“So are you gonna tell me, or what?”

“Nicky,” AJ grinned. “I’m not telling you a damn thing.”

“You suck. Tell me what was going through your head yesterday that had you laughing every time you looked at me.”

“It’s not you,” AJ grinned. “To quote my new, dear friend, there’s nothing wrong with you.”

“New friend? You talked to Sandra?”

“Last night,” AJ nodded. “I had to go and beg for forgiveness, if you’ll remember. Then your name kind of came up.”

“Kind of?” Nick asked. “Or did you just throw it in there out of nowhere?”

“Ehhh, a little of both.”

“Good morning.”

The two men turned to find themselves face to face with a smiling and seemingly cheerful Sandra, whose smile promptly faded when Nick’s gaze locked on hers. AJ noticed her shifting her weight from one foot to another as Nick smiled back at her. She was trying to prove something, he figured. She was showing him that it wasn’t Nick himself she had a problem with.

AJ didn’t think her plan was going as well as she’d wanted. She kept averting her gaze, not wanting to so much as look Nick’s way, but found she had no choice in the matter if she wanted to be able to tell AJ “I told you so” later in the day.

“Morning,” Nick replied. “You look happy today.”

She looked over at him in silence, observed him for a few moments before answering. “Yeah, a little,” she spoke, her voice void of any emotion, avoiding his gaze at all costs.

“Happy’s a good word,” AJ grinned. “You take joy in my pain, don’t ya?”

Sandra scowled at the smirk on AJ’s face; she knew he wasn’t buying her act. “I don’t have time for this. I’ve got work to do.”

“Kevin’s up there today!” AJ called after her. “He’s one of us!”

“Worse than you, he can’t be,” Sandra pointed out. “Come to think of it, no one can. So I’ll gladly go up there and meet the man.”

“She hates me,” Nick announced once she was out of earshot.

“Uhh she meant no one’s worse than ME,” AJ said slowly.

“She does not like me in the least,” Nick repeated.

“Why the hell do you say that?”

“She didn’t look at me once, and when she did, she just stared at me like she was debating on wether or not I’d be harmful to talk to. Then she talked to me in the most mechanical voice possible, which turned back to it’s normal cheery tone when she went ahead and bashed you.”

“That is all in your head, Nick. Mechanical? Please. I didn’t hear it.”

“Well, I did.”

“You’re making yourself paranoid,” AJ said, rolling his eyes. “Let’s go. We have work to do.”

AJ had no idea how much longer he could go on trying to convince Nick that something wasn’t there, when even he knew it existed. In fact, he wasn’t completely sure his friend was believing a word he said.

- - - - - - -

Nick knew AJ’s intentions were good, but he still was able to see through the fabrications. He knew when he wasn’t liked; he’d experienced it enough times in the past to call it as he saw it.

At least he was given reasons for being disliked in the past. This time, he only had the bogus notion he was being judged because of something someone else did. Something far beyond his control, and he’d be stupid if he was going to stand for it.

One more encounter with her like the one he’d just had, and he was going to be forced to call her on it, he mused, walking out of the elevator and finding her introducing herself to Kevin. Someone had to make her see how unjust she was being, and he knew AJ wasn’t getting anywhere with her. So it would be up to him if she didn’t shape up on her own.

‘Round one, here I come,’ he sighed, watching her as, once again, that bright smile that made his heart beat faster than normal faded with his presence.

[chapter list | chapter eight]