“So, how goes the ‘driving San crazy’ plan?”

Nick grumbled, shooting AJ a glare that cleary told him he was not in the mood to be messed with.

“That bad, huh?” AJ laughed. “You’re losing your touch, Carter.”

“Leave me alone.”

“Touchy, touchy,” AJ said, shaking his head. “What happened?”

“She’s driving ME crazy.”

AJ burst into howls of laughter. “Oh, that’s rich, man,” he said between chuckles. “How the hell is she doing that?!”

Nick shook his head and shot AJ another warning look. “I don’t wanna talk about it.”

He closed his eyes against the image of his friend laughing at him, and was bombarded with images that made his skin flushed, his insides heated, and sent him mind reeling. Images of them on her living room floor, the feel of her in his arms, the kisses they’d shared, the tears in her eyes.

Nick sighed. He’d avoided any and all contact with her for the past two weeks, and now he was beginning to think that he could stay away from her for the rest of his life, but he’d never manage to get her out of his system, out from under his skin, out of his heart.

She had become the love of his life, and he was at wit’s end.

“I don’t know what to do anymore,” he blurted out, startling AJ.

“No?” AJ cocked an eyebrow in his friend’s direction.

“No,” Nick said stubbornly. “I can’t think of a thing. I’ve tried all I could...”

“Maybe there isn’t anything left to do...”

“What’re you talking about?”

“Maybe,” AJ began again, leveling Nick with a serious look. “Maybe it’s in her hands now.”

- - - - - - -

He’d left her alone. Two weeks without Nick showing up everywhere she turned, without his presence in her life, told her that much.

Granted, he’d done this before, but something about the way things had ended the last time they’d been together gave her a feeling that that had been it. It was so... final.

Sandra shuddered, trying to clear her thoughts and resumed her work. She stared at the computer monitor blankly, as if it were some foreign object. She sighed, rolled her eyes heavenward, and rested her gaze on the living room floor.

Almost instantly, she relived her last encounter with Nick. Her hand went to her lips as she recalled their kisses, and her skin still bured where he’d had his arms around her.

He’d told her he loved her. She’d kept quiet. He’d told her to let go; the past she was living in wasn’t going to bring her anything good, she knew, but she couldn’t. Not when the past had caught up with her only recently. It was all too vivid now. It had stopped being ‘the past’ a couple of months back.

She’d driven around the streets of Orlando with caution now; something she’d never done before. She kept her eyes peeled for trouble, in the form of Zack, and was on constant guard.

Gone were the days when she’d go out at any hour of the day - or night - alone. Gone was the feeling of peace that had been with her sice arriving in this city. Gone was the freedom, the ability to do things and go places simply because she wanted to - and could.

She’d become a prisoner all over again.

She had friends, a small voice inside reminded her. Of course she did; she had them back home, too. Nothing had changed; it was the same thing all over again. The only difference was the location. The idea of being in a larger city than her hometown did nothing to bring any form of relief to her soul, however. The way she saw it, Orlando gave him more hiding places. More places to find her, watch her, follow -

A knock at the door startled her, causing her to gasp loudly, her heart hammering in her chest. Fear struck her immediately, and she remained glued in her chair, eyes wide and transifxed on the front door.

The knock came again, a bit harder than the first, and she still made no move to answer the door. A thousand images - all of them bad - flashed through her mind as, once again, the knocking resumed.

She hadn’t noticed she was shaking until she released the death grip she had on the back of her chair and saw her trembling hand.

The knocking turned to pounding the fourth time around, and she whimpered softly at the sound of the doorknob rattling. Slowly, she rose from the chair, careful not to make any noise, and walked toward the door, her eyes set on the peephole. Before she made it to the door, however, she heard whoever it was on the other side of her door walk off, the heavy footsteps fading after a few moments. Letting the air out of her lungs in one huge sigh, she leaned against the door and closed her eyes.

Not a minute had passed when the knocking errupted again, eliciting a scream from her as she went flying back and away from the door.

She stumbled backward, not stopping until she backed up against the opposite wall, even then wanting to move farther away. Her hands covered her face and she began to shake furiously, a fear so strong and pure overwhelming her. Her breath came in short, ragged gasps and tears were overflowing at a steady pace.

- - - - - - -

He heard the scream, heard her stumbling back, and ultimately heard the sobs. He’d been stunned; paralyzed in place, in mid-knock.

He must’ve stared at that front door a good five minutes before coming to his senses, having the sudden, gut-wrenching feeling something was happening to her.

Again, he knocked, more forcefully this time, and his mind went reeling when she answered with an even louder, nearly breathless sob.

“San?” he called out, pressing his ear to the door, trying the doorknob. “Sandra, are you all right? It’s Nick. Open the door, please..”

When she made no sound in response to his calling, he grew nervous. He knocked again, calling out to her, hoping to coax her into coming to the door. That is, if she was able to do so.

He waited in silence, his ears straining to hear something - anything - from inside her apartment. He was about to give up and call the police when the lock turned. When nothing else happened, he drew in a deep breath and worked the knob on his own.

The door opened in one fluid motion, and he was greeted with the normal sights. The warm glow of the lamps in her living room, the scent of vanilla floating through the air from the candles that were burning. The computer working silently in the corner of the room. Everything was as familiar to him as his own home, yet he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was incredibly off balance in that apartment.

“San?” he called out. “Where are you?”

He stood at the threshold, glancing about the room, looking for any sign of her. He stepped into the room, letting the door close behind him. She was nowhere to be found, as far as his eyes could tell. if she wasn’t there, he thought, the who unlocked the door?

“Sandra?” He called out again, his nervousness slowly transforming into fear.

“Behind you,” came the small, shaky whisper.

He turned around, toward the door, and found her standing there, much smaller than she really was, as if trying to make herself disappear. She’d been standing behind the door when he walked in.

He looked at her, tried to read her, but she wouldn’t meet his gaze. She simply stood there, making no move. Like she was bracing herself for an onslaught of terror..

“What happened?” he asked her, taking a step toward her. “I heard you scream...”

He reached a hand out toward her, meaning to lend some sort of comfort in the form of a compassionate touch, but before he could get anywhere near her, she let out a sob and flew into his embrace. it was only then, holding her as tightly as he possible could, that he felt her fear. She was trembling furiously, mumbling incoherently as she clutched him.

“Oh, San,” he whispered shakily against her hair. “What happened to you?”

He led them to her couch, where he pulled her onto his lap and cradled her as she regained control of herself. He stroked her hair and back soothingly as her breathing returned to normal, his mind thinking a million different things at once, yet not wanting to come across why she’d acted the way she had.

“How many times did you knock?”

“Pardon?” he asked, giving her a strange look.

“Before..” she paused, sucking in a breath. “Before the screaming.”

“Once,” he answered.

“Are you sure?” she pressed, the fear in her eyes making him uncomfortable.

“I’m sure, San,” he told her. “I came to the door, knocked, and I heard you scream. Why?”

She shut her eyes tightly, going over his answer in her mind. It hadn’t been him...

“He knows where I live,” she whispered, eyes still closed. “He was here..”

“What?” Nick asked. “Who?”

She opened her eyes, looked straight into his, and uttered the one name that made Nick’s skin crawl.


[chapter list | chapter twenty one]