"A.J., no! Don't!" Linz shrieked as A.J. lunged for her.
"You are really in for it now!" he cried, tickling her stomach.
"No, please!" she managed to get out in between bursts of laughter.
"Take back what you said!" he laughed.
"I take it back! I surrender! If I had a white flag I'd be waving it in your face!" Linz said, gasping for breath.
He finally let go. "All right then."
Linz sat up and brushed herself off. "Ewww...A.J. cooties!" she joked.
"Shut up, Linz!" A.J. said with a grin, loving the way that her red hair fell around her face. She looked so cute like that. He wished that he could just pull her close to him kiss her.
But he couldn't, because they were best friends. That's the way it was, and that's the way that it always would be. She didn't look to him as anything more than an older brother. Well, not that much older. Only three years. But a brother nonetheless.
Linz sighed as she tucked the stray strands of hair back in place. A.J. was the only man that she knew who could look that great in a plain white t-shirt and old ripped up jeans. In some ways, he was so right for her, too. He was sweet, funny, a singer like herself, and the two of them always got along so well. But there was no chance of him wanting her. He had millions of screaming girls who would die just to go on one date with him. Why would he even think of looking at her that way?
"Are you okay?"
"Huh?" Linz asked.
"You got kinda quiet for a second there. Is something wrong?" A.J. wondered with concern.
"No, nothing's wrong," Linz replied with a smile, lost in his dark brown eyes.
"So...whatcha doing tomorrow night, babe?" A.J. asked.
"Tomorrow night? Hmm...I have dance from eight to ten," she recalled.
"Damn!" A.J. muttered.
"Why? What's tomorrow night?"
"Oh, nothing. Forget it."
"Well, it's the MTV Video Music Awards, and since Mel and I broke up, I don't have a da—I don't have anyone to go with," he explained. No, Linz would not be his date, she would just go with him. As a friend.
"I can take the makeup on Monday after my voice lesson instead of tomorrow night," Linz suggested.
"Oh, really? So you'll go with me then?"
"As...as friends, right?" Linz asked.
"Yes, as friends," A.J. said quickly. Neither one looked into the other's eyes. "So...do you want to me to get you a hair appointment or whatever?"
Linz forced a smile. "Sure. That would be great."
Linz fidgeted nervously on her living room couch as she watched the minute hand of the clock inch towards the twelve. A.J. said that he would be there at six o'clock, but he was usually late. She gulped. Only five more minutes. Her stomach turned as she heard the bell ring. She went to the intercom and pressed the button.
"Linz, it's me," A.J.'s voice said.
He was early for once.
"Come on up," Linz replied, trying to hide the tremor in her voice. She went to the mirror and glared at her reflection. Why was she so nervous? He had said that they were going as friends. "Linz, pull yourself together!" she hissed. Then she heard five knocks on the door. A.J.'s knock.
She went to the door and opened it, smiling when she saw him. He looked so adorable when he was all dressed up like that. "Hey," she murmured softly.
"Hey," he returned. He held out a single red rose. "Por toi, Mademoiselle Linsey."
She grinned and took it. "Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Alexander."
A.J. put on a studly grin. "You look...ravishing, love!"
Linz laughed. "You don't look too bad yourself."
"You...you don't think I'm pretty?" A.J. sniffled.
"Oh, cry me a river, McLean," Linz shot back. "Do you want to come inside?"
"Nah, we should get going," he decided.
"Okay," Linz agreed. She walked out into the hall and shut the door behind her.
"Linz!" a deep male voice called from behind her.
She turned and grinned to see one of her other close friends, Kevin Richardson. "Hey, Kev!" she said, waving happily. They were right about to walk down the red carpet.
Kevin hugged her tightly. "How are you?"
"I'm fine. Where's Katie?" she asked, referring to Kevin's girlfriend.
"She's visiting her parents in Boston," Kevin explained. "You look pretty."
Linz smiled. "Thanks, Kev."
A.J., who had been talking to Howie Dorough, came up to her and touched her arm. "Ready?"
"Ready," she replied with a resolute nod.
"Let's do this the right way," A.J. suggested, offering his arm to her.
She smiled and took it, trying to ignore the slight feeling of dizziness that came over her at his touch. They stepped forward and were immediately greeted by a reporter and a camera man.
"Hi, Jamie LaMont, Channel 7 News," she said, offering A.J. her free hand.
"Hey," A.J. said, shaking it with a friendly smile.
"I'm standing here with A.J. McLean of the Backstreet Boys," she informed the camera. "A.J., you and the group have five nominations. What are your thoughts about that?"
A.J. stole a glance over at Linz before answering. "Well, it's definitely an honor just to be nominated, and it's just as much of an honor to win, but I think that sometimes people make too much of these awards. When you're in this business, you just have to remember that you're in it for the music, and not just to be number one," A.J. said.
Linz smiled. It never ceased to amaze her how down-to-earth this guy could remain even with all of the attention and recognition that he received every day of his life.
"Very well said," the reporter replied, smiling big for the camera.
"Now, if I may ask, who is this with you?" Ms. LaMont probed, indicating Linz. "Your girlfriend?"
"No, this is my best friend Linz," A.J. explained, smiling at Linz, who tried not to blush.
"Hi," Linz said cheerfully.
"Thanks for your time, A.J.," the reporter said, spotting someone to her left and hurrying over to them.
"You're...welcome?" A.J. said with a confused frown.
They both laughed as the rest of the Boys, Brian Littrell, Nick Carter along with Howie and Kevin, walked up to them. Brian, Nick, and Howie were with their girlfriends, Sara, Jen, and Karen, respectively.
"Hey there, sexy," Brian said to Linz, sliding an arm around her waist. His other arm was around Sara, who slapped him on the back of the head. "Ow!"
Nick looked at this picture and laughed, shaking his head. "Frick, you are such a pimp!"
"I know, I know," Brian replied with a modest grin.
Linz rolled her eyes and removed his hand from her waist.
Brian placed the hand over his heart. "Linz, I'm deeply hurt!"
"You'll get over it," Linz informed him, unconsciously tightening her arm around A.J.
"You're right, I'm over it!" Brian said, starting to make out with Sara's cheek.
"Brian, stop it!" she giggled.
"Hate to interrupt, but can we please go sit down?" Howie asked hopefully.
"You're no fun, D!" Brian complained, acting like a little kid.
Linz touched Brian's shoulder. "Don't worry, Bri. I'm sure that you and Sara can have lots of 'fun' later!"
Everyone laughed, especially A.J. Brian grinned evilly and tightened his grip on his girlfriend's waist.
"...so I went all the way back down there just to get the papers, and the people there said that they'd already been sent to California!" Linz was saying.
"You did what?" A.J. asked through laughter. "Linz, honey, get a life!"
Linz hit him on the arm.
"Ouch! What was that for?" A.J. pouted, rubbing his arm.
"For being a smart ass!"
They both laughed as the limo that they were sharing with Brian and Sara stopped in front of Sara's apartment building.
"I swear, you two are going to get married someday," Sara predicted jokingly.
A.J. and Linz stopped laughing and looked uneasily at each other.
"Chill, she was just joking," Brian said, sensing the tension between them.
"Brian, I'm going inside," Sara told him. "Would you care to join me?" she asked in a low voice, stroking his arm.
Brian gulped. "See y'all later," he squeaked quickly, following her out of the car and into the building.
A.J. and Linz laughed, half at Brian's reaction and half out of nervousness at being alone. They'd had a great time that night. The BSB had won three out of the five awards that they had been nominated for: Best Pop Video, Best Group Video, and Viewer's Choice.
A.J. suddenly remembered something. "Hey, Linz, you left your Blessid Union CD at my apartment a couple days ago."
"Yeah. Want to swing by and get it before we take you home?"
A.J. leaned forward and said to the driver, "Hey, can you take us back to my place first?"
"Sure thing," the driver replied, turning the car around.
"Back in a few," A.J. told the limo driver as he and Linz got out of the car. The driver simply nodded and took out a magazine, propping his feet up on the dashboard.
"He's glad that we're gone. Now he can read his Playboy," Linz observed.
A.J. laughed. "Well, I can't blame the man," he remarked.
"You mean you read those things?" Linz asked as they walked into the elevator of the building.
"Yeah, that's why Mel dumped me...no, just kidding!" A.J. said.
"What was I thinking? You don't need those, you can get the real thing."
A.J. gave her a strange look and she realized what she had said.
"Because you have all of those fans who would...never mind." Linz stared at the floor, feeling his eyes on her but ignoring them.
"Oh," he said with just a touch of disappointment. He was about to say something else when the elevator doors opened on the seventh floor and the two of them had to get out. They went all the way down the hall to his apartment, #7G.
A.J. got out his key and opened the door, flicking on the lights as they entered. Linz sighed. She loved his apartment. It was such a perfect portrayal of his personality. She loved all of the decorations, the furniture, the way that it smelled. A.J. nodded towards the back of the apartment. "It's in here," he said softly.
Linz followed him into his room, her favorite room in the place. It had this huge window on one side that looked out over the city, and at night, the view was beautiful. She smiled and walked over to it while A.J. went to get the CD.
"You know, Linz," he was saying, "I've just realized that it's been awhile since you and Will broke up."
Linz stiffened but didn't turn away from the window. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. I mean, is there someone that you like?"
She looked over at him and took a deep breath. "Yes," she said softly.
"Who?" A.J. pried with a grin.
Linz swallowed hard. Should she tell him? Was this her golden opportunity? She had kind of noticed that he'd been looking at her strangely all night, almost as if he wanted to say something but couldn't. "Umm..." she said, stalling for time.
"Come on, Linz, you can tell me. I won't tell him, I promise," A.J. resolved.
She laughed wryly. "Yeah, I believe you, but..."
"Nothing," Linz said quickly, looking back out the window.
"Well, is he...is he sweet?" A.J. asked.
Linz smiled to herself. "Yeah."
"Yeah, he has the best sense of humor! A lot like mine."
"Oh, yeah!" Linz said enthusiastically. She turned to face him and was surprised by the intense look he was giving her.
"What exactly does he look like?"
Linz smiled. "Oh, he's always changing his look."
"What does he do?" A.J. wondered softly.
"He's a singer," Linz murmured as A.J. started to walk towards her. She noticed that he was not carrying the CD.
"Is he in a group?"
"Are they famous?"
"Y-Yes," she answered falteringly.
A.J. was just inches away from her now. "Do you love him?"
Linz looked at him hard. She nodded slowly.
Stepping forward, he took her face in his and kissed her passionately. She instinctively wrapped her arms around his neck as they kissed.
"I love you too, Linz," A.J. whispered, stifling tears. He tightened his arms around her waist and kissed her again. Their kisses got more and more intense, and he started to go backwards towards the bed, pulling her with him.
"A.J., the limo," Linz breathed in between kisses as he started to unbutton his shirt.
"He'll figure it out," A.J. murmured back.
She smiled as he started to slip off her dress.
The next morning when Linz woke up, she felt unusually warm and comfortable. It took her a minute to realize that was because A.J. had his arms around her. She opened her eyes and saw him staring at her.
"Jesus, you scared, me!" she remarked with a laugh.
"Sorry," A.J. apologized, grinning sheepishly. He moved closer to her and kissed her.
"I still can't believe this," said Linz.
A.J. pushed a stray piece of red hair out of her face. "I know. I can't either. I never would have guessed that you liked me too." He kissed her again. "Got any plans for today?"
"Good," Linz replied, kissing his cheek.
A.J. suddenly pushed her away and sat up in bed. "Oh, shit!" he exclaimed.
"What?" Linz asked, her voice lined with worry. She sat up too.
"The tour! We leave tonight to go on the European tour!" he recalled.
Linz groaned. "That sucks!"
A.J. took both of her hands in his. "Come with us?"
"I can't," Linz replied, shaking her head. "My job. I have to stay."
"Well, we sure picked a hell of a day to confess our true feelings for each other," he complained, looking out the window.
"Hey." Linz put her hand on his back, and he turned back towards her. "We still have all day today, don't we?"
He couldn't help but smile. "That's a point." He inched towards her and started to kiss her again.
"And we...can still...make today...very...worth it," Linz breathed in between kisses.
A.J. raised an eyebrow. "Can we now?"
Smirking, Linz wrapped her arms around him and lay down on her back, pulling him on top of her. "Oh, I believe we can."
"You have to promise that you'll call," Linz told A.J. that evening as they stood in each other's arms in front of his gate at the airport.
"Linz, you know me," he replied with a laugh, tightening his arms around her waist.
"You're right, that's why I'm worried!" Linz returned playing with the collar of his jacket.
"Do you want me to tickle you again? Because you are just asking for it."
"I take it back!" Linz said quickly, putting both hands in the air in front of her to show that she wasn't lying.
A.J. grinned and kissed her. "I'm really gonna miss you, Wertham."
"The feeling's mutual, McLean," she replied softly, holding back tears.
He noticed the unshed tears. "It's okay, baby. You can cry. G-d knows that Kevin does, and he didn't turn out that bad."
"This is the final call for Flight 971 to London," the intercom voice warned.
"That's my cue to leave, babe," A.J. said, pulling her close and hugging her.
"A.J..." Linz murmured.
A.J. slipped something into the back pocket of her pants. She turned to see what it was, but he stopped her. "Don't read it until later."
Linz nodded and kissed and hugged him one last time. "Bye, A.J. I love you."
"I love you too, Linz," he said softly. He touched her cheek before turning and boarding the flight.
Linz watched the plane pull away from the terminal and take off before walking out to the front of the airport and hailing a taxi. She told the driver her address and all but collapsed into the back seat. This truly sucked. She had been waiting to get with this guy for more than a year, and now he was going to be on the other side of the world for two and a half months.
The driver reached over and turned on the radio. His eyes were fixed on the tuner as he searched for a station. Linz heard a part of "Show Me The Meaning Of Being Lonely" as the guy flipped stations. She groaned and looked ahead to see headlights coming towards her. "Look out!" she screamed to the driver. The driver grabbed the wheel and tried to swerve out of the way...
But it was too late.
"It's gotta be Linz, uh huh uh huh, all the way!" A.J. sang as he danced through the parking lot to the European tour bus.
"Well, someone got some last night!" Brian remarked.
A.J. nodded. "And today too!" he added.
"No wonder Linz was smiling so big," said Brian with a laugh.
"Yup!" A.J. grinned as they boarded the bus. "Evening, Robby," he greeted the driver with a tip of his leopard cowboy hat.
"Okay, A.J., who's the lucky gal?" Robert asked.
A.J. laughed. "Remember Linz Wertham?"
"Your best friend?"
"Yeah. Be right back. I gotta go call her. I promised." He went to the back of the bus and dialed her home number on his cell phone. It rang once. Twice. Three times... "That's funny..." A.J. muttered. Oh well, he would just leave a message. "Hey, Linz, baby, it's me, A.J. Just checkin' in. Call me back on my cell, okay? Love you. Bye!" He hung up the phone. Knowing Linz, he would get a call back from her before tomorrow night.
"Sir, I need the name of the patient for the write-up," the policeman said the head doctor of the ER that Linz had been rushed to.
"That's a problem, because she had no identification on her," the head doctor replied.
"None? No driver's license?"
"No, she was in a cab," the doctor reminded him. "Oh, wait a moment. She did have this letter." He took out a folded-up piece of paper. "It's to Linsey. From Alexander."
"Any last names on either of those?"
The doctor skimmed through the note. "No," he replied.
"And no family has come by?"
The doctor shook his head.
"Well, I'm required to write down a last name," the policeman said.
"Call her...call her Linsey Rose, for the color of her hair," the doctor suggested.
"Right, I'll do that." The policeman wrote it in. "And what exactly is her condition?"
"She suffered severe head trauma in the accident. She's in a coma right now. We think that she may recover soon," the doctor explained.
"All right, and what was the driver's name?"
"Carlos Suarez. He was killed immediately. Had health problems before. The collision made him go into cardiac arrest."
"Thank you for your time," the policeman said.
The doctor nodded and showed him to the door.
"This is really strange. Why hasn't she called me back?" A.J. asked Brian. It had been three days since he had left the message on her machine.
"I don't know, maybe she just hasn't had the time?" Brian suggested, getting kind of worried. A.J. was a pretty easygoing guy. He hadn't gotten this worked up over something like a phone call in a long time.
"Come on, Brian. This is Linz we're talking about. She always returns my calls the minute she gets the message," A.J. reminded him.
"I don't know, Bone," Brian said honestly. "Why don't you leave another message? And don't give me shit about sounding desperate, because she already knows that you're in love with her."
A.J. nodded. "Okay, I will. And if that doesn't work, I'll call some of her friends," he stated. "Maybe they'll know where she is and why she's avoiding me."
Three more days later, A.J. still hadn't heard from her. He called all of her friends that he knew of, and none of them had seen her either. He would have asked her family, but she had none; her parents had died when she was eight years old, and she had no brothers or sisters.
"I'm getting really worried, D," he confessed to Howie. "Do you think that she's blowing me off? Or do you think that something happened to her? Either way, I'm fucked."
"I don't know what to tell you, A.J.," Howie said uneasily. "Because you're right, this is really unlike her."
"I'm really scared," he admitted. "This is the first time that I've been with someone that I truly love, and now she's gone."
"Look, just hang in there, and when we get back to New York, you can go and talk to her."
A.J. nodded, his face drawn and anxious. "Okay, D. If that's what you think that I should do..."
A.J. took a deep breath as he walked up the front steps of Linz's apartment. The past two and a half months had been like hell for him. He didn't know what happened to her, but he was about to find out whether he wanted to or not. He rang the bell for Linz's apartment, not noticing that a different name was written on the tab next to the button.
"Hello?" said a voice over the intercom.
It was a man who answered! Was she cheating on him? Is that why she wouldn't speak to him? "Um, yeah, this is...this is A.J...is Linz there?"
"Linz? You're a friend of Linz Wertham?" he asked eagerly.
"Y-Yes," A.J. said slowly.
"Come on up."
There was a buzzing noise to signify that the front door was open, and A.J. went quickly up to Linz's apartment and knocked on the door. A man, about thirty years of age with brown hair and blue eyes, opened it.
"Yes, that's me—"
A.J. looked at him suspiciously.
"My name is Mark Hilton. I need to ask you some things about Linz," he explained.
A.J. stepped cautiously through the door. Maybe this is a setup, he thought frantically. Maybe there's going to be some huge welcome home party for me, and Linz is going to jump out and yell surprise and kiss me all over...
But there was no one in the apartment but the stranger and himself.
"What's going on? Where is Linz?" A.J. demanded.
"You...you mean you don't know?" Mark asked in surprise.
"No. I thought you would, since you're the one living in her apartment."
"This isn't her apartment anymore," Mark said quietly. "She hasn't shown up or paid her bills in two months. So the landlady had to evict her."
"What?" A.J. asked in disbelief. "So you don't know where she is?"
"No. I'm sorry."
"Wait, what happened to all of her stuff?"
"The landlady—Mrs. Nelson—she sold most of it—"
"What? She sold Linz's stuff?" A.J. asked indignantly.
"Yes, to pay for the two months that Linz didn't pay for."
"How much?" A.J. demanded.
"All but some of her personal things," Mark explained. "Those are downstairs with Mrs. Nelson. Apartment 2C."
"Oh..." A.J. replied, still not believing what he had heard.
"Were you close friends?" Mark asked.
"Yes. She was my best friend," A.J. said, almost in a whisper.
"I'm sorry," the man repeated.
A.J. nodded and walked away down the stairs. Linz was dead then? What other explanation was there? She didn't return his calls, she hadn't shown up to her apartment, none of her friends knew where she was...A.J. pushed these thoughts out of his mind for the time being as he reached apartment 2C. An elderly woman smoking a cigarette opened the door.
"You're Mrs. Nelson?" A.J. asked.
"My name is A.J. McLean. Mark Hilton upstairs in 4B told me that you have a box of Linz Wertham's things..."
The woman nodded. "Are you a friend of hers?"
"Yes, I guess you could say that."
"Just a moment."
The woman disappeared into her apartment and came back with a cardboard box with "LINZ WERTHAM" written on the top in big letters. "Here," she said, shoving the box into A.J.'s arms. "Sorry for your loss." She shut the door in his face.
Loss. My loss, A.J. repeated to himself. I've lost her. I've lost Linz. He wiped away unshed tears as he hurried back out to his car.
When he got home, he immediately went up to his room and sat on his bed, where the quilts were still pushed aside from where Linz had been lying next to him. He opened up the box and looked inside. They were just little things, framed pictures of her other friends and letters, things of no value to anyone but the owner. But then A.J. spotted something at the bottom. He took out a thin white cardboard box, the kind that you put clothes in, from the very bottom of the larger box. He removed the lid and tissue paper. It was a cloth binder. A scrapbook. The back cover was facing towards him. He picked up the binder and turned it over, gasping when he saw the front. "The Chronicles of Linz Wertham and A.J. McLean" was written in swirly blue letters. "Oh my G-d..." he murmured. He opened up the book and read the inside front cover. It was a note to him. From Linz.
I've been collecting these things ever since we first met, and I decided that as there is no point in keeping them all to myself, I would give them to you. I hope you like this! Happy 23rd Birthday!
Hot tears burned his eyes. He couldn't believe that she had done this for him! He started to flip through the pages, where pictures and ticket stubs were pasted, and he couldn't take the memories that came rushing back to him. He shoved the book away, fell back onto the bed on the exact spot where Linz had been lying, and cried as hard as he could.