[eight]

He was going to strangle her. That’s all there was to it. He was going to wrap his hands around her pretty little neck and strangle her.

It was either that or let her drive him totally and completely insane.

He waited patiently inside the office, alone, knowing she was still at her desk. Kevin was talking to her about the meeting with Krystal and some other executives that would take place there tomorrow. All he had to do was wait until Kevin said ‘goodnight’ and left her to her business. He’d catch her before she left; that was his plan.

Keeping himself under control, however, was something he was not certain of.

“So it’s all set then,” he finally heard Kevin say. “I’ll see you in the morning then. Again, it was great meeting you, Sandra. Goodnight.”

She bade him goodnight as well, and soon after, the ‘ding’ of the elevator sounded, followed by the closing of the doors.

She was alone; they were the only two on the floor, finally.

He took a deep breath and, opening the door quickly, stepped out and blurted, “I need to talk to you. Right now.”

Sandra jumped, startled, and whirled around in her swiveling chair to face the owner of the voice. She could’ve sworn she was the only one left on that floor after Kevin had gone.

“Damnit, don’t DO that!” she exclaimed, her eyes narrowed in disapproval. “You scared the living crap out of me!”

“My apologies,” he said smugly. “I really do need to talk to you, though.”

She averted her gaze and looked down at her desk. “Can’t it wait? I wanna get this finished...”

“I don’t think it can.”

“Impatient, above all else,” she muttered under her breath. He was really hell bent on this; she was not gonna get out of it this one..

“What was that?”

“Nothing.. I didn’t say anything,” she drew a deep breath. “So, what do you want, Nick?”

“To talk,” he replied casually, holding back a smile when she grew visibly uneasy. So far so good. He’d planned on getting to the bottomg of things, and he’d just confirmed it was, in fact, him that she couldn’t tolerate for too long.

He turned and walked back into the office he shared with AJ when they were off tour and had nowhere else to turn to to relieve their boredom.

Sandra watched him go and sighed heavily. The last thing on earth she wanted was to be in a room alone with him, and now, since the gods weren’t happy with her for some reason, it was exactly what she was getting.

She followed him into the office, closing the door behind her apprehensively when he asked her to.

“There’s no one else on this floor,” she protested once the door was shut. “Why is it important that it stay closed?”

“Voices carry?” he offered, shrugging. “Or maybe I don’t want you storming off before I’m finished.”

“Something tells me this isn’t business related...” Sandra trailed off, looking him square in the eyes.

“Something tells me you’re right.” Before she could get in another word, he blurted, “Why don’t you like me?”

“Excuse me?” she asked, her eyes wide. “Like you? How? As in not wanting to be your friend, or as in not falling at your feet like every other stupid girl you come into contact with?”

Nick was taken aback at her words. “Sandra, I didn’t mean it that way...”

“Uh-huh. Sure. So tell me, Mr. Carter, what exactly did you mean by that?”

She was getting under his skin, on his nerves, the works. Her choice of words and phrases was getting to him in a bad way.

But he still had to try.

“I meant that you look at everyone in this building in one way, and when you look at me, it’s nothing like it is with others. What’s so wrong with me that you can’t even direct attention toward me in a friendly manner? I’d appreciate it if you gave me a heads up or something, you know. That way I’d know to back off permanently.”

Her eyes clouded over, and he immediately regretted being so harsh toward the end of his speech. He watched her mentally leave the office, the building, their place in time, off to another far away point in her life that he knew nothing of, except that it bothered her immensely to recall...

And he was the one reminding her of it.

“Sandra,” he began, taking a cautious step toward her. “I’m sorry...”

“Don’t be,” she snapped, finally coming to. “Not your fault. I told AJ there’s nothing wrong with you, and there isn’t.”

“Except that I’m blond,” he pointed out, and her eyes widened. “And that my eyes are blue. What gives, Sandra? Who, or what, do I remind you of that’s got you so wrapped up in your past and avoiding giving me a fighting chance? An old boyfriend?”

She was deathly silent by the time he’d finished, no longer meeting his gaze. The longer Nick watched her, the more he could swear she was trembling, and trying in vain to keep herself under control. A wave of nervousness washed over him as they stood there in silence; she was really hurting, and he’d been the one responsible this time around.

“Are we done here?” she asked, her voice breaking with such a force that Nick’s heart wrenched in his chest.

“I... yeah, I guess we are...” he mumbled, not taking his eyes off her form. “Sandra, I..”

“I gotta go,” she blurted out, walking quickly toward the door, flinging it open. She stopped long enough to gather her things from the desk, then made a dash for the stairs. She did not want to wait for the elevator if it meant staying on that floor longer than necessary.

Her eyes were flooded with tears by the time she’d reached the outside of the building. Not able to see where she was going, she stopped, leaning against the side of the building for support as she sank to her knees. Head bent down, arms wrapped around herself, she let the tears fall freely, feeling the pain of the wound Nick had unknowingly reopened.

- - - - - - -

When Nick left the building hours later, he knew he had to go see Sandra. He owed her, at the very least, a huge apology. He had no right to meddle in her business, and if she didn’t like him, then she didn’t. He had no say in her feelings.

He exited the building and went toward the parking lot. Before he stepped off the sidewalk, however, he was sidetracked by a ruffling at the side of the building. He paused, at full attention, trying to hear another form of movement.

When he heard a sniffle and a shaky intake of breath, his heart leaped to his throat and he stepped around the building.

She was sitting on the concrete floor, cross legged, with her head in her hands, her brown hair spilling all around her, making a curtain of soft curls.

She must have been out there for hours, he figured as he watched her. Even though he’d lost track of time himself after she’d left, he knew no short amount of time had passed since then.

She looked up slowly when she sensed smeone was there with her. Nick caught the pain in her eyes before she attempted to hide it, and walked over to her, kneeling down in front of her.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

She cast her eyes downward again, shaking her head. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“Yeah it was,” he nodded. “I made you relive something you didn’t want to. I’m the reason you’re out here, like this. I’m sorry. You have no idea how sorry I am.”

He moved to sit down, crossing his legs as she had, facing her. “I don’t know what it is, or what happened, but I promise I won’t do anything to make you remember..”

“Nick..”

“I won’t confront you again about anything. You are entitled to your own opinions, and I’m going to respect that,” he stood up then. “Again, I’m sorry. I always will be. It was never my intention to hurt you in any way.”

No sooner had he turned around, ready to walk away, when she got to her feet. “Nick, wait,” she called out, wiping at her tears. When he turned to face her, she winced at the way he looked at her. Like she’d looked at him countless times before. Like he wanted her to leave him alone, for both their sakes.

It hurt, to say the least, and knowing she’d done the same thing to him made things that much worse.

She shook her head slightly, clearing her mind, before speaking. “I’m the one that should be sorry. What... what happened... that’s not your fault, I shouldn’t blame you. It’s just... very hard to forget. Very painful to have to remember every day. And you do remind me of that person, of that past, and I apologize for taking it out on you. It was something I was doing without thinking.”

It was then she finally looked up at him with a genuine, if only apologetic, smile on her face. No longer did he see contempt or anger or sadness in her eyes when she looked at him. He saw her; right through her eyes, to the person he wanted to get to know that was hidden deep inside her.

It was the fuel he needed to not give up; the sign he’d waited for her to give him, telling him that she was approachable, at the least, and that smile... it would be with him forever.

Of that there was absolutely no doubt.

[chapter list | chapter nine]