Chapter Twenty Four - Just Breathe...

“Okay. That’s it.”

Before AJ could even move, Andy was up and crossing the room, headed straight for Nick.

Sighing heavily, AJ slumped back down in his seat and shut his eyes.

He knew Nick had asked for what was coming to him, but Andy making a scene wasn’t going to make things better.

‘Hell,’ he sighed. ‘If it makes HER feel better, what else is there to do?’

“I need to talk to you.”

“Later, Andy. I’m kinda busy.”

“NOW, Nick.”


“NOW, damnit!” she exclaimed, grabbing him by the sleeve of his t-shirt and dragging him out of Howie’s living room.

They went as far as the hallway before Nick shrugged his arm out of her grasp.

“What’s going on with you?” He asked her angrily. “One second you’re completely ignoring me, and the next you’re dragging me away from my friends. What gives?”

“I wanna know why you’re doing this,” she began slowly. “Why you’re glaring at AJ like he’s some sort of leper, and why you haven’t said more than ‘hi’ to me all day.”

“You’re a big girl, aren’t you? You put the pieces together, Andy, then you’ll see why.”

“This is really bothering you, isn’t it?” Andy asked him, arching a quizzical eyebrow at her friend. “You can’t stand to see AJ happy, much less with me.”

“What’s that supposed to mean, Andy?” Nick asked her, his voice rising steadily. “Huh? Come on, tell me.”

“Why can’t you just be HAPPY for him? For me? Hell, if we’re okay with it, if we’re happy, what’s the big friggin’ deal?! You and Tommy seem to be the only ones not with the program. What’s so... so BAD... about AJ and I being together?”

“If you only knew,” Nick sighed. “Then you wouldn’t be reacting this way.”

“If I only knew WHAT, Nick?” Andy pressed. “Tell me, what is it?”

“AJ’s got this reputation..”

“Which I am well aware of,” she finished for him. “Nick, please. It’s no big deal. If this is important to him, he’ll control himself. If it isn’t, then I deal with it and move on.”

“You think it’ll be easy to deal and move on? Andy, you’ve never been in a serious relationship before. This, what you’re in with AJ, is as serious as it gets. You’re going to be heavily involved in his life, and it’s not going to be easy. I’ve seen others cave under pressure, or leave his side severely hurt from something he did to screw things up. I just,” he sighed, running a hand through his short hair. “I don’t want that to happen to you. I worry about you. Sure, AJ’s my brother, I’ve known him for years, but you’re a different story. I never want to see you hurting, and if I can do something to prevent it from happening, I’m going to stand by what I know and fight until I know you’re safe.”

Andy took a small step back, finding herself leaning against the wall. He’d clearly knocked the wind right our of her, and if he felt that strongly about things, she had no other choice but to understand him, where he was coming from. Yet she couldn’t bring herself to say anything. She was speechless, and she couldn’t even bring herself to nod her understanding. Something far beyond a simple understanding stirred inside her, and the longer Nick stood before her, the longer his words rang in her ears, the more frightening that unknown feeling inside her got.

Nick saw her, saw that she made no move to speak, and figured everything he had just said had fallen on deaf ears. Sighing, he shook his head slightly and told his friend, “I hope I’m wrong about this, you know. I really do hope so. But I get the feeling I’m not. Either way, I’ll always be there when you need me, Andy. Just say the word.”

That said, he walked off, leaving his stunned friend alone in the hallway.

Moments later, she was joined by AJ.

“Andy, everything okay?” when she didn’t answer, he repeated himself, waving his hand slowly in front of her face. “Andy? Hello? What’s going on?”

Shaking her head and blinking a few times, she snapped out of her trance and looked over at AJ. “I... he... it’s okay. Everything’s okay.”

“Are you sure?” he asked her. “You don’t seem to believe that yourself.”

“No.. no, really, it’s okay. It’s just... damn. That Nick, he’s always gotta find a way to surprise me.”

AJ pulled her in for a hug. “So.. he’s okay with this?”

She nodded against his shoulder, still dazed by her conversation with Nick. Her best friend. The one who would always be there for her. All she had to do was say the word...

There it went. That overwhelming feeling. It washed over her in one huge wave, causing her to falter in her breathing.

This was too much.

This was NOT happening.

‘Breathe, Andy. You’ll figure out the rest later. For now, just breathe...’

[chapter list | chapter twenty five]