Chapter Twenty One.

“What the hell’s gotten into you?!”

“Go to hell,” she replied, shrugging out of his grasp and heading toward her car.

“Nice try,” AJ responded. “Now TELL ME.”

He reached out and grabbed her upper arm, whirling her around to face him.

“You have NO right to put your hands on me,” she seethed, her voice low and menacing. “Get the hell away from me before you regret it.”

“I’m not that easy to get rid of,” he told her casually. “Where you go, I follow.”

She shot him a dirty look before hopping into her car and speeding off, cursing out loud when she saw him close behind in his own vehicle.

She reached his house soon enough, and headed straight into the room where all her things were. She flung open a suitcase and began throwing everything that belonged to her in it.

“What are you doing?”

“What does it look like I’m doing, jackass?”

AJ winced. The words alone made him feel bad, but the break in her voice, the pain he’d heard in it made it worse.

In all this chaos, he’d forgotten she was the one that got hurt. He stood at the door watching her pack up her belongings, and soon realized he did not want her to leave. Despite the way things were discovered, he did not want this place to be without her. He didn’t want to be without her.

“She didn’t do it on purpose, Amanda,” he began, only to be greeted by a glare.

“Sticking up for her again?” she snorted. “How quaint.”

“I’m serious,” he began again. “I had to literally drag it out of her. Had it not been for my persistence, she wouldn’t have said a thing.”

“That still doesn’t justify anything.”

“Did I say it did? No. All I’m saying is that what you told her back there was SO out of line. Do you even KNOW how bad it hurt her?”

“What about how she hurt ME?!” She exclaimed, turning to face him, her eyes wild with hurt, betrayal, and anger. “Sure, I may not be a part of your uppity little circle of friends, but I’m HUMAN, AJ. I trusted her with my LIFE, and look at what she did.”

“She did it for your own good!” he exclaimed, his patience fading with each passing second. “Only you’re too fucking blind to see that, aren’t you? Do you even know the things you said to her back there? Do you remember the words you used?! Of course you don’t,” he continued when she was silent. “You don’t remember anything except how ‘betrayed’ you were. It was nothing like that. She did it because she CARED. I pushed her to do it, but she knew as well as I did that in the end it would be better for you! What you said back there probably hurt her more than one secret revealed against you. No one deserves to be called trash,” he wasn’t amused by the look of shock that crossed her face suddenly. “Yeah, you called her trash. You don’t remember? You belittled her in front of everyone, you broke her down, and for what? It hurt her, and I’m willing to bet my very life she still feels the same about you as she did yesterday. The question is, do YOU deserve that?”

She could do nothing but stare at him. Had she really said that? Had she been so angry as to bring up.. that?

“I don’t know what to do to make you see things my way,” he began. “I don’t know how else to show you I love you. Every time I try something new, you withdraw farther away. I tried everything, Amanda, and now I’m not so sure I want to keep trying.”

Amanda was taken aback. Something Sandra told her in one of their many conversations came rushing to the forefront of her memory. Something about AJ never giving up...

“You can’t do that,” she blurted out suddenly, surprised by the firmess of her voice.

“I can’t?” he asked, his eyebrow raised inquisitively at her. “Why not?”

“Because...” she trailed off.

“That’s not a good answer.”

“Because...” she trailed off again, “Because...” she looked around the room nervously, anywhere but at him. Her eyes rested on her suitcase then, and a million thoughts crossed her mind then, namely the one where she tried, to no avail, to live her life without him. “Because you can’t.”

“Again, not a good answer.”

“What more do you want from me?!” she exclaimed, ready to strangle him.

“How about honesty?” he offered. “That’s a good start. Should I make a list?”

“No,” she sighed. “I guess I owe you that much.”

“You guess?” he raised his eyebrows.

“Okay, I DO,” she shot back. That boy wasn’t satisfied with anything.

“You do,” he nodded.

“I do.. but I gotta go,” she said firmly. She walked right up to him, looking into his eyes for a few seconds before leaning in and kissing his cheek lightly. “I’ll be back,” she whispered before heading toward the door.

He watched her leave the room, his hand touching where she’d kissed him moments before. She must have been halfway down the stairs when she called out to him one last time.

“I mean, my suitcase is still here and all...”

AJ grinned. Damn that woman. He clearly noted the humor in her voice, and he knew she’d be smiling at the stunned expression on his face.

The sound of her car speeding down the street faded into nothingness before it occurred to him that he hadn’t asked her where she was headed. A wave of nausea washed over him as he dialed the all too familiar number.

“Yeah?”

“Nick,” AJ breathed. “How’s San?”

“Alive,” he sighed. “And she’s gotten past the hurt stage.”

“Pissed and ready to cause bloodshed?” AJ offered.

“That would be correct,” Nick told him. “What about Amanda?”

“That’s why I was calling,” he sighed. “If my wonderful psychic sense doesn’t fail me, she’s on her way over there again.”

“Again?!”

“Calm down, Nicky,” AJ smiled. “She’s on a peaceful mission this time.”

“Is she ever in for a surprise,” Nick groaned. “Care to help me referee this one, J?”

“I think I’ll sit this one out,” AJ chuckled. “But you’re more than welcome to come over and stay out of their business.”

“Say no more,” Nick said quickly. “I’ll be over there in ten minutes.”

Nick hung up and glanced over at Sandra. She was sitting in the recliner, staring blankly at the television, yet he could sense she knew what was going on - and what was about to happen.

“Have fun at AJ’s,” she whispered, taking him by surprise. “I’ll be in one piece when you get back.”

“I never doubted that,” he said, walking over to her and pulling her out of the chair and into his arms. “I’m worried about Manda.”

“So am I,” she sighed, closing her eyes as she rested her head against his chest. “So am I.”

[chapter list | chapter twenty two]