“Can you see anything?”
“Nope. Not a damn thing.”
This is frustrating, Andy thought to herself. She and Tommy were at the airport awaiting Nick’s arrival. He, along with his band mates, had been gone for the better part of the year promoting their new album, touring the world. Now, after what seemed an eternity, they were hopefully minutes away from welcoming them home for a well deserved break.
Standing around in the airport gave her a lot of time to think about the past eight months. Some things made her cringe, like the time she blew up at AJ for making yet another pass at her...and the humongous fight that errupted between AJ and Tommy afterward. She and Tommy still didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things regarding the guys, but Andy still hoped that time would fix that. Tommy was just looking out for her, she reasoned, and AJ wasn’t going to give up his devilish ways just because Nick’s friends didn’t approve. If anything, she thought suddenly, she and Tommy should be the ones to make some changes. More often than not, she felt like the odd one out, always missing the inside jokes and shared glances.
While they got off to a bad start last December, Andy soon found herself actually enjoying being with the guys; sometimes even with AJ. He wasn’t as bad as his first impression made him out to be, when he wasn’t trying, anyway, but he was still up there. She tried to gkeep him under control, but the man wouldn’t budge. She opted instead for keeping away from him when she could, which wasn’t very often, and by the time they bid each other farewell that first week in May, she couldn’t have been happier for a break from ‘Hurricane AJ.’
It took Tommy a little more convincing, as expected, but with Nick’s help, he had started to come around and was soon treating the guys like old friends. All, naturally, but AJ. Tommy just wouldn’t budge when it came to the tattooed one. He knew AJ was more than a flirt; he’d gotten a good dose of the adventures AJ had from the conversations he and Nick would have. If anything, AJ was a threat to Andy’s well being, and he wasn’t going to sit around without sticking up for her. Andy knew they were lucky to have been accepted into their lives, as did Tommy, but he didn’t try hard to fit in. They’d have to accept him for what he was, just like he’d done...well, sort of, anyway.
“Hey, I think that’s them!” Tommy called out to her. “Wait--no, not them.”
“Tommy! Don’t DO that!” Andy shrieked, punching him in the arm.
“I was bored,” he explained casually. “I needed a laugh.”
“Jerk,” she replied, sticking her tongue out at him. “I’ll get you for that.”
“I’d like to see you -- There they are!!” he exclaimed, pointing toward the gate.
Andy followed his gaze and, sure enough, she spotted a head of blue hair that could only belong to AJ. Trudging behind him were Kevin and Howie. Several feet behind them were Brian and Nick, engrossed in some sort of discussion.
“Girl, it’s been so long!” AJ exclaimed, eyeing Andy in a way that made her shift uncomfortably. “Would you believe that I missed you?”
“Not in the least,” she answered simply. “But you better believe that I didn’t miss you at all.”
“Not a chance,” he laughed. “But it’s good to know you didn’t suffer so much due to my absence.”
AJ pinched her cheek playfully before moving away from her. He walked past Tommy, calling out a greeting to him as he went by, and went on to warmly greet the families, including his own, that had been there with Andy and Tommy to greet the five guys. Andy sighed heavily, looking at an angered Tommy, wishing she could erase so many things. Simply to make Tommy’s life a bit better; she hated having to see him like this, and it hurt her more knowing it was at her expense.
She embraced Kevin and Howie, and, as soon as she could get the last two apart, she hugged Brian warmly.
“Hey! What about me?” Nick asked childishly.
“What about you?” Andy questioned, her voice emotionless.
“I’m the one you missed the most, don’t I at least get a ‘hello’?”
“I’m sorry,” she apologized, walking over to stand in front of him. Sticking out her hand, she grasped his and shook it firmly. “Hello, Nick.”
“You nut case!” he shrieked. “C’mere.”
He drew her in for the warmest hug he had ever given anyone, and Andy welcomed it wholeheartedly; she didn’t know how much she had missed him up until that moment.
“How was it?” she asked her friend.
“Exhausting,” he answered her. “It was great!”
“I’m glad you had fun,” she told him.
“Nicky!” Tommy called, sprinting away from Kevin and heading toward the two. Once he reached him, they hugged, and soon after came the inevitable question. “Did you bring gifts?”
The trio laughed at Tommy’s question and, once Nick had assured him that there was a gift or two with his name on them, they met up with Mr. and Mrs. Carter and headed out of the airport.
“You look so tired,” Andy observed as the van pulled out onto the highway. “You’re going to have to sleep for days on end!”
“I’m very tired. But hey, I have vacation time now, we can do anything we want, when we want!”
“All before curfew, naturally,” Mrs. Carter mused from the fron seat. “You know the rules.”
“Yes, Mom,” Nick answered. To Tommy and Andy he asked. “Which one of you has the longest curfew?”
“I think Jane meant your curfew, not ours,” Andy laughed.
They rode in silence for a few minutes. When Andy turned to see her friend, she saw him fast asleep, resting his head on the side window. She smiled, reaching over to brush strands of hair away from his face. He looked exactly like he did when they were kids at that moment.
“My poor boy,” Jane remarked. “He must be very exhausted.”
“His line of work can get pretty bad, can’t it?” Tommy asked her. From the back of the van, he saw her nod.
“Definitely,” she answered. “I doubt he’s had a good eight hours of sleep each night since he left back in May, and I don’t doubt for a second that he hasn’t had anything but junk food to eat since then, either. Those five work themselves to the extremes day in and day out without the proper dosage of sleep and nourishments. They’re returned to their families just like you see Nick back there.”
“His love of music must be very strong, then,” Andy noted. “I don’t know how else he would survive.”
“That’s exactly right, Honey,” Jane replied. “The love of the game is what keeps him going.”
“I guess the term ‘weary from travel’ is a complete understatement, then,” Tommy noted, observing his sleeping friend. The stress that Nick must be suffering right now was probably too much for Tommy and Andy to put their heads around, and taking into consideration the things Nick had told them earlier in the year about all he’s gone through to be where he is today made the effect of watching him sleep even more painful for them both.
They had their friend back, true. Yet again, they were also riding home with a complete stranger. A stranger they had to reaccquaint themselves with all over again.
[chapter list | chapter eleven]