“You’re telling me,” AJ sighed, stepping back into the hallyway. “We should’ve been here, you know.”
“Yeah,” Nick nodded, glancing upstairs. “I wonder if she’s trashed our room up there. I’m afraid to go look.”
“Wanna trade, then?” AJ offered, nodding toward the den.
Nick nodded solemnly, watching worriedly as his best friend headed up the stairs.
Faintly, he heard a knock on the bedroom door, followed by a muffled, “I thought I told you to leave.”
“San, it’s me,” AJ told her.
Silence followed for quite some time before Sandra decided to open the door.
“Can I come in?” Nick heard AJ ask.
“Since when do you ask if you can do anything?” Sandra’s voice sounded drained, void of any life.
“At least you remembered that much,” AJ said as the door closed behind him.
Nick drew in a deep breath and turned his gaze toward the den. He hoped things went well upstairs between AJ and San, but he hoped things went better where him and Amanda were concerned.
He walked into the room and knelt beside her.
“Go away,” she sniffled, sensing his presence. “I’ll be outta here in a few minutes.”
“I’m not about to let you go in the state you’re in,” he said softly.
She lifted her gaze then, her eyes blurry, unable to focus right away. “Nick,” she acknowledged.
“Who’d you think I was?”
“I... well..” she sniffled. “No one..”
“You thought I was Sandra.”
Amanda’s face twisted, and Nick saw the fresh tears forming in her eyes. Quickly, he helped her up and led her to the couch, sitting with her while she regained her composure.
“She hates me,” she announced finally. “She really, truly hates me.”
“Why do you say that?” Nick asked his friend. “What happened here?”
Amanda took her time telling him what had occurred in his house, and when she was finished, Nick was nothing less than shocked.
“That does not sound like San,” he said slowly. “Not in the least.”
“You’ve never seen her mad before?”
“I have,” he nodded. “Just not mad enough to do.. that. But that doesn’t mean she hates you, Manda.”
“It doesn’t take a genuis to figure out that she does,” she sighed. “No offense.”
“None taken,” he grinned. “But really, she does not hate you. How could she? You’re the most important person in her life. If anything, I should be a little jealous of that...”
Amanda chuckled softly, making Nick smile. “It’s true, you know,” he continued. “Nothing could really bring you two apart.”
“Except for me,” she sighed. “I said some nasty things to her, and she won’t forgive me.”
“You did say some bad things, but maybe you’re trying too hard to believe that she won’t forgive. If I told you all she wanted was for you to be happy, would you believe me?”
Amanda nodded. “That’s all she’s always told me she wanted. SInce we were kids.”
“Nothing’s changed since then,” Nick assured her. “She was willing to risk your friendship, Manda. For you to be happy, she was willing to risk that, and more, if she had to.”
Amanda sniffled slightly, looking into Nick’s eyes. He wasn’t lying. That definitely sounded like San. Her heart swelled a little, thinking of her miserable, stubborn, angry best friend on the second level of the house.
“I really screwed up, didn’t I?”
“You made a mistake,” he corrected her. “Let’s just hope AJ doesn’t do more damage than good up there.”
“He’s... here?” Amanda’s eyes grew wide.
“Yeah. Upstairs,” Nick sighed, grimacing at the loud ‘thud’ that sounded above their heads. “Probably in the process of getting himself killed. Or severely hurt.”
“Hey!” AJ shrieked, dodging the large shoe that came at his head. “San, knock it off!”
“Shut up!” she hollered, throwing Nick’s other shoe at AJ, succeeding in her mission when it struck him in the leg.
“You are such a punk!” AJ yelped, clutching his knee as he glared at her. “I came up here to help out, and this is the thanks I get!?”
“Help?! You came in here telling me I’m stupid! How is that HELPING?!”
AJ sighed. She was right. The first thing out of his mouth the moment the door closed behind him was, “San, you really are stupid, you know.”
She didn’t seem too happy to hear that. Almost instantly, the arguing began.
“Okay, so I called you stupid,” he admitted. “I’m not saying I’m sorry, San. It’s too true to apologize for.”
“You’ve just signed your own death warrant, McLean,” she seethed, picking up another of Nick’s sneakers.
“Will you put Nick’s shoes DOWN already?!” AJ shouted. “I’m gonna need my limbs later today, San.”
“Keep it up, J, and you’ll be in a hospital bed later today.”
“And you’ll be in jail,” he shot back at her. “No one would really like you very much if you assaulted the best Backstreet Boy of the group.”
She shot him a dirty look before turning her back to him. “Go away.”
“AJ, leave before I throw you out the damn window.”
“Why do you get so damn violent when you’re mad, San?” AJ groaned. “Like you really could manage to get me out the window...”
“You’re a butthead,” he sighed, crossing the room and joining her on her bed. “San, why don’t you tell me what’s going on in that big head of yours?”
“You’re one to talk about big heads,” she grumbled, elbowing him gently. “J, I was mean to Amanda.”
She eyed him curiously. “You heard?”
“The last of it,” he shrugged. “But I heard enough.”
“I thought I’d feel better if I put her down the way she did to me...”
“And you don’t?”
“I don’t,” she nodded. “I feel even worse than before.”
“Then you’re gonna be okay.”
She looked at him incredulousy. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Well, you’re not heartless, for one.”
“Shows what you know,” Sandra sighed.
“I know plenty, thank you very much. San, you tried to be mean. To give payback, and you ended up feeling worse. If you really were as heartless as you wanted to believe you were, you wouldn’t be up here right now. You’d be downstairs finishing her off.”
“She probably hates me even more now.”
“I doubt she hates you at all.”
“You really don’t know anything, do you?”
“I know she doesn’t hate you. Why do you think she came back here in the first place?” he asked her. “Do you honestly think she was coming back for another fight?”
“I didn’t think so.”
“How do you know she wasn’t coming back to officially end our friendship?”
“Because I do. I know she was coming over here to apologize and try to get you to forgive her. She really had no idea what she said earlier, San. I had to remind her of the things she said. She looked hurt after I repeated all she told you.”
Sandra regarded AJ for a while, letting his words sink in. “Did she... expect me to forgive?”
“I doubt she did. I think she was ready for what you gave her.”
“What did I give her?”
“The exact opposite,” he sighed. “You shot her down and gave her a taste of her own medicine. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was down there thinking this was all over.”
“She’s still here?”
“Yeah. Unless Nick let her go...”
“She’s with Nick?” Sandra groaned. “So he heard, too.”
“We all heard,” AJ chuckled. “You’re a big ugly meanie head.”
“You’ve certainly got a way with words, AJ.”
“They don’t call me charming for nothing, San,” he laughed. “Now what do you say we head on down there and...”
“Beg for forgiveness?” Sandra offered.
“On behalf of both parties, yes. You’re not the only one who needs to do that.”
[chapter list | chapter twenty four]