chapter fourteen

Charlie wasn’t halfway out of the car when I heard her shriek.

“Omigosh!” she exclaimed, inhaling sharply. “Cass!”

“Whats up?” I asked her, grinning. She saw the smile on my face and her hands flew toward my neck.

“TELL ME we are NOT at Brian Littrell’s house!” she hissed. I turned towards the front door and saw Brian coming out to greet us.

“We aren’t at Brian’s house.” I told my stepsister. She punched my arm.

“Liar!” she accused. “Who’s THAT then?” she pointed through the car windshield at Brian.

“Thats Brian,” I repeated. “But we aren’t at his house. This is Howie’s house.”

“Omigosh, omigosh..” she began. “WHAT are we doing here?”

“You’ll find out as soon as you get your butt out of this car,” I told her, pushing her back out of the passenger’s side. “Now get out!”

I watched from my place inside my car as Charlie intorduced herself to Brian, who welcomed her wholeheartedly. Her eyes grew wide, just as my heart tied itself into a thousand knots, as AJ appeared, a friendly smile on his face. Brian introduced the two as my sister and Howie came outside.

“YOU’RE here too?” Charlie asked Keri, her eyes growing wider by the minute. Keri laughed and told her not to worry, that the guys didn’t bite. In the dirver’s seat, I laughed softly at her remark.

“Not TOO hard, anyway.” a voice whispered in my ear. I jumped suddenly, and turned to face the owner of the voice. Nick’s face was merely inches from mine, and he was smiling brightly, apparently proud of himself for startling me.

“Way to make an impression, Nick.” I laughed. I finally got out of my car and gathered courage to walk towards the small group that had gathered in Howie’s driveway. Nick stood close by my side, and I was grateful.

“Look who decides to grace us with her presence!” Keri exclaimed sarcastically, eyeing me mysteriously. She was upset, I could feel it. What did I do wrong now?

“Yeah, about time, huh?” I asked her, trying to read the look in her eyes. What was going on?

“Glad you could make it, Cassie.” Brian said, giving me a hug.

“Welcome,” Howie said, hugging me as well. He held the hug long enough to whisper, “We gotta talk, its pretty urgent.” I whispered my agreement and pulled away.

“Kevin’s inside helping out with stuff,” Nick said, leading us all in the house. He took my hand in one of his, Charlie’s in another. “I’m gonna take you to say hi.” he flashed Charlie his trademark grin, and I swore I saw her heart leap in her throat. Behind me, I could hear Brian and AJ whispering to eachother, but couldn’t make out what the dialogue consisted of. Shrugging it off, I turned my attention to Nick, who was explaining to Charlie how we all had met the night before. Without the night’s nasty event, naturally.

*~*~*

“So she knows.” I said. Howie had pulled me aside after we had eaten and told me that he had told my sister everything.

“Yeah, I’m so sorry Cassie,” he said. “I didn’t want to betray your trust like this.”

“No, don’t worry about it, Howie,” I told him. “Its alright, it was good that she found out this way, anyway.”

“How so?”

“I don’t think I could have explained it to her without crying hysterically half the time.” I managed a half grin. “So I should be thanking you.”

“I really AM sorry.” He began again.

“Howie, don’t. It was better this way, don’t worry about it, OK?”

“If you insist,” He smiled. “So how have you been?”

“Since yesterday?” I laughed. “I’ve been a total insomniac, I haven’t cleared up my thoughts yet, and to make matters worse, Keri’s apparently gonna have my head chopped off for letting this information slide!”

“Poor thing,” Howie laughed. “You must be tired.”

“Dead tired.” I confirmed, yawning for extra emphasis.

We burst out laughing then, and for the first time since i had gotten there, I felt completely at ease.

“Howard! I need you!” Polly’s voice drifted into the living room. Howie excused himself and followed his sister’s voice, which ultimately led him into the kitchen. I sat back in the plush couch and closed my eyes, attempting to relax myself. I heard my sister, Charlie, in the backyard, her contagious laughter filling the air as she and Brian apparently played a game of tag. I grinned to myself, happy that she was here and having such a good time. I heard Nick shouting instructions on how to barbecue to Kevin, who was seemingly getting fed up with Nick’s orders, for I soon heard Nick joining in Brian and Charlie’s game.

I was starting to fall asleep when I felt the couch sinking next to me. Assuming Howie was back from the kitchen, I didn’t bother opening my eyes when I spoke.

“Welcome back, Howard.” I laughed softly.

“Cassie.”

My eyes flew open and I found myself staring into the eyes of the one person I didn’t want to see. Shock, was plainly written across my face, I presumed, but at this point I didn’t care.

“You just can’t leave a person alone, can you?” I spoke, my voice even and hard.

“Cassie, I need to talk to you.”

“There’s nothing to talk about here, Alex.”

“Yes there is, and you know it!”

“All I know,” I began, feeling the anger rise within me. “Is that you apparently haven’t had your fill yet, and are wanting to pick up right where you left off. Well, let me tell you that--”

“Will you just SHUT UP?!?”

I stared, dumbfounded, at AJ. I was rendered speechless, which suited his needs best, apparently.

“I wanted to set things straight with you,” he began softly. “I wanted to apologize.”

“I see. You wanted to apologize.” I sighed. “Let me ask you this: do you know what you’re apologizing for EXACTLY?”

“I have a lot to apologize for,” AJ replied. “And I don’t know where to start, frankly.”

“But you had NO problem attacking me, did you? The words just FLOWED so easily from you then.”

“Cassie, don’t start.”

“Oh, I’m not starting,” I said, rising out of my seat. “In fact, I think I’m actually ending this. Don’t come near me again, Alex. How many times must I tell you that?”

I headed towards the front door, but AJ stepped in front of me before I reached it.

“Why won’t you just hear me out?”

“Why won’t YOU just leave things alone the way they are?”

“Beacuse I can’t!” he nearly shouted. Lowering his voice again, he continued. “Because I’m falling for you, Cassie. I think I’m in love with you.”

Speechless again, I just stared at him. His eyes glistened, a batch of tears threatening to appear, surely. His face was solemn and full of sincerity, and I knew he wasn’t the same. He really had changed...

But I wouldn’t reason with him, I refused to. Before he could witness my own tears, I pushed past him and went out the door. I ran to my car and made it inside without him getting to me. He was standing by my side of the car when I next checked, asking me to go back. Turning away, I backed the car out of the driveway and headed home.

[chapter 13 | chapter index | chapter 15]