[twenty three]

“Ugh,” Sandra groaned, tossing a half eaten slice of pizza back onto her plate.

AJ grinned at her as Nick raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Had too much, already?” AJ chuckled. “You’re losing your touch, Peanut Head.”

She broke off a piece of crust and threw it at her laughing friend. “Is it my fault I have no appetite? You’re the ones who came barging in here saying I had to eat something.”

“Let me guess,” Nick began, “You were happy with an empty stomach.”

“I was!” she exclaimed, grinning back at him. “Just because you two have bottomless pits for stomachs doesn’t mean I do...”

“Hey now,” AJ said warningly. “Bottomless pits? Not me..”

“Please,” Nick rolled his eyes. “You talk like we don’t know you..”

“Grand Canyon, maybe,” AJ continued. “Bottomless pit? Hardly.”

“At least he’s honest,” Sandra shrugged. “So, what’s the catch?”

“Catch?” Nick asked, confused. “What catch?”

“Funny,” she smiled. “Why’re you guys here? I don’t see either of you for days, then you show up with four boxes of pizza suddenly. What’s the occasion?”

“We missed you?” AJ offered. “Umm... we were bored?” he paused. “Oh, I know. Nicky made me do it.”

Nick shot a glare in AJ’s direction. “You’re stupid.”

“You have no room to speak there, Blondie,” AJ replied, wagging a finger in Nick’s direction.

“I don’t think EITHER of you do,” Sandra laughed.

“This coming from a woman who firmly believes her teddy bear is posessed and out to kill her...”

“Shut it up, McLean.”

“And we can’t forget that fear of clowns, either,” AJ grinned. “Tell me again why you hate clowns, San?”

Sandra’s mouth was set in a thin line as she shot daggers at AJ. “You’re on thin ice, butthead.”

“Awww,” he cooed. “Is San afwaid of the mean, scary clowns?”

“J,” Nick began. “I don’t think you wanna do this.”

“Don’t you have a clown doll somewhere in here?” AJ asked, standing up. “Or did you finally throw it out?”

“Don’t you DARE,” Sandra threatened. “I’ll hurt you so bad, AJ...”

AJ grinned at her and left toward her bedroom. “It’s in here, right? Didn’t you shove it to the back of your closet or something?”

Nick shook his head and cast an apologetic glance at Sandra. “He hasn’t had his medication today...”

“He’s about to get it in the form of my fist,” Sandra fumed, getting up and going after AJ.

She stopped short when she heard AJ triumphantly call out, “Found it!”

“Crap,” she muttered under her breath as she turned to Nick. “Would you mind...”


“Being my shield?” she grinned, moving to stand behind him. “Only for a little bit..”

“Anytime,” he grinned. “Why not just go for ‘Knight in Shining Armor’?”

“You already are,” she whispered behind him, and he turned to face her, surprised.

“Really?” he asked, eyebrows raised as he looked down at her upturned face. Her cheeks were glowing with a rosy blush that was nothing less than irresistable to him.

“Yeah,” she said earnestly. “You are.”

Nick smiled warmly at her, ready to profess once again his feelings for her, when an old clown doll got shoved in both their faces, sending Sandra stumbling back a few steps.

“AJ you idiot,” Nick grumbled. “Get that thing outta my face!”

AJ chuckled, clearly amused by his actions, but stopped in mid laugh when he saw just what he had come between. “Whoops,” he grumbled, backing off. “Pretend I was never here, k?” he pulled Sandra back to where she was standing, inches away from Nick, and retreated to her bedroom once again.

“He’s an ass,” Sandra grumbled, watching as AJ disappeared into her room.

“With bad timing,” Nick said softly, taking one of her hands in his. “Listen, I know this sounds really repetitive by now, and you’re probably tired of hearing me say this, but -”

“Don’t,” she warned. “I already know, Nick.”

“I can’t stop trying, San,” he sighed. “I’m not going to.”

“Nick,” she began slowly, choosing her words carefully. “What if... what if there was nothing to try for anymore?”

“What’re you saying?” Nick asked, feeling suddenly very uneasy.

“I mean... what if.. you had nothing to try to acheive?”

“I’m not sure I like where this is going,” Nick said warily. “San, what are you getting at?”

Sandra glanced nervously about the room, looking at everything except the man in front of her. It had come down to this. Without her consent, her brain had voiced the one question she could have gone without asking.

Or had it been her heart?

“Sandra?” Nick pressed. “What’s going on?”

She debated on a million things at once then, one of them being whether or not to look at him. Looking at the blue fire in his eyes would surely be her undoing, and she wasn’t sure she was ready to be undone. It was nothing short of the truth that she’d been walking along the edge of being undone since she’d first lain eyes on him, but this... this moment she was living was like no other moment she’d lived until then. Whatever left her lips next would decide, in a nutshell, the rest of her life.

She looked up into his eyes, and found nothing had been clearer to her before then.

“Would you stop trying,” she began, “If I told you I was in love with you?”

[chapter list | chapter twenty four]