chapter thirty one

“I say brief, to the point, no questions asked.”

“If only it were that easy,” I whispered back to Marissa. “Knowing my sisters, I’ll be bombarded with a million ‘why’ questions in the first minute. I don’t think I can handle that.”

“Not to mention You have Nick, Howie and AJ in there, too,” Marissa noted. “How do you think they’ll react?”

“I don’t know. I feel bad for sharing more bad news with AJ, after how bad I’ve behaved toward him. He’s been nothing but patient, and I’m starting to feel like the scum of the earth.”

“You are not dragging anyone down with you, Cass, and you know it. If you tell them, it’s because they’re the ones you love; your family. If they want to help out or stick around, it’s by their own choice. Very much like I am still here with you.”

“Thank you so much,” I hugged Marissa, happy that I had found one of the greatest friends I’ve ever had in her. “I don’t know how I could’ve managed this without you.”

“Think nothing of it. Now let’s get out there and alter their world.”

Marissa had an impeccable choice of words.


“You’re WHAT?” Keri exclaimed.

“A baby?” Charlie chorused.

“How did this happen?” Howie asked.

“Well, first, a man and a woman get together in the heat of passion. The man then proceeds to stick--”

“I KNOW that part, Nick,” Howie scowled. “What I meant was...was...oh, you know what I meant!”

“Just trying to help Cassie out, man,” Nick replied casually. “I mean, seeing as how you can cut the tension in this room with a knife.”

Nick’s last statement was directed at AJ, who had remained silent, head in his hands, throughout the rest of the group’s outburst. I wondered what was going through his mind, how he was feeling. Suddenly, no one else in that room mattered to me. I wanted to make sure AJ was all right, and nothing more.

Before I had the chance to call out to him, however, he turned a tear streaked face to me and simply said, “I’m sorry.”

“AJ,” I began. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”

“What’s going on here?” Nick demanded suddenly. “Why is AJ apologizing. What is he apologizing FOR?”

“I don’t think we should discuss that right now,” I answered quietly. “Not until we get something straight.”

I crossed my living room and sat in front of AJ, who was on the floor, resting his back on the couch.

“AJ, you have nothing to be sorry for. Not a damn thing. It wasn’t your fault. Understand?”

“If it wasn’t for me, none of this--”

“It is NOT your fault! I asked you before any of this started to be patient and understanding. Where did all that go?”

He stared at me for a moment, as if trying to register my words. I challenged his stare, trying to will him to understand me. Finally, he relented.

“I’m not going to stop feeling responsible for this,” he told me. “Because we both know that had it not been for me, this wouldn’t have come about. But,” he concluded. “I’m here for you. I always will be, and I’ll do whatever it takes to see that this innocent being lives a safe, happy life.”

I didn’t know when I had started crying, but hearing those words coming from AJ, I realized that my mother had been right; her little girl was going to be okay after all.

[chapter 30 | chapter index | chapter 32]