Two weeks had passed since Nick had discovered Tommy’s feelings for their friend, and those two weeks had been nothing but hell. He’d spent countless hours asking himself “what if?” He’d lay in bed for hours on end, eyes wide open, thinking about the day she’d find out.
Sure, he knew what he WANTED to happen that day. He wanted her to share his feelings and for everything to be magically all right in their world, Tommy included. But he knew that couldn’t be. She wouldn’t stand for it, and neither would Tommy.
He was believing more and more that it really was best to keep this from her. For the sake of what they already have, which was far more than Nick could have hoped for, after being apart from them for so long.
“What is it with summers and barbecues?” Andy wondered aloud as she and Tommy helped Howie unload the grocery bags out of his car. “Especially in our family; I just don’t get it.”
“It’s the American way, kiddo,” Tommy laughed. “You know how we are; any excuse to party is a good excuse.”
“I guess,” she shrugged. “Howie, do you like get togethers like this one?”
“Not at Nick’s place, I don’t,” he grinned. “He makes everyone work.”
“Does he now?” Andy pondered. “Well, that’ll change today.”
The trio walked through Nick’s open front door, making the trek through the house, ultimately ending up in the back yard, where Kevin was already manning the grill, along with the blond host.
“C’mere. I got a bone to pick with you.”
Nick jogged over to the table where Andy and Howie were setting up the various snacks and sodas and placed an arm over each of them. “What can I do to help you?” he asked Andy.
“Well,” she began. “See, the thing is, Howie’s done his duty today, as have I. Tommy’s already lounging,” she nodded over to Tommy, who was poolside with Brian. “So you won’t be able to get him away from that...”
“What’s all this leading to?”
“Nicky,” Howie interjected. “We’re not working for you today. You invited, you made arrangements, you play the good host and cater to our every whim.”
“Yes!” Andy cheered. “What Howie said!”
“That’s fine,” Nick mumbled. “But when you end up with a burnt burger, don’t come whining to me.”
As Nick walked away, he heard a concerned Andy tell Howie, “Maybe we can just cook our own stuff.”
“I heard that!” he called over his shoulder, grinning in spite of himself. Let them cook for themselves...and for him, while they were at it.
Nearly an hour later, everyone was having the time of their lives; Kevin had turned out to be the best cook they could have asked for, and Nick was actually being a good host. Andy didn’t know what had gotten to him, but she wasn’t about to complain. It wasn’t every day he was nice without asking for something in return.
AJ was bored. Entriely and utterly bored. That didn’t happen at Nick’s house, ever.
“I guess there’s a first time for everything,” he mumbled to himself. “Well, no better time like the present to do some exploring.”
He traveled through Nick’s house, observing the decor, the things he hadn’t noticed before, and the same awards he had on display at his own house. The only thing that really caught his attention, however, was an old photo album Nick had left on his coffee table.
“Story time!” AJ exclaimed, plopping himself down on the couch with the album in his lap.
Nick’s childhood flashed before AJ’s eyes in the pictures he was looking at. There he was, his nutty friend, at various stages of his life.
Newborn. ‘How sweet.’
His first birthday. ‘awww, wasn’t he cute?’ he laughed.
He came across Nick’s third birthday party. ‘Interesting theme. Smurfs. Go, Nicky!’
AJ inspected a group picture closely. There, to Nick’s left, he saw her.
She was really hard to miss, actually.
A definitely cute kid, he had to agree. Her hair was pulled into two curly pigtails, and her cheeks were rosy, her eyes bright. Those eyes held a bravery he knew most kids never possesed at that age, and he could very well envision her having her way with a simple glare.
He smiled. She was certainly having her way with him. Not as he hoped, he noted, but still. She never cut him any slack, never fell for any of his flattery, and kept him on his toes, always thinking of new ways to charm his way into her heart.
“Geez, Andy,” he sighed, closing the book. “At least tell me what I’m doing wrong here.”
He continued his trek through the house, climbing up the stairs to the second floor. Nick’s office seemed like a perfect place to snoop.
He seated himself on Nick’s executive chair, inhaling the scent of leather that immediately surrounded him. He began opening drawers on the heavy oak desk in front of him, daring not to mess with the official-looking documents stored there. Better to look through the stuff on top of the desk, he decided. Sorting through newspapers, magazines, and several other forms of media, he stopped short when he came across a leaf of lined paper with Nick’s nearly illegible writing.
‘Nick’s chicken scratch,’ he thought, grinning, as he picked the paper and began to read.
What he read left him shocked speechless.
“I really don’t know how much more of this I can take. Bubba, you knew from the start, since that day we found them, and I didn’t believe you. Sis, this is frustrating me beyond belief. What’s worse is, and you better be sitting down for this, that Tommy’s feeling the exact same way.
Oh yeah, you could say he agrees with me.
I want nothing more than to be happy, and for them to be happy. But we’ve reached a point where it won’t be that way ever again, if something slips. Can you picture it, knowing what you know about this friendship, the day Andy finds out about this? It’ll be so hard on her, I can feel it.
After all, how would you handle it if your two best friends, your lifelong friends, told you they were both in love with you?
“I’ll be dammned,” AJ whispered, setting the paper back down on the desk. “This is one hell of a situation we have here.”
This day had just gotten interesting.
[chapter list | chapter fourteen]