chapter nineteen

It didn’t take a genius to know we weren’t going for sodas.

“AJ, what gives?”

He turned to look at me briefly. Sighing, he asked me to wait.

“For what? AJ, this isn’t funny.”

“It isn’t meant to be,” he replied. “Its not something I want to do, either.”

“What do you mean? What are you going to do?”

“Too many questions, Cass,” he told me. “Just give me a few more minutes, its all I ask.”

I turned away from him and focused my attention on the scenery we were passing by. We had been driving on the freeway for well over twenty minutes, and the only thing floating through my head was how badly my sister was gonna get hurt when we got back.

He exited the freeway about ten minutes later, and I noticed we were heading towards the beach. He passed up the crowded area of the beach, though, and we ended up in a part less crowded. More like deserted, anyway.

“Come on,” he said as he got out of the car. “Let’s go.”

“Go where?” I asked, following him. WHY was I following him? “AJ, whats going on?”

“Just follow me.”

This was getting way too wierd. Yet here I was, following the man. Insane beyond belief, thats what I was. I trailed behind him until he stopped at the oceanfront. He looked at me then, and I got a chill. I had no idea what was coming next, but I knew, somehow, that this was the beginning of what I could only make out as the end. But the beginning of what end?

“Sit with me.” he lowered himself onto the sand. His tone was soft, even and calm. I sat.

“AJ, are you OK?”

“No, I’m not OK.”

“Whats on your mind?” I asked him. He was starting to worry me. I realized then that despite everything, I cared about a friend. I did NOT just admit that...

“You’re on my mind. You have been for a long time.”

I froze, wishing that I hadn’t heard that. I didn’t want to hear what was to follow, either. But there was nowhere to go; I couldn’t storm off as usual. I was stuck.

“AJ, don’t do this,” I whispered. “Not again.”

“I’m doing this, for the last time. So you have to hear me out. Please.”

I sighed deeply, staring out to the sea. After momentairly observing the waves crashing ashore, I relented. “All right.” The beginning of the end to our ongoing war.

We sat in an awkward silence for what seemed hours. I was surprisingly wanting to hear him speak; wanted to hear what he had to say. Although I had heard him time and again, I felt this time it was meaningful. This time would be different. My walls were breaking down.


AJ watched the waves intently, searching for the right words. He never in a million years expected Cassie to agree to coming here with him so peacefully. He was well prepared for a good fight; he was ready to yell, shout, kick and scream at her if necessary, but when she conceded silently, he was knocked off course. Now he sat on the sand, with Cassie nearly touching his side, with not a word to say to her.

He opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again, but to no avail. Words could not, would not, form. He had said what he felt a thousand times before, but he felt that at this moment, those words weren’t good enough. This was his last chance; he gave her his word. After this, he’d leave her alone...rain or shine.

He mustered up the courage, somehow, and found words.

“You know whats coming, don’t you?” he asked Cassie, turning to face her. She turned to him, shifting her position in the sand. Her brown curls blew gently in the wind, and he resisted the urge to touch them.

“I have an idea of whats coming,” she admitted. “And I guess there’s no stopping it now.”

“Right,” AJ laughed nervously. “You can’t leave this place.”

“I have a tendency to do that, don’t I?”

“You sure do.”

Silence. He didn’t know where to begin, and Cassie had developed a sudden interest in the grains of sand at her feet. They both inhaled deeply at the same time, and, facing eachother, smiled at the realization.

“Why is this suddenly too easy?” he asked her.

“How do you mean?”

“I mean, I came here ready for a good brawl, but you agreed so peacefully...and now I don’t know what to do.”

Cassie laughed, and it set him at ease somewhat. Her brown eyes sparkled when she laughed, when she was genuinely content. A smile tugged on his lips, and he wasted no time in letting it through. He shifted in the sand until he was face to face with Cassie. He watched as her finger lazily traced a design in the sand between them. He took her hand in his and looked into her eyes.

“Cass, I’m sorry.”

“AJ, I know--”

“No,” he interrupted. “Let me finish.”

Cassie nodded slowly.

“I’m sorry,” he began again. “For everything I have ever done. Kids are cruel, I know that. But I unknowingly crossed the line. I’ve known that forever, only my conscience back then wasn’t as present as I would have liked it to be.

“I still can’t believe I gave you such a hard time then. It wasn’t like I thrived on making your life miserable, I was a kid. I wanted to fit in at first, being the new kid there and all. So naturally, I picked on the fat kid.” He watched as Cassie cringed at the term, and he squeezed her hand. “Sorry.” He mumbled again.

“After you left, mom put me in an after school performing arts program, hoping I’d calm down a little. It was there that you weighed heaviest on my mind. They taught us to feel things; regret, love, happiness, and sadness. And you were there. I felt awful those following years; every time I saw Tony I’d think about the times we had, and I’d remember you. I knew what I did wasn’t right, but couldn’t put myself in your shoes. Until I got a taste of my own medicine.

“In the Program, I was the youngest, smallest in the bunch. So when the coach singled me out, the other kids snickered amongst themselves. After the coach would leave they’d come up to me and push me around a while, calling me ‘baby’ and stuff. I know it wasn’t nearly as bad as you had it, but I was on the recieving end of the teasing for the first time in my life, and I didn’t like it.

“I developed a taste for music, obviously, and somehow that got my mind off of everything else. Singing was the greatest thing to me back then. Mom became heavily involved in helping me, and I auditioned, performed in talent shows, the works. I met Howie not long after, and then Nicky came along. Soon, we were five, and headed to Europe, where we’ve been until three years ago.

“You popped into my mind alot; wondered what you were like, if you were OK where you were. I’d thought about finding you, I owed you the biggest apology. The guilt has always been here with me, Cass. It kept me going at times, thinking I’d reach you one day. I never forgot your image; the little kid walking home from school by herself every day.

“The day I saw you a few months back was something, too. I saw you at the station and I immediately knew I had seen you somewhere before, but I couldn’t put my finger on where it was. After you left the lounge, I still thought about it, and your name didn’t cross my mind once. I never thought to compare the two.

“I got to know you that night, and I had never felt an attraction so strong towards another person in such a short time. I was happy that you had accepted to get to know me better. I was already making plans. But soon it all went down, and you left. Then Nick followed you out, and all I could do was sit there and try to control my thoughts. I wanted to go after you, but you didn’t want me there, everyone was asking questions at once, and it got to the point where I basically blew everyone off. Then Howie approached me, and I told him everything. Unfortunately Brian heard, and he took off to your house. Then afterwards I took to stalking you, trying to talk to you every chance I got, but you know how that turned out.”

He sighed, bringing Cassie’s hand to his lips. “I’m just so very, very sorry, Cassie. For everything I’ve done.”

“Thank you.” it was almost inaudible, but Cassie’s whisper went staright to his heart.


“Thank you, AJ.” she said again, a bit louder.

“For what?”

“For...for being the way you are.” she leaned forward and embraced him, a warm embrace that sent AJ’s heart soaring. With her arms around him, he had fianlly recieved what he had waited for seemingly and eternity: her forgiveness.


I sat there in the warm sand, holding AJ as if my life depended on it. If someone had told me yesterday that this would be happening today, I’d have called them crazy...and yet here I was, doing what this morning I would have dismissed as unimaginable. The feeling of his strong arms around me, his soothing breath against my neck, gave me a feeling I had never had the privilege of having before. Contentment. Accepting and being accepted. Forgiving and being forgiven. Silent emotions that ran through me at light speed, reaching to the very core of me. Love. I had finally admitted to myself that, indeed, I had unknowingly begun to lose my heart to him, and as much as it frightened me, I was willing to throw myself into the feeling. Headfirst, if I had to.

[chapter 18 | chapter index | chapter 20]