“You didn’t have to be such a Drama Queen about it.”

Sandra groaned, sharing an annoyed glance with Nick.

“Can I?” he asked.

“Please do,” she replied, then chuckled dryly when Nick kicked AJ under the table.

It had been a little over a month since the incident at the mall, and it was only then, having lunch with her two friends, that Sandra had felt comfortable enough to talk about that day.

AJ, of course, wasted no time in pointing out certain things that could’ve have been better left unsaid.

“I was kidding!” AJ exclaimed. “No need to be so damn violent, jeez.”

“I was not a Drama Queen,” Sandra pointed out. “I was just... stunned?”

“Good word,” AJ nodded. “I was pissed. How about you, Nicky?”

“I felt more than just one thing...” he trailed off.

“Yeah, you WOULD,” AJ snickered.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Nick asked defensively, expecting one of AJ’s infamous ‘dumb blond’ jokes.

“You know what it means,” he grinned at Nick. “And I think San knows now, too. Don’t ya, San?”

Two pairs of eyes focused on her, and she swore right then she could break AJ’s neck and feel no remorse whatsoever.

“You’re talking crazy talk,” she told AJ. “You’ve had way too much sugar today.”

AJ looked down at the ice cream sundae in front of him. “All I see is vanilla,” he pointed out. “No chocolate there.”

“AJ, shut up.”

“I love you, too, San.”

“Well,” Nick announced suddenly, not wanting to get caught in the soon-to-be bloodshed. “I must make my exit.”

“You have to go?” Sandra asked, looking up at him as he got up.

The disappointment in her eyes got to him in such a way that he’d have gladly blown off everything he’d had planned if she simply asked him to stay.

“Yeah.. got a few appointments and junk...”

“Oh,” she said, her voice dropping several notches. “I see... okay then.”

“I guess I’ll see y’all later,” Nick said then, bidding AJ and Sandra farewell.

“Yeah,” Sandra nodded. “Later..”

Once Nick had left, AJ had once again wasted no time in bringing up the obvious. “You like him!” he exclaimed, bouncing happily in his seat.

Sandra shot him a strange look. “What the hell are you talking about?!”

“You SO like him!” he grinned. “And that funny look you’re giving me isn’t convincing. It’s about damn time, woman!”

Sandra rolled her eyes heavenward before letting her forehead drop against the table. “Why me?” she groaned, causing AJ to burst into laughter.

“Because you’re special,” he chuckled. “San, this is great, don’t you realize that?”

“What I realize,” she began, her head lifting off the table. “Is that YOU have way too much time on your hands.”

“You haven’t denied it,” he pointed out.

She glared at him for a good minute before standing. “We better get outta here before these people witness a heinous crime.”

She walked off, leaving him grinning to himself.

She didn’t deny it.

- - - - - - -

“So aside from all that... he talked?”

Sandra nodded, watching in dismay as AJ’s eyes grew wide with surprise. “I believe his exact words were, ‘Wait’ll the guys hear about this one.’ The following Monday was hell. People staring, whispering behind my back, laughing. Some even went as far as to single me out to my face. Then the name calling started. I couldn’t stand it there anymore...”

“So you skipped the graduation ceremony later that week,” AJ began. “And you left the very day you were supposed to be graduating with your class. I really don’t blame you, San. I’m just angry that you had to go through shit like that.”

“I’m sorry, too,” she admitted. “But what can I do now? It’s all over and done with. The longer people go without knowing where I am, the better. Out of sight, out of mind, right?”

AJ shook his head. He couldn’t believe she hadn’t told anyone - not even her own family - of her whereabouts. Not that he’d meddle in that; if she wanted things that way, then he wouldn’t object.

“I doubt you’ll be forgotten,” he told her. “What about your friends?”

Sandra’s thoughts strayed to Amanda, and she sighed “I don’t know... maybe one might have it harder than the rest... she cared more than others.”

“So call her,” AJ pressed. “At least let HER know you’re okay.”

“Soon,” she promised. “Maybe not now, but soon.”

“Why not now?”

“Because I’m stil not okay.”

[chapter list | chapter eighteen]