Sincerely, Yours by Pengi
Summary:

“I’m here to see Bob McLean,” I said to the receptionist.

“Relation?” she asked.

Some spiteful part of me wanted to say results of sperm deposit, but I bit my tongue and shoved out the word I knew she wanted to hear: “Son.”

Categories: Fanfiction > Backstreet Boys Characters: AJ
Genres: Angst, Drama
Warnings: Death
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 7 Completed: No Word count: 10679 Read: 3131 Published: 02/11/11 Updated: 02/17/11

1. Sincerely, Yours by Pengi

2. Chapter One by Pengi

3. Chapter Two by Pengi

4. Chapter Three by Pengi

5. Chapter Four by Pengi

6. Chapter Five by Pengi

7. Chapter Six by Pengi

Sincerely, Yours by Pengi
Sincerely, Yours

I burn the pages in my head
But the memories are so clear
A thousand words left unsaid
And you never shed a tear
You say that you wanna be close to me
So how does it feel?

Now the tables have turned
You can learn how to live without me
Live without me
Pictures up on the wall
Suddenly now you’re all about me
All about me
Where were you when I needed you?
The only thing that I learned from you
Was how to walk out the door
Sincerely yours

Now I’m a man
I’m on my own
I am not ashamed
You broke my heart
You stole my pride
All you left me was my name
I know you wanna be in my shoes
So how does it feel?

Now the tables have turned
You can learn how to live without me
Live without me
Pictures up on the wall
Suddenly now you’re all about me
All about me
Where were you when I needed you?
The only thing that I learned from you
Was how to walk out the door
Sincerely yours

I just wanna forgive and forget all about you
Why can’t I just move on?
From this place in between loving and hating you
Don’t know where to belong

I burn the pages in my head
But the memories are so clear

Now the tables have turned
You can learn how to live without me
Live without me
Pictures up on the wall
Suddenly now you’re all about me
All about me
Where were you when I needed you?
The only thing that I learned from you
Was how to walk out the door

Sincerely, Yours...
End Notes:
Lyrics from AJ's solo album.
Chapter One by Pengi
Chapter One

The first thing you need to know about me is this: I have shitty luck.

I'm the kind of person who really does avoid black cats and umbrellas indoors. Why? Not because I'm really all that superstitious, but rather because I figure my bad luck doesn't need any extra help... Just in case all that superstitious shit is real. Not that I think it is. Nick does, though.

But then again, Nick thinks a lot of things - like smurfs, gremlins, aliens and his brain - are real.

The second thing you need to know about me is this: my past is full of demons.

I'm not talking minions of Hell, with pitchforks and spikey tails. There's no lil red guys chilling out on my shoulders. I'm talking about real demons: things that make your skin crawl and drive you crazy... the things that haunt you and won't let you go. Things that won't let me go.

And the third thing - the last thing I'm going to tell you right now - that you need to know about me is that my shitty luck has a way of allowing those demons to haunt me at the worst possible times.

Rochelle was laying on the sofa, watching a movie on HBO and absently running her fingers across her stomach. She'd taken up the motion ever since the visit we'd had with the doctor a couple weeks after our honeymoon. She smiled sleepily. I was standing in the doorway - hovering maybe more the term - holding the two bottles of sparkling water I'd gotten up to retrieve, and just watching her.

I was a lucky man.

I realized everyday when I woke up beside her, or turned and found her standing there, whether in her denims and crappy concert t-shirts or her professional stylists' cloak, it didn't matter. She was like an angel to me, and I was all but on my knees in adoration and worship. I would've pulled down the moon and the stars for her, if only she'd asked me to. Rochelle had made me happier in the six months that we'd been married than anything had ever made me in my entire prior life.

I was sober. I was happy.

Finally.

But, as I said, those demons... they have a way of slipping in.

I felt my Blackberry vibrate in my pocket and I tip-toed closer to Ro, whose eyes had drifted closed as I watched, and put down the bottle of sparkling water on the coffee table by her elbow. I snuck back out of the living room, returning to the kitchen, and popped the top off my own sparkling water as I thumbed the answer key on the cell phone.

A quick glance at the caller ID had told me who it was on the other end of the line. "Hey Mum," I greeted her, "What's cookin'?"

"Alex, we need to talk." Her voice was somber, low.

I swallowed the mouthful of sparkling water and felt my brows knit together. "Mum? What'sa matter?"

She sighed, "Just-- Alex, I need to talk to you. Are you free? Can we meet up some place?"

I glanced into the living room, where Ro was probably deep in her afternoon nap with the TV glowing blue-green against her inked skin. I put my bottle of sparkling water down on the counter. "Uh, sure mum. You know I'm always free for you," I added quickly. "Are you hungry? I'll buy you lunch."

"Maybe coffee," she said, but her voice was hesitant.

"Okay..." I paused, "The usual place?"

"Sure," she answered, "See you in twenty, sweetie."

I disconnected and slid the Blackberry back into my pocket. After I'd screwed the cap back on my sparkling water, I tucked the bottle into my back pocket and opened the random shit drawer and grabbed a pad of heart-shaped pink stickie notes and a pen.

Monkee, Just popped out for coffee with my Mum. Call if you need me. - J



My mother’s probably one of the most recognizable people in the entire state of Florida. Maybe it’s just because I love her so much, but I truly feel like she’s one of a kind. She’s got this brilliantly blonde hair, and a loud voice and she’s just someone if you saw her you’d want to run up and squeeze her. So that’s exactly what I did.

“Alex you scared me,” she laughed after I’d tucked my arms around her from behind and kissed the side of her face. She patted my arms and reached backwards to hug me, too, and I smiled and sank into the chair beside her, pulling myself close to her so I could hold her hand with both of mine. I adored my mother.

“What’s up, mum?” I said, “You sounded worried on the phone?”

She took a deep breath and reached over with her other hand and rubbed the top of my hands gently. “Alex…” she licked her lips and I could tell whatever it was she was about to say was hurting her. “Alex, it’s your father,” she said.

The weight of the word told me she didn’t mean my stepfather, the man who she’d married and I loved like he’d been the one to give me my Y chromosome. It was too heavy for that. She meant the actual person who was responsible for 50% of my genetics – for the curse of alcoholism. I stared deeply into her eyes. “Mum, I don’t give a fuck about him and you know it,” I said.

“He’s dying.”

A chill ran up my spine and I shivered.

“I went to see him this morning,” she continued slowly, staring down at the table top in front of her. “He’s –“ she paused and let out a shaky breath, “It’s bad, Alex.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond.

A waitress appeared at our side, holding her little green order pad and tiny golf pencil. “Can I get you two anything?” she asked, smiling down at us.

“Uh the usual,” I answered, “Thanks Claire.”

“No problem, AJ,” she answered, turning away.

I looked back to my mum. “Are you all right?” I asked.

Her eyes had filled with tears, “It’s hard, Alex,” she answered, “Because as much of an asshole as he’s been to me and to you over the years, he was still my first love, you know? He was still so much a part of my life.” She paused and smiled at me, “You have so many of his features…” her palm pressed to my cheek and she tilted her head. “It’s hard when someone you love so much has hurt you so badly, to forgive them.”

I swallowed and looked down. I’d hurt her, too, over the years. Abandoned her, just like he did. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know that. I’d disappeared into drugs and alcohol and left her behind, broken her heart, just like my father had. One of the many wonderful things I’d inherited from him: the tendency to turn and walk away.

“He wants to see you,” she said.

I looked up at her, my palms going moist and clammy-like. I sucked in a breath. “Why the fuck would he want to see me?” I asked crudely, “He never has before -- except when Millennium came out…”
“Honey,” she said quietly, “He’s your father.”

“No,” I said, “He’s a sperm donor.”

The waitress came over and dropped two steaming green mugs before us, and a plate with two oatmeal raisin cookies on it. I leaned back into my chair as the waitress’ heels clicked away, my hands slipping away from my mother’s. She looked affronted, her eyes were sad. The fact that she was sad hurt me far more than the fact that he was dying.

I felt cold hearted at that realization… but it’s not like it wasn’t deserved.

“Alex,” she whispered, “I raised you better than that.”



Rochelle was up when I got home. She was in the kitchen standing by the stove, stirring what smelled like spaghetti sauce. She had on slippers and a bathrobe I’d bought her and she looked sexy with messy hair and a slightly protruding belly. I walked up behind her and wrapped my arms around her, my hands resting on her stomach, and kissed her neck. She dipped her finger into the sauce and held it up over her shoulder to my mouth, “Taste, does it seem like it’s missing something to you?”

I sucked her finger into my mouth. “It’s a little heavy on the garlic,” I said, “You craving again, babes?”

“Really? Heavy?” she sighed, “Well, at least you know I’m not a vampire.”

“And here I was scared you were sleeping with Edward Cullen,” I murmured into her ear.

She turned around, “You’re probably the only guy on the planet who knows that series better than your woman does,” she said, laughing. She ran her hands across my chest. “So how’s Denise?” she asked.

I hesitated. “She’s good…” I said.

Rochelle’s eyes clouded with concern. “What’s wrong, Monkee?” she asked.

I suckered a deep breath. “My father’s – he’s sick, I guess,” I murmured.

“Oh no, what’s wrong with dad?” she asked, referring to my stepfather.

I shook my head, “Not Dad,” I said, “My father.”

“The sperm donor?” she asked.

I nodded. “Yeah… him.”

“Good, serves him right,” she turned back to the stove. She paused. “What’s he sick with?” she asked quietly.

“Cancer,” I answered.

Rochelle glanced over her shoulder at me.

“He’s dying.”

She turned back around. “Are you okay?”

I sighed. “I have to go see him.”

Rochelle’s face became even more deeply etched with the worry. “You do?” she asked.

I nodded, “Yeah. My mum went and… he asked to see me.”

“Is that… healthy?” she asked. I knew she was wondering about my emotional state of wellbeing. My father had turned out to be at the crucible of a lot of the issues I was harboring that led to my excessive drug usage and drinking. I’d learned a lot about myself in this most recent trip to rehab and the understanding that my father had inbred a lot of pain into my life by abandoning me, then using me, had been one of the many psychological hurdles I’d had to contend with.

“I hope so,” I answered vaguely.

Rochelle shook her head, “You don’t have to go, Alex, if you’re uncomfortable…”

“He’s dying,” I said simply, “And my mum raised me better than that.”
Chapter Two by Pengi
Chapter Two

I have exactly one good memory of my dad that hasn’t been tainted in time. Amazingly, I also have a photograph of that moment. Most people have never seen the picture, and those that have rarely ask what it is. Rochelle spotted it on our first date, sticking out from behind my license when I paid for our dinner and she’d pointed and asked, “What’s that?

”My father,” I’d answered, pulling the faded, wallet-sized photograph out of my wallet and flicking it onto the table, “Before he fucked me up.

She’d studied the picture carefully, her fingertips hesitant to touch the picture’s surface. “Is that you?” The tips of her fingernails laid gently on the knobby-kneed three year old beside the kneeling form of him, both back-to the photographer, throwing bread crumbs to waiting ducks.

Yeah,” I’d said, as casually as possible, “This is the only happy memory I have of my old man.

Rochelle’s eyes had met mine, and they’d teared up as I picked up the photo and shoved it away into the pocket behind my license again. She hadn’t said anything more. No statement to quench the paid she obviously knew lay behind the story I’d left untold, no words of reassurance, no typical well fuck him, who needs a father anyways statements. She’d just accepted… teared up… and was ready to move on.

It was pretty much that moment that I knew that I’d found the perfect woman.

Now, though, was a different story. Now, I was sitting in the passenger seat of my truck, peering up at the looming hospital building through the windshield, with Rochelle sitting there awkwardly beside me, also staring up at the hospital. She glanced at me. “You don’t have to do this, don’t forget,” she said, for what seemed like the millionth time.

“I do have to,” I answered, shaking my head. I took a deep breath and I climbed out of the truck. “One hour, right?” I asked.

Rochelle nodded solemnly. “It’s just a sonogram,” she said, her finger tips gently resting on her stomach.

“Right.” I nodded.

“I love you Monkee,” she said.

“Love you too Monkee,” I answered.

I stood on the curb and watched the truck pull out of the parking lot and disappear, making its way to the clear opposite side of the hospital campus. It seemed they kept death and life in remote corners of the universe here, as though they were so unrelated that they couldn’t bear to keep them together in a neat package.

Oncology. The sign hung over the hallway, painted far too cheerfully to reflect what its depths really held. I walked, feeling as empty as the bare halls inside, getting closer and closer to the looming receptionist’s desk that stood as a centaur before me. I passed a table demanding all live goods be abandoned and frowned at the pot of marigolds someone had left on the table. They, too, seemed too cheerful for this place...

“I’m here to see Bob McLean,” I said to the receptionist as I stood awkwardly before her, picking the skin at the edge of my fingernails. It was my worst bad habit.

“Relation?” she asked.

I hadn’t expected a pop quiz. Some spiteful part of me wanted to say results of sperm deposit, but I bit my tongue and shoved out the word I knew she wanted to hear: “Son.”

The word tasted like lead.

“Oh right this way,” she said. She grabbed a clipboard, “I was just about to do vitals in his room.” A toasty little grin and she grabbed the handle on an upright blood pressure machine and we were off. She trotted along down the hall, her funny nurses shoes shuffling more than clicking against the tile and my Converse sneakers squeaking along behind. “Here we are,” she sang cheerfully, “Wait here, I’ll make sure visitors are okay.” She hit a Germ-X dispenser and wiped her hands together as she walked into the room and ducked around a puke-green curtain.

I stood by the dispenser, staring at the label. Kills 99.99% of Germs, it boasted. I wondered if it could reach inside a person and kill off germs that didn’t threaten physical health, but the germs that infested the heart and soul of a man… that threatened to break down the walls of emotions.

The nurse tucked her head around the curtain, “Come on in,” she called cheerfully.

I hovered just the same for a long moment, fidgeting with the Germ-X dispenser, pretending I wasn’t certain how to use it. After a moment, the nurse came over and grabbed my palm and shoved it into the dispenser. “Just hold your hand under it, it’ll automatically give you the stuff,” she explained in an exasperated sort of tone. I nodded and followed her back around the curtain.

As I stepped around it, my stomach dropped out from under me like a wonky elevator Nick and I had taken in Montreal once many moons before. There he was, very similar to how I remembered him, but paler, smaller, and more wrinkly… laying in a sea of white fabric, a clear tube around his face to breathe through.

He stared at me.

“Can I get you anything else?” the nurse asked.

“No,” he said, his voice low and raspy, “Thank you.” His eyes never left my face, though I turned and watched her leave the room. Part of me wanted to make shit up to keep her there. Anything, just don’t leave, I begged in my mind. Please.

But she’d already swept from the room, leaving behind only a ghostly scent of her perfume. I stood at the edge of the curtain, staring out to the hall the way she’d gone. I could feel his eyes on me, but I didn’t dare to turn to look at him.

“Alex,” he breathed.

Because I knew I had no real choice, I slowly turned to face him, feeling like my feet were cemented to the ground. My eyes landed on him again and I swallowed. He looked so different than the photo that was tucked away in my wallet… I almost couldn’t connect the two images together in my mind as being the same man.

Yet he also didn’t look a thing like the last time I’d seen him face-to-face, either.

“How are you?” he asked quietly.

I wanted to say I’m here, I’m shitty, obviously but I felt like I’d swallowed my tongue. Nick used that phrase once and I’d made fun of him – I mean, how does one swallow one’s tongue exactly? Had he done it to know what it feels like? – but now I could understand what he’d meant. It was a funny, swollen feeling somewhere in the back of the throat where the tongue attaches to the rest of your mouth. I shrugged instead of answering because words wouldn’t have been able to crawl out of my mouth at that point anyways. Even nice ones.

“You look good,” he said in response to my shrug. “You look happy,” he added.

I nodded vaguely. I felt violated that he’d noticed I was happy.

He pointed at my hand, “You got married.”

I looked down at the shining, heavy golden ring on my left hand where Rochelle had pushed it at our wedding. I’d taken it off exactly twice since then – once because my hand was swollen on a plane to Japan and once because I’d stupidly offered to help mix a meatloaf and I didn’t want to get dead cow stuck to it. The ring had been my reminder that I didn’t always have shitty luck, that someone loved me and that I had a reason to go on everyday.

“Is she pretty?” he asked.

I looked up at my father again and nodded.

“Have a seat,” he said, motioning to a white plastic chair by his side.

I shook my head, “Ro’s gonna be back for me soon,” I said.

“Oh,” he answered. I could see in his eyes he didn’t like the thought of me leaving so soon. Well fuck you, I thought bitterly, Maybe I didn’t like the thought of you leaving when I was four fucking years old, ever think of that, old bastard?

“Sorry,” I added, as though I thought he could read my mind.

He shook his head, “I understand.” His eyes traveled to mine, “Do I get to meet – Ro, you said?”

“Rochelle,” I clarified, “And no.”

He looked away. “Alex,” he said slowly, “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my lifetime…”

“Don’t start,” I groaned. I turned around, giving him my back, and stared out the window of his room, down to the parking lot. “I’m not here for a fucking confessional, I’m not a priest if you didn’t notice.” I silently willed Rochelle to pull into the lot below. “You made mistakes, blah-blah, I get it. Your biggest fucking mistake is standing here in the room with you, I know.”

“My biggest mistake was leaving you,” he argued.

My heart ached. I wanted to believe that he really thought that was true for reasons beyond what he could have had if he’d just waited until I got famous. “Yeah I guess it was,” I said, “You could’ve been rich, could’ve had nice house with mum and seen the world and gotten lots of attention. You love attention, don’t you Bob?”

“I could’ve had a son,” he said quietly.

“A famous son,” I snapped.

“Just a son,” he replied.

I clutched the window sill. “Whatever,” I whispered, my voice shaking.

“I’m dying,” he said quietly, “I just wanted the time to see you… to- to maybe get to know you a little bit.” I heard him shift in his bed behind me, but I didn’t tear my eyes away from the lot below for even a moment. “Alex, I don’t want or need your fame and fortune now. It’s too late for that. All I want is- is to-“ he paused and coughed loudly. I braced myself against the window to keep from turning around. “All I want is to maybe right some of those wrongs…”

I saw my truck pull into the lot. I turned and started toward the door, “Well you’re forgiven if that’s what you were looking for,” I said.

His eyes glistened, “Don’t leave, Alex…”

“How does it feel?” I asked quietly, “To be the one staring at the door saying don’t leave?”

I saw a tear roll down his cheek as I stepped into the hallway. “I’m sorry,” he called, his voice cracking, “Dammit Alex, I’m so sorry.”

But I didn’t turn back.
Chapter Three by Pengi
Chapter Three

“Well?” Rochelle was clutching the wheel, an envelope in her hand, as I climbed into the passenger side of the truck. I slammed the door and stared out the window, a lump rising in my throat. I felt my eyes grow wet. “How’d it go?” she whispered. She reached out and laid a gentle hand on my shoulder.

Her touch was all it took.

I curled toward my knees and covered my eyes with my hands and my shoulders shook. Rochelle was probably the only person in the entire world that I would’ve allowed myself to fall apart like this in front of. I felt hot tears rolling across my cheeks, striking my palms like acid rain.

“Oh sweetie,” she moaned, “It’s okay. It’s okay, Monkee…” Her fingernails ran across my back, which was shaking as I tried not to sob audibly. Rochelle stayed patient with me, rubbing my back for long minutes as I let out the emotion of a four year old boy, left to stand at the door and wait for his father… the emotion of a twenty year old man, betrayed by the father he thought had returned at last.

When my cries finally slowed, she whispered, “Wanna see the baby?” I looked up, swiping my eyes with the back of my tattooed hand, and nodded. Rochelle held out the envelope to me. “I have to warn you, though, Monkee,” she said quietly, “There’s no mistaking what it is.” She smirked.

I opened the envelope and stared down at a glossy print out of a teeny tiny lima-bean shaped baby boy. I stared down at the picture, my heart slamming in my chest, and ran one of my black-polished fingers across the blue-grey-blackish image of the sonogram. “Jesus,” I whispered quietly, “There he is.”

Rochelle smiled and leaned against my shoulder, “There he is,” she agreed. She looked up at me, “I hope he’s exactly like you, Monkee,” she whispered.

“I don’t,” I answered. “I want him to be healthy and happy and handsome and smart and –“

Rochelle laughed, “Are you saying you’re sick and depressed and ugly and stupid?” she asked.

I shrugged, “If the shoe fits.”

“You’re a jackass,” she whispered. “You’re a sexy beast of a man and you know it.” She kissed my cheek.

I looked at her. “I want him to be like you. With your big heart and your eyes – your fucking sexy eyes…” I reached and wrapped my arms around her. “But I know one thing he’s definitely going to have.”

“What’s that?” she asked.

“His dad,” I answered… my eyes straying over her shoulder towards the bricks of the hospital building… up the side to the window from which I’d just been peering out.



That night, I had a nightmare.

I was four years old and standing at the front door of our house, palms pressed to the screen, staring out between my mum’s legs at the front lawn, where my father was walking away, carrying that maroon duffle bag of his over his shoulder. He was wearing a baseball cap and the car keys jingled from his the ring, which he’d put around his finger. I could hear myself crying under the shouts of my mother. I woke with a start at the sound of the car door slamming.

I sat up in bed, and stared across the dark room. Rochelle slept on beside me, but I stayed awake the rest of the night, studying the silhouette of the street lamp, glowing through the closed blinds in the window, trying to remember if he’d even said good bye.



“What’s up with you today?” Nick asked, “You’re worse than el douche, the pissed of Mexican.” He thumbed over his shoulder at the studio door.

I took a drag off my cigarette and shrugged. In Howie’s defense, Nick’s middle name could’ve been Spaz that day. He’d so far managed to fuck up every one of his lines in the song we were taping and spilled coffee dangerously close to the soundboard, scaring the you-know-what out of the producer. Even Brian had been irritated with Nick’s ADD tendencies today, but, as usual for Brian, that was being overlooked and only Howie was labeled el douche.

But apparently I was worse than him.

Nick was staring longingly at my smokes as he said that. I dutifully held out the pack to him, but he shook his head and put up his hands in protest. “Aw hell nawh,” he said, “Lauren’s Spidey-senses are probably tingling just knowing I’m standing out here with you in such close proximity to smoke. If I smoke, I’m S-O-L in the S-E-X department for, like, I dunno, a decade probably.”

Somehow I doubted it would be quite that long – Lauren seemed to be just as much of a horn dog as Nick was – but I shoved the pack back into my ass pocket anyways. He was probably the smarter of us anyways, having quit smoking the year before. I was on again, off again. More on again than off again, though. Granted, it’d been almost two weeks this time since I’d last smoked… but that’s what nerves will do to you, I guess.

Nick leaned against the studio’s exterior wall and studied me for a long moment. “Seriously J,” he said, “Whatsa matter?”

I suckered a deep breath. I hadn’t planned on telling the fellas anything about the happenings with my father… and honestly, even if I had planned to tell them, the last of them I would’ve told was Nick. I know it seems like of them Nick would be the best candidate to talk to about it, just because there are so many parallels between our experiences – shitty dads named Bob unite! – but he was also the Backstreet Boy most likely to use the fuck’im, who needs him anyway approach to getting over the whole ordeal.

I shrugged, “I’m fine,” I said.

Nick’s eyebrow shot up. “Real fine or AJ fine?” he asked.

Damn him.

“Just fine,” I repeated, shrugging. I chucked my cigarette down and stomped on it with the ball of my foot. I could feel Nick still studying me, his eyes working like peroxide. He was trying to draw it out of me. In my mind, I imagined him giving me ogling, crazy-looking eyes like he was some kind of cartoon hypnotist or something. I looked up. He wasn’t ogling, just standing there with knitted brows – concerned.

“J, you can talk to me, man,” he said in a helpful voice.

I sighed. It was rare that Nick took his own head out of his ass to notice someone else’s problems even existed, and then to offer to talk on top of it… It’s not that Nick’s self-centered or anything, but he has a narrow world scope is all. Like he cares about other people, but sometimes he just gets so wrapped up in his own bullshit that he doesn’t notice other people. That’s the main problem between him and Brian these days – they both have their own shit that they’re absorbed in and neither really has the time they used to be able to give to the other.

Somehow I felt like I had to reward Nick for poking his head out of his own Nickenesian mire.

“It’s just… my father,” I said slowly.

“What’s wrong with him?” Nick asked, “Is he okay?”

Again with the assuming I meant my step-father.

I sighed, “My actual father, Nick,” I said, “The sperminator.”

Nick’s eyes widened, “What’s that jackass want?” he asked.

And now begins the fuck’im approach.

“I dunno,” I answered with a shrug.

“Money?” Nick guessed, “Fame? Babes?”

“He’s dying,” I answered.

“Dying?” Nick asked. His face paled ever so slightly, which was something I hadn’t seen happen since Rio, that time when we got stuck on the bus with a huge ass mob blockading our safe entrance to the hotel. He stood upright, jammed his hands into his pockets and stared at me. “Why?” he asked stupidly.

“Fuck if I know,” I answered, “Cancer. I guess Mother Nature realized what an asshole he is and decided to take him out. Good riddance.” The words sounded harsh, even in my own ears.

Nick’s face paled further. “Dawg,” he whispered, “That’s your father you’re talking about.”

This was the exact opposite of what I’d expected from Nick. I stared at him in relative disbelief. I mean, Nick was usually count-on-able for at least understanding that parents suck ass. He was the king of suck ass parents. I kind of wished he’d gone with the fuck him approach… at least that would’ve been easier to stomach than this.

“No,” I said darkly, “It’s the man who impregnated my mother once upon a time.”

“Dude, it’s more than that,” Nick argued persistently, “I mean, you share like DNA with the guy… yanno? That deep biological shit,” he added, “Blood.”

“Well fuck blood,” I said, “He walked away. Blood means shit when it’s splattered all over the place.” I turned to the studio door, determined to end the conversation before I felt any worse, but Nick grabbed my elbow and stopped me. “I’m fine,” I snapped before he could ask.

Nick’s voice was quiet, “Did you go see him at least?”

“Yeah, I saw the fucker,” I answered, “He tried to apologize to me. Like saying some pretty words will take away all the shit and pain and torture he caused. Like sorry can make him unpack his fucking duffle bag.”

Nick lowered his grip from my elbow and said quietly, “It can’t take away the crappy years but it can give you a second chance.”

“So if your father said sorry to you, you’d accept it?” I asked him.

Nick shrugged. “If he was dying, I might.”

“Aren’t we all dying?” I asked, “Little bits at a time.”

Nick shrugged again. “I’m just saying, if it was me and it was my dad…” he shook his head, “I wouldn’t be fine. Not even AJ fine.”
Chapter Four by Pengi
Chapter Four

Nick’s biggest problem is his inability to keep his trap shut. Yet another reason to add to my check list of reasons why I didn’t ever tell Nick personal stuff. We spent the rest of the recording session with all four of us at odds…

“Howie,” Nick had snapped at our Latino counterpart a half an hour after our smoke break, “Dude, you gotta lay offa me.” Howie had been ready to whap Nick up the head for yet another spill. Nick had been officially banned from open drinks in the studio now as Brian used paper towels to sop up the cranberry juice that was staining our sheet music red.

“And why do I have to lay offa you?” Howie asked pointedly, glowering at Nick’s skull like he wanted to break it in half or something, like one of Gallagher’s watermelons.

“Dude, because,” Nick had said nodding at me, “Some of us are dealing with bigger issues than cranberry juice right now and maybe you don’t wanna make some of us have a worse day than he already is.”

Howie and Brian had both looked at me expectantly.

“God damn it Nick, are you incapable of keeping anything to yourself?” I demanded.

“What’s going on?” Howie asked. Brian’s eyes had that good Christianly glaze to them, like he was revving up the inner concordance to start spewing out applicable Bible verses at rapid fire.

“Nothing,” I answered, turning away.

“His father’s dying,” Nick spilled.

“What?” Brian gasped.

“How’s Denise taking it?” Howie asked.

“His actual father,” Nick clarified. He looked at me and realized I was glowering at him in anger. “What?” he asked stupidly, “They got a right to know what’s up your butt, don’t they?” he asked. I sighed. I wanted to box Nick in the ears. I had to restrain myself.

“I thought you stopped talking to him?” Brian asked, concern in his eyes.

I sighed, “I did, but then my mum went and talked to him and she was telling me he wanted to see me and…”

“Wait, wait, so you went and visited him because your mom made you?” Nick asked. I glared at him. He swallowed back the teasing he had been about to bestow upon me and pulled a dollar bill out of his back pocket and pointed in the direction of the vending machines, as though he’d been just about to scurry off anyway.

Brian glanced between Howie and I, then pointed at the retreating blonde giant, “I’ll go – uh – “ he took off after Nick.

“Make sure he doesn’t get any more liquids,” called Howie. He turned back to me. “Aje,” he said quietly, he moved closer so his voice could drop lower than before. He eyed me up and down, “You okay?”

Fathers had been a touchy subject for Howie ever since Hoke had died. Howie easily welled up when he got talking about fathers. We’d had an interesting display several months before when Nick’s grandfather had died somewhat unexpectedly and Nick had been talking about how he felt crappy because he’d wished his grandfather had traded places with his father and Howie’s eyes had gotten all smoky-like and he’d stammered out that we all took our fathers for granted. I knew Howie would not be okay with my smart ass sperm jokes and good riddance salutations. I swallowed the lump that was rising in my throat.

“Dying, huh?” he asked. He leaned against the wall beside me. I nodded. Howie took a deep breath, “And how do you feel?” he asked.

“Nothing,” I answered.

Nothing?” Howie asked.

I looked him in the eyes, “Honestly, it’s closer to relief than worry or burden,” I said quietly. It felt weird admitting that aloud, but the emotion behind it had been dancing around inside me for quite some time. I looked Howie over. “It’s hard,” I said, “Because I want to give a damn but…”

“You’re afraid to,” Howie supported.

“Yeah,” I answered, “I guess. It’s just –“ I paused. I felt my lips twitch. “Every time I’ve let myself get anywhere near this guy,” I said softly, “He leaves.”

Howie nodded slowly.

“He’s dying, Howie,” I whispered. “It’s like I already know he’s gonna leave me. How the fuck can I even start to get close to him. There’s no chance he’s going to stay this time.”

Howie’s frown turned down the corners of his forehead and made his nose flare. “Don’t you want that chance to know him before he’s gone forever though?” He asked.

“It’s not like I’d lose anything,” I said. “I never had him in the first place.”

“But this way, when he’s still out there alive somewhere, you’ve always had the possibility. It’s been available. Now…” Howie shrugged, “I dunno, maybe the idea of it doesn’t bother you, but maybe it should. Once he leaves this time, Aje, there’s no do-overs, there’s no later to try again. If you’re avoiding this because you don’t feel like forgiving him… maybe you should rethink your options.”

“Don’t feel like forgiving him?” I asked, “D, it’s not like it’s a choice I’m making,” I said.

Howie shrugged, “You’re choosing not to forgive him,” he said simply. “And my question is this: fifteen years from now when you and Rochelle are parents and you look back at this moment are you going to wish you’d chosen differently - wish you could turn back time?”

I stared into those big Latin eyes.

“I tried to stop him,” came Brian’s voice suddenly from behind me in the hallway, “But he wouldn’t listen.”

“Dude I am not gonna spill a third time,” Nick said, and I heard the pop-fizz of a Red Bull can opening.

Howie’s eyes widened, “Oh for the love of God.”



“I think you do want to give it a second chance,” Rochelle said pointedly. She was sitting at the dining room table later that night, a plate of spaghetti before her, drinking milk with strawberry syrup mixed in. She lowered her hot-pink glass. “You haven’t shut up about Howie and his opinion since you came home from the studio.”

“I just think it’s an outrageous accusation,” I said defensively, “That I choose not to forgive him? Well he chose not to stick around – how’s that?” I shook my head and stabbed into a garlic-infested meatball with my fork like I was the Trojan horse attacking the city of Troy.

Rochelle shrugged, “You can say it pissed you off all you want, but why did it piss you off?” she asked, raising an eyebrow. “Did it maybe hit too close to home?”

“Bullshit,” I grumbled, spinning my fork in the pasta.

Rochelle’s bright red lips moved into an expression that told me she was trying not to be amused by my reactions at this point, the way one might look at a child who was struggling to explain feelings he was having. “How many times have you told me your greatest fear about this baby is messing up and losing his respect and love?” she asked.

I swallowed. That was my biggest fear - that I’d end up somehow with a kid that thought of me the way I thought of my dad, or Nick thought of his. “It doesn’t matter, I’m gonna be a better father than he was…” I said.

“Good intentions,” Rochelle said, lifting her strawberry milk again, “But if he doesn’t give you the chance to be his father, then your good intentions don’t matter for crap do they – until he gives you a chance.”

I stared at her. “So what’re you saying? That karma’s gonna bite me in the ass if I don’t go there and forgive him and let him fucking walk out on me again?” I demanded.

Rochelle shrugged, “I’m just saying that maybe, for the sake of your own future peace of mind AJ, that you should give it one more shot.” She raised the strawberry milk to her mouth and took a long, satisfied sip, staring straight into my eyes as she did.



Kills 99.99% of Germs. I rubbed my hands together as I stepped into the room, my heart slamming in my chest so loudly I was certain he could hear it already. “Hey Bo-“ I started, but just as I started greeting him, he snapped, “Can’t a guy get any damn peace around here?!”

I froze at the corner of the curtain.

He looked up at me and our eyes locked and he suckered in his breath, shaky and long. He stared at me for a tedious minute, then he finally croaked out, “You came back.”

“Yeah, so?”

“I thought you were a nurse,” he explained his greeting, “They’ve been in and out constantly, like a fucking rotating door…” he swallowed, “It’s impossible to rest in a hospital.”

“I can go if you…” I started, but again, he interrupted me.

“No,” he said firmly.

I stood awkwardly by the foot of the bed. “I – uh –“

“Have a seat,” he said, gesturing to that same plastic chair that hadn’t moved since I’d been there last. I hesitantly went over and lowered myself down into the seat. I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding and stared up at him. He seemed small in the bed like that, and he was bald. His lips had a crusty, chapped kind of look to them, and his eyes were blood shot, like he’d been crying. He studied me a long moment in silence. “What made you come back?” he asked.

My friends. I thought. Part of me wanted to be spiteful and go with the maybe you sold a #1 selling album and I wanted a cut… sound familiar? answer, but I held my tongue. I wasn’t sure what to say or how to begin. He sat there, waiting expectantly. I ran my palms across my knees and looked up at the IV pole that stood like a centurion beside me. “Anything good?” I joked.

“Morphine,” he said pointing at an electronic medication dispenser with a timer stuck to it. He pointed up at a gross looking opaque bag hanging near the top. “Chemotherapy,” he added.

I stared up at the bag, then looked down at him. “Well, at least the morphine’s a ride, right?”

“It’s okay,” he replied.

“It’s strong,” I said. “They didn’t give me no morphine when I came in for my knee.”

He looked at my legs, “What’s wrong with your knee?” he asked.

The question hung between us. Considering half the known world knows about my knee, I thought, It’s pathetic that my own father has no idea how fucked they are. I shrugged. “Just knee surgery one or two times.” He studied my knees. After a long moment, it felt awkward, so I covered them with my cupped palms. “No big deal,” I minimized.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here for that,” he said.

“There’s a hell’ve a lot better to be sorry for missing.”

He stared right into my eyes. “And I’m sorry for that, too, Alex.”
Chapter Five by Pengi
Chapter Five

My old man had apologized, sure, but I couldn’t swallow it. I looked away from him and a hefty silence that weighted down on us settled. I ran my tongue over my teeth and searched my brain for something to say – anything. Finally I muttered, “Nice weather outside.”

“I wouldn’t know,” he answered, “Haven’t been out in over a week.”

Damn it, AJ, I thought bitterly at myself, Make it a little worse why don’t you? “Sorry,” I muttered.

“No, I mean, it looks great,” my father said, “It’s a bit – je no se quois - in here.” I looked up at him and he smirked. “C’mon,” he said softly, “Not even a smile?”

“Isn’t this awkward for you at all?” I asked point blank instead of answering him.

He sighed, “AJ… Yes, of course it is… and you know, I’d almost venture to say it’s more awkward for me than it is for you, but –“

Seriously?” I demanded, interrupting his ‘but-‘. “You think that you have it harder in this situation than I do?” I snorted loudly.

He nodded, “Yeah, actually,” he said, “I do, and you know why? Because I’m at your mercy. I want nothing more than to be able to just be calm and happy and enjoy your company, but I’m terrified of being rejected by you, Alex.”

“Rejected by me like I was by you thirty years ago?” I snapped.

A look of shocked pain filled his eyes, but he didn’t skip a beat, “Yeah, probably,” he said, “So here I am, on my belly, waiting for a hand out of some compassion from you, practically begging you to let me have another chance and I can’t help but feel like you’re here because your mother made you be here or something…” Bob shook his head, “Alex, I want to be a father to you. In these few days that I have remaining on this fucking earth, I want to try to right some of the wrongs I’ve done… undo some of the pain I’ve caused…”

“No fucking apology is going to fix that, dad,” I snarled, my voice rising in sarcasm on the title. I stood up quickly, making the chair rock, threatening to fall down. I pointed at him, “You walked out, you abandoned me, you left me standing there watching you, waiting… Waiting for my father to come back, waiting for a normal family to magically appear. You know what you left me? You left me my mother’s shell. Her heart was shattered by you, our lives were fucked up because of you

“Do you realize how hard she worked to feed me?” I continued, on a roll, “How hard she worked just to keep me in clothes? You know how much bullshit I went through at school, defending her honor? Defending myself?” My voice was loud – too loud for a hospital, but I couldn’t stop it. He was staring at me in horror, and some sick part of me felt glad that I was upsetting him. “I had to listen to her crying every night because of you. I was a child and I learned how to be a grown up really fucking fast. I grew up listening to people say bullshit about her and about me and about why you weren’t around, about why you didn’t love me. And I was fucking stupid enough to try to defend you- yes, even you!”

“Alex, I –“

“No! Listen to me. I got called a fag, I got beat up for my passion in drama and music. You know why I loved music so fucking much? Why I am who and what I am today? Because of you. But don’t go puffing up like no fucking peacock, because this ain’t something you should be proud of. You know why I loved it? I loved it because it was the only place that I could run to that I didn’t have to be the bastard son of a fucking, no good, low life, alcoholic asshole,” I hissed, “Who didn’t even have the balls to be a real man.”

Bob hung his head, tears pouring from his eyes… but I had no mercy.

“Rochelle was wrong,” I said quietly, turning away so that he wouldn’t see as I swiped at my own tears before I faced him again, our eyes locking, “I’m not afraid of karma, I’m not afraid of you leaving – dying or whatever. I’m scared that I’ll end up like you, always leaving.”

I stood there, panting, my heart pounding against my rib cage, exhausted from the outpouring of emotion. I felt like I’d just run a marathon across the state of Florida. It was all shit I’d been holding in, bottling up deep inside my gut, and it’d finally rushed out, unstoppable and damaging. I clenched and unclenched my fists, and waited for a reaction, waited for him to get pissed back.

But he didn’t.

“You’re right,” he said quietly.

“What?”

“I didn’t have the balls to be a real man,” he clarified, “I was a no good, low life, alcoholic asshole.” Bob nodded. “I ran off on you and on Denise because I was afraid and I was selfish and stupid.” He shook his head, “And you’re nothing like me, Alex… ”

I swallowed the lump in my throat down. “Yeah I am,” I said thickly, “I left the other day…” I gestured toward the door.

“Yeah, sure you did,” he said, “But you also came back.”

A nurse bustled into the room at that moment, dragging the upright blood pressure machine. She grabbed Bob’s arm and started wrapping the band around his biceps. I moved away, my back against the wall, as she stuck the E.T. finger clip on his right hand and jiggled the bag of chemotherapy chemicals with the palm of her hand. She spoke rapidly and her hands moved around over him, checking various vitals and chatting away. He stared over her shoulder at me, as though willing me not to use the opportunity to bolt, almost begging me with his eyes.

When she was done, she smiled, apologized for interrupting, and turned, leaving the room in as much of a flurry as she’d entered it five minutes before.

My father looked at me. “I respect you for coming back,” he said, as though she’d never come in the room. “You’re braver than I ever will be.” This felt like a gigantic compliment coming from a man with a chemo IV stuck in his wrist, regardless of who it was and where he’d been in the past.

“It’s selfish,” I stated, “My motive.”

“Does it matter?”

“No less than you coming back in 1999 for selfish reasons did,” I stated.

He hesitated, clearly trying to decide how to take that. Finally, he said, “I was proud of you.”

“And a little broke,” I shrugged, “It’s not a big deal. You weren’t the first glommer that entered my life.”

Glommer?” he asked.

“Fair weather friend,” I said, “User. Mum used that term a lot for the people I hung around with in that era…” I shrugged, “You weren’t the first, nor were you the last. You just were the one who hurt the most when you stabbed me in the back. That’s all.”

We stood in silence a long moment. Finally, he said, in a quiet tone, “I was in a bar the first time I heard. It was early yet, and I was waiting to meet a woman. I had a Heineken and a plate of peanuts and there was MTV on the screen, up in the corner…” Bob’s eyes had glazed ever so slightly as he remembered what was clearly a very vivid memory. “And I saw you. I stared at the TV, my bottle halfway to my mouth, gaping up at what I was seeing. There’s no way, I was telling myself over and over again, but there was no possible way to deny who you were. You looked exactly like I did in high school – well, with more tattoos and piercings and all. And you were so happy and so proud… You were singing, and there were fans and there were bright lights and excited people and someone in the bar squealed and pointed and said, Look, it’s the Backstreet Boys. The next thing I knew there was a small crowd of girls, standing around, staring up at the screen. Someone made the bar tender turn it up and I could hear you…” he paused, then he sang, ever so quietly, “Quit playing games with my heart…

I stared at him. I had no idea what TV performance he was talking about. I mean, I think Quit Playing Games was one of our most over played songs ever. We sang it on every program we visited for a long time. It was the song that made us us in the United States.

“And I was sitting there, listening, and I felt so…” he closed his eyes, “Ashamed.

I’d expected proud. “Ashamed?” I asked, surprised.

He nodded, “Because I walked away. I didn’t dare to claim you there, I didn’t dare to say a word, I was too scared they’d ask why I wasn’t there, at your performance. I was terrified of having to explain I was the father, the one who walked out on you… Of you I was proud… of me I was ashamed.”

I looked at my sneakers.

“See, Alex, you lived without a father all these years… but I lived with the guilt of not being a father all this time.”

“Well whose fault is that?” I demanded.

“My own,” he admitted.

I thought this over for a long moment.

“Alex…” he begged, “Please, come back and sit down.” He waved to the chair at his side.

I shook my head, “No… No, I think I’ve had enough for today,” I answered. I started toward the door. I felt overwhelmed, I needed Rochelle.

“Wait,” he said, “Alex?”

I froze in the door and turned slowly to look at him. “What?” I asked.

“Will you be back?”

I took a deep breath. “Yeah,” I said, and then I left the room quickly, before he could say anything else.
Chapter Six by Pengi
Chapter Six

The next day I was back at the recording studio with the fellas. God had blessed me by making Nick a blonde to the Nth degree. He’d seemed to completely forget about my dilemma and had been busy whining about a hangnail he had on his left hand. “I don’t wanna bite on it, you know?” he said, studying it intensely as he sat on the couch. Brian was in taping his audio layers. “I mean, once you start biting your nails you don’t stop – just look at BRok’s fingers.”

“Like you don’t gnaw your nails to the ground,” Howie grumbled, “C’mon Nick, you’re full of crap.” Howie had turned around from the soundboard to roll his eyes at Nick.

Nick looked deeply affronted. “I do not gnaw my nails to no ground,” he responded, his jaw a jar. He narrowed his eyes. “You’re so fulla crap, dawg.”

Howie shrugged, “Just reporting what I see, Carter,” he replied, then turned back to watch Brian’s progress in the booth.

Nick looked at me imploringly, “I don’t bite my nails,” he said.

“Yeah you do,” I answered.

“Aw shut up, and you pick your nail beds,” Nick snapped in an attempt at biting back. He was like a Chihuahua dog, snapping because he’d been snapped at. I quickly tucked my hand underneath me, hiding that I’d been picking at my fingers at that very moment.

“Yeah but I’m not I de-ni-al.” I got up off the couch, abandoning him and sat with Howie by the soundboard. Howie smirked over at me quietly as Nick began to flare up in further denial behind us on the couch.

“How’s it going?” he asked after a pause, once Nick was lost in his whining enough that he wouldn’t eavesdrop and pester me. “With your dad, I mean,” he clarified.

I shrugged, “I went back to talk to him again. I exploded like holy hell on him,” I admitted, “But… afterwards, I dunno, it was kind of like everything was said, and there wasn’t anything more to be pissed off about…”

Howie nodded. “Like getting it off your chest…” he smiled sadly. “What’d he say? When you exploded?”

“He agreed with me,” I said.

Howie took a deep breath. “It sounds like he’s serious this time, J,” he said. He looked at me, straight in the eyes. “What’d you say he’s got?”

“Cancer.”

“But what kind?” he asked. I shrugged. I hadn’t thought to ask him. “Do you know the prognosis or anything?”

“Not a clue,” I replied. “I literally only know what my mum told me…” I said.

Howie shrugged, “You might want to find out,” he said.

I stared at the soundboard, letting Howie’s words sink in slowly. After a long moment, I looked up at him. “D?” I asked.

“Mmhm?”

“What was it like?” I asked, “What’d you feel like when your dad died? Like when you found out he – he was going to…?”

Howie shifted uneasily in his chair. “We didn’t believe it at first, none of us. I mean, we’d been through the loss of Caroline and… it seemed… cruel, I guess, that we’d lose Papi, too,” he said. He sighed and shook his head. “We all denied it like crazy. We told ourselves it wasn’t happening, that we were being set up to see a miracle happen, that God was going to show off what He could do for us and pull Papi through it all…”

I studied Howie intently as he spoke. He sucked his lips into his mouth, catching them with his teeth. After a long pause, he looked me solidly in the face. “It’s different for you, AJ,” he said slowly, “Because you’re gaining him and losing him at the same time.”

“So?”

“So… It’s probably hard for you to feel much of anything,” he said.

“So this is okay? It’s normal that I don’t feel like I’m losing anything?” I asked.

Howie nodded, “I guess, for your situation.”

“I just feel so… so guilty,” I admitted. “Like the other day, I was there and the nurse was changing his chemotherapy bag and… It was weird because it was like it hit me that it was chemo in there, you know? The guy’s literally fighting for his life, against his own body, and I’m sitting there bitter…” I looked down at my lap, “And worse, almost relieved…” My eyes travelled up to Howie’s.

“You shouldn’t feel guilty,” Howie said quietly. “You’re a bigger man than most would be,” he added.

I shrugged, “I dunno about that.”

“Do you seriously think Nick would be up there with his dad if it this was his situation?” Howie pressed. “Do you think Brian or I really understand what you’re going through to be able to say we would be, either?”

I shrugged again.

Howie shook his head, “J, it’s not easy, what you’re doing. It’s not easy at all. You’re letting go and forgiving for things that literally defined you for a lot of years.” He reached over and patted my shoulder, a sad, yet proud smile on his face. “Don’t feel guilty for doing a good thing.”

I swiped at my eyes with the back of my hand and looked away. Just in time, too, because Nick suddenly popped up between us. “Hey,” he said, “Who wants to speed up the tape and make Brian sound like a chipmunk? Anybody?” Nick grinned wickedly and reached for the dial as Howie muttered in Spanish.



“Have you been thinking of names for the baby?” Rochelle asked, running her palm across my chest. We were sitting on the couch in the living room, Gone With the Wind playing on TV. Honestly, we’d both lost interest a long time ago, but neither of us had actually admitted that we’d lost interest in the movie. This was the first shot at small talk either of us had taken. She ran her fingernails down the stitch in my chest.

I blinked at her, “Names? Already?”

“Well we know it’s a boy and all,” she pointed out. She smiled, “What do you think of Christopher?”

“The next thing that comes to my head immediately is Robin,” I replied.

“Ew,” Rochelle said, her nose wrinkling. “Yeah, no.” She hummed, “What about Alex Junior?” she asked.

I smirked, “Other things come to mind that I’d rather not be associated with my baby,” I said pointedly.

Rochelle’s cheeks grew red, then she laughed, “Okay, scratch Junior.”

“Please do,” I answered, laughing quietly.

“Gross,” she laughed, though. After a long pause she said, “Elijah?”

“Wood?” I smirked, “Hey you know what wood reminds me of…?”

Rochelle sat up, “You are just fascinated with penis euphemisms today!” she said, laughing. Rochelle shook her head, “Bad Monkee.”

“Punish me?”

“Think of baby names, then I’ll punish you all night,” she answered.

I smiled and rubbed her back gently. “I think it’s gonna be something we’ll just know when we see the baby, you know?” I asked, “I feel like I need to know him before I name him.”

“He feels like a Gerard to me.”

“Dude, have you not seen Everybody Loves Raymond?” I demanded, “Cousin Gerard?”

“There’s a cousin Gerard?” she asked.

“He’s the one with the accordion…”

“Ohhh.. Yeah, no, no Gerard.”

I kissed her forehead, “The name will come to us, don’t worry about it…” I paused. “Can we go have sex now?” I asked.

Rochelle laughed and shook her head, “You’re such a dog.”
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