Part 03

Covering their ears at the loud shouts of ‘Surprise!’ and ‘Happy Birthday!’ and Nick’s shrill laughter, Sandra and Pollyanna exchanged amused glances. They were not going out there right then. They were going to wait till things boiled over a little.

Or until Nick clamed down enough that they’d be safe from any flying objects.

Mainly birthday cake.

“All right,” Polly grinned, “I think it’s safe now. Let’s go.”

“After you, my wonderful human shield,” Sandra laughed, holding Polly by the shoulders as she remained behind her.

“Oh, thanks. I can feel the love, Sandra.”

“I love you too, Polly.”

The two headed out into the commotion and were soon separated. While Sandra was still following close behind Pollyanna, the older woman was several feet ahead of her.


Sandra turned and smiled widely when her eyes rested on Leighanne. The two embraced briefly and shared a few words. Sandra soon excused herself, promisingLeighanne to meet her later for a better conversation.

She had Howie on her mind at the moment.

Sandra slowly made her way toward the large grouping of people ahead of her,where she knew Howie was the center of attention. Circling around to the opening on the other side of the group, she managed to catch his eye. He smiled, waved, and she made her way toward him as the people around her dispersed, getting the celebration started.

“Howie!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms around her dear friend. “It’s been so long! Man, have I missed you!”

“I missed you too, kid,” he told her, “I can’t believe it’s been so long...”

“Yeah. Last time was six months ago, I think.”

“Mario’s college graduation,” Howie said, remembering the last time he’d seen her.

“Yup. I still can’t believe that dork has a Master’s degree. So tell me, how have you been, Howie?”

“Good, I would say,” he told her. “Surprised with all this. You guys really did pull something spectacular off here.”

“All for you, darling,” she hugged him again. “Every last detail was created with you in mind.”

“Hey kids,” Polly said, coming up next to Sandra. “Catching up on things, I see.”

“Oh yeah,” Sandra replied. “I think we’ve covered everything since our phone call last week...”

“What happened last week?” Nick asked, putting his arms around Polly and Howie.“Can I know?”

“No,” Sandra said. “Curiosity killed the cat, Carter.”

“I’m not a cat,” Nick laughed. “So tell me.”

“D! Hey, D! Where the hell are you hiding, man?”

Sandra’s eyes grew wide as Nick pulled away, clearing the are in front of her so they could all see the owner of the deep, raspy voice calling out for Howie.

Her gaze darted from him to Nick, who only winked at her and gave her a half smile.

It was only after he’d congratulated his friend and shared a few words with him that he saw her there, off to the side.

She couldn’t believe the way his gaze still penetrated her to the very core of her being.

It took me by surprise
When I saw you standing there
Close enough to touch
Breathing the same air

“You came,” he said to her, a smile starting to spread slowly across his lips. “I can’t believe you showed up.”

“Yeah, well, here I am,” she said slowly, a smile of her own now showing. “What’s up, AJ?”

“Not much. Besides work anyway,” he answered, still not taking his gaze off of hers. "How about you? What’s been going on in your life?”

“Same old stuff,” she said, shrugging her shoulders slightly. “Nothing as exciting as what you’ve been through, I can tell you that much. But I’m great. Just great.”

You asked me how I've been
I guess that's when I smiled and said "Just fine."
Oh, but baby I was lying

“I’m happy to hear that,” he told her. “Very happy.”

“J,” Nick called out. “I need ya real quick, dude.”

“If you’ll excuse me,” AJ smiled at her. “I have to go see what that boy wants.”

She nodded slightly, her heart dropping to her stomach as he walked off.

And as you walked away
The echo of my words
Cut just like a knife
Cut so deep it hurt
I held back the tears
Held on to my pride and watched you go...

She’d not felt a pain like this in a long, long time. It wasn’t like she could prevent it, anyway.

She wanted nothing more than to be completely honest with him. She wanted to tell him she wasn’t ‘great,’ that she missed him like crazy, that she’s been miserable without having him by her side, that she still loved him as intensely as she did so long ago. She needed his arms around her, wanted him to tell her he felt the same way as well...

What I really meant to say
Is I'm dying here inside
And I miss you more each day
There's not a night I haven't cried
And baby here's the truth
I'm still in love with you

But she didn’t do that, she realized as she watched him disappear into the crowd. She had her pride to think of. She couldn’t have gone after him and told him all this, no matter how much she wanted to. So she blinked back her tears, took a deep breath, and made the decision to have fun that night.

After all, she was here for Howie. Not for AJ, or what they had, as they’d both agreed weeks before when he’d called her with the invitation.

Song Credits:
Artist: Cyndi Thomson
Title: What I Really Meant To Say

[Part 02 | Story Index | Part 04]