Nick had made his presence known in our house since my announcement three weeks ago. He was always present, ready to run an errand, help out, or just hang out. If he wasn't my absolute best friend in Orlando, he was now. We talked about anything and everything, our past, our present, and our hopes for the future. We joked as good as the next guy, and when it came to video games, he found I was just as good as he was, if not better. He just wouldn't openly admit it.
Howie had started coming over more often as well. Now that the storm had passed, he and my sister, Keri, were now able to "let their inhibitions fly out the window," as Nick so gallantly put it. Howie's quiet, sweet nature was always more than welcome, especially when a chaotic Nick was on one of his many rampages.
Then there was AJ. I always thought it a matter of time before he snapped and realized he had nothing to be responsible for, and the could just up and leave when he pleased. But he was always calling or visiting, seeing if I needed anything.
"AJ, I'm not used to attention like this. I'm okay, really."
"Are you sure? You don't need anything? Have any weird cravings or whatnot?"
"Does anything hurt, do you want me to get rid of Nick for you, anything? I can be there--"
"AJ! Knock it off, " I'd laugh. "Nick's behaving himself, for what it's worth. You don't know how grateful I am for having you in my life, but the babying has got to stop. Now."
"You know you like it. Deep down, you're wishing I could do more."
Marissa was a Godsend. Always the one by my side, always the partner in crime. We had decided to keep what had happened in her apartment a closely guarded secret; no one needed to know the details. She kept me grounded when I felt there was nothing left to do but go insane, and in the past three weeks, she had done all my explaining for me both at the radio station, and to Brian and Kevin, who learned the details a few days after everyone else did.
I was surrounded by the perfect family, friends included, and I hoped it never changed.
"OK, listen up," Keri announced one afternoon. "We have to discuss a few things."
Nick dropped a notepad on my lap, and I could tell by the looks on his, Keri's and Marissa's faces that this wasn't going to be pretty.
AJ, who had been sitting next to me in our living room, gazed at the list. "What's this?"
"Things you can't do anymore," Marissa told me.
"No more kickboxing," Keri began.
"No smoking, or doing drugs," Nick continued.
"But I don't do either of those--"
"And no drinking," Marissa read off the list.
"No operating heavy machinery," Nick chimed.
"No skydiving or bungee jumping," Marissa stated.
"And NO yelling!" Keri jumped in. "I don't want you scaring my niece, you hear me?"
"OK, hold on a second," Nick interrupted, eyeing my sister. "Niece? Don't think so."
"Is that a fact?" Keri challenged.
"It is. Uncle Nick says he's getting a nephew."
"Oh, no," AJ groaned, chuckling. "They're doing it again! I'm outta here."
"What happened to "I'll always be there for you, no matter what"? You run at the first bump in the road!" I yelled after him as he ventured into a safe haven.
"Oh, well, Aunt Keri begs to differ."
"Well, Uncle Nick says that Aunt Keri should go take a flying leap into a--"
"All right, you two," I said firmly, interrupting what would soon be bloodshed. "Cut it out. You're going to end up killing eachother long before this kid is born. Then neither of you will be around to gloat to the other that you were right!"
"I should stop," Nick mused. "That way I can gloat to the whole world that I was right and Keri wasn't."
"Oh, don't you wish," Keri retorted.
"You guys are both crazy," I muttered.
"That sounds about right," Keri giggled.
[chapter 31 | chapter index | chapter 33]