“He said he was gonna pick some things up?”
“Yeah, Tommy. I just don’t know where exactly he went,” Howie told him.
Tommy had pulled up to the studio just as Howie was making an exit, claiming the need for fresh air. Howie had detirmined it was best Tommy stayed out here with him anyway. He wouldn’t have taken the scene inside well.
‘Damn that AJ,’ he sighed. ‘How could he go and pull something like this?’
Howie had been just as surprised as Brian and Kevin had when they spied Carolina walking hand in hand with AJ into the studio. No one asked questions, but Howie had the feeling, just by looking at AJ’s face, that the situation was a difficult one. Difficult, and somwehat painful, he’d guess. One look at AJ and anyone could tell he wasn’t happy. Not in the least.
“So what’s going on in there?” Tommy asked him, nodding toward the studio.
“You don’t wanna know,” Howie groaned. “Trust me.”
“That bad, huh?” Tommy chuckled. “I heard Nick wasn’t the best to work with in the studio. I guess the rumors are right.”
Howie laughed in spite of himself. “Yeah, that’s true.. but that’s not what I was talking about.”
“Oh? What were you talking about?” Tommy questioned, growing suspicious of Howie’s concerned expression.
“I meant...” Howie began, but trailed off as Nick’s car sped into the parking lot. “Oh, no. He’s back.”
Tommy laughed at Howie’s expression. “You say it like it’s a bad thing.”
“It IS a bad thing if that’s who I think it is in the passenger seat,” Howie said softly, squinting his eyes against the sun to get a better look at the passenger.
“It’s Andy,” Tommy confirmed. “Is it a bad thing?”
Howie sighed. “Oh yeah. You better believe it. I can’t believe he went and did this.”
“What exactly IS going on here?” Tommy asked Howie as Nick and Andy got out of the car.
“Why are we here, Nick?” Andy asked.
“You’ll see,” Nick replied.
They walked over to the entrance and joined Howie and Tommy. Andy greeted Howie and glanced briefly at Tommy. She still couldn’t register it completely that she was not on speaking terms with him anymore. It seemed so surreal to her. As he turned away from her, she was once again reminded of the way he had so abruptly ended their friendship. At least Nick still thought to talk to her, she thought smugly.
“Nick, why’d you do this?” Howie whispered to his friend.
“It’s only fair,” Nick shrugged.
“What’s only fair?” Andy asked, looking from one friend to the other.
“I told you I had to talk to you, right?” Nick began. “Well, I don’t have to. As much as it’s bugging me, I have something to show you instead.”
“Show her?” Tommy jumped in, ignoring the disgusted look Andy gave him for doing so. “Why don’t I like the sound of that? And why, while we’re at it, is Howie looking so damn nervous?”
“Go inside,” Nick sighed. “Both of you. You’ll see why.”
Andy turned to head inside, and Howie grabbed her by the arm. “Andy, wait.”
“This is confusing me,” she told him. “What’s the big deal?! What’s inside that I just HAVE to see?”
“Sabotage? This is so unlike you, Nick.”
Andy turned at the sound of AJ’s voice and was greeted with a sight she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at.
AJ, arm in arm with a woman Andy had never seen before. The stranger, however, seemed to make AJ glow in a way she never would have thought possible in him.
“AJ?” she asked, stepping forward slightly. “What... what’s all this?”
“We need to talk, Andy,” he sighed. “Alone.”
“Oh, no,” Nick jumped in. “You’ve lost that privelege. Talk right here, right now.”
“Nick, I think this should be handled alone,” Andy spoke.
“I’m with Nick,” Tommy chimed in. “I think you two alone is a very bad idea. Then again, I’ve always said that--”
“Tommy,” Andy said sternly. “Cram it. I’m in no mood to deal with your childishness right now.”
Her words stung, and he clammed up quickly.
“If we’re about taking sides here,” Howie began, shooting glances at everyone involved. “I’m with Andy. Not you,” he adressed AJ, who had begun to smile. “I’m not agreeing at all with what you’ve done, or with what you’re about to do, but what can I do about it?”
Before anything else could be said, Andy grabbed AJ’s arm.
“Excuse me,” she told the woman beside him. “But he’s still mine right now. Five minutes from now is another story, however.”
She pulled him inside the building and turned to him. “Talk, McLean. As if your very life depended on it.”
“Not here,” he said, “Follow me.”
He led her to a sound booth and shut the door behind them, leaving them trapped for the next several minutes in a small room large enough for one person.
“Nice place,” she remarked smugly. “I especially love the breathing room.”
“You what? You BETTER have a good explanation for this, otherwise we go back to that lovely relationship we had before I so stupidly thought you could actually be a decent human being.”
“Ouch,” he grimaced.
“You deserve it,” she pointed out. “That and more. Now talk, because I don’t want to be near you any longer.”
“You’re being harsh.”
“Do I NOT have the right to be?!” she exclaimed. “AJ, everyone but NICK, for crying out loud, wanted to keep something from me. I’m not stupid, I could tell, and when I saw you come out with that... that... person... I couldn’t help but put two and two together. What gives? THREE damn weeks, AJ. Was that all you needed? Or did I not give you what you wanted fast enough? ANSWER ME!!”
He reached out and grabbed her by the shoulders, a fierce grip meant to calm her down, but she retaliated by throwing her arms up, breaking his hold on her.
“Don’t you EVER,” she began, seething. “EVER, lay another hand on me.”
“Let me talk, will ya?”
“You know what? I don’t think I will. Come to think of it, nothing coming out of your mouth is worth listening to. I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other again in the future, but as far as I’m concerned, you’re nobody. Good riddance.”
She stormed out of the sound booth walking a little straighter, feeling as if a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders.
What he’d done was low. How long it had been going on was really anyone’s guess, but she didn’t care. All she cared about was getting out of there, as fast as possible, and leave all this.. mess.. behind her.
Out in the parking lot, four heads turned her way as she approached them.
“You okay?” Howie asked her.
She nodded. “For the record, I am. I dunno about him though. Nor do I care.”
Andy turned to the woman next to her in the small group. “As far as you’re concerned,” she began. “I don’t know who you are, and I don’t care to find out, but I have one thing to say to you. You turned out to be quite the blessing in disguise. I’m not thanking you for it, because trash doesn’t deserve any form of thanks, but I thought you’d like to know that you’ve done what I’m guessing is your first and only good deed.”
She was on a roll, so she wasn’t surprised when she looked at Tommy and adressed him next. “YOU, and ME, we’re gonna talk. I’m not through with you just yet. You seemed to trash everything rather quickly, but you know I’m not like that. I’ll let you know when I’m ready.”
Finally, she turned to her best friend. “Can we go, Nick?”
He nodded once, then smiled widely at her. “Sure thing. Let’s get outta here.”
“Okay, I’m confused.”
“What else is new?” Andy laughed.
She had let Nick convince her to get away from those people they called friends for a while and just lose themselves until they wanted to be found again. They drove to the pier, and within minutes were on Nick’s beloved boat, sailing away from land.
“Ha ha. It’s just a laugh a minute with you, isn’t it?. Seriously though, I thought you were really gonna let her have it.”
“I thought so, too,” she admitted. “For a minute, anyway. Then I realized she actually did me a favor.”
“And that’s why I’m confused,” Nick remarked, finally bringing the boat to a stop in the middle of nowhere and joining Andy on the floor. “Why’d you call her a blessing in disguise?”
She looked at her friend in silence for a while, debating with herself on whether or not she was ready to tell him.
“Andy? What’s going on in that head of yours?”
“I have this problem,” she began, “Well, HAD, anyway. She kinda fixed it for me when she got under his skin earlier.”
“And this problem would be...”
“Well, here’s the thing. I don’t know if you should know..”
“Now I really wanna know,” Nick said. “Spit it out, Andy.”
How could she be blunt about this? She was blunt about everything else, but that was pointless stuff to begin with. This was far too important to her, to HIM, to be blunt about.
“I was talking with my mom earlier...”
“Yeah. I know,” he told her, that sinking feeling returning. “I heard what you told her.”
Her eyes widened. “You did?”
“Yeah,” he sighed. “Listen, if you really do think it’s real, if you really love the guy, then you have to let him know. I mean, this whole ending of your friendship is too much anyway, you guys belong together more than you think.”
Andy listened to Nick in pure astonishment. He thought she meant...? This was too much; she dissolved into a fit of laughter, interrupting Nick’s speech.
“What now?” he asked her.
“Nick... seriously. Tommy?” she choked out, before the laughter overcame her again.
“You nut,” he sighed. “Yeah, I was talking about him... weren’t you?”
His breath caught in his throat as she shook her head ‘no.’
“No,” she managed, her laughter dying down quickly. “Nick, if you had ANY idea of who this all deals with, you’d probably jump ship.”
“I would not,” he countered. “And leave you here with my baby? Hardly. I’d make YOU jump ship. Seriously, Andy, fill me in.”
“Nick... I was talking about...” she trailed off. One more word, and everything would change. For better of worse, she didn’t know.
She’d half expected a moment of silence, but when he’d retaliated right away, she figured she’d have to keep the conversation going. No point in stopping now.
“Shut up,” she groaned. “You just can’t let a moment be, can’t you?”
He moved toward her, overtaking her to the point of her leaning back as far as she could go, and he was hovering closely over her.
“I will not let a moment just be,” he grinned. “Not when it can be better.”
He closed the small space between them then and kissed her. Just like that. No questions asked, yet with all the strings in the world attatched in that small gesture.
As the final rays of sunlight disappeared on the horizon, the sparks igniting this newfound emotion between the two lit up their hearts and warmed them both to the center of their beings.
[chapter list | chapter twenty seven]