying to be rude, but—”

“You don’t want me in the apartment,” Jason said. “I understand.”

“Glad one of us does,” Elizabeth muttered, before taking the flight of stairs down to the street level.

Outside their apartment building, parked by the street was the motorcycle she knew he’d bought before he’d left the Quartermaines. Emily had related the story over the phone, one she’d heard from her mother — Jason had driven right through the terrace doors during breakfast —

It had seemed like a fantastical tale — one that her Jason would never do, and so Elizabeth had put it out of her head, assuming Emily had been given an exaggerated version of whatever had happened.

But there was the bike — a Harley Davidson — parked at her curb.

Elizabeth turned back to Jason, keeping her back to the bike. “So you talked to Justus.”

“Yeah. He, ah, told me what he wanted to do. What he asked.” Jason’s eyes held hers. “But you don’t want to do it. So we need to think of something else. I wanted to tell you not to worry about it.”

“Oh—oh.” Elizabeth pressed his lips together, folded her arms. She hadn’t expected that, she realized. “I, um, I’m sorry—”

“No, I get it. You said you needed space. You need not to see me, and I—I understand that. You shouldn’t have to go in court and tell a judge something else. I told Justus we can do something else.”

“I—” Elizabeth rubbed her forehead. “I told you I’d help. I—just—” She closed her eyes. “Justus has a backup plan, doesn’t he?”

“I don’t know. He’s working on some things. But it’s not your problem,” Jason said. “I’m not your problem. I want you to know that. He said you were trying to get them to end the conservatorship, and your lawyer quit because you wouldn’t give up on that. I’m sorry—”

“You didn’t do anything.” Elizabeth winced when she realized how irritated she sounded. “You didn’t. None of this is your fault. All you did—” Was get into that damn car, she thought. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what the right thing to do is. I think I know, and I try to do it, and it’s not. It always seems to be wrong. I tried to force my way into the hospital, and it just gave them the idea to do this — it backfired, and it just keeps backfiring—” She pressed her hands to her head. “And I can never just take a breath and make it all stop.”

“I can—” Jason stopped, and when he didn’t say anything, she frowned at him. “I can help with that.”

“What?” Elizabeth asked. “How?”

Jason walked past her to the bike, and reached for the helmet. He held it out to her. “When I left the Quartermaines, I wanted to stop thinking, too. This helps. I know you said you don’t want to be around me—”

“It’s not—” Her voice faltered. “It’s not about not wanting to be around you. I just—” Elizabeth bit her lip. “I just feel like it’s all falling apart, and it’s been crumbling for months, and every time I’ve built just a little bit of my world up again, it shatters, and eventually there won’t be anything left. I’ll just be…empty. There’ll be nothing. Do you know what that feels like?”

His voice was rough when he answered, nodding slowly. “Yeah, I do. That’s pretty much where I live. I can’t make it go away for good, but maybe…for a little while.” He extended the helmet again, and this time —

She took it.

Comments

  • Beautiful… haunting… a wonderful story

    According to Raye on December 20, 2023
  • Wonderful, Jason just didn’t ask Lila the right questions. I want to go for the bike ride too.

    According to leasmom on December 20, 2023
  • I love that you got the “feels like nothing” line woven into the story!

    According to Golden Girl on December 20, 2023
  • Wow!! I loved how they’re going on a bike ride. I also loved how you got feels like nothing into this story. This is so sad right now. His talk with Lila was heart breaking. I can’t wait for more.

    According to arcoiris0502 on December 20, 2023
  • I hope Justus comes up with a plan to put Edward, Alan, and Monica in their place.

    According to Shelly on December 21, 2023
  • This is my first time following a story as you write it, and omg, I’m so impatient. This story is incredible. The evolution of Jason Morgan is one of my all time favorite stories, and I love the spin you’re putting on it. Amazing job incorporating actual bits from Liason history – the bike ride, “I decide what’s fair to me,” “Do you know what nothing feels like?” I’m eagerly awaiting each update!!

    According to Michele on December 22, 2023
  • I love that Jason went to Elizabeth. I hope his talk with Lila helped. I love that they are going on a bike ride.

    According to Carla P on December 22, 2023
  • I want them to come to an agreement and work together to bring those two snakes down. I want Justus, Lila and Ned to help them.

    They are a sad couple.

    loved the chapter

    According to Pamela Hedstrom on December 23, 2023
  • I absolutely love how you worked those iconic lines into the story and made them your own. It was beautiful.

    According to nanci on December 26, 2023