Chapter One.

“Would you look at him?”

“Well,” Sandra giggled. “What did you expect? That man is crazy.”

Nick shrugged. She was right, and he knew it. It just took him by surprise every time. He should’ve been used to AJ and his antics by now, but every damn time, he shocked people, and not only did he shock Nick, he scared him. A lot. Especially when he’d had the nerve to test the sturdiness of the chandelier in the dining room.

“Must he try and swing from that thing?!” Nick asked his girlfriend of three years.

“If he wants to, he’ll do it. You know him.”

A huge sigh of frustration escaped Nick then, and Sandra was quick to appease him.

“Honey, ignore him. You need to have your fun, too.”

“I can’t ignore him,” he replied, waving his hand out toward AJ. “Look at him! He’s gonna break not only the chandelier, but his own two legs as well!”

Sandra sighed in frustration. Damn it if AJ wasn’t making it hard for her to distract Nick. That was just the last straw. She felt herself growing annoyed with the overgrown monkey swinging freely now from the chandelier, which was now swinging a little loose for her liking.

“Don’t move,” she told Nick, before breaking away from him and heading toward the dining room area. She stood at the base of the table and turned angry eyes on her friend, who greeted her as only he knew how.

“Hey San! Wanna ride?”

“Get down,” she said sternly. “NOW.”

“But -”

“McLean, if you value your life, you’ll get down faster than you ever thought possible.”

Had he not caught the angry look she was giving him, he would’ve continued showing off in front of his rowdy guests. Instead, he called it quits and, ignoring the disappointed groans of his spectators, followed his good friend as she stalked off toward the front door. He held her back before she could open the door and turned her to face him fully.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, his eyes full of concern. He didn’t like seeing Sandra angry. His ‘little buddy’ and anger just did not mix.

“J -”

“It’s Nick, isn’t it? What did he do this time?”

“It’s not Nick,” she cut him off. “It’s you!”


“YOU!” she shouted over the loud music. “You’ve gotten to him, AJ! I can’t even BEGIN to convince him to sneak off somewhere with me anymore! He’s to busy watching YOU, making sure you don’t do something stupid, like break your legs!”

“Ohhhh,” AJ’s eyes lit up as he smiled knowingly. “Is that it? You wanna drag Nicky away into one of my rooms and get freaky!”

“No,” she shook her head. “You missed the point.”

“I did NOT,” he emphasized. “I was getting to it.”

“Sure you were.”

“I WAS. So. The point is.. you’re jealous of me.”

“I’m WHAT?!”

“Jealous of me,” he repeated, wiggling his eyebrows. “I’m irresistible to look at. Everyone’s got their eyes on me. Even your Nicky.”

“If that’s not the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard...”

“You know it’s true, Squirt,” he said simply. “Nick’s too enthralled in my antics to notice you, and that’s bothering you.”

“Oh, you dirty little... come here, AJ!” Sandra shouted, as AJ darted out the front door into his front lawn. She took off after him, calling him every name in the book, until she opted for his full name.

He winced, then slowed to a stop. “Don’t call me that,” he told her. “You sound like my mom.”

“Too bad,” she shot back, punching his arm. “You’re full of it, AJ, you know that?”

“As are you,” he laughed. “That’s why we’re friends, remember?”

Remembering was never hard to do. Almost four years ago, he’d sauntered into the diner she’d been waitressing at, right in the middle of the busiest time of day. She’d gotten his order wrong, and he hadn’t complained. Her boss had found out, however, and when she was getting chewed out, AJ had stepped in on her behalf, and quitting her job for her in the process. She had raised hell and a half that afternoon, as he dragged her around Orlando, trying to make up for “getting way too into the moment” and quitting for her, and he’d fired back each and every time with flashy remarks of his own. Needless to say, that by the time night fell that day, they were both exhausted from the constant bickering, and more than just content with the friendship that had snuck up on them.

“I remember,” she grinned. “But you still suck!”

She took another swing at him, and he jumped back, daring to point and laugh at her. That had her seeing red, and before either of them knew it, they were on the ground, Sandra straddling AJ as her hands found their way around his neck.

“I can’t breathe!” he gasped.

“Liar! You’re still talking!” she shouted.

“What the hell is going on here?!”

Both pairs of guilty eyes glanced up toward the owner of the voice, and Sandra let out a shriek of delight as she recognized her best friend.

“Mandarin!” she exclaimed, AJ and his death sentence long forgotten on the ground. She threw her arms around her friend, laughing happily. “I can’t believe you’re here!”

“Neither can I,” Amanda laughed. “But I’m here. To stay, too.”

Sandra raised a questioning eyebrow in Amanda’s direction, searching her blue eyes for the meaning behind the sudden move to Orlando.

“Don’t even,” Amanda held up a hand, noticing what her friend was up to. “I just needed a change, that’s all.”

“Where do I apply for that?”

Amanda followed Sandra’s gaze down to the grass, and found AJ sitting cross legged between the two of them, curiously listening in on the conversation.

“Pardon?” Amanda asked.

“I wanna be the change you need,” he grinned. “Who do I talk to to get the job?”

“ME,” Sandra told him. “And since I already know you...”

“I got the job?” he asked, getting to his feet.

“You’re two seconds away from a restraining order, actually,” Sandra laughed.

“Funny,” AJ made a face at her. To Amanda, he turned his best smile and, removing his sunglasses, took her hand in his. “I’m AJ.”

“Amanda. Nice to meet you,” Amanda replied, smiling back at him.

AJ smiled wider, in spite of himself. The day had just gotten interesting.

[chapter list | chapter two]