Through Thick And Through Thin

Chapter Twenty-One

Katie sighed as she lay in A.J.'s arms under the blankets in her bed. She was finally consoled for all of the pain that she had been put through in the past few weeks. She smiled and snuggled closer to him as he tightened his arms protectively around her. "I love you," she whispered softly, thinking that he wouldn't hear her.

"I love you, too," he replied, kissing the top of her head. She jumped, and he laughed.

Just then the phone rang, and Katie reached towards the night table to answer it, frowning in confusion when she didn't find it. "Damn, I left it downstairs. Be right back, sweetie." She kissed the tip of his nose before pulling on her clothes and getting out of bed.

A.J. sighed contentedly and lay back on the bed. He was so utterly relieved that Katie had listened to him and decided not to leave. And what he had said to her hadn't been a lie. He was going to quit for good and never smoke again. He didn't even know why he had started in the first place. It had brought nothing but pain into his life.

A.J.'s eyebrows shot up as he reflected on the past weeks. Shit, my secret stash! he remembered. When Katie had decided to help him quit, she had emptied the house of cigarettes and forbidden him from owning any, so he was forced to hide them. He decided to go and throw them out right now, before Katie found them and got the wrong impression. He had hid them in the guest room closet behind the dresser, where Katie almost never went. A.J. pulled on his boxers and rolled lazily out of bed.

* * *

"No...Brian, shut up," Katie laughed into the phone.

On the other end, he laughed and tightened his arms around Karen. "So listen, Kevin told me that you were having problems with A.J. Is everything all right?"

Katie sighed. "It is now. But I almost left him today."

"What? How close did you get?"

"I was in the car with the engine running," Katie replied. "But he persuaded me not to leave him. He promised to quit once and for all, and I'm trusting him on that."

"Oh...well, that's a relief."

"Yeah, he's acting better already," Katie reported with a smile.

"Well, the real reason I called is to invite the two of you to go out clubbing with us tonight," Brian said.

"Who's us?" Katie wondered.

"Everyone. Me, Karen, Howie, Taylor, Nick, Lanie, Kevin, and Linz," Brian listed rapidly. "And hopefully you two."

"Sounds like fun. I've got to ask Bone, but I'm sure the answer will be yes," Katie said, starting towards the stairs. "So Karen's back, huh? How is she?"

"How are you, baby?" Brian asked her.

"Wonderful," Karen replied with a smile.

"She's wonderful," Brian relayed.

"That's...wonderful," Katie said with a laugh. She walked down the hall and into the bedroom to ask A.J. the question and she was surprised to find it empty. "That's funny..." she murmured.

"What's funny?" Brian asked, smiling and stroking Karen's hair as she kissed his neck.

"Nothing," Katie said, hearing someone moving around somewhere down the hall. "A.J.?"

A.J. heard her calling his name and paused his digging out of cigarette boxes to yell back, "Just one second, baby!" He smiled as he unearthed the last box, turning it over in his hands. Threatening to leave him like that was the best thing that Katie had ever done to help him quit. Now, as he looked at that little box, all he saw was heartbreak and the loss of one of the most important people in his life. He had absolutely no desire at all to open it and smoke one of the cigarettes.

Katie realized that A.J.'s voice was coming from the guest room and frowned as she walked towards it. Why the hell would he be in the guest room? She stepped inside and covered the mouthpiece of the phone to ask A.J. the question. "Hey, Alex, do you want to..." She trailed off, seeing what he was doing.

A.J. was sitting just outside the closet with a big grin on his face. In his hands and lap were at least ten packs of cigarettes.

Katie dropped the phone out of surprise. She stared blankly at her boyfriend for a moment before she shook her head and started to back away. "Oh no..." she murmured.

A.J. didn't understand what he problem was. He frowned at her in confusion for a moment before he looked down at what he was holding, and it dawned on him. ", no this isn't what it--"

"Fuck you!" Katie screamed at the top of her lungs before turning and taking off down the hall.

"Katie, wait! I was throwing them away!" he said.

"Bullshit!" she shoutd as she ran down the stairs and out the door.

A.J. ran after her and didn't catch up until she was in her car and starting the engine. "Katie, I wasn't--"

"If you think that I'm going to fall for your pathetic lies again, then you are sadly mistaken!" she yelled out the window as she pulled out of the driveway.

"Katie, don't! I love you!" he pleaded.

She didn't respond as she stepped on the gas pedal and sped away down the street.

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