[twenty two]

It wasn’t a good morning. Then again, it wasn’t a bad one, either. Sandra had seen much worse in her twenty two years of existence. In fact, compared to the awful mornings in question, this one was quite glorious.

She stepped out of her bathroom, refreshed from her shower, and headed into her kitchen for her usual cup of coffee before she sat down in front of her computer for the day. Her weekends were spent there, be it working or spending ridiculous amounts of times surfing the net. Her latest venture was into the vast world Backstreet fans worldwide had created for the objects of their adoration. She’d been reduced to fits of hysterical laughter at the ridiculous rumors floating around about the guys, Nick and AJ in particular. She couldn’t wait to dig up more dirt to share with AJ, be it a new love child, another sex change, or simply yet another girlfriend to add to the fictional list.

“Speaking of the men of Backstreet,” she mumbled aloud, walking over to her phone. “I gotta call Nick.”

She smiled in spite of herself as she recalled his concern the night before. It didn’t matter that she knew beforehand; his feelings for her always took her breath away.

She picked up the reciever and was halfway through the dialing process when a soft knock sounded at her door. She jumped at the sound, but realized it was most likely Nick himself. After all, she had taken her time in getting around to calling him, he was probably coming by to check things out for himself.

The knocking resumed again as she reached for the doorknob, making her stop halfway. Something inside her made her uneasy then, and she hesitated a bit, eyeing the door curiously. Perhaps it wasn’t Nick...

AJ. It had to be AJ, she figured as she reached again for the doorknob.

- - - - - - -

“Any luck?”

“No,” AJ groaned, shutting his cell off. “I think it’s off the hook. All I get is a busy signal.”

“Crap,” Nick mumbled. “I swear, if he lays one hand on her, I’ll -”

“Concentrate on driving, Nick,” AJ cut him off, not wanting to hear what Nick had to say. “We’re almost there.”

- - - - - - -

“Hi Sunshine.”

Sandra stood paralyzed at her front door, her mouth set in a thin line as she stared at Zack.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, hoping her voice wouldn’t betray her. It had, for her demand for an answer came out in a trembling whisper.

“I cam to see you, baby,” He tried to walk past her, but came up short when she stood in front of him, the door shutting him out slowly but surely.

“Don’t call me that,” she fumed, willing herself to be stronger.

“You think I’m lying?” he asked, a smirk on his face. “I came to get an apology for the day we ran into eachother at the mall.”

“An.. apology?” she asked incredulously.

“Your... friends,” he scoffed at the word, “Don’t have much manners.”

“At least they’re decent people,” she shot back, “Which is more than I can say for you...”

“Oh, come on,” he laughed bitterly. “You know me, Sandra. You know how I am. We go way back..” he trailed off, advancing into her apartment. She tried to block him out with the door again, but one forceful shove from him sent both her and the door flying back.

“Get out of here, Zack,” she warned. “Now.”

“Or what?” he turned angry eyes at her. “Your little popstar boyfriend is gonna throw me out?”

“He’s hardly my boyfriend,” she said angrily. “But he, unlike you, cares about me. He’s more of a man than you’ll ever be, Zack.”

His gaze grew dark, and she knew she’d hit a nerve. As long as she’d known him, he’d always prided himself in being a ‘real man.’ Now, with this direct, harsh accusation from her, he was seeing red.

All she could do now was brace herself and pray she’d survive this.

“I’m more a man than some pretty boy singer can ever hope to be,” he said menacingly, walking toward her. “And apparently, you seem to have forgotten just how much a man I really am.”

“If by ‘man’ you mean ‘asshole,’ then no. I haven’t forgotten that. I haven’t forgotten how you treated everyone around you worse than the scum on the bottom of your shoe. I haven’t forgotten how you treated ME,” she smirked bitterly, suddenly not afraid of the consequences of running her mouth.

- - - - - - -

“Nick, hold up,” AJ whispered, tugging on his friend’s shirt.

“What the fuck?!” Nick hissed at his friend. “AJ, he’s IN THERE.”

“Yeah, I know,” AJ nodded. “But shut up a sec and listen...”

Nick leaned against the wall outside Sandra’s apartment and listened, his eyes growing wider by the minute.

- - - - - - -

“Have you forgotten, Zack?” Sandra pressed, challenging him with her dark gaze. “Prom night. Do you remember? Because I sure as hell do...”

Zack stopped where he was, his eyes focused on her as she shot daggers at him. “I remember Prom night,” he smiled wickedly. “How could I forget?”

“Good,” she spat. “I take it you haven’t forgotten how you raped me.”

His eyes grew wide, and he stepped back. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You put out willingly..”

“I... put out? Put out, Zack?” she laughed angrily. “WILLINGLY, no less. Oh, that’s perfect,” She punched the wall she’d been leaning against before screaming, “I DID NOT DO IT FUCKING WILLINGLY, YOU ASS!”

She advanced on him and, to her surprise, he took steps back.

“Sandra, don’t do anything stupid..” he warned.

“Of course I won’t,” she shot back. “I’m not YOU.”

Anger flickered in his eyes again, and he came to his senses once more. “When the fuck did you get so damn hotheaded?! Look at you, thinking you can do something about it. You’re pathetic, you know that?”

“Oh, fuck off,” she seethed. “You’re the pathetic one, Zack. What were you thinking in coming here, anyway? Did you want to boost your list of conquests up another notch? I dunno... make it TWO counts of rape, perhaps?”

“That was hardly a rape,” he spat, standing at his full height, towering over her. “And you know it. I know your type; all shy and bashful and innocent-like, yet you know what you want and go after it. I was just doing you a favor,” he smirked.

Sandra took a step back and away from him, her eyes wide with anger. “You really are full of shit, aren’t you?”

“And you, sweetheart,” he smirked. “Are a fucking tease.”

“You sleazy, worthless fuck!” she screamed, lunging at him, her hands balled up into fists.

He caught her by the wrists, pulling her unbelieveably close to him.

“I do believe that’s your department, baby,” he spoke, glaring at her with as much venom as he could muster.

Hands bound, she had only one other option, and it was going to hurt him a hell of a lot more than he could ever hurt her again.

- - - - - - -

“Oh, hell no,” Nick seethed, “I’m not standing out here listening to him talk to her like that!”

“I’m right behind you, Carter,” AJ said sternly, giving his friend a push toward the door.

The two men stopped abruptly at the threshold, both stunned at the death grip Zack had on their friend.

Before they could make a move, however, Sandra surprised them all as her knee came up fiercely, making direct and painful contact with Zack’s crotch.

Zack gasped in pain, dropping his hold on her and stumbling back, doubled over in pain. It didn’t take him long to recover enough to shoot her a menacing glare, then look past her at Nick and AJ.

“Well, well,” he smirked. “Come to save your little groupie whore, I see...”

Whatever resolve Nick had in him to remain calm and collected vanished right then. His temper flared as he lunged toward the man, tackling him to the ground in a single attempt, then hovering over him as his hands found their way around his neck.

“Don’t you ever,” Nick began, pounding Zack’s head against the floor once, “EVER talk about her like that again. I told you the next time I caught you around her you wouldn’t live to regret it...”

Sandra’s eyes grew wide at Nick’s words, and she went toward him. “Nick, stop,” she began, her hands on his shoulders as she tugged him back. “Get off him, please. AJ’s calling the cops...”

“He doesn’t deserve to breathe the same air you do,” Nick told her, his eyes never leaving Zack’s. “He doesn’t deserve a damn thing...”

His hold tightened around the man’s throat, causing him to gasp.

“Nick,” Sandra said, her voice stronger, more persistent. “Please, Nick, get off him..”

“C’mon, man,” AJ said then, joining Sandra in her pleas. “The cops are on their way, and I flagged down the detective outside. They can’t find you like this..”

Sandra’s hands remained on Nick’s shoulders, squeezing gently. “Nick, come on.. everything’s gonna be okay.”

Nick turned to look at her, caught the look of concern in her eyes, and promptly released his hold on Zack. Between him and AJ, they managed to hold him down until the detective came in, restraining him with handcuffs and seating him on a chair before calling his authorities to report the incidents that had transpired.

Nick went to Sandra, his worry evident in his eyes as he took her hands in his and looked her over more than once, making sure she was all right.

“I’m fine, Nick,” she assured him. “Really. Everything’s going to be fine.”

“God, San,” he whispered. “Shouldn’t I be the one trying to assure you of that?”

Her heart softened at the frightened tone he was using, and she wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him in for a warm hug. “I’m sorry, Nick,” she whispered against his shoulder. “You’ve been nothing short of amazing to me since day one, and I’ve never offered you nothing more than a half-hearted thanks, when in reality I owe so much more..”

“You don’t owe me a thing,” Nick protested softly. “You never have, never will...”

“But -”

“You don’t,” he repeated, pulling back enough to look into her eyes. “You have all of me, San, but you never have to give me anything in return.”

[chapter list | chapter twenty three]