This Is Us by Ajsgirl4life

1. Chapter 1 by Ajsgirl4life

2. Chapter 2 by Ajsgirl4life

3. Chapter 3 by Ajsgirl4life

4. Chapter 4 by Ajsgirl4life

5. Chapter 5 by Ajsgirl4life

6. Chapter 6 by Ajsgirl4life

7. Chapter 7 by Ajsgirl4life

8. Chapter 8 by Ajsgirl4life

9. Chapter 9 by Ajsgirl4life

10. Chapter 10 by Ajsgirl4life

11. Chapter 11 by Ajsgirl4life

12. Chapter 12 by Ajsgirl4life

13. Chapter 13 by Ajsgirl4life

14. Chapter 14 by Ajsgirl4life

15. Chapter 15 by Ajsgirl4life

16. Chapter 16 by Ajsgirl4life

17. Chapter 17 by Ajsgirl4life

18. Chapter 18 by Ajsgirl4life

19. Chapter 19 by Ajsgirl4life

20. Chapter 20 by Ajsgirl4life

21. Chapter 21 by Ajsgirl4life

22. Chapter 22 by Ajsgirl4life

23. Chapter 23 by Ajsgirl4life

24. Chapter 24 by Ajsgirl4life

25. Chapter 25 by Ajsgirl4life

26. Chapter 26 by Ajsgirl4life

27. Chapter 27 by Ajsgirl4life

28. Chapter 28 by Ajsgirl4life

29. Chapter 29 by Ajsgirl4life

30. Chapter 30 by Ajsgirl4life

31. Chapter 31 by Ajsgirl4life

32. Chapter 32 by Ajsgirl4life

33. Chapter 33 by Ajsgirl4life

34. Chapter 34 by Ajsgirl4life

35. Chapter 35 by Ajsgirl4life

36. Chapter 36 by Ajsgirl4life

37. Chapter 37 by Ajsgirl4life

38. Chapter 38 by Ajsgirl4life

Chapter 1 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 1

"This is insane"

"Stop it, you'll be great"

"But I get nervous in front of just you, how am I going to do this in front of all those people?"

Standing in front of a wall of mirrors all I could see was my own look of terror. Of course I noticed the wide array of beautiful dancers around me. How could you ignore those perfect lines and amazing spins? But the thing that caught my attention was how unlike my usual self I looked when I was anxious. My long, straight, chocolate brown hair seemed to be sprouting small curls around my forehead like weeds as I bullied it into a ponytail. I tried to straighten the curls, force them to be long enough to tuck behind my ears, but to no avail. My hair was thick and straight until you got me sweating, then it was curl city framing my face. And I was sweating now. Oh god, we haven't even started dancing yet I am already sweating.

"Oh god I'm already sweating. They aren't even going to let me dance because I'm so disgusting" I sighed while focusing on my panic-stricken eyes. My eyes were by far the best feature I had. Unfortunately, they also caused me the most trouble. At the moment they were stormy grey but they could range from electric blue, striking silver and emerald green all depending on my mood. My own little mood rings my sister jokingly called them. Normally I tried not to let people know when I was hurting or sad but with these eyes and the right knowledge you could read me like a book. It was endlessly annoying.

"Everyone will be sweating. And if they don't let you dance then we are both leaving" my sister said grabbing my shoulders and trying to shake the tension out of them. My sister has a lot of things I envy - her height (I am a small 5'2 while she stands at a striking 5'7), her sense of humor, and of course her courage. Nothing ever seems to get her anxious. She is my rock. She is also the reason I’m here about to humiliate myself in front of hundreds of amazing dancers and four very handsome men.

"Mollee" I sighed. Her blond hair curled in perfect ringlets as she stretched her leg up, letting it brush right next to her ear "I can't do this"

"Kat" she sighed back at me. All at once I was struck by how similar we were, how close to the same person we could be. It made me giggle and she raised her eyebrow "You are so weird. Take a deep breath. You are the best dancer I've ever seen and this is your chance. You can do this" Best dancer was an exaggeration but I can admit that I am good. I’m really good. Dancing was something I'd always done, always loved, and always excelled at. Mollee was great. She had great technique and had been dancing as long as I had, but I was always able to portray emotion so much more convincingly than her. It made me stand apart. I’d tried on multiple occasions to explain it to her so she could understand and use my trick but it never worked. "You were born with it" she'd say with a smile. "I got the height, you got the power"

Suddenly a cute black man stepped to the front of the room and everyone fell silent.

"Alright, let’s get things going. I’m Fly and I'll teach you all three eight counts and then we'll do it in fours. I'll tell you right then if you need to stay or go. If I ask you to stay, quietly make your way to the back of the studio and wait until we get through everyone. If I ask you to go, quietly grab your belongings and head out. Alright, let’s have some fun"

My sister jumped into position at the front of the group and I shrunk to the back. Being short made being a "back line" dancer difficult, but I couldn't stand being up front like Mollee. She rolled her eyes as she looked to her left, hoping to see me there, but knowing where I would be headed. I caught her eye from the back of the room and gave her a small and apologetic smile. This was just how I did things and she knew that. I keep a low profile before I really turn it on and impress. She’s the one who was always calling me the silent storm.

Fly laid out the dance. It wasn't difficult. It was very stylized with lots of small but precise movements and very sexy and in your face. Mollee would rock it. I might get by. After the counts were taught we tried it once with all two hundred or so dancers with the music.

"5, 6, 7, 8 this seems so hypnotic, smoke and mirrors, lights and magic, paper faces in gold. There're soldier boys, beauty queens, everyone's a mystery. It's got me losing control" Fly spoke over the lyrics as the song blared. Hearing their voices made my heart jump. I was a huge fan of the music and had been since I was little but I'd never met them, never seen them face to face, but they had to be here somewhere to help make the final call. After all, the four girls chosen would be dancing with them for almost a year, they should have some say.

"It's a masquerade, a love parade, so won't you stay and dance with me? All through the night and day, my masquerade, I need you baby, so stay with me tonight" The dance fit in anywhere in the song so we let it keep playing through the bridge and caught it for a second time at the chorus. Then the music was cut off and we all moved to the sides of the studio.

"Ok, when I call your name please step out onto the floor in the order I call you. If you are out of order we won't know who you are and we won't be able to ask you to stay through to round two. Ok, Camilla Vasquez, Rachel Reuben, Sally Archer and Lisa Ward, let’s see it" It was then, as the first girls moved into place that I saw them. Sitting at a table, looking mildly bored by the proceedings, were the Backstreet Boys. On the far right Nick was bouncing his knee and occasionally hitting the table causing pens to roll in all directions. Next to him Howie pushed down on his leg and gave him a look which made him sit up straighter. He leaned back and flicked something behind Howie's back into Brian who was next in line. Brian caught it without missing a beat and threw it back causing Aj, who was on the far left, to stifle a laugh. Well at least they weren't paying attention. That would help my nerves a bit. I glanced around for Mollee and found her smiling like an idiot at me from across the room. Her opinion on the dance was clear in her eyes - easy - and the excitement from that news echoed in her face. She was older than me by almost 3 years but sometimes she was such a kid. But her enthusiasm was contagious and I waved my hand in a gesture that said "piece of cake" and her grin grew larger. It was her dream to tour with a band as a dancer. It was her ultimate goal in life to make sure that I was on said tour with her.

"Alright, Camilla you can stay. Everyone else thank you very much. Next four are Cara Strong, Lisa Ray, Arianna Feldman and Christine Brown" Oh good. Not me, not my sister. I know I should be watching the other dancers, silently marking the dance to make sure I know it, but I was drawn to the table with the guys. Nick was trying his hardest to stay focused and Howie was seeing to it that he did. Brian was making silly faces to anyone who would glance his way and then I looked at Aj. My heart skipped a beat. He was staring directly at me. I immediately flushed red and looked at the ground - the worst response if you want to pretend you haven't locked eyes with someone - and I swear over the music I could hear him laugh a little. I did a quick mental recall to see if I had been doing anything embarrassing when he looked over. I wasn't picking my nose or a wedgie, I wasn't flattening my curls and I wasn't staring open mouthed into space. Why was he looking at me? I chanced a glance up and saw he was focused now on the dancers in front of him - all of whom were asked to leave - and I sighed. I probably imagined it. Why would he look at me, anyway? I was pulled abruptly out of my thoughts when I heard Mollee's name. She bound forward to the spot right in front of Nick and I saw him flash her that familiar look of appreciation. It was the one most guys who passed my tall blonde beauty of a sister gave. She was hard not to admire even I had to admit that. She glanced at me over her shoulder and I gave her big smile. She smiled back and then zeroed in. My sister knew how to get to business when there was business to be had. The music started from the chorus and she tore it up. I may be biased because she is family but she was clearly the best dancer so far. I was beyond proud.

"I'll keep Mollee and Elise, everyone else, thank you for your time." Mollee ran to me and I caught her in a hug before she skidded to the back of the room. I felt a focus on me and glanced away from my sister only to confront the same pair of brown eyes. There was no denying it this time. Aj McLean was staring at me. This was absurd. I glanced up to the ceiling this time to avoid his gaze. Four more dancers were called and the music started and I waited for him to find something else to interest him but the moments passed and I still felt his eyes. Then I started getting frustrated. Who is he that he thinks he can intimidate me by staring at me? This is probably a game to him. Find the most nervous girl in the room and stare her down until she breaks down completely and flees, heartbroken and crying. He and Brian probably had a bet on how long I'd last. Nope. Not going to happen. I looked determinedly up and right back into his eyes. "Bring it on" I said quietly to myself and he flinched as if he could hear the determination in my voice. When he re-focused he seemed even more perplexed and then he mouthed something to me.

"Hey"

The look I returned was meant to express my utter shock and confusion at being singled out in a room of hundreds of beautiful girls by a Backstreet Boy but clearly it had more anger implied than I intended because Aj looked away, slightly hurt. Well good. Let him leave me alone. I have something to accomplish. My sister got through and now I needed to follow suit. I tried to push the incident out of my head and forced myself to mark the dance while the next four tried it. Three were kept and the choreographer consulted his list.

"Amy Rhodes, Laura Trap, May Forbes, Katrina Blackwell" My heart jumped a little and I hurried to the last spot - right in front of Aj. Damn it. He looked at me like I were a puzzle he was trying to figure out and I waited for the music to cue to a portion we could jump into. I knew what lyrics were coming and I figured if Aj wanted to stare, then I would use it.

"I gotta know the girl behind the mask. Let me in, where've you been, don't pretend. Don't gotta hide alone. Show your face to me. We could be everything" played and I danced for Aj, teasing him, becoming the woman those lyrics were meant for, letting the sexual moves draw him in, and closing the gap at the end by turning abruptly away. He seemed shocked at the end as I stared him down.

"Alright, I'll be keeping Katrina, everyone else you can go" I heard off in the distance. I stayed a fraction of a second too long locked in a gaze with Aj. He raised his eyebrows at me and as I shook myself mentally, I noticed I was the only one still standing in the middle of the floor from my group. I blushed and rushed back to the waiting arms of my sister and tried to catch my breath. I probably did not breathe once in that whole minute. How long was I staring at him? Was it an hour? Was it a day?

"Kat, what were you DOING!?" Mollee asked as she brought me to a back corner and the music started again.

"What do you mean? I was dancing" I answered her, still trying to shake myself from the lingering intensity of his gaze.

"Ok, you basically just had dance sex with Aj McLean. And he liked it." Mollee said as I gave her a look of disbelief.

"You could tell!?" I asked quickly as she rolled her eyes

"Jesus girl, I thought you were going to jump into his lap! I mean, it worked, you were amazing as always, but it was risky! What if he thinks you're some stalker?"

"Well he started it" I grouched sliding down the wall until I was sitting on the floor

"What?" I relayed the whole staring incident in the intricate detail only a sister would demand and when I was done she was looking at me with an open mouth.

"If you get a date from this, I'm going to be so pissed" She said as I smiled. Suddenly the whole thing seemed much funnier, hysterical even. I had a hard time keeping it together as I processed my sister's words.

"Oh yeah Moll, I'm TOTALLY going to get a date with Aj McLean.” I said sarcastically through a laugh

"Well, you should have seen the way he was looking at you!" Mollee retorted, annoyed at not being taken seriously

"Did you see the way Nick was looking at you? Maybe you guys are soul mates. Maybe he's looking for a ring right now" I teased pushing her. I was my duty as a younger sister to annoy the crap out of Mollee on a daily basis. It was a job I took seriously.

"Oh shut up. You're lucky I don't deck you right now" She grumbled as she slumped next to me. I laid my head in her lap and stared up at the ceiling, thinking over Aj and his every look while the minutes became hours and every girl danced. By the end there were about 40 of us left and it was all I could do to get Masquerade out of my head.

"Ok congratulations everyone. I'm going to pair you up with a guy by height and then we will learn a partnering number. You will all get one chance to perform it with the guys and at the very end I'll let you know who has made it on to the final round. Line up please. Guys, if you will" Fly motioned to the guys and they stood and stretched. They spaced themselves evenly and we all lined up single file while Fly began to size us up.

"Definitely Nick" he said pointing Mollee to the tall blonde. Thinking of our earlier conversation I giggled a bit and she shot me look as Fly approached me. Not Aj. Not Aj. Let it be anyone but Aj.

"Let's try Katrina with Aj" I heard above me and my knees almost gave out. Why was this happening? Why me? I crept back to the end of Aj's line which luckily had three girls in it already so I was able to all but disappear as Aj joked with Nick. I glanced at Mollee and she mouthed "Calm down, you're fine" while I tried to take deep breaths. I did not need this added pressure.

"Ok, these are the counts, I'm showing them twice so pay attention" I heard as I focused immediately on the task at hand. The partnering was a little more difficult, especially learning it without a partner, but I was familiar with the feeling and when we ran it to "Bigger" I couldn't help but feel my confidence soar. I could perform the heck out of this song. The first four girls and their respective Backstreet Boys took their places as the rest of us slunk off to the sides. I saw that of course Mollee was first in her line and was performing first because of it. I sent her all the positive mental energy I could muster and smiled big as I watched her rock it. She played with Nick a little who seemed happy to have her as a partner and she nailed every step. A few of the girls really folded under the pressure which was all the better for Mollee. She was kicking butt. I waited patiently while everyone cycled through. I was at the end of the line and thus was able to psych myself up before I had to confront Aj. In the time it took for all 9 other groups to go, I had successfully managed to convince myself that it was all in my head. I walked up to him and he stuck out his hand.

"I'm Aj" He said as I looked skeptically at his outstretched hand.

"I know" I said ignoring the hand in my intense state of focus. I was not going to lose this opportunity because of some guy. Even if it was some very good looking guy.

"5, 6, 7, 8 But you don't care. You keep sticking around despite how silly it sounds. You're bigger than me" played and I nailed the dance. Aj and I had some natural chemistry that was for sure. The beginning half was teasing. I spun away from him, glancing over my shoulder to watch his reaction as I locked each move into place. Finally I had to lay my hand in his and a shock of sheer adrenaline coursed through my hand where we had touched. It threw me for half a beat but then I quickly pulled into the spin. He dropped to his knees in a stylized version of crawling to me and I placed my hand on the side of his face, bringing him up to my level. We ended the dance staring into each other’s eyes, half an inch separating our faces, breathing heavily onto each other’s lips.

And then time stopped. I saw in his eyes a deep understanding of loss and pain mixed with the excitement of new opportunities and some sheer goofiness. In that minute, hour, day of standing there I felt I instantly knew him. He was an amazing guy. The kind of guy you’d want with you forever.

“Alright, very nice, give me a second to talk with the guys and I’ll give you our top ten” Fly’s voice drifted to me from what seemed like a million miles away.

“Come on Bone” I heard Brian say as time sped up to the present in an instant. It was disorienting and I staggered a little until I felt a hand at my elbow.

“Kat, let’s get some water” I heard Mollee say. And then it was done. I was somehow walking out in the hall with my sister next to me. When we got to a private corner she whipped in front of me and took my face in her hands. “You are RIDICULOUS”

“What? Why?” I asked, finally starting to process things again. I was in the hallway outside of a dance studio in Manhattan with my big sister. I just danced with Aj McLean. No. Not danced. We’d connected.

“You were amazing, number one and number two you had Aj wrapped around your finger. What, do you think if you can get a backstreet boy to fall in love with you that you’ll be guaranteed a job?”

“Thanks. And no I don’t want anyone in love with me. We just have good chemistry on the dance floor I guess” I shook myself mentally, trying to convince myself of my own words as I watched them fail to convince my sister.

“Whatever you say, all I know is after that, you’re getting this job. Come on” And she grabbed my hand and led me back into the room. When we got in it seemed like all the dancers were staring at me. I had to be imagining that though. I wasn’t one to stand out. I glanced, almost instinctually, up to where the guys were, where Aj was, and I saw him trying to focus on the conversation in front of him. Then, as if I had called his name, he turned and looked at me. I gave him a small smile. He returned it.

“Ok ladies. I’ll leave this list here at the table of our top 10. Then the boys and I are going to take a lunch break. You all have 3 hours and the use of the four dance studios on this floor to make up some original choreography to any of the boys songs to solidify your spot on the ‘This is Us’ tour. We only need 30 seconds so use your time wisely. We’ll see you at 4:00 sharp.” And then the paper was dropped on the table and after a second of processing, the mad herd of 40 girls descended upon the table. I held back and watched Mollee enter the fray. She got to the paper in no time and over the heads of the other dancers I saw her grin widen as she held two thumbs up.

“Congrats” I heard from behind me. I whipped around and almost fell over to find Aj a mere foot away.

“Th-thanks” I stuttered like an idiot, sweeping my forehead of my curls and looking at my feet.

“You deserved it. You gave me a real run for my money” He said sweetly.

“Hey, I was just trying to keep up with you” I said quietly, still avoiding his eyes lest I fall into another time-stopping stupor.

“Do you have any ideas for the choreography yet?” He asked as I shook my head no “Well, if you want some pointers, I’ll be back in about a half hour with some lunch. Want to meet in the dance studio at the far end of the hall?”

“Uh, yeah, I mean, if you’re not too busy or something…” I stammered trying hard to keep it together and force myself to believe this was really happening.

“I'm not busy. Want any food?” He asked. He seemed like he was trying to get something from me, or maybe verify something, I couldn’t tell. All I knew was I was talking to Aj McLean and he was offering to get me lunch and help me land an amazing job.

“Sure, anything, I mean, whatever you get I’ll eat too. I mean, I’ll eat one of mine and you can eat one…” I trailed off staring at my shoes. Could I sound more stupid?

“Hey, why do you do that?” He asked seeming somewhat frustrated.

“Do what?” I asked as I watched his rings glint from his fingers as his side.

“Hide your eyes. They are stunning” He said and I froze as he gently brought his hand to my chin and lifted it so our eyes met.

“Thanks” I said quietly as he smiled and turned to leave the room. I touched the spot on my chin where his hand had just been. It felt like it was on fire, like his fingers had burnt an imprint onto my cheek.

“Ok. What was that?” I braced myself as Mollee rushed over to me and slammed me into a hug. “One minute I’m congratulating you on making the list and the next you’re all flirty-faced with Aj McLean! And now I hear that you’re meeting with him to help with choreography?!”

“It’s not nice to eavesdrop” I said heading back to the corner our stuff was in and trying to make my way to the studio at the end of the hall before anyone else could claim it.

“I’m your sister. It’s what I do. Explain!” She demanded, grabbing her stuff and following me down the hall. I gave her the play by play and she punched me in the arm.

“Ouch! Jesus, what was that for!?”

“You totally just got a date.”

“He’s just helping me with some choreography” I retorted while rubbing my arm.

“He’s bringing lunch. It’s a lunch date.” I gave her a look and sighed “Ok, ok. I’ll drop it. We’ll talk about something boring. What am I going to do for the choreography? I mean, you have help. What am I going to do?”

“You should do something fast and peppy. You’ll totally shine” I said happy for the new topic of conversation. Every mention of Aj’s name had my heart pounding out of my chest. I’d need all of my energy if I was going to make it through this little tutoring session. Or lunch date.

“I think a lot of the girls will go with stuff from the new album. Think I should go retro?” She asked grabbing an apple from her bag and taking a bite.

“Let’s see” I said grabbing my ipod. “Oh man. I found the perfect one. Let’s have a party. It’s so old school they will think it’s hysterical and you can totally make a goofy and fun dance to it. And Nick sings the whole thing so you know it’ll get his attention”

“Is it just me or does he become more attractive every time you look at him?” She sighed taking another bite of an apple.

“Oh, it’s not just you” I said with a grin. I worked with Mollee for a little while and didn’t hear the door open behind me as I tried to help her land the loop sequence she was stuck on.

“I’m not you Kat! I can’t hit everything perfectly the first time!” Mollee said with mounting frustration after missing the step into the switch leap.

“Molls, I’m here for you. I’m not perfect and you know that. All you have to do is keep the momentum up instead of forward. You’re travelling enough on your own. Think up, up, up. Here” I rewound the music to right before the chorus.

“Let’s have a party. Everybody throw your hands up in the air. Everybody I like the way you swing yeah” I sang along as I ran into the first prep for the loop, landed it and took it into the switch leap. Then, for comedic purposes, I ran up to my sister and started shoving my butt in her face. “You know you like the way I swing Mollee, oh yeah!” I giggled as she looked at me with wide eyes. “What?”

“We have company” She said as I froze. I turned slowly on the spot to see Aj holding a sandwich and fighting back a laugh.

“I didn’t see a thing” He said quickly as I ran to stop the music and flushed tomato red.

“That’s a shame. She’s a sexy piece, my sister. I’m Mollee” Mollee said with a laugh, fearless as always, before offering her hand to Aj.

“I’m Aj. So you can tell me your name, why not your sister?” He asked

“What do you mean?” I asked quietly, still too mortified to have much of a voice

“You totally rejected my introduction when I offered it to you at the audition. Howie thought I’d pissed you off and proceeded to tell me off for offending one of the few talented dancers in the room” Aj explained sitting on the floor and handing me my sandwich while motioning for me to join him.

“I didn’t mean to reject it I was just focused. I’m Kat” I said, too miffed at the attack to enjoy the compliment

“I know” He replied cheekily as I blushed, if it was at all possible, redder.

“That’s my sister, a real workaholic” Mollee said with a grin as I shot her a look “Well, I’ll be going. I think I’ll finish my dance myself little sis, but I may add your ass rubbing move into it, if it’s ok with you”

“You can stay if you want, we could both help” I said quickly as Mollee rolled her eyes and grabbed her stuff.

“I don’t need you two. I’m a star!” She said pretending to be a huge diva as she flipped her hair and bounded out of the room with a small wink to me. The door shut behind her with a deafening click and I turned to my sandwich, still too embarrassed to confront Aj head on and took a bite.

“Your sister is something” Aj said taking a sip from his juice “Is that what you’re like when you’re not so nervous?”

“I’m afraid I’m never ‘not so nervous’” I joked proving my point as I brushed my drink with my arm and almost spilled it all over myself. In an act of amazing and admirable coordination Aj caught it just before it tipped and handed it back to me

“I see. I think it’s cute” He said as I scoffed.

“Sure. So what song do you have in mind for the audition?” I asked, finishing as much of the sandwich as I could in my state of nerves and wrapping up the rest. At least when I’m dancing I have a bit more control over myself.

“Well, what’s your strength?” Aj asked stuffing the rest of his sandwich in his mouth before following me to the middle of the floor.

“Well I guess it would be my emotions. As you can see I’m kind of a mess but when I focus my emotions…” I trailed off. This wasn’t making any sense. Why couldn’t I speak normally in front of him?

“You are very effective” He said “I remember”

“Yeah, sorry about that” I said remembering my almost attacking him at the audition via dance.

“Don’t be. It was incredible to be on the receiving end of. Ok, so why don’t we look into something passionate? Maybe something slow, but meaningful? What is something that you get really affected by?” He asked. Oh what an easy question. Is this normal first date information?

“Well…” I started, debating on the truth or a lie. I looked at his eyes for the first time since he sat down and saw what I had understood at the audition. I saw truth and honesty. I saw someone I could trust. “Someone really hurt me once. I know I can’t really listen to Shattered because it reminds me of that”

“Alright let’s see what you can do” He said grabbing my ipod and cueing it up. I can’t believe I just talked about Rich. I’d met someone I could finally connect with and here I was, bringing up an ex. Not just any ex either but the mother of all exes. The one that tore me up so badly I didn’t think I’d be able to move on.

The music started and I felt tears leap into my eyes. Aj saw but pretended he didn’t and I took a deep breath.

“So empty, can't feel no more, as I'm left with my tears on the floor. I wait for my heart to mend, but you keep tearing a hole” played over the speakers. I just danced out everything. The dance started out nice and fluid and then we got to the second half of the verse and the violence that erupted in the relationship crept through into the dance. It became more rigid, I fell to the floor and flew across the room, tensing my muscles, alternating sharp and fast with slow and tense. The chorus ended and I hit the end of my emotional rope. It had been a trying day already and I could feel I was about to lose it. I ended quickly and hit pause on the ipod before sitting down and catching my breath.

“You ok?” Aj asked sitting down cautiously next to me. I could feel all the emotions from that time not so long ago raging in my racing pulse. The reason we moved to Manhattan, to get lost in a big city where he could never find us. The reason I was so constantly anxious. I could feel it spinning out of control. I could feel his rough hands on my arms, my back up against the cold wall, his terrifying yell and my helpless scream. “Here, deep breaths. Come on, you can do it. In. Out. There we go. Breathe sweetie, in and out.” Aj put his arm around me and pulled me into his chest. I inhaled his cologne and it calmed me down. I slowly felt his warmth permeate my body and my breathing came slower and slower as I felt my control slip back into place. With it came the walls though, and I quickly became rigid in his arms.

“I’m Ok. Sorry. I’m just… sorry” I said quickly pushing away from him and looking away. One tear escaped and I wiped my eyes quickly, hoping he hadn’t seen.

“Hey. I’ve got things in my past too. Sometimes they are so painful and intense that I can’t take it. It’s ok. You’re ok” He said softly. He didn’t try to hug me again, that was out of the question, but he put his hand on mine and I allowed his fingers to wrap between mine. “You are incredible, if it helps”

“Thanks. I don’t know if I can do that in front of everyone. Perhaps we should pick something easier?” I asked. Just then the door opened loudly behind us and I jumped, still pretty fragile.

“Sorry, thought the room was empty. Oh. Hey. You’re Aj, right?” A tall red head sauntered in. She was the typical dancer I would avoid, the kind that attracted drama like a magnet. The kind who was beautiful and she knew it with the uncanny ability to smell weakness in dancers like me and take advantage of it.

“Uh, yeah, hi… Camilla?” Aj guessed. I watched as her eyes took in our interlocked hands and I pulled mine away quickly. Smooth.

“Yeah, Camie is fine. Well, if I’m interrupting something I’ll just leave…”

“No, nothing, he was just leaving” I said quickly as Aj shot me a stunned look. I stood up and opened the door for him indicating he should go.

“It’s ok, I can help you with something else” He said quickly. The look of hurt in his eyes was apparent and I shied away from it. I didn’t want to hurt him but I couldn’t do this. Not now. Not like this.

“Hey, I could use some help” Camie said taking his arm and dragging him out the door

“Alright I guess. Good luck Kat” He said quickly before Camie shut the door between us. I sat back on the floor and put my head in my hands. What was I doing? Did I really just kick Aj McLean out of a dance studio when he had offered to help me? Why was I so messed up? It took me a few minutes but I finally was able to shake off most of what had happened. Aj’s eyes as he left stayed with me though. But then I figured I’d do what I always did with emotions I couldn’t handle. I’d use it to dance.

“Hey girl, you ready to do this?” Mollee asked a few hours later. I’d seen nothing more from Aj or Camie but I had a sick dance down and I was happy with it. “You ok?”

“Yeah I’m fine. And I’m ready” I said standing and gathering my things.

“It's time for an eye check!” She piped and I groaned “Come on. Let’s see if something is really wrong”

“Mollee please, we don’t want to be late” I said trying to dodge her but she used her height to block my exit and forced my eyes to meet hers.

“You're silver. What happened?” She asked matter-of-factly. Silver was the color of sadness and of heartache. It was a color my eyes had been all too frequently lately.

“Nothing, my song is just really intense and it gets to me. It’s good though, I’m using my strength” I said trying to pull away

“Asshole" She said simply. She wouldn’t even say Rich’s name after what had happened. We referred to him as asshole in private and A.H in public.

“Yeah but it is ok. It’s a kick ass performance” I said with a small smile as she pulled me into a hug

“I’ll still do it. I’ll still find him and ruin his life. Just say the word” She said as I sighed

“My answer is still no. Come on, let’s just dance” I said taking her hand and leading her into the room where all the guys now were and most of the dancers. I purposely looked away from the table where I knew Aj would be lounging. I had lied to Mollee. My dance wasn’t about Rich. Not really. I didn’t want to break down in front of everyone so I decided against Shattered and chose a song that reflected that look in Aj’s eyes. That look that was full of hurt and rejection. I was hoping if I did my job right that I could make up for causing that look. He had been nothing but nice, it’s not his fault that I’m broken.

“Alright everyone, any volunteers to go first?” Fly asked. To everyone’s surprise, including mine, I stood up.

“I’m ready” I said, giving him my ipod cued to the middle of Inconsolable. I took the middle of the floor and caught Aj’s eye. “Sorry” I mouthed right before the music played.

“Oh oh no, no I don't want to be like this. I just want to let you know. 'Cause everything that I hold in is everything I can't let go. Oh, I can't let go” Played and I danced my soul out. I thought of that hurt look in Aj’s eyes and how many times I’d felt that hurt too. I poured it out into the chorus and ended on the floor. At first there was silence and then wild applause. I stood up and glanced to my sister who had her mouth open and then I looked at Aj. He smiled and clapped loudly with the rest of them. I took a seat next to Mollee and she grabbed my hand.

“It wasn’t about Asshole you liar, but it was beautiful” She whispered to me before getting up. “I’m next”

She rocked her dance and it was the perfect contrast to mine, almost a statement of who we both were. Phenomenal dancers, sure, but she was the fun, playful one. I was dark and broody. It was something I’d come to accept. Mollee ended her dance by throwing her shirt (she had a leotard underneath) at Nick and he smiled wide before wrapping it around his wrist. She came back over to me and I congratulated her. There was no way anyone would be able to beat that.

The rest of the dancers took their turns in a painstakingly slow process. I was used to being last and thus being so nervous that the other dancers hardly registered to me. Having gone first I was suffering through watching each girl, knowing I was better, and trying to appear supportive on the outside. One girl did a dance to “I want it that way” which was a horrible choice considering how often the guys must have to deal with it not to mention that it’s a difficult song to dance to. I glanced at Aj out of what seemed like habit and he made a face that said he clearly wasn’t impressed either. I giggled and looked down quickly. When I looked back, he raised his eyebrows and pointed his fingers at his eyes and then at mine. The message was clear. Stop hiding your eyes from me. I stuck out my tongue a little at him and then felt a whole other pair of eyes boring into me. From the side, Camie was glaring at me as she waited to dance. You’d think I’d murdered a family member from the vibes she was sending.

“What did you do to piss her off?” I heard Mollee whisper from my side. Clearly she had noticed Camie’s death stare.

“She walked in on Aj helping me and I think she was mad that I was getting his attention” I explained. I didn’t really know what to do with the idea of someone being jealous of me. It just wasn’t something that happened. Especially if you knew what I’d been through.

“Well, she better quit looking at you like that if she wants that pretty little nose of hers to stay on her face” Mollee whispered harshly. That was my big sister alright, protective to a fault.

“Down girl, down” I joked, taking her hand. Finally all the dancers were done and the guys were having a powwow with Fly. I shifted anxiously as Mollee gave me a shoulder rub to keep me calm. The anticipation, however, was getting to her too and I noticed she’d flinch any time one of the guys would move. I, on the other hand, was focused on one guy in particular. The anxiety of getting the job mixed with the anxiety of the thought of leaving this place without saying goodbye to him and possibly never seeing him again was enough to make me crazy.

“Could this take any longer?” Mollee asked, flopping next to me from where she had been working at my back.

“I feel you” I said absent mindedly braiding her hair. Finally, after what seemed like ages, Fly turned and addressed the group.

“Ok everyone. We were really impressed but we only have room for four dancers on the tour. Their names are on this paper. If your name is here, congratulations and please grab one of these info sheets which will tell you all about rehearsals and where you need to be. If not, don’t be discouraged and keep dancing. You are all wonderful.” And with that the paper that contained my destiny fluttered to the table. Yet one of my anxieties was overriding the other and while all the girls rushed to the table with the paper, I rushed slightly to the paper’s left to tap Aj on the shoulder.

“Hey. Aren’t you going to see if you made it?” Aj asked with a grin

“Yeah I will but I thought this was more important. I’m sorry I’m messed up and that I put that on you. You were so nice offering to help me and if I didn’t apologize and if the last thing you thought was that I was ungrateful than I’d never forgive myself” I said in one breath. Aj broke into a wide grin and I had to join him in laughing at my ridiculousness. Here I was, wasting time, while a major move in my career may or may not be written on a piece of paper a foot from where I stood.

“You know, you’re a little crazy. But I like that in a girl” Aj said catching a piece of hair that had unwound from my ponytail and tucking it behind my ear. Again my skin burned where he touched it and it was like I couldn’t pull myself away.

“Well I’ve got plenty of crazy to go around” I stammered, trying to recover my composure after his touch. The silence between us began to grow long as I realized I may never see him again. Already it seemed that I counted on him for something. It was so new and undefined, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew that if I had to go home now and never return to his beautiful eyes that my life would somehow be amiss.

“You’re thinking awfully hard” Aj said breaking the silence

“I’m trying to think of some way to make sure that this isn’t the last time we see each other” I blurted out. Well the truth was better than nothing, right?

“Can I tell you a secret?” He asked with a smirk. I nodded. “You’ll be seeing a lot of me. Welcome to the tour”

“Wait, Really? Are you serious!?!?” I yelled and he broke into a loud laugh as I started jumping up and down. Suddenly I was in his arms and we were inches apart again. How did I always end up here? And why was it that I never wanted to leave?

“Congratulations Kat” He said quietly while putting me back on my feet.

“Thanks” I said shyly “So I guess I’ll see you soon”

“You definitely will. See you soon. Bye Mollee” Aj said as Mollee approached with the paper in her hands

“So are you interested in this whole job thing or is flirting more important?” Mollee asked tapping her toe angrily on the ground. I watched Aj turn the corner and then forced myself to focus.

“Oh Molls, I love you!” I said flinging myself on her. I was on cloud nine. I began to imagine life on a bus that was never far from Aj. I would be dancing with him every night all around the world and having him hold me in his arms…“Oh shit!” I said just realizing the fatal flaw in my daydream “You’re in right? You have to be in!”

“Of course I am you loser” She said trying to stay annoyed but unable to in the face of such good news. I squealed loudly and started jumping up and down with my sister. This was unreal. ‘This is Us’ tour, here we come!
Chapter 2 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 2

According to our info sheets, Mollee and I had to be down in Tampa in a week. It wasn’t much time to sublet our apartment or pack up all our belongings and say goodbye to our friends, but I was happy it wasn’t longer. Aj had triggered something in me that I thought I’d never have again after Rich. I was excited to see a guy. I was romantically excited.

Mollee was getting a little frustrated with my lack of focus in a week that required a lot out of both of us but I just couldn’t concentrate on picking people to sublet our apartment and signing lease agreements and renting a U-Haul and packing our belongings. Not when the possibility of seeing those beautiful brown eyes was looming around the corner. It seemed that when Aj left that audition room he took a piece of me with him and I was dying to get that piece back.

Finally, after packing and handing over our keys and driving for two days with a quick stop over in North Carolina, my sister and I arrived at a rehearsal studio in Tampa right by the beach with tons of buses and trucks parked all around. We got out of our car, blinking in the bright sun, and tried to take in what was around us.

“This is ridiculous” Mollee said after five minutes of standing and absorbing in silence.

“Where do you think everyone is?” I asked. Mollee punched me in the arm.

“Can we orient ourselves just a little tiny bit before we fly into full ‘where is Aj I need him NOW’ mode? You are driving me crazy!” Mollee said not looking at me.

“Sorry Molls. I’m just excited. This is the first time I’ve felt anything like this since…” I trailed off and looked at my feet as I felt my sister pull me into a hug

“Hey. It’s ok. I’m happy for you, I am. It’s just that this whole thing is such an amazing opportunity; I want to enjoy all of it. Not just the part with the hot guys” Mollee said with a smile before kissing the top of my head and releasing me from her hug.

“Let’s try some of the buses. One of them has to be for dancers, right?” I asked hoping the change of subject would please my sister.

“Good idea. Let’s investigate” She said crouching down with her hands positioned like guns in front of her. She continued to creep like a spy until we reached the first bus.

“It’s open” I said catching up to her and ignoring her spy bit. She gets crazy when she’s excited.

“Let’s go in” She whispered, still in spy mode as I rolled my eyes and followed her. She jumped, ninja style, into the bus and I followed in only to be confronted face to face with a familiar pair of blue eyes.

“Well hi” Brian said as Mollee stood up quickly and brushed her curls off her shoulder

“Hey. I’m Mollee, this is Kat, we’re dancers and we’re lost” She said matter-of-factly as Brian’s eyes met mine.

“So you’re Kat” He said looking me over

“Yeah…” I said, unsure of what his tone meant

“I mean, I remember you from the audition but now I feel like I know you. Aj’s been talking about you non-stop” He explained as I blushed and looked down “He also said you’re particularly cute when you do that. He was right”

“We just want to know where to go” I said quietly still staring at the ground.

“Well, follow me, I can help you out” He said taking my hand and leading us out into the beautiful Tampa air. Suddenly Brian stopped and jumped in front of me. “Sorry if I embarrassed you. Let’s start over. Hi, I’m Brian, I make girls very uncomfortable”

“Hi, I’m Kat, I’m always very uncomfortable, it has nothing to do with you” I said with a small smile as he took my hand and in a grand and knightly gesture, kissed it.

“My lady” He said with a grin as I giggled. He was cute.

“So, you excited about this new tour?” I asked as we walked in the direction of some of the other buses.

“I'm beyond excited. We are going back to some hard core dancing. It should be awesome. Especially for you guys” Brian said, still holding on to my hand. It was nice though, comforting, to have that contact in such a familiar way. It was like I’d known him all my life.

“Well we can’t wait to get started” Mollee chipped in from Brian’s other side.

“This is where I leave you. You can pack your stuff into this bus; it’ll be yours with the two other dancers. We’re all going out to dinner and a club tonight to get to know each other so spread the word and prepare to be picked up at 7” Brian said as I nodded and he headed off

“Well he seems sweet” Mollee said as we climbed into the bus. I was about to answer her in the affirmative but the sight of the bus stopped the words in my throat.

“Wow” was all I could get out. The bus was more like a house, easily much larger than our NYC apartment. In front there was a large circular couch with a huge TV mounted into the wall. The couch backed right up against the counter of our kitchenette, complete with fridge, microwave, and small grilling surface. We walked back and found our beds. On the left were two twin sized beds, one on top of the other, with plenty of room to sit up and move around. The right side had another two beds, identical to the left. We walked in a little further to a huge walk in closet. There were four floor-to-ceiling dressers and the racks had been split in fours so there was plenty of room for hanging clothes.

“Let’s go upstairs!” Mollee said excitedly as I blinked at her.

“There’s an upstairs?” Mollee nodded with a huge grin and pulled me back to the front of the bus and this time I noticed the small stairway to the right of the kitchen leading up. We climbed it and found a huge lounging room full of bean bag chairs and another TV with hook ups for games and cable. In the back of the room was a door labeled “reflection room” and I walked in to see a room almost completely filled with floor to ceiling windows. The ground was covered in multicolored pillows.

“This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen” Mollee said hugging me from behind.

“I know! Let’s go get our stuff” Mollee and I raced back to our car and drove it to the bus. We started moving in all our clothes and we picked the two bunks on top of each other on the right side. I took the top and Mollee took the bottom. As we started moving our clothes to the closet, we heard a voice from the front of the bus.

“Hello? Is anyone in here?” A female voice drifted to us.

“In back by the closets” Mollee yelled as owner of the voice approached. She was a bit taller than me with long, straight, jet black hair. I vaguely recognized her from the audition room but I couldn’t remember a name or what she had danced to. But to be fair I had been a little pre-occupied.

“Hey! I’m Sophie!” She said walking over to Mollee and me with an outstretched hand.

“I’m Mollee. This is my little sister Kat” Mollee said shaking her hand

“It's nice to meet you. I guess we’re going to be bus-mates!” I said with a grin and she smiled.

“Awesome! I remember you guys from the audition, you were both pretty amazing” She said rolling in her suitcase and starting to unpack with us

“You were too! I wonder who the other girl is” Mollee said turning back to her own packing.

“I didn’t recognize the name on the sheet. I think it started with a C. Umm...” Sophie trailed off, trying to remember. Suddenly a familiar voice drifted to us from the entrance.

“I'm Camie. Hi. Nice to meet you” Camie said walking in. Of course it HAD to be Camie.

“Hi! I’m Sophie, this is Mollee and Kat” Sophie said shaking Camie’s hand. Mollee just looked at her coolly and I, as usual, stared at the floor.

“We’ve met” Camie said shortly and pulled her bag to the dresser farthest from my sister and me. This was going to be interesting.

“Well… how about some music?” Sophie offered as the tense and awkward silence became unbearable.

“Good idea. How about we listen to This is Us? It’ll help get us ready for rehearsal tomorrow” Mollee suggested as I pulled my ipod speakers out to the middle of the floor.

“Perfect” Sophie said with grin as I started Straight through my heart and pumped the volume. But being dancers, not much unpacking was done after the music started, especially when it came to great dance beats like Straight through my heart.

“Hear the sound of a love so loud. I just can't, I just can't ignore this feeling. She said she misses me, and she wants me, wants me tonight” played and I got really into the dance, kicking my leg up and laying out flat, spinning around and landing on the floor in a pseudo spider man pose. I looked up quickly, whipping my hair back and saw two checkered converse shoes and black jeans. I looked up slowly to find none other than Aj McLean looking down at me.

“Hey” He said simply and I – of all things – blushed. I heard the music switch off next to me as I took the hand he offered and met his eyes full on. They were just as intense as I remembered. “I heard you’d all arrived”

“Hey Aj, so nice to see you again” Camie said pushing herself between Aj and I. Forced out of my trance, I looked to the ground and hugged my arms in front of me.

“Hey Camie” He said nicely. “Kat, what did I tell you?”

“Huh?” I asked still trying to catch my breath and composure.

“Eyes” He said simply and I smiled, looking up at him again.

“So what can we do for you?” Camie asked loudly, inserting herself back into the conversation.

“I just wanted to make sure you had found everything and knew that we are all going out to dinner tonight and then clubbing as a welcome to the tour.” Aj addressed me as if I’d asked the question and I couldn’t help but smile as I felt Camie’s jealousy flare.

“Brian told us” I said quietly “7, right?”

"7. So I guess I’ll see you then?” He asked again as if I was the only one there.

“Yeah I’ll be ready” I said tucking a stray piece of my hair behind my ear. He brushed his hand on my cheek in a gesture that was all at once formal and much too intimate and I flushed red again. “See you”

“Yeah, bye” Mollee waved as he backed out of the bus. I was standing there, watching the spot where he just was, holding my cheek where he’d touched it and suddenly Mollee was in my view. “So… when’s the wedding?”

“Shut up” I said nervously as I turned back to my clothes and pushed play on the music again, hoping to distract the other girls so I could make sense of my thoughts. Every time he left me I seemed to have way too many thoughts for my head space.

“Kat what is up with that? Do you know him from somewhere else?” Sophie asked innocently. I liked her and all but I did not want to have this conversation, especially not with Camie fuming only a few feet away.

“Um, no, he helped me out at auditions and we just kind of clicked. I can’t explain it” I said, not meeting anyone’s eyes and focusing on putting my shoes away.

“I can. You clearly gave him some sort of ‘payment’ for helping you get this gig. Why else would he be here if there wasn’t easy tail-” Camie spat but was stopped abruptly by Mollee.

“You watch what you say about my sister” She growled. For such a nice, friendly girl she could really scare the crap out of you if you made her angry enough.

“Guys, let’s just unpack” Sophie attempted as Mollee stared Camie down. “We don’t need anyone getting hurt before we dance”

“Yeah, Sophie’s right. Come on Molls, Camie can believe what she wants” I said taking my sister’s elbow and forcing her back to my side where I could keep my eye on her.

“Alright but I’m warning you. Mess with my sister and you mess with me. And you do not want to start something with this family” Mollee said before turning back to her clothes.

“Terrifying” Camie said sarcastically as she turned back to her packing.

It took most of the day to unpack all the clothes and organize where we wanted everything to go. I offered to keep my ipod speakers in the clothes room while Mollee donated hers to the reflection room. We hooked up the sound system in the entertainment room and organized the slew of DVDs we all had. Mollee and Camie didn’t speak much but Sophie had just the right energy to help me keep the peace. Although Camie was still jealous of me, she didn’t send me the hate vibes as often as time separated us from the incident with Aj. It seemed that she might not actually hate me after all. As we were all getting ready to go out to dinner, she offered to let me borrow her curling iron so I could attempt some bouncy curls. When I messed it up, she helped me fix it.

“Alright guys, what do you think?” I asked standing up once my hair and makeup was done. I was wearing my best little blue dress (girls with eyes like mine rarely strayed from blue in our wardrobes) which draped loosely over my small dancer’s frame. The sleeves fell right around my elbows and the neckline plunged naturally. It cinched in at my waist and fell right above my knees. I had on black heels for height that wrapped around half of my foot and opened on the other half with a small rose on the toe. Camie had bullied my hair into curls that fell over my shoulders and midway down my arms. My makeup was smoky with hints of brown to help bring out my eyes. Not that they needed it. I was so excited at the chance to spend some more time with Aj that my eyes shined a brilliant electric blue.

“He’ll love it” Mollee said receiving a look from Camie.

“Damn it Molls, I finally got her calmed down, lay off” I whispered to her as she shrugged. My sister was not one to apologize for being outspoken. “You look great by the way”

“I know” She said with a grin but spun all the same. She was wearing a short tight tube top dress in the emerald green of her eyes and her blonde hair naturally fell in the ringlets it had taken hours to bully mine into. Not fair.

“I think that’s them!” Camie said excitedly, pushing down her dress to reveal more of her cleavage. She was wearing a fitted black dress with a gold belt and some tall gold stilettos. Her makeup was all gold and she looked great. Ok she looked slutty, but also great.

“Come on!” Sophie said excitedly while following Camie to the door. She was in an adorable purple dress that flowed over her shoulders and A-lined in the skirt. It had a big white fabric flower right where it gathered on her hip. Her hair was stick straight and shiny as she turned around and it caught the light.

“After you” I offered as Mollee strolled ahead of me. I applied a little more lip gloss and hung back, looking at myself in the mirror. “You are fine. You can make it through this. Stay calm”

“Coming?” Mollee called from outside and I shook myself. My nerves escalated as I made my way towards the door and took in the four handsome men outside. Brian was wearing a purple V-neck shirt and some nice jeans with a page boy hat cocked to the side. He gave me a big smile and bowed low as I giggled. Howie was wearing a white collared shirt with a black vest over top and some black jeans. Nick was wearing a plaid button down over a red shirt with some jeans but he only had eyes for my sister as she looked at me impatiently. Then I caught Aj’s eye and my nerves retracted as my adrenaline soared. He had a pageboy hat similar to Brian’s and dark sun glasses that he took off as he looked at me. He had a white collared button down and some jeans with a brown leather jacket over top. He looked like a total rock star. As usual when our eyes met, I froze and was very unwilling to do anything that would force my eyes away from his, so Mollee had to take my hand and lead me to the car.

“We aren’t all going to fit in one car…” Howie said as he climbed into his range rover. “I can fit 6”

“I can take our car with my sis-” I started but Aj jumped in

“I’ll ride with you. That way Mollee can get to know the other guys” Camie sighed loudly and Mollee raised her eyebrow as I shrugged

“Sounds good, do you know where we are going?” I asked Aj as he took my hand and began to lead me away before anyone could argue

“I do” He said and I smiled

“So why did you want to ride with me?” I asked when we climbed into the car and I started following the others to the restaurant

“Nick really wanted to talk to your sister so I promised I’d try and use my leverage with you to get them closer” Aj said as my heart sank a bit. He seemed to sense it. “And to finally be able to talk to you”

“I see. And what did you want to talk about?” I asked as butterflies as big as dragons erupted in my stomach

“I want to talk about you. I want to know you. I mean I feel like I do but I don’t. And I want to. I missed you this week. Isn’t that strange?” He blurted out nervously. It reminded me of me. I smiled bigger.

“Not that strange” I said “Well. Ask me some questions and I’ll give you some answers”

“Ok. Where are you from?” He asked. Good, we’ll start easy.

“Durham, New Hampshire. It’s a small college town with lots of snow. Where are you from?” I answered, glancing at his eyes as I noticed he was staring intently at mine.

“West Palm Beach, Florida. It’s a big town with no snow.” I grinned “Mom and Dad still in New Hampshire?”

“Um sort of” I said with an uncomfortable squirm. “They are buried there”

“Oh God I’m sorry-” Aj started apologizing profusely but I stopped him

“It’s ok. I mean, it’s sad and I miss them. It was kind of recent. A fire about four years ago but I have my sister and we’re ok. Don’t worry” I said looking into his eyes and taking his hand as we stopped at a red light “You didn’t know”

“My grandma died a few years back. It was the hardest thing I ever had to deal with. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for you” He said squeezing my hand as the light turned green. “Ok. Let’s try an easier question then. Why don’t you like to look at people in the eye?”

“That’s easier?” I joked as he gave me an apologetic smile “It’s a habit and probably a result of my sister’s nagging honestly. See, my eyes, they change colors”

“I’m lost…”

“They change color with my mood. My sister can read me like a book because she knows what each color means. It drives me crazy. Sometimes you just want to keep your feelings to yourself. She already knows me better than anyone yet she insists on checking everything against my eye color. It also makes it impossible to lie to her” I said as Aj laughed

“That's interesting. So I’m seeing a kind of turquoise. What’s that?” Aj asked

“Comfortable. It’s one of my least anxious colors” I said with a small smile.

“What about this anxiety? Something you’ve always had?”

“Nope, just recently, Just since…” I started and then looked determinedly at the road. I was not going to talk about Rich. For five seconds of my life I would not think about him.

“Wow you just went straight to silver. What’s that about?” Aj asked

“It’s similar to the feelings I had in the dance studio when we first tried to come up with a dance” I said quietly after a pause

“I get anxious too. I don’t have mood rings in my eyes, but I went to rehab for it. I mean, I went to rehab for drugs and alcohol. But I got treatment for anxiety and depression”

“It must take a lot of courage to say something like that to a stranger” I said quietly

“And yet I don’t really consider you a stranger” He said taking my hand as we pulled into the parking lot. “We’re here”

“We are” I said closing my eyes and trying to align my thoughts, putting my walls back up before dinner.

“Hey. I’m sorry. I just want so badly to make you feel good and I keep bringing bad things up” Aj said sincerely as I shook my head.

“I’m kind of a minefield of bad. It’s not your fault” I said sadly. I hated being like this.

“It’s not yours either” He said pointedly before opening the door and hurrying to my side to open mine as well. I took his hand and he lead me in at the back of the group to a large table we’d had reserved. I went to go sit next to my sister at the closer end of the table but Aj nudged me and slid Nick into the seat I was attempting to sit in. My sister gave me a quizzical look and I shrugged as Aj brought me to the far end of the table where we sat across from each other. Nick was next to me but he was pretty focused on Mollee and Sophie was next to Aj and she took the hint quickly that we wanted to be left alone.

“So, brave enough to try another question?” I asked once everyone was engaged in conversation.

“I don’t know. That minefield is pretty dangerous. We’ll have to proceed with caution. What’s your favorite music?”

“Oh, well, you see, music makes me…” I trialed off and looked away. I felt the shock and horror shoot through Aj as he thought he’d brought up another touchy subject and I had to laugh. “Kidding”

“Ok, that was mean” He said with a pout and I grabbed his hand from across the table.

“I’m sorry, I had to. I am dark and broody but I can be funny sometimes too” I said with a smirk

“I don’t know if that’s how I’d describe you” Aj said lightly rubbing the back of my hand with his thumb.

"How would you describe me?” I asked with a laugh

“I'd have to say intriguing. That’s definitely the word. A puzzle”

“Oh that’s what every girl wants to hear” I teased as he let out a laugh

“Well I didn’t think you’d like to hear what I’ve been telling people you are like. I take it you are not the kind of person who handles compliments well” Aj said as I blushed

“You are right in that assessment” I said as the waiter came to take our drink order. I went with my usual white wine.

“Water is great” Aj said as I gave him a look

“You're not going to have anything fun?” I asked

“No alcohol for me. Rehab, remember?” He said a little shyly

“Change mine to water then too, please” I yelled to the waiter who nodded. “See, I can ask stupid questions too”

“You don’t have to not drink because I’m not. I’m ok-” Aj started but I interrupted him

“I’d rather have your comfort and attention when we’re together than any glass of wine” I said strongly, leaving no room for argument

“Thanks” He said with a quiet smile.

“What do you think, Aj?” Camie yelled from her end of the table, breaking us out of our conversation. I hadn’t noticed how close we’d been leaning across the table toward each other and I sat back quickly, hoping no one else had noticed either.

“Sorry, think about what?” He asked seeming annoyed that we’d been interrupted

“How do you feel about the plans for the new tour? More dancing, more fun?" Camie asked with a forced giggle and a hair flip. I rolled my eyes to my sister only to see that she was absorbed in conversation with Nick. Get it girl.

“Yeah, I can’t wait to hit the studio. Dancing with you guys is going to be a blast” Aj said shooting a small, private look at me. I knew what it meant because I was thinking the same thing. It’ll be great as long as I’m dancing with you.

The rest of the dinner went by quickly. Aj and I didn’t get any more private time, Camie saw to that, but I was able to connect a little more with the other guys. Brian was a complete goofball, always making faces and funny voices to get laughs. He seemed to take a liking towards me, probably because I loved to laugh at his antics, and he took to calling me princess after our royal meeting earlier. I can’t say I minded. Howie was a tougher cookie to crack. He definitely didn’t mind joking around but he also seemed to step into a leadership role in the group when it needed it. I felt that if I had to go to someone for advice, it would be him. He warmed up pretty quickly to me too once we started talking business. I had researched a lot about show business management while I was auditioning, trying to find anything to give me a head up in the competition. When Howie and I got on a tangent of show business politics I could feel him really start to appreciate my knowledge. Nick was pretty focused on Mollee the whole night so we didn’t get to bond as much as I would have liked. There would be time though, an entire tour’s worth of time. And by the end of the night I’d figured Camie out. She had eyes for Aj and Nick, the only two single Backstreet Boys, and she would go to any lengths to capture them. Even if it meant leaning right in between Nick and Mollee with her low cut dress forcing her breasts into Nick’s face. Mollee looked like she was about to kill her but I was pleased to see that Nick was as un-phased as Aj seemed. I guess growing up with girls throwing themselves at you trained you to be pretty immune to those kinds of girl tricks. Finally it was time to head to the club and I was excited knowing it would be easier for Aj and me to get away from the group in the club atmosphere.

“Hey bro, can I ride with Kat to the club. It’s a short ride and I want to talk with her” Nick asked running to catch up to Aj and me as we approached my car.

“Sure” He said slowly, seeming like it took a lot of effort to agree to give up a car ride alone with me. The feeling was mutual.

“I promise it’ll be short” Nick said and slapped him on the back “Thanks!”

“So, what did you want to talk about?” I asked Nick cautiously as we pulled out of the parking lot and followed Howie’s car. I hadn’t said more than three words to Nick ever so it was strange that he was requesting my company, especially given his attraction to my sister.

“Well first I haven’t really been able to talk to you and I want to get to know you a little. I mean, I only hear what Aj says, I want to test if it’s true” He said as I blushed

“And what has Aj said about me?” I asked trying to hide my extreme discomfort

“That you are sweetest and most intriguing girl he’s ever met. He’s kind of smitten” Nick said bluntly. I blushed even harder and Nick laughed “He also said if I mentioned that compliment that you’d do that. He seems to have your number”

“Well, there’s more to me than my blush” I said sharply. I was getting a little annoyed at how I seemed to know nothing about anyone but they all knew multitudes about me.

“I’m sure. That’s what I wanted to see” Nick said as I stared defiantly at him through the rear view mirror.

“Well I know something about you. You are obsessed with my sister. But I want to know if you like her for her or for her body. Because a lot of guys chase her you know but no one gets the time of day unless they are worth it. Are you worth it Carter?” I asked sharply

“I’m worth it. I love her laugh and how she likes to take control of all situations. And you know what my favorite thing about her is?” Nick asked as I shook my head “How much she cares about you. I’m glad to see that it’s mutual”

“Well, you’ve scored some points. I’m not sure if I’m ready to accept you yet, but it’s a start” Nick pouted and I cracked a smile “Nice pout”

“Yeah, I’ve got good lips” He said sticking them out as far as they would go and turning his head to me. “Gimme a kiss”

“Come near me and I’ll mace you” I joked as he started laughing.

“You don’t have mace” He said through laughter

“Check my glove compartment” I said with a grin as he opened it to see a can of bear mace.

“Awesome! Think Brian would let me spray this in his eye?” Nick asked with a wicked grin

“If you told him it was water…” I trailed off and Nick and I shared a laugh

“I like you” He said as we pulled into the club “I think I’ll keep you around”

“Thanks” I said with a smirk as he bounded out of the car. I knew Aj would be looking for me to continue our game of 20 (or 100) questions but I had to find Mollee first “Molls?”

“Kat” She yelled back to me locating me by the car and grabbing my hand

“Nick likes you and he seems sweet. What do you think?” I asked quietly as her eyes lit up with excitement.

“I’m going to need details when we get back to the bus about what he said, but yeah, he’s worth a try” She said with a smile

“Oh you’ll get details. I approve. Talk to Aj at all?” I asked nervously

“We talked a little but not enough to stamp him with my approval yet. I’ll have to corner him at the club. You still obsessed?”

“Only in the way that it hurts a little just being this far from him…”

“What am I going to do with you?” She asked with a smile, wrapping her arm around my shoulder and depositing me in the club at Aj’s side.

“Want to dance?” He asked leading me to the VIP section

“I thought you’d never ask”

Dancing at the club with Aj was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. We were perfectly in sync, almost as if we’d choreographed dances to all the songs. We killed the dance floor, no one could touch us. I had planned on using some of this time to talk to him but we got so into dancing that it was no time before we were being pushed into the parking lot by Howie. It seemed everyone was a little drunk except for Aj and I so we had to separate to drive both cars back to the lot. We got back, helped everyone into their bunks and buses and finally Aj and I were alone outside the dancer’s bus.

“I had a blast tonight” Aj said as I leaned against the side of the bus and he stood next to me. “Are you cold?”

“A little” I said with a shiver, hugging my arms to my chest.

“Here” Aj said taking off his brown suede jacket and draping it around my shoulders. As he leaned in to fix the collar on my neck I breathed in his cologne and smiled wide.

“Thanks” I said snuggling into the jacket. We stood in silence for a minute until I finally spoke up “I don’t really want to leave you”

“Me neither. I mean, I know I’ll see you tomorrow at rehearsal but I just can’t…” He trailed off, trying to find words for that feeling I was experiencing as well. We seemed to just fit. Now that we had clicked into place together it was difficult to imagine being apart.

“We should though. The healthy, sane, normal thing would be to go to our separate busses and see each other tomorrow” I said looking at my feet.

“Kat-” Aj started and I caught myself

“I know, eyes, eyes” I said looking up with a smirk

“No. Lips” Aj said quietly leaning into my lips. At first touch they were amazingly soft and warm. They molded right into mine and I felt his hand wrap around my neck. Then, out of nowhere, flashbacks. I could feel the back of my neck screaming against his grip and the palms of my hands burning as they caught my fall with the ache in my side from a well-placed blow. I saw his face against mine and that voice. ‘I’ll kill you. I’ll do it. And no one will even know’

“Oh no, stop. STOP” I yelled as tears flew down my cheeks and I pushed Aj away from me. I couldn’t breathe. I kept hearing those words. Aj was saying something to me and all I could hear was that voice. ‘I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you’ I choked as my tears caused my throat to constrict and I fell hard to the pavement. My knee was scraped and I couldn’t breathe. My eyesight was getting shaky. Blackness began to creep in my peripheral and threatened to overtake me. Finally I got out one word. “MOLLS”

“Kat” I heard from the bus. “Kat, oh I’m here, I’m here. Breathe baby, breathe”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry” Aj said from his place sitting in front of me

“It’s ok, it’s not you. This happens. She’s ok right baby? You’re fine. You’re fine” She held me tight and I squeezed my eyes shut, trying with all my might to force the memories back into their closet in my head. I focused on trying to gain control or at least catch my breath. Slowly, ever so slowly, the world came back into focus. I was in Mollee’s arms, cradled like a baby, and I was clutching her for dear life. Aj’s face swam into view as he swept my hair back from my face.

“Breathe in and out Kat. Breathe in and out” He toned above me and I focused on that to help bring me the rest of the way out. “Come on in and out. In and out”

“I’m ok” I whispered “Molls. I’m ok.”

“Was it a flashback?” She asked with concern filled eyes “Asshole?”

“Yeah pretty bad” I said as she gave me a sad smile

“Ok babe. But you’re back. You’re here with me. And you’re here with Aj. He’s here too” She said as I smiled a little. Aj took my hand and I brought it to my cheek

“I’m so sorry-” I started but he cut me off

“Hey. We’ve all got past.” He said sweetly

“You are probably trying to find the nearest exit right now, huh? Figuring out a way to make sure you dance with anyone but me-”

“Look at me. I’m right here. I’m not running. Am I running?”

“You’re not running” I whispered looking into his eyes.

“Aj, can you help me bring her to her bed? I don’t think you two should take more time out here tonight. She’s still grayed out so we’re not all the way out of the water yet and I want to keep my eye on her” Mollee said as Aj looked confused

“Grayed out?”

“Her eyes are gray. She must have told you. When we get into a light blue then it means she’ll be able to sleep” Mollee explained as Aj nodded

“Just like a puzzle. So many pieces to learn” Aj said with a grin as he picked me up

“But so easy to break apart” I said quietly as he brought me carefully to my bunk. Mollee climbed in next to me and started rubbing my arm and Aj held onto my hand from outside the bunk.

“Can I stay until you fall asleep?” Aj asked quietly.

“Please?” I asked as he smiled. Mollee smiled a little and whispered very quietly into my ear

“Approved”
Chapter 3 by Ajsgirl4life

I woke up the next morning with a cloudy head. I rolled over and found Mollee in bed with me.

“Sorry” I whispered as I almost rolled her into the wall

“It’s ok” She said tiredly through a yawn “How are you feeling?”

“Mortified”

“Don’t be. Anyone who has been through what you have been through has nothing to be embarrassed about. Plus, he was a perfect gentleman. You didn’t scare him one bit” She said with a smile before looking at her cell “It’s time to get up anyway. We have our first rehearsal today!”

“Hooray!” I said quietly, still feeling a mixture of exhaustion from the panic attack and embarrassment from Aj witnessing it. Not just witnessing it but causing it. And not just causing it but causing it by kissing me. How was I ever going to get him to kiss me again after what happened last night?

“Come on loser” Mollee said waking me from my silent despair. I rolled out of the bunk and made my way to the shower. I got out and quickly changed into some tight electric blue dance shorts and a matching electric blue sports bra. I threw on a white over-sized retro MTV shirt that I had cut the neck out of so it slung over one shoulder over the bra and slipped on some flip flops. I grabbed my jazz sneakers, a towel, water, and a power bar and threw them into my dance bag before grabbing a banana and waiting in the front room for everyone else.

“Stay at Aj’s last night?” Camie asked coolly as she walked out to sit on the couch

“No” I answered shortly and just as coolly. She grabbed an apple and we sat in awkward silence until Mollee and Sophie joined us.

“Ok ladies, let’s do this!” Mollee said excitedly and I grinned at her before following at the end of the line of dancers.

“Good morning ladies!” Brian said rushing over to meet us as we walked to the rehearsal studio

“My Lord” I bowed to him as he stopped

“Princess” He said excitedly pulling me into a huge hug. He squeezed me hard and picked me up before putting me down.

“What are you excited or something?” I asked with a grin

“I’m so excited. This tour is going to rock!” He said making the rocker hands and sticking out his tongue like Gene Simmons.

“Heck yeah” I yelled back giving him the superstar rock pose in a lunge with both hands up in the air and my tongue out as well. We both busted up laughing and headed into the studio where Aj was stretching along with Nick and Howie.

“Hey!” Aj said quickly coming over to me “How did you sleep?”

“Ok. Thanks to you. Thank you for staying last night. It meant a lot to me” I said quietly as he took me into his arms and kissed the top of my head.

“It was nothing. You scared me. I wanted to make sure you were going to be ok” Aj said sweetly

“Well I am. I’m more than Ok. I’m wicked excited!” I squealed jumping up and down a bit as the importance of this day dawned on me. “Think I’ll get to dance with you?”

“I sure hope so” Aj said placing a hand on my cheek. I leaned into it a little and closed my eyes as I felt his warmth through my skin.

“Alright ya’ll let’s get this started!” I heard from what seemed like another planet. Aj removed his hand and I took a deep breath to compose myself. I saw Fly, the choreographer from the auditions, walk into the room and we all gathered around. “I’m Fly for those who don’t know”

“Ooh Fly you so fly” Brian squealed in a high voice as I laughed and he gave me a look of appreciation.

“First things first, let’s pair up” Fly said as my heart jumped into my throat. I had to be dancing with Aj. I had to be. “Ok, the obvious first. Mollee is the only one tall enough to dance with Nick”

“You are kind of a freak” Mollee said with a smile as she stood next to Nick. I sent her a silent wink and I could see the excitement erupt in her eyes.

“Let's see. Let’s keep the dark hair together – Sophie and Howie” Fly continued as Sophie went over and Howie pulled her into a hug. I didn’t need to look at Aj to know he was repeating the same thing in his head that I was in mine. We have to be together. We have to be together.

“Ok then let’s do Kat with Brian and Camie with Aj” I heard and my heart sank. Camie squealed and ran into an unsuspecting Aj, almost knocking him over and I quickly hid my disappointment for Brian’s sake. I liked him a lot, the big goofball, and he’d be really fun to dance with. But it wouldn’t be Aj.

“The royal couple shall be holding court!” He announced loudly as I joined him with as much excitement as I could muster.

“Tribute may be paid at lunch with crumpets and tea!” I added in a royal tone. I was trying to convince myself this was not the end of the world. I would still be on stage with Aj. Being Brian’s dancer didn’t mean I’d never dance with Aj. And Brian was great. We’d have a blast. I glanced at Aj to see he had certainly gotten the raw and of the deal. Camie was talking at him a mile a minute about all her ideas for them and how she knew they would be dancing together and Aj was looking at me with sorrow filled eyes. I tried to convey my sympathy mixed with the message that we’d still be together some of the time on stage through my eyes but I’m not sure it worked before Fly started talking again.

“Ok guys, here’s the deal. We have a month to rehearse here in Tampa for the tour. Then we fly out to Portugal to open the thing on October 30th. We have a dance heavy show so we’ll need all hands on deck for the entire month. I know the guys have some spots to do to promote the show during the process but I’ve been promised that they are minimal. We’re going to spend the morning on We’ve got it goin’ on and Everybody. Then this afternoon we’ll come back and work PDA. That will be the opening of the tour. Let’s do it!” Fly said as we all cheered.

The opening portion of We’ve got it goin’ on was a big electric guitar riff and the dancers would be on a platform above the guys. We hit a few easy positions and then joined them for some fast footwork as Aj began to sing. I was positioned between Aj and Brian but a little farther back so I had a good view of Aj from behind and that calmed me a little bit. As we learned the dance Aj would glance back at me and wave or make faces and I’d inevitably blush which would make him laugh. Brian and Nick brought rehearsals to a screeching halt after only about five minutes by running around at super speed while trying to do the footwork in triple time.

“What are you laughing at girl? I bet you can’t do it!” Brian challenged as I grinned

“Oh I know that smile…” Mollee trailed off as I counted myself off and did all the footwork at lightning speed. Brian’s mouth just hung open.

“Holy crap” Nick said “Do it again!”

“Count me off!” I said as my excitement began to build. I ran the whole thing fast and Aj stood with his eyes at my foot level, watching my every move.

“You are nuts!” He said giving me a big hug. Fly got us all back on track again and we learned the dance break which ended up with me trust falling into Brian’s arms. He dropped me twice which had us laughing and once he caught me but refused to let me go and get to my position so I ended up accidentally launching him off to the side. It was sheer chaos and fun and I got to end on my knees right in front of Aj which afforded us some more time to flirt. I was a little jealous as I watched him catch Camie but Brian kept me well entertained as I could never guess if he would be there or let me fall.

“Alright kids. This is looking great. I’m going to take the boys from here to work on Everybody for about an hour. We’ll all meet up to work on PDA at 1:00 sharp. See you then!” Fly said as everyone cheered. I started to walk away from Aj and something in me started hurting. The hurt was deep down, way in the far depths of my soul.

“Hey Molls, I brought some food, I’m going to hang in here and watch” I said as she came even to me once I had stopped

“Want me to stay too?” She asked as I shook my head “Alright. I’ll see you in a few hours”

“Thanks. I’ll see you later” I said as she rolled her eyes at me. I grabbed my bag and sat across the room in the corner nearest Aj. He grinned at me as he realized I was staying and I figured he must have been feeling the same anxiety over my leaving as I had.

“Staying to watch me SHINE?” Brian asked running and skidding to a stop in front of me with his water bottle

“Please. You can’t shine that bright unless I’m there” I said with a smirk as he pretended to be insulted

“Oh you just watch me princess” He said acting all hardcore. I giggled and he kissed my hand before Fly had a chance to yell at him for talking to me. I watched the guys rehearse, meeting Aj’s eyes every once in a while which kept me perfectly happy. In the middle there was a step he couldn’t get and I couldn’t help myself. He looked to me with frustration clear on his face and I stood up and broke down the step while Fly worked with Nick. Slowly, while intently watching me as I exaggerated my weight shift and where my moves were going, he was able to nail it. I clapped silently and gave him a fist pump in the air as he laughed at my dorky congratulations and mouthed “Thanks.” Finally they were done and Aj rushed over to me.

“Eat with me!” He said quickly. And before I could answer he grabbed my hand, my bag, and his food and rushed us out to the beach right outside of the studio

“Hi” I said once we were seated with our food in front of the waves

“Hi” He said back while looking into my eyes quizzically. “Bright Blue”

“Very happy” I said knowing he wanted to decode my mood in my eyes. He smiled wide and settled into his sandwich “Why did we need to run out of there so fast?”

“The guys like spending time with you. I wanted you all to myself before one of them could interfere. I want to talk to you about last night” Aj said as I looked at my power bar “Hey now, don’t be worried. I just want to make sure it doesn’t happen again”

“I don’t think that’s possible” I said sadly before taking a bite of my bar

“Well I at least want to make it as easy for you to be around me as possible no matter what we’re doing. It’s like you with drinking. I can handle if you do it, but it’s cool that you don’t” Aj explained as I sighed

“I guess that makes sense.” I said still not really meeting his eyes

“Woops. We’re back to silver. I’ll make this quick. What did I do to set the memory off? I was thinking all last night while I watched you sleep-” He started and I choked on my bar

“You did what?”

“Sorry. You were cute. I didn’t want to leave. Is that too creepy?” He asked innocently as I relaxed

“No, it's not creepy. It's just odd. And it’s even odder that I’m ok with it” I said with a small smile

“Ah, a lighter blue, this is fun” Aj said referring to my eyes again

“Hey, I’ll stop looking at you if you are going to be like my sister and judge my every move through my eyes” I joked as he laughed

“Well then I’ll stop being so overt about it. I don’t want to lose the sight of those eyes. Not now. Not ever. So what did I do last night?”

“I think it was where you put your hands on my neck. The last time a guy did that it wasn’t because he was pulling me into a passionate kiss” I said taking a drink of water. I really hated talking about this.

“Got it” He said “Next time I go for a kiss we’ll make sure to position properly”

“There's a next time?” I asked flirtatiously

“Well, a kiss that good, even one that ends in chaos, is not something I’m willing to let go of either”

“KKKAAAATTT” I heard from behind me as Nick slid in right next to me covering Aj and me in sand

“Hey Nick” I said with a laugh as I brushed the sand off of my shirt

“Where’s your sister?” He asked as I laughed again.

“I don’t know. She went to get lunch when we were dismissed and left me to watch you guys”

“Yeah I saw you helping my boy Aj over there. He needs all the help he can get” Nick joked as Aj punched him in the arm behind my back.

“Hey, I saw you screwing up the move before that. Try stepping on the beat and shifting your weight to the back foot on the kick in chorus” I said

“Well, I’ll just tell Fly that he can pack it up because we’ve got all the dance instruction we need…” Nick trailed off as I laughed. Aj gave a small laugh of acknowledgement but I could tell he was pretty annoyed at having our alone time disturbed. But I liked Nick, he was a good time and as long as Aj was near me, I was pretty happy. “Anyway, we should go back. I hear PDA is partnering. Good luck with that Aj”

“Can’t wait” Aj said grumpily as Nick laughed and sprinted ahead of us.

“You’ll survive” I said as he sighed. I could sense that his disappointment was twofold – having such a short amount of time with me at lunch as well as having to dance with Camie – but I needed to try to cheer him up before we got back in so I tackled the portion of the problem that I had some control over “Want to go out to dinner with me tonight just the two of us?”

“I’d like that” Aj said with a smile “Better yet, why don’t we order in? We can eat in my bus – it has a lock”

“Sounds amazing” I said taking his hand and squeezing it before letting it go to join Brian on the dance floor

“Are you ready to show some PDA?” He asked grabbing my hand and spinning me into a low dip.

“Wouldn’t miss it” I said with a laugh. The first verse into the chorus was a great little back and forth with the girls on one side and the guys on the other. As the chorus started the girls walked down the stairs to center stage and I happened to be right across from Aj. We got to do some body rolls into each other which had us both grinning like idiots.

“Aj, keep your hands at your sides” Fly reminded Aj for about the fifth time as he tried to grab my hand in the body roll section. I stuck my tongue out at him which he returned with a pout. Unfortunately, the section with us both front and center together was brief and pretty soon we were deep into a very sexual partnering section. I was having fun with Brian as I wrapped my leg around his front while standing behind him. Following Fly’s example I attempted to twirl in front of him and land in a split.

“Ah you totally got me in the nuts!” Brian yelled collapsing on the ground dramatically. I looked at him skeptically but offered him my hand to help him up

“Wimp” I said as he grinned mischievously and pulled me down to the floor with him “Just wait until I’m wearing heels. You’ll be hitting those high notes without a problem in no time”

“That is not a very nice joke” Brian pouted as I laughed. I looked over at Aj and Camie was all over him. My face grew very hot as I sent her what was probably a pretty good death stare “Careful princess. You don’t own him”

“Huh?” I asked being pulled out of my fiery jealousy

“He’s not enjoying it anyway” Brian said with a smile as I rolled my eyes at him

“Imagine if that was your wife” I said as Brian’s eyes narrowed

“You make a compelling argument” He said turning me so I couldn’t see Camie and Aj grind on each other. At least I was with Brian so I could be goofy about it. Aj seemed miserable with Camie groping him every chance she got. I had to laugh at a move that involved the guys brushing their hands over the girl’s upper chests and then their faces. Brian was pretending he was sloppy drunk and fake slapping me in the face every time and Aj was barely touching Camie. She kept trying to get in closer to him so he’d have to touch her but he kept stepping back. Aj caught me laughing at him and he gave me a grin and a wink. We finally moved out of the partnering section and on to the bridge Aj sang and I was doing the dance moves facing forwards so he walked over to me and serenaded me while I danced and spoke the girl’s part at him.

“From the lobby to the patio (boy you so crazy) and we so compatible. The Starbucks to the Navajo (hmm, nasty) and we so compatible.” Aj sang as I nailed the dance steps. We moved right into the closing section which wasn’t partnered. It was a pretty amazing dance and it took us the whole afternoon but we finished around 5, sweaty but proud of a good days work. We were able to run from the beginning of Everybody to the end of PDA without stopping and it looked decent. Fly was happy so he let us go.

“Alright everyone tomorrow is All I have to give and She’s a dream. Go over what we did today because we’ll start with a review first thing in the morning. See you at 8” Fly said as we all cheered. Before I knew it Aj was at my side, escorting me to my bag.

“You were amazing today” He said to me as I took a big gulp of water and changed into my flip flops

“You aren’t so shabby yourself. So let me get showered and changed and I’ll meet you at your bus in about an hour?” I offered as we walked

“Sounds like a plan. If you’re not there by 6 I’ll come looking” He said as I laughed.

“I’ll be there. Wild tigers couldn’t keep me from it”

“Let’s hope there aren’t tigers. I’m not much of a fighter” He said with a grin

“So you're more of a lover?”

“You’ll find out tonight” He said seductively as I blushed. I gave him a soft kiss on the cheek before hurrying in the bus, hollering my sister’s name.

“What? What?” Mollee asked nervously rushing half dressed from the clothes room

“I’m going to dinner with Aj. What should I wear?” I asked as she hit me in the arm

“Don’t scare me like that you jerk. Go shower and we’ll find something appropriate” She said with foe annoyance. Her eyes gave her away though. She was as excited for this as I was.
Chapter 4 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 4

After an hour involving showering, shaving, perfuming, make up, many hair products and some fashion tips from Mollee and Sophie, I was ready for Aj. I was wearing a pair of tight dark blue jeans with brown suede boots that zipped up to my knee and had a sexy heel. My shirt was emerald green and left my shoulders bare. It had tiny slashes all down the side that made it really provocative and strips of fabric that fell delicately over my upper arm. My hair was down and straight, framing my face and I had some silver earrings and a matching necklace with flower accents to pull it all together. My make up was light and natural with lots of peaches and browns. I applied some lip gloss and grabbed Aj’s jacket that he had left with me last night. I reached for the handle of the bus and was caught off guard when it opened before I could push it.

“Wow” Aj said standing outside the bus with his hand on the doorknob. He had on a black t-shirt with an army green short sleeved button up over it with the middle button buttoned. He had his usual faded jeans and checkered converse and of course, a black pageboy hat. I grinned at the look on his face as he took me in.

“Wow to you too” I said with a shy smile. Mollee was behind me in an instant

“Not too late, we have rehearsal tomorrow. Call me if you’re not coming home” She said sternly as I rolled my eyes.

“Ok mom, I’ll see you later” I said as Aj took my hand and helped me down the steps from the bus

“Take care of my girl Aj” Mollee yelled to our backs

“Always” He yelled back to her as we heard the door shut behind us. He walked me in silence to his bus which looked the same on the outside as ours did. “Welcome to my humble abode”

“Why thank you” I said as Aj opened the door for me. I stepped inside and took in my surroundings. The front was set up like ours with the couch and the kitchenette but the back behind that just opened up into a huge room with a king sized bed and monster TV. The hallway where our bunks were on the dancers bus opened into large closets instead. I noticed he had stairs to a second floor and saw it seemed like it had the same layout as our second floor. I could see how this would be a very comfortable way to tour for one person. “It looks great”

“It works for the road” Aj said shutting and locking the door behind us. He sat me on the couch and plopped down eagerly across from me, studying my eyes. “We’re finally alone”

“Finally” I said with a grin. He took my hand and I leaned across towards him so our faces were almost touching. I took a deep breath. “Ok. Don’t move or anything”

“I couldn’t if I wanted to” He said with a smirk as I let my lips brush his. It was a short and sweet kiss, but everything I’d been longing for all day. I tilted my head down and let my forehead rest on his as I broke away and let out a small laugh

“I knew I could do it” I said as he smiled

“Ok. Now put my hands where you want them” Aj said seductively as I arched my eyebrows. “For a kiss, I mean for a kiss, where can I put my hands”

“Dirty mind, sorry. Ok. Umm here and here” I said placing one hand on the back of my head and other hand on my waist. He gripped my hair a little and gave me a questioning look.

“Is it ok if I end up grabbing here? I may, it’s hard to control myself around you sometimes” He said and I answered him by pushing my lips against his. His hand did tighten, holding my head, making sure I wouldn’t pull away. His hand on my hip tensed a little in pleasure as I ran my own fingers through his hair and slowly let his tongue into my mouth. The feeling of warmth and connection was overpowering and I was putty in his arms. The other feeling that started to creep up, however, was one of a slow panic. I felt it coming and groaned as I forced myself to pull away. “You ok? Is everything Ok?”

“Yeah it was great. It just got a little intense.” I said not backing away enough so that I couldn’t lean my forehead on his, just enough so that I could breathe and compose myself.

“Why don’t we slow down a little” Aj suggested as I looked away. It was embarrassing being so broken. “Hey, it’s ok. I like you a lot. We can go as slow as you need”

“I’m sorry you have to” I said quietly as he sighed

“I hate that you get so down on yourself. I don’t know what it is that was so horrible in your past that it does this to you but I do know that you are essentially a strong woman. It must have been awful. I also know is that it wasn’t your fault and nothing that happens as a result is your fault either so I wish you’d stop blaming yourself.”

“But it is partially my fault. I let him in. I let it get that bad. I keep it with me…” I started tearing up

“Hey. Come on. Come here” Aj said pulling me into a hug “If you want to talk, I’m here. But if you can’t yet, I understand. You are a wonderful person Kat. You hear me?”

“I hear you” I said quietly, leaning into his chest.

“How about we figure out what food to get?” Aj suggested as I nodded. “What do you think, Chinese, Thai or sushi? I’m in the mood for something like that. What about you?”

“Thai. Pineapple fried rice is one of my favorite dishes in the world” I said

“Thai it is” Aj said grabbing the phone with one hand while still holding me with the other. I tried to get my head on straight as he ordered the food. I can do this. I can trust him. I can let him in. “You still with me?”

“Yeah, sorry, sometimes I have to mantra to myself to stay focused and not slip back into everything” I explained as he pulled me gently towards him so I could lay my head on his chest

“What kind of mantra were you just doing?” He asked. Somehow talking without having his eyes directly on me was allowing me to be more honest.

“I can trust him. I can let him in. Repeat until insane” I said quietly as he sighed

“You can you know”

“My heart knows. I’m just trying to convince my head”

“The other guy did some real damage, huh?” Aj asked

“Yeah I feel like I’m constantly on edge, looking over my shoulder, making sure he’s not going to pop up behind me and keep all his promises” I said with my eyes closed. I wrapped my arms around my stomach and clutched my sides until it ached. It helped me remember that I was a whole person and that I was real.

“Keep his promises?”

“He promised he’d finish the job. Be back” I started then stopped. This sounded so over dramatic. “Kill me”

The silence grew long after those words and I took a deep breath in and held it. Slowly and carefully Aj maneuvered me so I was in his lap, looking up at him.

“As long as I am living and as long as you let me, I’ll be an extra pair of eyes. I won’t let anyone sneak up on you. I won’t let anyone hurt you”

“Thank you” I said softly as his sad eyes met mine. He kissed my nose lightly and let me settle back into his chest, looking away from his face. This was all so crazy. I’d met this man a little over a week ago and here we were kissing and I was about to tell him my darkest secret. The craziest thing about it was that it didn’t feel odd. Somehow I felt that I’d known Aj all my life.

“How did it start?” Aj asked quietly. I guess this story had to be told. It was now or never.

“I met him a few years ago. Rich” I said the name and I could hear all the pain even in my own voice and felt Aj twitch nervously in reaction to it “He was a normal guy. He was much more into me than I was him but he was cute and I figured I’d take a chance. He was nice. He was willing to do anything for me. We started out fairly normal”

“How long did that last?” Aj asked prompting me to keep going, knowing that if I stopped I may never start again. But I had made up my mind to tell him the whole story. It was important that he understand exactly what happened to me to make me the way that I am.

“It lasted about a year. For me the change in him was sudden but my sister and my friends tell me that it was gradual. He started wanting to spend more and more time with me. He didn’t want me seeing my male friends. He called a lot. Showed up randomly to check up on what I was doing. In my view he was being protective because he loved me so much. My sister saw the creep he was becoming. One day she surprised me and took me on a camping trip in the Adirondacks. I didn’t know about it so I couldn’t tell him about it. We got back at the end of the weekend and he was at my house. He grabbed me hard and pushed me against the car. He said he couldn’t stand not knowing where I was. That was the first time he hit me”

“Oh God” Aj let slip as I felt the tension build in his body.

“It wasn’t bad at first. It wasn’t like he used all his strength or even closed his fist. I figured it was a fluke. Mollee knew it was a warning. She tried to get me to end it with him. We had lost our parents so recently and had both finished school. We’d always talked about moving somewhere we could both pursue careers in dance. We could go and never look back. But I still loved him. I see the best in people and it made me blind to the worst him.” I stopped, needing a moment to compose myself. I buried my head in Aj’s chest and he wrapped his arms tightly around me.

“It’s ok. You’re safe here. You’re safe with me” He said quietly stroking my back. I swallowed.

“It got worse pretty quickly. He wouldn’t let me see Mollee when he found out that she was trying to convince me to leave him. Mollee was and is all that I have. Without her, he was my whole life. We’d spend weeks alone at a time and naturally would begin to get on each other’s nerves. That’s when it got bad. Every little thing would set him off. He’d drop a plate and I’d get pushed into a wall. He’d spill a beer, I’d get tripped. One night something I said got to him, I don’t even remember what it was and he went crazy and hit me so hard I lost consciousness. I woke up and he was next to me, apologizing with an engagement ring. But at that point I knew enough was enough. I tried to leave him. That’s when he locked me in his room. I was there for two days. He’d come in and beat me up and then leave and then come back and beat me up some more. That night was the worst. I thought he was going to kill me. He said he was going to. I think he would have if Mollee hadn’t gotten worried and called the police. They came in right as I lost consciousness. I was in the hospital for a week. I couldn’t dance for a few months. We moved as soon as we could to NYC. I never pressed charges so he’s still out there…” I trailed off

“You never pressed charges?” Aj asked quietly, careful not to judge.

“Something inside me couldn’t do it. It is probably a sign of how badly he hurt me mentally. I know I don’t love him but I couldn’t bring myself to end his life by putting him behind bars. I’m a mess” I said as tears started pouring down my face. Aj held me close to him and I soaked his shirt with my tears.

“I am so sorry. It’s such a stupid thing to say but it’s all I can manage. I am so sorry” Aj repeated over and over as he rocked me. Reliving the whole incident was harder than I thought it was going to be and I was unprepared for the tears and anguish that began to pour out of me. Aj sensed that I was not going to be able to calm down by myself so he held me tighter and began to softly sing.

“Got a million reasons to run and hide, I don’t blame you for being scared. About a novel long, all the pain that he’s caused you baby I’m fully aware. If I could change the story’s ending to me and you don’t know the meaning of pretending what to do. I could be the one, give you all my love, forget what he has done to you, I'm here now. Open up to me, love will set you free. If ever you believe it please believe in me” Aj sang as my crying slowed. He carefully moved me so I was facing him and looked me dead in the eyes as he sang the bridge “If I could show you there’s no risk of being left alone would you let your past go? I'll take it slow because there's no need to rush when I know” The intensity of his eyes and the words caused my crying to stop. There was complete silence as I looked at him, thinking about the words and deciding if I could answer them when there was a knock on the door and the mood shattered. “It’s our food. I’ll be right back”

“I’ll be fine” I said as he put me down on the couch and walked the five feet to the door, all the while looking back at me as if I might break. He paid for the food and set it on the table and then wrapped his arms around me again. I tried to express what I wanted to say but I was still too raw emotionally from the story. Aj looked at me for a while and then spoke up as he realized I was not in a place where I could talk.

“Thank you for telling me. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to relive that. I appreciate it more than you know” Aj said as I buried my head in his shirt and breathed in his cologne.

“You have a right to know. If you’re going to be trying to do things like kiss me, you should know about the trauma I have that for some reason likes to rear its ugly head in moments of high emotion. Such as kissing or anything like it” I said hinting at the real issue I foresaw.

“We’ll cross those bridges when we get to them” Aj said squeezing me tightly again “We’re only technically on our first date”

“That is crazy” I said with a small smile “I feel like I’ve known you my whole life”

“I know the feeling” Aj said “Hungry?”

“Oh yeah” I said as he gave a small laugh and placed me next to him. He set up the food on the table and I dug into my pineapple fried rice.

“I like a girl who can eat” Aj said with smile as I crammed the food down my throat

“Well then you’ll like me” I said through a mouthful of rice. We finished our dinner and had some nice, light conversation. Aj continued on the 100 questions game which had us laughing on the couch until about 12.

“Wow it got late quickly” Aj said suddenly as my phone vibrated

“Yikes. That’s Mollee” I said, grinning as I read her message

“What did she write?”

“Use protection” I said as Aj grinned.

“She’s a riot, that one” He said stretching from his place on the couch

“It’s her way of telling me to get my butt back there. You feel like tucking me in again?” I asked as I tried to stand up

“Sounds like a good plan” He said joining me and opening the door before I could

“Thanks” I said as he helped me down the stairs and walked me towards the dancer’s bus. We got there and hesitated outside the door. “Look at these stars. They’re beautiful”

“Beautiful” Aj said as I glanced at him and realized he was looking at me. “I’m going to kiss you. And I’m going to put my hands here” He placed his hands on my cheeks and leaned into my lips. I instantly wove my hands in his hair as we made out passionately.

“Ahem” I heard from the bus as we pulled back. Aj’s hands had dropped to my hips and looped in my belt loops and my hands were draped around his neck. We didn’t move from that position so Mollee added “I think that’s enough”

“Molls” I said with a small smile, shaking my head.

“Come on Kat” She said protectively as I bit my lip. Aj looked into my eyes, probably searching for a color that told him if I enjoyed the kiss as much as he did.

“What do you see?” I asked quietly

“Dark velvety blue, I don’t think I’ve seen that one yet”

“That's interesting. You’ll just have to hang around if you want to figure out what it means” I said with a grin.

“Teasing huh? We must be getting closer. Goodnight precious” He said kissing me softly on the lips once more. I ripped myself away from him and Mollee took my hand.

“I’ll see you in 8 hours?” I asked looking back at him while Mollee tried to drag me onto the bus

“8 hours” He confirmed as he waved goodbye.
Chapter 5 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 5

The next morning I woke up early and changed quickly into my dance clothes. I bounded out of the bus and over to Aj’s without saying hello to anyone else and knocked impatiently at his door.

“Good morning!” He said opening the door, excitement coloring his face as he took in my smile.

“Hi. I couldn’t wait the full eight hours” I said breathlessly as he laughed and pulled me into a hug.

“I’m just picking out a hat, come help and then we can go” He said grinning like an idiot at my excitement to see him. I looked at his huge collection of hats and chose a black baseball cap with some green logo on it. He put it artfully on sideways and I kissed him on the cheek. “You’re adorable this morning”

“I feel ten pounds lighter. You know my big bad secret and you still want to hang out. I’m pretty happy” I said

“I can see that. Bright blue” He said as I giggled

“Not even you reading my eyes could get me down today!” I said pulling him out of the bus by the hand as he tried to obsess over his hat some more “Come on, I want to do the thing I love most in the world.”

“Dance with me?” Aj and I heard from behind us and I smiled wider

“Good morning Bri!” I exclaimed running over to him and jumping into his arms. He picked me up and whirled me around and then placed me on the ground and crouched down.

“Would the princess like a noble steed to ride to rehearsal?” He asked as I laughed

“High ho silver!” I yelled jumping on his back so he could piggy back me to the studio. Aj was right behind us and we were all laughing like idiots when we entered.

“Hey, can we eat lunch together again today?” Aj asked almost shyly once Brian had put me down and moved on to harass Nick.

“I can’t think of a better way to eat lunch than with you. So I guess this means you still like me?” I asked as Aj brushed his fingers along my jaw bone

“What’s not to like?” Aj said sweetly before kissing my nose.

“Ok, let’s see what you all remember” Fly said walking in and cueing up the music. We didn’t need to review much from yesterday; we all seemed to have it down. We quickly worked out All I have to give as it was mostly poses with a small dance break. The dance break didn’t take long so we all moved on to the dances for the chorus of She’s a dream. “Alright, so Kat and Mollee have solos for this number. Basically you are the dream girls that Nick and Brian sing about in their verses. I’ll leave you to it over lunch break and you can show me your ideas when we get back. Ok, see you in an hour!” I laughed a little as I saw Camie’s jaw drop in outrage at not being chosen to solo. She might not shoot me death glares anymore but I didn’t like how she was all over Aj. It’s not like it was a secret that we were kind of a thing or something. What were we?

“Me, you, lunch” Aj said running over to me.

“Ok, can you help me figure out something for the solo section in the song before we eat though?” I asked

“I'd love to. Not that you’ll need the help” He said sweetly as everyone else filed out of the studio and Aj sat by the music so he could cue it up for me.

“Ok. What are the words to Brian’s verse?” I asked as Aj smiled and stood up so he could sing it acapella.

“And I'm cool with that, if she says so. I don’t even have to lie to her. And when I'm out making pesos aint' nobody treat her like I do her because I'm the one that she thinks about, the only one on her mind. She's a dream. Because she knows me” Aj sang and I just danced for him. I started seductively walking away from him and then did a triple spin, landing on “lie”. Then I walked up to him on the lyrics “nobody treat her like I do her” so Aj could caress my cheek and I did a fake faint into a backbend that flipped over on “mind.” Then I did an open star spin on “she’s a dream and she knows me.” Aj smiled wide and continued with the second half of the verse

“Shorty don't know that I'm on the stage, like 3 or 4 times a week. She don't even know I've been around the world and all the different girls I meet. But there's just one face that I see, she's the only one for me. She's a dream. Because she knows me” This verse came easier and was much more playful. For the “stage” lyrics I did a few signature moves in slow motion from the dances we’d already learned. On “around the world” I took stylized runs to the other side of the stage and did a loop, landing hard and sharp on “meet.” Then I came back to him so he could hold my face on “only one for me” and by the time Aj sang the word “me” I was breathless as he held my face inches from his own. I stared into his eyes and travelled the depths of the universe in that one look. I don’t know how long we stood there until I voiced the concern that was nagging me.

“What are we?” I whispered

“Human” Aj answered without missing a beat and without letting go of our position or stare, only letting a grin play across the corners of his mouth

“I mean together. What are we?” I clarified as Aj’s grin turned into a smirk

“Puzzle pieces that fit perfectly”

“Ok so that’s how I’ll introduce you to my friends. This is my puzzle piece, Aj” I joked bringing my hand up to one of his on my cheek and bringing it down so I could hold it but still not breaking our stare

“Oh I see” Aj said looking quickly away but keeping hold of my hand “I hadn’t thought about that”

“Well, think about it now”

“Dating, we’re dating” He decided after a few minutes.

“I can live with that. This is Aj. We’re dating” I said pretending to introduce him to an imaginary friend to my left.

“I like the sound of that” Aj said as we walked over to the music and cued it up “Shall we try this again?”

“I’m ready” I said as he pushed play. We worked the dance break a few more times and Brian came in, hearing his voice being repeated on the recording, and subbed in for Aj so he could be prepared for what I’d choreographed. Of course when it was Brian some of the intensity died down but I was able to keep Aj in mind and still deliver a pretty good performance. When lunch break was over Fly came in and asked to see what Mollee and I had come up with.

“Youngest first” Mollee said with a grin as I grabbed Brian’s hand and we walked to the middle of the floor. We performed the heck out of my choreography and Fly was pretty happy with it.

“It looks great Kat, really, but good dancers always dumb things down, especially when they know they are capable of much more. I’m not going to change your basic idea, I’m just going to add a bit of difficulty so you can show off” Fly said with that wicked grin only a teacher who is about to push a star pupil gets. “Ok so this loop needs to develop into a switch leap and then a front straddle leap. You have plenty of time and it’ll make the contrast into the kinder words a little later more dramatic. You can do it”

“I’m glad he’s so sure” I whispered to Brian as he grinned and stepped back to see if I could pull the thing off. I made it through the switch leap but had trouble shifting my weight to get the preparation into the straddle so I fell and skidded along the floor instead of straddling in the air.

“Kat” Aj yelled loudly with a lot of emotion as Mollee gave him a look and then started laughing hysterically. She had seen me fall a million times and knew it was all part of the dancer life but Aj was a little over-attuned to me right now and clearly got worked up at seeing me fall for the first time. Mollee’s laughter was multiplied by everyone else’s and pretty soon we were all laughing at Aj’s over reaction.

“Thanks for the concern but I’m ok” I said with a grin while taking Brian’s hand.

“I’m sorry” Aj said a little sharply as the laughter died down “You’re just really good and it’s weird to see you not nail something”

“Oh, I’ll get it” I said with determination as we ran it again and I executed it perfectly. After that it was Mollee’s turn and Aj was still a little raw at being laughed at so I sat in his lap while we watched Mollee. Of course her verse was pretty playful in contrast to my emotional one but that was what you got with the two of us. Fly made some adjustments to hers and we were off and running with the choreography for the medley of The Call, The One, and Bigger. The dance for The Call was pretty simple and mostly involved us echoing the guys. The choreography to The One split the dancers from the guys as we got to do harder versions of the moves the guys were doing. The real fun began, however, when we started working on Bigger. It didn’t help that we had been working all day at a very high intensity and we were all a little tired and punchy. Add in the improvisational bridge where each guy was allowed to serenade his own dancer with his words with no instruction and we were in complete chaos. Brian was on his knees crawling towards me, trying to hug my feet so I couldn’t move, Nick had Mollee in a headlock as he interpreted his words as a professional wrestler and Howie was even getting in on the fun as he got really close to Sophie’s face and then licked her from chin to forehead. That had us all rolling on the ground, even Aj who has having the least amount of fun as Camie tried to turn lyrics representing a guy asking a girl for forgiveness into a sex scene.

“Ok, Ok. I am waving the white flag. We’ll pick this up tomorrow, get out of here before we all go crazy” Fly said wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. I tried to turn to Aj to figure out some plans but I was attacked by Mollee. She jumped from out of nowhere and tackled me to the ground.

“Jesus Christ!” I yelled as Mollee sat on my stomach with her legs on either side of my body

“I’m officially taking you hostage tonight. I need sister time and I’m not letting you forget all about me for some boy.” I started giggling as I motioned to Aj standing right behind Mollee and listening to her every word “No offense”

“No offense taken. I guess I’ll survive a night without you” Aj said with a good natured smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.

“Can I say goodbye to him warden?” I asked Mollee as she eyed me

“You have 5 minutes. If you aren’t back to the bus by then, I’m calling the marines” Mollee said slowly getting off of me. She looked at Aj who was holding back laughter and pointed her pointer and middle fingers at her eyes and then to his “I’ll be watching you, McLean”

“Ma’am yes ma’am” He saluted as she skipped away. He helped me up and grabbed my bag for me as we headed slowly for the door.

“It is normal for two people who are dating to take a night where they don’t see each other” I said stiffly

“Oh yes. People who date rarely see each other every single night. Especially when they spend all day at work together as well” He answered in the same tone as I let out a laugh

“Oh boy this really shouldn’t be this hard” I said turning to face him as we reached the bus

“I know. But they say absence makes the heart grow fonder” He answered brushing some hair from my face and tucking it behind my ear

“I don’t know if I can handle much more fondness” I said staring intently into his eyes

“Aww I caused a little silver to streak across that blue. Cut that out!” Aj said as I grinned

“I’m about to revoke your eye privileges”

“How about you tell me what a deep velvety blue means” Aj said as my grin turned mischievous

“Always leave them wanting more” I whispered planting a light kiss on his lips and turning on my heels into the bus.

“Damn” I heard him groan before he walked away. I got into the bus and saw Mollee sitting there, looking at me expectantly

“What?” I asked after a moment of her giving me that weird look

“You aren’t going to yell at me about how I ruined everything because I won’t let you see your lover tonight?” She asked with a wicked grin

“No. I miss you too much. I’m going to shower and then we can talk. Meet in the reflection room?”

“That sounds good!” She said excitedly, clearly happy I wasn’t going to hold a grudge against her for her kidnapping me. I really wasn’t mad at her. In truth, I felt Aj and I could use some time alone to slow this whole thing down. I just wasn’t willing to be the one who suggested it. I took my time in the shower, convincing myself that I could and should be able to handle one night away from Aj with little success. I finally dragged myself out and feeling a little miserable, made my way upstairs. Instead of just Mollee I found all the girls sitting on the floor of the game room surrounded by boxes of Chinese takeout.

“I got the steamed veggies and tofu for you. And yes you can have my broccoli” Mollee said as I took in all the food. I started to open my mouth to ask what the party was for but Mollee read my mind “It’s a girl’s night. We need to bond”

“Cute. Whose idea was that?” I asked sitting next to my sister and grabbing my food

“Mine. I want to hear all the dirt from everyone about everything” Sophie said as she attacked her noodles. I looked up at Camie and saw she was emanating some pretty hostile vibes. I don’t know if it was left over from the anger of not being chosen to solo today or more of a building on the fact that neither Aj or Nick wanted anything to do with her but she was certainly upset about something.

“You start” I said quickly, hoping to make this as comfortable as possible. “What’s Howie like?”

“Oh man, he’s adorable, always checking that he’s not slowing me down. He’s not the strongest dancer but he knows how to support me in partnering so I’m ok. He also sings under his breath and it makes me swoon a little” Sophie said with a smile as I grinned. At least I wasn’t the only one who was being affected by the guys

“Well Brian is a pretty good dancer. He doesn’t sing so much as beat box to everything” I said eliciting a laugh from everyone, even a small one from Camie “And I’m pretty sure he has no intention of catching me for the trust fall in the opening”

“He is pretty crazy” Sophie allowed with a smile

“Definitely, but he’s a sweetheart. I love joking with him. It made the whole lover’s sequence today much less awkward than it should be with a married man” I joked as the girls laughed again.

“Well, Nick is a pretty amazing dancer but he spends so much time trying to impress me that he rarely picks up on the moves until we’ve run them a few times” Mollee piped in as Camie’s grin vanished

“Well he really likes you and doesn’t know how to approach you” Sophie said wisely as Mollee glanced at Camie and smiled at the clear impact Sophie’s words had.

“I like him too. I like him best when he forgets he’s trying to impress me, but we’ll get there eventually. I mean, he’s so freaking hot, how could I say no?” Mollee said rubbing it in for Camie’s benefit. I shot her a warning glance but she brushed it off as only Mollee can. She doesn’t forgive and forget easily.

“It must be hard, being so perfect” Camie muttered as she speared some chicken on her fork. Mollee began to round on her but I cut her off

“Camie, how is it dancing with Aj?” I asked quickly and was met with the full force of Camie’s anger. Perhaps I wasn’t the best person to diffuse this situation…

“Probably not as good as sleeping with him but we can’t all get our way through what’s between our legs” Camie spat as I instinctively grabbed Mollee’s hands before she could retaliate

“Aj and I haven’t slept together” I said in what I hoped sounded like an off-hand tone. If I didn’t rise to her bait maybe we could salvage this night

“That's surprising. That seems to be the way girls like you get what they want in life” Camie said harshly and I couldn’t stop Mollee from jumping to her feet

“Is there something you’d like to say?” Mollee spat as Camie got to her feet to meet Mollee’s stare

“Just that you and your sister are huge sluts and everyone knows it” Camie said with a smirk. I stood up quickly to get Mollee and try to calm her down while Sophie met my action on Camie’s side

“Come on, there’s no need for that” Sophie said quietly to Camie

“But it’s true. Nick doesn’t know anything exists except those boobs and blonde hair and Aj can’t make one move without looking to see if Kat has noticed it. There is only one reason a guy would act that way and that’s because easy girls will give them what they want to keep their attention. But it doesn’t work forever you know. Soon they will realize that behind those pretty faces is a whole lot of nothing and they’ll be begging for me to-” But what they were begging we never found out. What happened next happened in slow motion. Mollee lost all self control and tried to launch herself on Camie. I stepped in between them and Mollee’s pulled back fist that was aiming for Camie’s face fell full force onto my left cheek bone. Never underestimate the strength of a dancer, or of a protective older sister. I went down fast and tears sprang into my eyes before I had any chance to control them. Miraculously I didn’t flash back but I was hurting. Oh God did that hurt!

“KAT, Oh my God you freaking idiot, what the hell were you doing?” Mollee said frantically as time sped up quickly, overwhelming my senses

“Well clearly if you had taken her bait and hit her than you would have been kicked off of the tour” I said trying to fight back my tears “This is your dream. I’m not letting your temper destroy your dream”

“It’s not my temper. It’s that bitch. Get the hell away from me before I do come after you. I don’t care about the tour, I’ll make you wish you were never born” Mollee said harshly as Camie scoffed and walked down the stairs. Sophie was just standing there with her hands over her mouth and a look of pure terror on her face.

“Sophie I’m ok. Can you get me some ice?” I asked as she nodded quickly and scurried out of the room.

“Let me see. Come on. Let me see” Mollee said calming down slowly as the seconds dragged on. She pulled my hands away from my face and pushed lightly on the swelling in my cheek bone. I flinched. “Does that hurt?”

“No, it feels fucking fantastic” I said pulling away from her hand

“Stop, don’t be mad at me, I couldn’t let her talk to us like that”

“You could have. You really could have” I said sitting up and taking the ice pack from Sophie as she appeared at the top of the stairs “Where’s Camie?”

“In her bunk listening to music” Sophie answered as I nodded.

“Maybe we should all go to sleep. I’m going to go check out the damage if you can clean up?” I asked Mollee and Sophie who started working right away on the food. I walked slowly down the stairs and stopped at Camie’s bunk.

“I’m not scared of you. Or your sister” She said as I slid her curtain to the side to meet her eyes

“I’ve done nothing to you. I wish you’d get over me and Aj and just leave my sister alone. She has a quick temper and you will get her kicked off the tour if you push it. But if you get my sister kicked off then this control I have right now will evaporate. And if you think people hate you now, wait until I get through with them. Because my sister uses her fists but I use my brain. And I will ruin you” I said sliding her curtain shut and stepping into the bathroom. I cringed when I caught my reflection. My eye was swollen and already starting to blossom into a cornucopia of color. I was going to have a black eye for sure. That would be fun to explain. Cursing my sister and her temper I changed into pajamas and hopped into bed. I tapped out my light and rolled over, facing the wall. All of what just happened hit me and the tears started coming full force. Most of them were of frustration that one girl could be so hurtful and some were from the throbbing in my eye but I had to admit that a small portion of them were because there was exactly one person I wanted to see right now and he was a mere parking lot away but I couldn’t reach him. As I tried to push that thought from my head, my curtain opened and I felt the mattress bend a little as another body joined mine.

“I’m sorry Booger” Mollee whispered as she rolled me carefully so I was laying on my back and took the ice pack I was holding to my eye to replace it with a colder one.

“You suck” I pouted but took her free hand in mine all the same as she lay on her back next to me and rested her head next to mine.

“I just don’t like people talking about you like that especially with what you’ve been through” Mollee said quietly

“I know Molls but you have to learn to control your temper. You could have hit Camie and she would have reported it. It was in our contract – you would have been kicked off the tour. I can’t do this without you. I need you here. And this is your dream. Is that bitch worth your dream?” I asked squeezing her hand

“I know” She sighed “I know. I’m sorry. I’ll do better”

“Damn right you will”

“Are you going to have a shiner?” She asked as I pouted into the darkness.

“I probably will. Damn it you’re exceptionally strong” I said as she laughed a little

“I’ll let you sleep. But I really am sorry. Forgive me?” She asked meeting my eyes

“Of course, you’re my sister. You’re incredibly annoying and you have no self control but I love you to pieces.”

“I love you too. Get some sleep. I’ll explain everything to everyone tomorrow so don’t even stress”

“Thanks. Night” I said rolling over as she left. I tried to sleep, I really did, but my thoughts kept drifting across the parking lot and my eye was throbbing. At around one I heard the door open to the bus and someone approached my bunk. As the curtain slowly pulled back a small breeze blew and I breathed in a scent I had been dreaming of. I glanced slowly up to take in those brown eyes shining brightly even in the dark.

“You’re up” He whispered as I smiled

“You’re here” I acknowledged and he returned my smile. Then he shifted and some of the light from the window shined on my face and his smile disappeared.

“What happened?” He asked quickly, taking my face carefully in his hands

“Oh it was just girl stuff. My sister” I started as he looked me over

“Let me get you some more ice” He offered and went quickly to the kitchen. When he returned I motioned for him to climb into my bunk and he did, holding the ice to my eye and shutting the curtain behind him as he took the spot my sister had left open a few hours ago. “Explain”

“Camie is a bitch” I started as he laughed a little and I shushed him. I told him the whole story and he had a hard time holding back his swear as I repeated Camie’s hateful words.

“Oh that girl is asking for it” Aj said when I’d finished as he took my hand.

“Mollee egged her on. I know she took it pretty hard that you and Nick weren’t falling all over her-” I started but Aj cut me off

“You are defending her? Who are you?” He asked with a grin as I smiled

“A hopeless optimist” I said simply as he sighed

“So this might be against your sister’s rules but the way I see it, she owes you one. Think I can spend the night here?” He asked as I grinned into the darkness

“The only permission you need is mine”

“And”

“I’d love nothing more than for you to stay”
Chapter 6 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 6

I slept really well considering I was sharing a twin sized bed with a good sized man but apparently we wrestled in my sleep because I woke up facing the curtain with Aj between me and the wall. I couldn't figure out what had woken me besides my disorientation at being on the opposite side of the bed that I started on until I heard a small noise as my curtain pulled slowly open. It was Camie.

“Kat, listen…” She started and I shifted a little causing Aj to moan and roll over while putting his arm around my waist. Camie’s eyes turned hard and she quickly closed her mouth and stalked away.

“Crap” I said quietly trying to untangle myself from Aj’s arms

“Where do you think you’re going? I demand morning cuddles!” Aj said cutely

“I’ll be right back. I think I just burned the last bridge I had” I said quickly swinging myself from my bunk. I caught up to Camie as she paced in back of our bus. “Camie, listen, it’s not what it looks like-”

“What it looks like is that I was completely right last night. Why take back what you’ve said when you are right” She said angrily as my heart dropped. It seemed like seeing Aj in bed with me had caused her some real pain. I felt awful.

“He came over late last night because he couldn’t sleep and decided to stay because my eye was bothering me and I couldn’t sleep either. Nothing happened. I’ve known him for less than a week, I’m not that kind of girl” I said quickly as Camie suddenly stopped pacing and faced me head on.

“You, Katrina Blackwell, are exactly that kind of girl” Camie said harshly before practically running to the rehearsal studio. I sighed and slowly made my way back to the bus. When I got there Aj was out of my bunk and leaning against the outside of the bus. I went to explain what had happened but he was looking at me with this horrified face and it made me stop in my tracks.

“What?” I asked as his mouth hung open and his eyes got wide

“Your eye” He said and I groaned

“Is it that bad?” I asked and he just nodded. I slowly made my way to the bathroom and braced myself before I faced the mirror. What I saw made my mouth drop open too. My eye was a deep black with yellow splotches through it. My cheek was swollen so one side of my head seemed to double the other and a few blood vessels had broken in my eye so it was almost completely red. Aj appeared next to me and wrapped his arms around me from behind.

“You’re still cute” He offered as I rolled my eyes at him

“Adorable. I hear this is the new look of the summer. Want me to give you one?”

“I’m good” He said with a small smile as I cracked one too. There was no reason to be angry with him.

“You should get out of here before you cause any more trouble. I’ll see you in about 20 minutes at rehearsal” I said still staring at my eye as Aj nodded and kissed the top of my head.

“I’ll see you then” He said walking out and narrowly missing my sister as she yawned her way into the bathroom.

“Kat what are you-” She started and then stopped as she got a good look at me “Oh. My. God”

“I know I know. Can we skip the freak out and fix it?” I asked as I studied my face

“Yeah, totally, Ok, time for make up!” She said quickly running into her room for her makeup bag. About ten minutes later with the help of a distraught Sophie the dark bruising turned more into a light shadow but there wasn’t much to be done about my red eye or the swelling

“Well this is great guys. Until I start sweating…” I said with a sigh as I met identical looks of pity from Sophie and Mollee.

“Remind me to never get on the opposite end of your fist” Sophie said to Mollee as she led us out of the bathroom.

“This could be much worse. This could be Camie and you could be packing” I assured Mollee as she gave me the “I am SO sorry” look for the 50th time this morning.

“That’s true I guess. Ugh I’m the worst sister ever” She groaned and I hugged her. As we approached the studio we saw that all the guys were already there with Camie. Aj came right up to me and grabbed my hand.

“Any better?” I asked as he raised his eyebrow

“Some” He lied as I laughed at him

“It’s somewhat comforting to know that while you seem to be perfect on many fronts you suck at lying” He smiled a bit and then took a step behind me as Brian came up to me for his usual morning greeting.

“Kat Good – holy goodness what happened to you?” He asked with concern as he took the good side of my face in his hand and looked closely at my eye.

“It was me, totally me. It was an accident. Totally my bad” Mollee said attempting to keep her promise by doing all the explaining today. What she couldn’t do was take all the pity looks that were directed my way now as everyone came to see what all the commotion was about.

“MOLLEE did THAT?” Nick asked looking at my face as I burned red. Aj squeezed my hand, probably some sign to indicate to me that he was here with me, but it felt like pity and I jerked my hand away.

“Can we just dance? Isn’t that what we are here for? Anyone want to actually put together a tour?” I asked angrily as I threw my bag into a deserted corner and began to roughly put my jazz sneakers on. I heard murmuring from behind me as I assumed Mollee explained in more detail the events of last night (hopefully omitting the part where the blow had been meant for Camie) and Aj cautioned everyone to treat me as normally as possible. I slowly counted to ten and then a wave of shame came over me. They were just concerned. I didn’t have to freak out.

“Ok guys, let’s start” Fly said as I joined everyone

“Sorry” I said sheepishly to the quiet room “I just don’t like extra attention. I appreciate the concern but I’d rather pretend it never happened”

“Sounds good” Fly said as he took the attention of the room back. I sighed as Brian moved next to me, put his arm across my shoulder and leaned on me. I looked at him and he stuck out his tongue. Thank God for Brian. “We’ll start this morning with Larger than Life and then this afternoon we’ll only need Camie and Kat for Shape of my heart. So let’s get started”

“I get the afternoon off!” Brian bragged as I gave him a look. It would be just Camie and me? Why oh why just Camie and me? “Sorry”

“It’s ok. I just know Camie is going to be a nightmare and I don’t want to give her another reason to hate me” I whispered to Brian. I wanted more than anything to stay and work on Larger than life for hours but, as time does when you’re truly dreading something, the morning flew by. It was a cute dance, reminiscent of the music video with the robots but not too difficult. Too soon Fly was dismissing us for lunch. At once Aj was at my side.

“Do you want to grab some lunch?” He asked

“Don’t you want to get a head start on your afternoon off?” I asked grumpily as I made my way over to my bag

“I’m staying to watch” Aj said with a hurt look like he would find it insulting that I believed he would not stay and watch me dance. “Unless you don’t want me”

“No no I want you. I’m sorry. I’m in a bad mood. I don’t really want to spend all afternoon with Camie, my eye is throbbing again and all the makeup has run off so it looks awful-” but I was cut off with a kiss. I pulled back before it got too intimate (who knew where Camie was) but the message was delivered. Stop stressing. You’ll be fine. I’ll be here.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to leave your side again” Aj joked as he walked me to the buffet that was set up outside the studio

“And why’s that?” I asked picking up a plate and a bagel

“The one time I left you for any extended amount of time you got hurt. I promised no one was going to hurt you while I was here.” He said simply as I smiled a little. I watched him pick up the bagels and dump them all out on the table

“What are you doing?” I asked as he demolished the contents of the lunch table

“Making you something for your eye” He said taking the bag the bagels were in and filling it with ice.

“You know I think there is actually first aid here…” I trailed off but then I caught sight of his face. He was trying so hard. I smiled “But you know this looks like it would be much more helpful”

“I thought so too” He said returning my smile as he handed me his makeshift ice pack before grabbing a sandwich and taking my hand. We walked out to the beach and Aj put his jacket down so we could sit on the sand without getting too messy.

“Think we’re allowed to see each other tonight? I mean no one saw you were there last night except for Camie but I think she’s too hurt to say anything-” I started

“Good. I hope she’s hurting. I could barely look at her all through the dance I was so furious. I can’t believe she said those things to you” Aj said with his fist tightening in the sand

“Hey. She just wants to be liked. Granted I’m the last person she wants to like her right now but I can understand what she’s feeling. Plus she’s not the one who punched me” I explained as I ate my bagel

“You are saintly to a fault my dear” Aj said relaxing all the same. “But yeah, I think we should be allowed to hang out. Your sister feels awful so she’s not going to stop you.”

“Well, I was thinking that we’d include my sister. She was right about one thing yesterday; I haven’t been spending good time with her. I was hoping you could talk to Nick and see if he’d ask her on a double date with us. It might make it easier for him to relax around her. According to Mollee he’s a real basket case when he tries to impress her. When he calms down she really likes him. What do you think?” I asked anxiously. I watched the thought cross his face and could practically hear his inner debate. Having Mollee there would ensure I’d be able to go out with him but having Nick there meant he had to share time with me. “We could do something alone after…”

“Alright, I guess that sounds fun. I would only double date with Nick Carter for you” He said with a grin. We talked and made jokes the rest of the way through lunch and then Aj walked me back into the studio where Camie was waiting. She eyed the two of us and watched intently as Aj kissed my cheek and settled in a corner where he’d be able to best see me. I went to approach her but she turned quickly away. I sighed and let it go. It wasn’t worth upsetting her right before we’d have to be spending so much time together. We’d get used to each other slowly.

“Ok ladies. The idea with Shape of my heart is that the guys will be in four corners of the stage singing and we will have you two soloing in and around them. It’s very lyrical and very personal which is why I chose you two. You are definitely the strongest emotional dancers” Fly said as I nodded. “So I’ll show you each one section that you’ll be doing and then we’ll break it up and take turns with the different verses. It’s very free form so I’m not committed to any ideas of who dances where and when. I figured we could work together and figure it out”

“Work together. Great.” Camie said quietly so only I could hear it.

“Sounds good Fly” I said cheerfully, determined to make the most out of this and try to keep Camie positive as well. After all, this was the dance solo she’d wanted.

“Ok, here’s how we start from the top” Fly said cueing the music and marking the dance. It didn’t take Camie and me long to get the gist and after watching a few times he made the decision that I would open it for the verse and Camie would run on for the chorus. Then there was the bridge which Fly had hoped we could work on together to figure something out that complimented the two of us. He left us with a parting glance and a promise he’d be back in a half hour.

“So…” I said quietly as Camie grabbed her water and took a sip

“Yeah” She said looking down at her shoe

“Did you have anything in mind?” I asked as she sighed heavily.

“You’re really flexible but I’m not. I’m much better with turns than you are. That’s all I got” She said stiffly

“We’re both good with leaps” I said quietly as she smiled a little

“Your loop combo with the switch leap earlier was pretty awesome. Could we riff on that? I wanted to try it” She said getting a little sparkle in her eye. I ran with it.

“You could definitely do it easily. Since it’s so dramatic we could run in on opposite sides and cross then run the leap sequence so we ended up doing the loops almost on top of each other.” I suggested as she looked at me for the first time all afternoon

“And after the straddle we could land in a roll on the floor so by the time he sings the words ‘shape of my heart’ we could do kind of a back arch circle” She said excitedly as I smiled.

“And he thought we’d need a half hour” I said and she laughed. I glanced at Aj who was silently laughing and shaking his head. I knew what he thought of me being so patient with someone who had been so rude to me but I wasn’t one to stay angry, especially not when the offending party was hurting. We ran the steps a few times with the music and then put it together with everything we had done. Fly came in and was so impressed that he didn’t change it at all.

“Alright ladies, great job, we’ll see you tomorrow” Fly said as we headed out together. Aj made a motion to come and join us but I subtly put out my hand to stop him.

“Camie, can I talk to you quickly?” I asked as she changed her shoes

“Let me go first. I believe you that you never slept with Aj. I also see the way he looks at you. You’re everything to him” She said as Aj pretended to busy himself behind us while he eavesdropped. He was so obvious.

“Thanks. I don’t think he doesn’t like you-” I started but she interrupted me with a laugh

“You think we're best friends after causing his girlfriend to get punched in the face? I highly doubt that”

“I’m not his girlfriend” I said quickly and she looked at me skeptically “We’re dating”

“Whatever”

“That wasn’t really your fault anyway. I got my face in the way of my sister’s fist”

“I caused her fist to be there in the first place” She retorted quickly. This was not going the way I’d hoped.

“Regardless of the blame, I think we can put this behind us. You’re really talented and I’d like our bus to not be a war zone. I’d like to get to know you” I said as she picked up her things and started heading to the door

“That’s sweet. I’ll have to think on it. I’m not one for friends” She said turning her back to me

“Well that’s going to be awkward for you then” I said loudly so she would stop

“Why?” She asked turning towards me

"I’m determined to be friends with you and I’m an unstoppable force”

“Meet your immovable object” She said with a smirk as she walked out the door. Ok. It wasn’t perfect but it was a start

“You are too good to her” Aj said from behind me as I watched her walk across the parking lot through the decreasing slit in the closing studio door

“She’ll come around” I said as Aj smiled and handed me my stuff. I threw on my flip flops and headed out the door with Aj’s hand in mine “Did you talk to Nick?”

“Yeah and he’s so excited he could die” Aj said somewhat gloomily

“Hey. We’re going to get to spend time together tonight!” I said trying to cheer him up “And I might be able to sneak you into my bunk again”

“Or I could sneak you into mine. There’s a lot more room” He said as I laughed

“Were you really uncomfortable all night?” I asked as he stretched his neck

“I’ll get the feeling back in my shoulders someday” He said and then seeing me about to interject he added “It was worth it though. I wouldn’t trade it”

“Good save” I joked as he smiled

“Hey I have one question before you run off to shower and prep for our sweet double date. Why did you tell Camie you weren’t my girlfriend?” Aj asked once we had reached the bus and I was about to give him the normal departing words.

“Because I’m not” I said slowly trying to figure out where he was going with this

“Do you want to be?” He asked sincerely

“I think so” I said “But if that’s you asking me then you’ve got another thing coming. These things have to be romantic. Being your girlfriend means we’re exclusive. I need a little more than a sweaty ‘hey you want to go steady’”

“You want more romantic huh? You’re asking for trouble Ms. I-hate-attention. I hope you’re prepared to stand behind your request” He said with a mischievous smile

“What have I gotten myself into?” I joked kissing his forehead and turning to the bus

“See you at 7!” He yelled to my back

“7” I said quietly calculating the time we’d be away from one another. Two hours. I could handle that.

“Kat we’re going on a double date!” Mollee said flying out of the bathroom in a towel and hugging me

“I know! I think Aj may ask me to be his girlfriend” I said as she pulled back to look in my eyes

“Damn it’s hard to see you how feel about that from your eye color when you only have one non-red eye” She said with a laugh

“You could ask me”

“How do you feel about that?” Camie asked with an eye roll

“Excited I guess. I just haven’t had a boyfriend in almost a year. And this is all happening so fast. Do you think it’s too fast?” I asked her as she sat me down on the couch

“You know at first I did. But I see the way the looks at you and how you look at him. I see how you are together. I’m not crazy about you spending ALL of your time with a guy but you seem to be slowly learning how to have each other and the rest of us. I think I decided that life is too short and you’ve gone too long without being happy to wait. If he asks you, say yes. The worst that can happen is it falls apart, right?”

“Is that supposed to be encouraging?” I asked with a grin

“Do it. Do it now. Is that more direct for you?” She asked as I stood up

“Put some clothes on you slut” I said with a laugh as I went to the bathroom to shower. I got out and Mollee and I did each other’s hair. She curled my dark waves into a messy side ponytail that had pieces framing my face and tumbling over my shoulder. I pinned her natural curls into an up do that was just as sexy and messy as mine but left her neck exposed. She was getting really tan so she went for an icy white flowing sun dress that hugged her curves until it fell to her waist and fanned out into a full skirt. I went for the darker version – a dark blue tight tube top dress that went to my mid thigh. The top was heart shaped so I got a little cleavage in and I put on some strappy silver sandals to match my silver necklace. I was hoping that the dark midnight blue would remind him of my mystery eye color. Sophie came out and helped cover up as much of my bruising as possible and then she did the rest in a smoke theme. When we were both done Sophie started laughing and we both looked at her in shock.

“Not the response I was expecting” Mollee said with a grin as Sophie tried to get it under control

“You’ve practically set up an angel and devil theme for this thing” Sophie said through giggles as we looked at ourselves in the mirror. Mollee in her white with her blonde hair delicately pinned sure looked angelic, especially compared to my dark and smoldering ensemble, capped off by my badass black eye.

“Mom would be so proud” I joked as Mollee smiled

“Dad, not so much” She said as we hugged each other. Just then there was a knock on the door. Mollee practically ran for it and I said a quick thank you and goodbye to Sophie as I followed her out. Nick was in dark jeans and a button up the color of his eyes and Aj was in black pants with a muscle shirt that had some Chinese symbol on it in red. Over that he had a deep red button up with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, exposing his many bracelets and rings. Of course he had a beanie on but no sunglasses so I could watch his eyes as he took me in once my sister had stepped down to meet Nick. His eyes roamed from my bare legs to my hourglass waist and my ample cleavage which caused me to blush a little. I got a quick mental image of what blushing must do to my face with my eye being red and all and it was not pretty so I looked down. He immediately jumped up to my level on the bus steps.

“Hey now don’t do that” He said lightly picking up my chin with his finger

“My eye must make this whole sexy ensemble null in void huh?” I asked as he suddenly became serious.

“A girl who takes a punch to save her sister’s dream and not only endures someone who is trying to tear her down, but embraces her is not a girl who has anything to be embarrassed of. Red eye or not” He said as I leaned in and kissed him lightly

“Ok, Ok…” I said as he laughed

“When will you give yourself some credit?” He asked shaking his head and taking my hand. “You look absolutely stunning by the way”

“Thank you” I said as we followed Nick and Mollee to the beach

“So where are you taking us?” Mollee asked as Nick nervously straightened his shirt.

“We didn’t want to deal with restaurants or other people so we decided a beach picnic might be nice and low key. You had quite the exciting night last night” Aj answered when it seemed Nick couldn’t. I laughed a little. He was such a mess!

“Nick, you look great” I said hoping to help him break the ice

“Thanks. You too. Both of you. Look nice. And great.” He stuttered as Mollee sighed a little

“Breathe Carter” I whispered to him when Mollee broke away to inspect the blanket they had laid out.

“Oh God, what am I doing!?” He asked frantically as I took his face between my hands and squeezed it.

“She likes you for you. You don’t need to impress her. Just breathe and be you. That is who she likes” I said as he nodded and then made a fish face in response to my forcing his face into a chubbier version of what it was. “Just do that. Perfect”

“Coming?” Aj asked impatiently offering his hand. I took it and was able to really take in the scene for the first time. It took my breath away. The guys had set up a huge blanket on the sand and the sun was just setting in its brilliant purples and blues over the ocean. They had a ton of fruit and a small grill was set up to cook chicken and veggies. It was really adorable.

“Guys this is really amazing” I said with a smile sitting next to Aj on the blanket “Just what we needed”

“Glad you like it” Aj said kissing me lightly on the cheek.

“Ok what does everyone want?” Nick asked

“Chicken” Mollee said quickly as I laughed at her

“Chicken is great for me too man” Aj said still staring at me

“Can you just grill some of the veggies, I don’t eat meat” I said causing Aj to start

“How did I not know this?” He asked quickly as I smirked at him

“I don’t know” I said giggling at how annoyed he was at himself for not knowing something so vital yet insignificant “It’s fine, the veggies will be fine”

“This is why we need more time together by ourselves. I need to know all there is to know about you” He said with his eyes alight in curiosity

“Now what kind of puzzle would I be if all my pieces were flipped over and easy to place?” I asked

“Certainly nothing to the puzzle you are now” He said sweetly as we stared at each other’s eyes. We were torn out of our trance pretty quickly as we heard Nick swear and Mollee laugh

“Oh I’m not laughing at you, I swear!” Mollee said trying to hide her smile. I looked over to Nick and saw he had dunked his entire elbow in the chicken marinade. I snickered and Aj was looking determinedly away as Nick looked mortified.

“Ok I’m laughing at you” I said busting out and causing the other two to follow.

“Damn it” Nick said with a small smirk on his face

“Oh come here you mess. Give me this” Mollee said going into the mom mode I knew so well. She slid off his button up leaving him in a white tank top. She got up and walked towards the water with his shirt as he stared after her.

“Go! Go follow her!” I urged him after she was out of hearing distance

“Oh, right” He said quickly standing up and sending a group of the plates flying. I laughed a little and watched him approach her.

“He reminds me of you when you first met me” Aj said with a smirk as I elbowed him

“I was not that much of a mess” I said

“If that’s what you want to believe…” Aj said as we heard a shriek and turned in time to see Nick and Camie run straight into the water. They started in on a huge water fight and Aj and I watched with smiles on our faces

“Looks like he figured out some way to communicate with her” I said with a happy sigh

“Hey Kat” Aj said and I looked over at him taking in his breathtaking eyes while noting with little importance that he was holding a small square box

“Hey Aj” I answered

“Now that we’re alone, I just needed to say something. I know I’ve known you for only a few days and that we’ve been going at a million miles an hour but I feel like we were meant to be and I think you feel it to. So what I’m trying to say is would you be my girlfriend?” He opened the box carefully and showed me a beautiful silver bracelet with all different colored jewels on it. Most were shades of blue and there were a few greens, one gray and one red. “They are the colors of your eyes. I had the red one added today”

“Aj that’s so sweet. I love it. I’d love to be your girlfriend” I said as he leaned in and kissed me passionately. He laid me down gently on the blanket and started planting sweet kisses down my neck and across my color bone. I slipped my hand in between his button up and his muscle shirt and ran my nails lightly down his biceps as he kissed the base of my neck. I gasped a little and he looked up with a mischievous grin.

“I think I found a sweet spot” He said as I met his eyes and smiled “And look at that. Your eyes are dark velvet blue. I think I understand what that color means now”

“Well then don’t stop” I whispered to him as he smiled and flicked his tongue lightly over the sensitive spot on my neck driving me crazy. He ran his hands over my curves and rested one on my upper thigh. His thumb slid seductively under my skirt but stopped there. I knew he was testing, seeing what I would let him get away with in his new role as my official boyfriend. I sat up a little and met his questioning eyes. I answered the unasked question with one word “Slow”

“You’re right. Sorry. I’ll behave” He said kissing my lips once more before looking up at the ocean “Where’d they go?”

“Who knows? Back inside. Look they took the food. When did that happen?” I asked quietly as Aj smiled

“I was oddly distracted” He said

“Can we go by the water? It looks beautiful” I asked. Aj nodded and helped me up. We walked hand in hand to the edge of the water and let the waves send warm pulses over our toes. “It’s so warm”

“It is. Not like those New Hampshire beaches, huh?” He asked and I shook my head

“Want to swim?” I asked with a devilish grin as he raised an eyebrow

“I don’t have anything to swim in” He said as I giggled

“Wearing underwear?” I asked innocently

“Yeah”

“I’m not” I whispered walking a few steps away from him so he could only make out my silhouette as I pulled off my dress, flung it to drier land and dove into the water. It took him a minute of standing there before everything registered and then he was flinging off shoes and belts and rings in his excitement to join me.

“Kat?” He yelled once he was in the water. I snuck up behind him and splashed him before diving under again “Oh I’ll get you for that”

“Oh yeah?” I whispered inches from his ear before disappearing in the waves

“Damn girl, you tease…” Aj groaned as I surfaced right in front of him. The water was dark so Aj couldn’t see much of me but knowing that I was completely naked and inches away from him and his body only hidden by a pair of boxer briefs was enough to send him into a lusty spin.

“Want me to put your hands where you’re allowed to touch?” I asked seductively as he met my eyes and nodded slowly. I took his hands and placed them on the outside of my hip bones. I slowly inched them up, allowing him to enjoy the curve into my waist and back up. As they neared my chest I allowed them to play on the periphery before moving them forward to my collar bone and up to my cheeks. “Get the drift?”

“Go it” He said lightly pulling my lips to his as we made out in the water. He wandered his hands to my butt and I let him brush them over the flesh. Then he ran them up my back through my hair. He came down and kissed my collar bone before replacing his lips with his hand. He inched lower and lower, checking with me as I enjoyed his exploration. Finally his hands met their destination on my breasts and he sighed as I kissed him hard. He started putting his fingers to work as I basked in the pleasure until it bordered on panic. I let out a big whoosh of air from my lungs and stopped his hands where they were.

“Just wait. Let me just center…” I said taking deep breaths to keep the images out of my mind.

“It’s ok. I’m here. It’s just me. I’m yours” He whispered sweetly, carefully cradling me in his arms. My naked body against his naked chest was the most wonderful feeling and I snuggled there as he hummed This is us.

“We should go in” I said after a while of sitting his arms.

“Yeah it’s probably late. How do you want to do this?” He asked as I grinned.

“You go first” I instructed as he slowly let me down and got out onto the beach and pulled his jeans on. “Now turn around”

“Not fair” He said with a laugh but turning around all the same. I slowly got out of the water and stole his button down, buttoning it over me. It was long and it’s a good thing that I’m short because it effectively worked the same way as my dress which I grabbed from the sand as I approached a shirtless Aj.

“Can I borrow this?” I asked as he took me in with new appreciation

“God you are so sexy” He said as I smiled and kissed him again. He brought me to the blanket where we made out some more until he pulled back “Ok if I don’t stop now I’m going to do something that we aren’t ready for yet and I don’t want to ruin this”

“Fair enough” I said with a smirk. We gathered what was left of the picnic and our clothes and snuck back to his bus. “Can I shower quickly?”

“Sure. Don’t take long though. And text your sister” Aj said as I smiled

“Man, she’s got you whipped” I joked

“I just understand where she’s coming from. She saw a guy separate you from her before so it must be scary to have a new guy take up so much of your time. I’m trying to make this as easy as possible for her” Aj explained and my heart warmed

“You are a keeper” I said softly before shutting myself into the bathroom with a big grin. I took a quick shower and came out with a towel wrapped around me to find a note on the couch with a wife beater and boxers.

“I’m in bed waiting, these are for you to wear” I read the elegant script as I smiled and changed into his clothing. Without a bra the wife beater look was certainly a seductive one and I hoped Aj would be able to control himself through the night. I called Mollee and she picked up after a few rings.

“Kat are you still on the beach?” She asked as I laughed

“No we just got back. I’m staying in his bus” I said as she giggled

“Ooh baby”

“Shut up”

“Ok well I’ll bring you some clothes and leave them on the steps of his bus tomorrow morning.” She said as I silently thanked whatever God gave me such an amazing sister

“Thanks so much. How did it go with Nick?” I asked

“It went really well. We finally broke through his nerves I think. We got our first kiss” she said excitedly as I smiled

“Awesome, I’m so happy for you. Well, I’m going to go” I said thinking of Aj waiting impatiently

“Hey let’s not have any other relationship firsts tonight, ok?” She asked as I rolled my eyes through the phone.

“Please, who do you think I am? We’re just going to sleep. Maybe make out some. But other than that, sleep” I said as she laughed

“That’s my girl. Leave them wanting more. Love you!”

“Love you! Bye!” I said hanging up and practically running to the back of the bus where Aj was waiting in bed.

“Damn” He said looking at my outfit “You look much better in that then I do”

“I wouldn’t go that far” I said appreciatively eyeing his arm muscles as I got in bed with him

“So the best thing to do now would be to go to sleep” He said cuddling close to me so our foreheads were touching

“Yes. Definitely” I said with a grin

“But what I want to do…” He said running his fingers up my thigh and stopping at the bottom of the boxers I was wearing

“I know. I want to too. But we shouldn’t” I said quietly as he nodded a little and sighed

“You’re pretty special” He said taking in my face in the dark

“You too” I said quietly. I gave him a light kiss and closed my eyes. And in the comfort of his arms and with the warmth of his breath on my cheek, I fell into a deep and blissful sleep.
Chapter 7 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 7

I woke up grumpily as a small shaft of light flickered into my eye. I squinted and saw that a portion of the blinds over the windows in Aj’s bedroom had not been shut all the way and the morning sun was rising at the perfect angle to catch my eye and blind me. I glanced at Aj to see him sound asleep. His mouth was curled into an innocent smile and his one hand was draped over my waist while the other cushioned my head. I sat up slowly, maneuvering his hands and my body so as not to wake him and crept to the front of the bus where Mollee had left me my dance bag packed with everything I’d need for the day. I quickly threw on my dance clothes and found my ipod in the front pocket where I normally store it and tiptoed out into the cold Florida morning air. When I wake up early I can very rarely go back to sleep and I was so keyed up from the night before with Aj that I knew the only way I could calm my emotions enough to be in any way functional today was to dance. I made my way to the studio and noticed for the first time how very many people there were here on the lot preparing for the tour. I snuck into the studio and hooked up my ipod before stretching. I was in a ballet mood so I put on a recording of Swan Lake and went about trying to remember what I could from being in that ballet at many different points in my career. I was in the middle of the portion where the swan princess is struggling under the influence of the black swan and she dances her longing for freedom while the prince watches on when I heard a cough and turned quickly to see an unfamiliar guy at the door. He had scruffy brown hair, ripped jeans, and a plaid button down over a slim rocker body that I took in from his worn converse to his untidy yet stylish hair.

“Sorry” We said at the same time and then laughed nervously

“I’m a dancer on the tour, I was just getting in some rehearsal before everyone woke up” I said quickly turning off my ipod and slipping off my point shoes.

“I’m on the road crew and last I checked the Backstreet Boys did not specialize in Tchaikovsky” The guy said with an irresistible lopsided grin

“Good ear” I said moving a little closer to him “I’m Kat”

“Josh. Sorry I startled you, I was looking for a chair and then you were dancing so beautifully…” He trailed off nervously and I smiled

“Thanks. I haven’t put the old point shoes on in a while so I figured I’d check to see if I still had it” I joked and he chuckled a little. Something about him was very calming. My nerves all but disappeared even though he was a new and a guy.

“In my very expert opinion, I’d say you still got it” He said sweeping some of his hair out of his eyes. I took in their brilliant green right as he took in my blue.

“You’re an expert huh?” I joked with a cocked eyebrow

“Hey, I could be the next Nureyev, you never know” He said as I laughed

“I’ll have to watch my lines then, won’t I?” I smirked. We both stood there shyly for a moment before Brian burst into the door with a loud and long high note.

“Gooooooddddmmmoorrrrnnninnng!” He sang running in, picking me up and throwing me over his shoulder in a fireman carry. Briefly, as I tried to steady myself on Brian’s back, I saw Josh give a tiny wave and sneak out of the studio, unnoticed by anyone walking in

“Ok, you have about two seconds to put me down before I empty the contents of my water bottle on your head” I said through a laugh as Brian giggled evilly and dropped me to go run and get his bottle. I squirted some water at him and he squirted some back at me in retaliation. It was about to turn into a no holds barred water fight when I was picked up again in a hug by Nick who was also smiling goofily “Down Frankenstein, I’m afraid of heights”

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” He said quickly putting me down but locking me in a hug

“What are you thanking me for?” I asked as he gave me a look

“I’m thanking you for going on that date with me and Mollee. She kissed me. Did she tell you that? What did she say about me? I want to know everything” He said quickly as I laughed and messed up his hair

“I hardly saw her, I spent the night with Aj, but she did tell me you kissed and she seemed very excited about it. I’m happy for you two crazy kids” I said but was interrupted by another set of hands wrapping themselves around my waist

“Well you spent most of the night with Aj, until he woke up this morning to an empty bed, no note, and the clothes you were wearing last night strewn all over his kitchen” Aj said from behind me as I groaned.

“Oh I’m so sorry! What you must have thought!” I said turning to him and giving him a hug while trying to read his expression

“Only that I’d done something horribly wrong and you hated me” He said dramatically with a pout

“Aww come here. I just got up early and wanted to dance. I met a roadie!” I said excitedly as Aj broke into a grin, unable to pretend to be upset now that we were together

“That sounds very exciting. Don’t those things hurt?” Aj said spotting my discarded point shoes

“Only in the way where they hurt a lot” I joked as I wrapped them carefully and put them in my dance bag while removing my jazz sneakers.

“Well I have a question for you” Aj said with a hint of shyness causing me to smirk as I tied my shoes

“I have an answer”

“Will you go on a date with me tonight?” He asked as I grinned

“I think as your official girlfriend it doesn’t really count as a date anymore” I joked and he rolled his eyes at me

“Will you spend some time with me tonight? I have something I think you’ll like to do and it’ll get you off the lot for the night. Lord knows I’m getting a little claustrophobic” He said in a rush as I grabbed his chin playfully with my hand and looked into his eyes

“Of course I’ll spend some time with you tonight on a date to a place you think I’ll like” I watched the happiness and relief spread across his face and giggled “Why were you so nervous to ask me that?”

“I don’t know! I never know what’s going to happen with you!” He exclaimed

“You’re ridiculous. I get less nervous the more I’m around you and you get more nervous” I rested my hand on his cheek and balanced on my tip toes to plant a sweet kiss on his lips

“Get a room” I heard from behind me as Mollee skated by. I caught her hand and wrapped her in a hug, squeezing as hard as I could

“You’re the best sister a girl could ask for. Thanks for the clothes” I whispered to her as she smiled

“No sweat”

“So tell me everything about last night” I said completely hyper from being awake for so long and eager for details of her night with Nick

“Well we had a huge water fight so I was getting cold and Nick offered to get the blanket from the picnic for me but we got there and you were occupying it” She said with a smirk while she tied her shoes and I motioned her to get on with it “so we stole the food and went to eat in his bus. We talked, connected and had some smooches”

“Just smooches?” I asked nosily as she laughed

“Yeah I’m not you, whore” She joked as I smacked her lightly “Not all of us feel comfortable enough with a man we’ve met a mere week ago to skinny dip”

“Oh calm down. It was a whim. He didn’t even get a good look. Just enough to get an idea”

“And last night?” She asked equally as nosey as I was

“There were some cuddles. Smooches” I said equally as evasively and she rolled her eyes

“Hey, your eye is looking a lot less gangster” She said clearly changing the subject. Oh I’d get her for that. I gave her a look that clearly said that we weren’t done with this conversation before Fly came into the room with all his usual energy, ready to start the day.

“Ok everyone. We’re starting with All of your life. I have a section to teach the guys and you each have sections that you can figure out alone with your partner. Then we’ll all come back to work the dance break together. So, first things first, split to your partners and wow me with your acting skills” Fly announced as I looked at Brian and he shrugged. “Kat, you’re opening this whole thing, we’ve got a whole story line for you. Basically you will enter reading a book and then the thunder will cue and you’ll pretend that it is raining. You’ll try to hide from the rain and run into Brian who will offer you an umbrella. From there on, it’s up to you two what you’d like to do”

“Thanks” I said taking the prop Fly handed to me. I wasn’t sure I’d ever worked with an umbrella in a dance number before but we’d think of something.

“Do you have any ideas?” I asked Brian as he took the umbrella

“I bet I could get some good air with this thing” He said attempting to flip the open umbrella and almost stabbing me in the eye

“My poor eye has gone through enough trauma could we try to cut it some slack?” I asked with a pout as Brian laughed

“Wait I can get it!” He said in total kid mode. From there it was complete chaos. I had multiple bruises on my legs and arms and one on my side from umbrella related injuries and I felt so stupid trying to act out the love story with Brian that we ended up in complete hysterics (not unlike the Bigger fiasco) after about an hour of messing around. When would Fly learn that it was not good to let us figure things out on our own?

“Ok guys, let’s see what you’ve got” Fly yelled to cut through the chaos. The music started and I did my intro, getting laughed at by everyone in the room. When Brian came on he could barely sing for laughing so I stepped hard on his foot and instead of flipping the umbrella, he speared me with it and then it was an all out brawl between me and my book and him and his umbrella. Everyone was crying they were laughing so hard and it took Fly a while to get us back on track. We were finally able to execute all the solo bits and Fly excused us for lunch with the promise of payback when we started on the group dance in the afternoon.

“I get to eat lunch with my girlfriend” Aj grinned as he walked me to my usual corner where I changed into flip flops. I had to grin goofily back at him. Hearing him call me his girlfriend made my heart swell.

“Hey, there will be no running off to stare longingly at each other you crazy kids. You’re eating with everyone today” Mollee said and I rolled my eyes at her before taking Aj’s hand to follow her to the table where everyone was diving into their food. Once everyone was eating happily I turned to Aj.

“So what does tonight have in store?” I asked as he smirked secretively

“It’s a surprise” He said and I groaned

“The anticipation is killing me! Can I have a hint?” I asked eagerly

“Nope”

“I’ll pay you for it” I said seductively as I slid his hand, which had been resting on my knee, up towards my inner thigh

“That’s cheating” He said quickly sweeping the table with his gaze to be sure we weren’t being watched

“Well I really want a hint” I said simply while inching his hand up a little higher

“You know I’m putty in your hands right? You know every move you make drives me crazy?” He whispered in my ear in that sexy husky voice I was growing to adore

“And yet I can’t convince you to let me in on a teeny tiny surprise?” I asked innocently

“Well…” He started and then Nick walloped me in the ear with a tomato. I turned to glare at him and found everyone laughing at us. I squished the tomato in my hand and smeared it on his cheek before he knew what was happening and then I got up and ran towards the water

“You better run!” He yelled from behind me as I darted behind the rehearsal studio, scaled a dumpster and sat on the lip of the roof. It wasn’t very high up and I’d always been a good climber

“Jesus” Nick said in shock as he saw me laughing at him from the top of the rehearsal studio. I climbed over the peak of the roof and let everyone see how I’d outsmarted Nick. Ok, so I was proud.

“Katrina Rose you get down here right now before you break an ankle and I have to send you home!” Mollee yelled as I rolled my eyes

“Molls I’m fine. You know I climb like this all the time” I argued but carefully slid down all the same into the Aj’s waiting arms.

“I caught a break” He said mischievously as he realized he’d gotten away with not giving up his secret. I pouted and he carried me into the studio where Fly was setting up for the rest of All of your life. Nick followed in behind us and I pointed to him and then slid my finger across my throat. He stuck his tongue out at me and I giggled a little as I saw he still had some tomato in his hair. That afternoon went by quickly. The guys had more dancing than us to learn and it was odd having to stand there and react while they busted some serious dance moves during the second chorus. The actual dance break wasn’t so much difficult as it was specific but Fly kept us moving at such a fast pace that we all were ready to go by the time he let us out.

“Want to watch a movie tonight?” Mollee asked walking with me towards the door. I slid my gaze guiltily to the floor

“Well actually Aj planned a surprise for me…” I trailed off as Mollee sighed

“Fine” She said stiffly and I caught her elbow

“Tomorrow we’ll have sister time, I promise” I said as she shrugged “I promise Molls”

“Alright, I just miss you” She said as I hugged her tightly

“Why don’t you do something with Nick?” I asked

“Because my life doesn’t revolve around the guy I’m dating” Mollee said harshly

“Boyfriend” I corrected her

“You rang” Aj said showing up at my side as Mollee walked away. I felt bad but I figured I’d make it up to her. Now that Aj was here I was completely consumed with curiosity again

“Do I get the usual hour to get ready for this date?” I asked Aj coyly as he grinned

“If you need the full hour you can have it. But don’t get dressed up. You just want something to mess around in and a sweater” He said with excitement prominent on his face

“Why on Earth would I need a sweater?” I asked as he shrugged

“Just bring one. See you soon” He said kissing my forehead and rushing off to his bus. By the time I got on our bus the shower was already occupied so I sat in the couches by the kitchen and cornered Mollee.

“I’m sorry Molls. I’ve been a bit obsessed. Please forgive me” I said with an exaggerated pout as she smiled a little “I promise that tomorrow is ours, just ours. No boys”

“You promise?” She asked as I stuck out my pinky

“Pinky swear” I said and she linked pinkies with mine before we each kissed our thumbs. “Ok now you owe me details”

“Details about what?” She asked innocently

“Don’t play that game. Last night. What happened? And if you just say smooches I’ll kill you”

“He’s a great kisser” She said coyly

“And?”

“And I like him”

“And?”

“And we talked about everything” She gushed finally opening up to me. I leaned in with my elbows on my knees, eager to share in my sister’s joy “He has a huge family and they are really close even though he’s on tour a lot and they are mostly all in the entertainment industry. I told him about mom and dad and he told me about life on the road as a Backstreet Boy. It was like, once we leveled the playing field by being immature and having that water fight, he opened up and was willing to really be with me. It was nice. We discovered that we are on the same wavelength”

“Well you’re a little intimidating. It must have been nice for him to find out that you’re essentially a three year old” She shot me a look so I amended “A hot three year old”

“Well it is a nice change from the guys I see that try to impress me by being macho. The best thing he could have done was to be a kid. And he was. And he didn’t even have to try because it’s just how he is. Oh, I told him about you too, I hope that’s ok” She said quickly catching my eye to watch for color changes I’m sure

“It’s fine. I like him. He can know. What else did you say about me?” I asked probingly as Mollee giggled

“We talked about you and Aj, voiced our opinions” She said elusively and I groaned

“Come on Molls. What did he say?”

“Well I told him that since your event with asshole that you’ve had trouble being close with guys. I told him how nice it was to see you fitting in so well here but also specifically clicking with Aj. He really seems to care about you. Nick told me that Aj had been kind of turned off to actual relationships since his breakdown. He’s had a slew of girls around but none he was willing to commit to. To see him committing so strongly and readily is impressive according to Nick. He’s happy for the two of you” Mollee said and I smiled. It was nice to hear that Nick and Mollee were supportive of this intense thing Aj and I had. On the other hand I made a mental note to get some more relationship details from Aj about his past when we were alone tonight.

“He’s been with a slew of girls? What’s a slew of girls?” I asked nervously as Mollee shrugged

“He has that bad boy reputation for a reason” She said as Sophie came out of the shower and I leapt up

“Dibs!” I called as Mollee wrestled me to the door but I managed to sneak past her in the end and lock the door behind me. I took a quick shower, focusing on the hot water and the smell of the shampoo so I wouldn’t dwell on all these girls Aj was known for. I guess I knew that he was experienced but it still bugged me that I didn’t know how many and how recently these conquests had been. I got out of the shower and conned Mollee into braiding my hair into French braid pigtails and then threw a beanie on over it, hoping to please Aj with my accessorizing. I put on some black jeans with my black sparkly ballet style shoes and a grey shirt that cut low and had silvery sequins around the collar and down the V-neck. Mollee did my makeup in light silvers and ice blues and I grabbed my baby blue velvet zip up sweater.

“Presentable?” I asked Mollee as she eyed over her work on my face

“Hot” She said confidently as I gave her a quick hug and swung the door open to find Aj leaning against the bus

“Anxious?” I asked startling him out of his reverie. He looked me up and down and smiled in that mischievous way that I loved so much.

“I’m just waiting for you. Very patiently of course” He said taking my hand to help me down the stairs

“Of course” I joked

“Have fun, you crazy kids. Take care of my girl Aj” Mollee yelled as he nodded and led me to his car. He ran around the side to open my door for me but stopped me before I could get in.

“For you” He said holding out a black bandana

“What am I supposed to do with it?” I asked as he laughed

“It’s a blind fold. I want you to be surprised” He said and I rolled my eyes

“Why will it matter if I see where we are going, it’s not like I know Florida at all” I protested allowing him to spin me around all the same and tie the bandanna around my head

“How many fingers do you see?” He asked once it was secured

“I don’t know it’s too dark to tell” I joked and I heard him giggle. I went to get in the car but being fairly clumsy to begin with and taking away the use of my eyes left me with very little chance of making a graceful entrance into the compact Audi. I bent down and attempted to shift my weight to where I thought the seat would be but I underestimated and ended up on the ground pouting while Aj laughed his ass off.

“Oh stop it, you’re adorable, let me help” Aj said as I shrugged away from his attempts at lifting me up from the ground

“My pride hurts” I said with a hint of a smile before Aj finally wrestled me into his arms. Once there I cuddled into his chest and he sighed

“Well it’s very hard to let you go if you’re going to be all lovable” He said and I grinned. He kissed me on the lips very lightly and carefully folded me into the seat, buckling me in once I was settled. I heard him close my door and then felt him get in on the driver’s side. He turned on the ignition and I arched a blindfolded eyebrow as his solo CD came on through the speakers

“You were listening to yourself?” I asked with a smirk

“Sometimes you have to remind yourself where you’ve come from when you are contemplating where to go. I’m writing some new songs and I wanted to remember the reasons for making the old album as they are so opposite from the reasons I want to write now” He explained

“As I recall your solo album didn’t show a whole lot of love towards those of us on the double X side of things” I said as I heard him sigh “I really wish I could see your eyes”

“Too bad” He joked taking my hand. “Yeah, I was dealing with a lot of stuff from a lot of girls who weren’t worth my time”

“A lot of girls huh?” I asked in what I hoped was a joking tone as my heart sank. It seems that Nick had not been far off in his estimations with Mollee last night

“No one who could hold a candle to you precious” He said. Somehow that didn’t make me feel any better.

“Obviously” I tried to joke and failed miserably

“Oh stop it. Like you haven’t had boys crawling all over you your whole life” He said without doubt. I was suddenly very happy for the blindfold because it hid the truth in my eyes that escaped through my half hearted laugh

“Constantly” I said in what I hoped was a confident and off-hand tone

“You’re thinking awfully hard about something that has no bearing on us at all. Any girl who can show me the time you showed me last night is a girl I’d love to be with” Aj reassured me but I was still stuck on the whole numbers game

“So, offhand, how many girls do you think you’ve slept with in the past say… year” I said in a poorly concocted casual tone

“Oh I don’t know Kat” He said uncomfortably

“Ok. The past month” I said reasonably. He paused and then gave in.

“Five” He said as I cringed “But not one whose name I can remember”

“That’s nice” I said trying to disguise my horror

“Some girl a few months ago really tore me up and I went on a bit of a binge. I was with a new girl every weekend but honey, none of them meant anything to me” Aj said squeezing my hand before pulling the car to a stop “We’re here. Do you still want your surprise?”

“Of course” I said eager to continue to pretend I was not upset by the new news of Aj’s exploits

“Ok, let me help you out so you don’t fall again” He said through a laugh

“Hardy har har” I said sarcastically while he ran around to open my door for me and help me out. He walked me slowly into a building and I felt a blast of cold air “Where are we?”

“Guess” He said eagerly

“Oh I don’t know, Santa’s workshop. Maybe we’ve found the North Pole. No! We’re somewhere with penguins. Come on Aj!” I said impatiently as he laughed

“Ok, Ok, you can look” He said from behind me while untying the bandanna. I was standing in front of a large hockey rink that was completely empty besides Aj and me. The ice shone as only a newly surfaced rink can and I couldn’t stop the grin from spreading across my face from one ear to the other. “I thought it might remind you of home”

“Oh Aj this is wonderful!” I said excitedly running to the bench nearby where there were two pairs of skates. I quickly began lacing up the smaller of the two as Aj laughed and sat next to me

“Happy?” He asked quietly as I looked up at him with my eyes shining

“You tell me” I said opening my eyes wide so he could see their color

“Oh yeah” He said with a grin as I wrapped my arms around him. He kissed me and the will to skate fought hard with my will to show Aj just how much more I could offer than all those other girls but in the end the ice was too familiar and too wonderful to turn down.

“I want more of that later. Right now I want to skate!” I said pulling back and racing onto the ice. I did a lap at top speed, really enjoying the smooth, untouched ice and the sound it made when it hit my sharpened skates. I stopped hard at the far end sending a small wave of ice shavings towards the boards and then sprinted back to where Aj was just getting on the ice. I skated a few circles around him and watched him try to get his balance. “So the Florida boy is not a great skater?”

“I figured you’d like to skate not that you were a professional” He said as he wobbled over to the boards nearest him to steady himself. I giggled and moved in front of him so I could skate slowly backwards while he duck-walked along the boards.

“I’ll help you. Come on take my hands” I said offering my hands

“This is embarrassing” He said considering my outstretched arms

“Well so is knowing that you’re being compared to upwards of twenty girls when you’re in bed with your boyfriend” I said causing his mouth to drop. It was just the pause I needed to take hold of his hands and force him to accept my help. I skated slowly, emphasizing the glide, getting him into a rhythm of skating.

“I hope you aren’t serious” He said realizing my trick and trying to focus on not falling and addressing my issue at the same time

“Oh, only a little, mostly I just wanted to get you to let me help you” I said forcing his rhythm to echo mine. He was gliding a little and I smiled cheekily at him

“If you weren’t so cute when you’re proud then I might be a little miffed about this” Aj said with a smirk. At that he hit a groove in the ice and fell, taking me down with him and landing on top of me. His face was inches from mine and what started as embarrassment turned to something else entirely as I felt his breath play on my lips.

“Can’t keep your hands off me for even a minute, huh?” I whispered to him as he grinned

“I’ve tried to be good but you’re so sexy” He whispered back and I kissed him hard. Making out on the ice was not the most comfortable thing so sooner than we would have liked we had to come up for air and change our positions. Aj was getting the hang of skating so I skated away a little, only to feel him wrap his arms around me from behind “I have a secret”

“Really” I asked as a chill ran through me at his whisper in my ear

“I think I may be in love with you” He whispered and I froze. Love. Love is a good thing. Yet the last time I had a guy tell me he loved me it was only to manipulate me. The word wasn’t so positive in my mind anymore and Aj felt me stiffen in his arms “Where’d you go precious? It’s me. I’m right here. I’m yours”

“Sorry” I whispered as those stupid tears clouded my vision. Why did my body have to betray me at all the most important times?

“Not the answer you hope for when you tell a girl you love her but I’ll take it” Aj joked slowly pulling me to a stop and cornering me against the boards so I had to look into his deep chocolate eyes. He slowly swept his finger under my eye and caught a tear that had been threatening to roll down my cheek “You’re so breakable, I always forget. I’m sorry I sprung that on you”

“Minefield, remember?” I said with a sad smile

“Worth it” He said kissing me on the cheek. “Come on, show me your moves. I want to see how fast you can fly”

“Are you sure?” I asked hoping I hadn’t hurt his feelings but knowing I must have

“Definitely. Come on, I’ll time you” He said pulling out his phone and getting it into a timer mode. We skated for what must have been about four hours. I’m sure Aj would have stopped sooner but I was having too much fun at something that had all the wonderful connotations of my carefree youth to even think of stopping. Finally he insisted that he would be unable to dance tomorrow as the skates were digging into his heals so I conceded and let him lead me off of the ice.

“Can we do this again? I missed skating” I asked as we sat on a small bench and changed into our shoes

“How can I say no to something that brings you such joy? That’s the best color blue, that one you have right now. I will do anything that keeps that blue right there” He said eliciting my blush. We walked out to the car, joking and enjoying each other’s company and without a blindfold the ride home seemed like nothing. He pulled up to his bus and parked and then pulled my hand to his lips.

“I want to stay with you tonight” I said longingly as he brushed his lips to my wrist “Why is it that the more time I spend with you the less time I feel we have?”

“I get that feeling too. Why can’t you stay?”

“Mollee is antsy about us spending so much time together. I promised her sister time tomorrow by the way” I said causing him to pout

“Last time I let you have sister time you came back to me in less than perfect condition. It’s not a great incentive to allow it to happen again” Aj said protectively and I grinned

“I promise I can handle myself with my sister” I joked

“Well if she gets tomorrow then I certainly get tonight” Aj said as if that settled the matter. I looked at my phone, dreading the call I was going to have to make but then I met Aj’s eyes and I melted. There was no way I was spending the night anywhere but in his arms

“You win. It was hardly a fight but you won it. I’ll meet you in there, let me call her” I said and he pulled me into a short kiss before walking to his bus. I watched the door shut and pushed one on speed dial.

“Do you need me to bring you clothes?” She answered coldly

“I’ll come get them” I said as she sighed

“No, I got it. As long as you still promise that tomorrow I get you all to myself” She said

“When have I ever broken a promise to you?” I asked with indignation

“In the fourth grade you promised you would trade your snowboard for my skis because I liked to snowboard better but you never did”

“Well that was a stupid trade. Snowboarding is way cooler” I reasoned as she laughed

“Still a broken promise” She joked and I sighed

“Well this won’t be another one to add to that list” I said

“Alright, I trust you. Clothes will be on the front steps by the time you wake up. Be safe and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do” She recited

“So I can do anything?”

“Hey, I can leave you stranded tomorrow without clothes and force you to take a very public walk of shame. Be nice to me” She said

“Well that’s a compelling argument. Love you best sister of mine” I gushed

“I’m your only sister”

“Still my best” I said

“Love you” She said and I hung up the phone. I made my way into Aj’s bus and he wrapped his arms around me and pulled me lightly onto the couch so I was sitting with my legs on either side of him

“Are we in the clear?” He whispered conspiratorially causing me to laugh

“Yes, I’m yours” I said as he placed his hand in the safe spot on the back of my head and met my lips halfway into a kiss. We were making out passionately when Aj hiked me up onto this hip and brought me into his bedroom, kicking the door shut all without breaking the kiss. I pulled back a little as he lowered me lightly on the bed “Impressive”

“Oh I have not even begun to impress you” He said seductively as I bit my lip and he eased my shirt off, taking in my black lacey bra “Were you expecting someone to see this?”

“You never know when someone will come by and rip off your shirt” I joked as he ran his hand lightly across the top of my cleavage

“And here I was thinking that I was special” He said before I caught him in a kiss and he quickly removed my showy bra. He moved his lips to the sensitive spot on my neck causing my breath to catch in my throat as his hands worked on the newly available territory. I removed his shirt hastily, eager to feel his flesh on mine and as I pressed my bare chest to his, an electric current ran through us simultaneously and we both groaned in unison.

“I need to be a responsible adult” I panted pulling away a little to clear my head

“That’s highly over rated” He said moving to the zipper of my pants

“Aj…” I warned as he sighed and kissed my stomach

“This is just cruel and unusual punishment” He said with a pout and I rolled off of him

“Please don’t make me feel bad about this” I started but was stopped by the horrified look on his face

“I was kidding, I swear. I’d never force you. I’d never push you past what you were ready for. I’m happy for any piece of you I get. Even if I could never touch you I’d be thankful just to look at you” Aj said hurriedly as I smiled

“Ok, enough. It was my mistake. I’m used to assuming the worst from guys. I have to learn that some are willing to wait” I said enjoying the fact that I could stop the flow of his embarrassing compliments.

“I’d wait forever for you” Aj said sweetly and my heart melted while I let him maneuver me into a spoon position with him holding me from behind. He began to stroke my back and I closed my eyes in pleasure before I remembered something.

“Aj” I said quietly into the darkness

“Hm?”

“What happened? When that girl hurt you?” I asked slowly

“Ah” He said and I felt him begin to withdraw. I rolled over quickly and took his face in my hands

“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. You just know my big dark past, I figured if you were ready, I could know some of yours” I said cautiously while searching his eyes in the semi darkness.

“Well if you put it rationally” He said with a small smile that was irresistible. I kissed him lightly and he sighed.

“I’d never force you either” I said inches from his lips

“It was just some stupid girl” he started and I froze not wanting to do anything that might make him regret his decision to open up to me “She was a porn star”

“There goes my confidence” fell out of my mouth before I could stop it and I clamped my lips shut cursing myself inwardly

“Yeah, well it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, dating porn stars. I fell hard for her and she just wanted a little taste of fame. I wasn’t perfect back then. I was trying to stay sober but I had just gotten out of rehab for the second time and I was struggling. She didn’t help. She was unable to just be with me, she always wanted me to be wild and party. As I’m sure you know that’s what I’m known for but it is also something that has been very destructive for me. I’m much more balanced now but then any club atmosphere could send me over the edge and she kept pushing me. After a while I found out that she was trying to get me to drink and then calling in news rags like TMZ to film me drunk so she could appear in top headlines like ‘Aj McLean looses battle with sobriety as horrified girlfriend cries.’ But by that time I was hooked on her. I know now that I had traded in my addiction to drugs for my addiction to her. She had complete control and she used it. She convinced me to do all sorts of things that I didn’t want to. She didn’t want me to publish my solo album for whatever reason so I held onto it for a while before anyone could do anything with it. She started cutting down my communication with the guys. I even proposed to her. It took me a while to get a handle on the fact that she was dragging me down. Then I found out that she was cheating on me as well. It all sounds so lame in comparison to what you went through but it really confused me about what love is and who is deserving of it” He paused and I jumped on it

“Aj just because you haven’t been through what I have doesn’t mean that your past isn’t just as terrible. She sounds very manipulative. It sounds like she really tore up your heart” I said as he hugged me tightly

“For a while I wasn’t sure I was capable of love so I started trying to find it through sex. I just wanted to convince myself that it was something I could do. Of course that attracted more of the wrong kind of people. The count kept rising and it made me feel awful about myself. It made me feel like God had decided that I was not worthy of love because I had been so awful in my addictions. I don’t know…” He trailed off. My heart throbbed painfully for him.

“But you know now that you do deserve love. You deserve everything. You are amazing” I said and he smiled

“I wasn’t always so sure but with you here in my arms I seem to be getting that” He said and I kissed him on the nose

“Any time you need to be reminded, you let me know” I said feeling a little better now that I understood what was going on with all these girls he had been with.

“I meant it when I said I loved you” He whispered as I blushed into the darkness

“I think I may love you too” I whispered back

“Now that’s the kind of answer a guy can get excited about” He said sweetly and I settled into his arms and drifted to sleep.
Chapter 8 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 8

I woke up and curled up closer to Aj. I nuzzled his neck until he woke up and acknowledged me with a sleepy eye

“Entertain me!” I commanded as he chuckled

“It’s so early. You’re crazy” He said with a yawn while grabbing his phone to check the time “We have another hour to sleep”

“Or we could use that hour to shower” I offered as he squinted at me

“Before we dance? Doesn’t that seem a little counterintuitive?” He asked and I grinned a little at his slow morning mind

“I wasn’t so worried about being clean as maybe being dirty…” I said innocently as he caught on and smirked

“You are perfect for me, you know that?” He said kissing me on the lips. I pulled back a tiny bit and inched him off of the bed and into the bathroom. I took off the boxers I was wearing that were Aj’s which left me in a wife beater with my black bra (both of which I had pulled on in the middle of the night when I woke up cold) and a matching pair of black underwear. He stripped to his boxers and turned on the water. I stepped in and watched Aj’s face as the white wife beater turned see-through. “God you’re amazingly sexy”

“Come join me” I said seductively as he climbed in. Naturally the hour was spent with much making out in the water. We took turns soaping each other down over our underwear which was quite entertaining but finally we had to succumb to the clock. I stripped secretly in the corner and threw a towel around me before going to the steps of the bus and seeing my dance bag packed for me. The note on top made me roll my eyes even though no one was around to see it. It said “tonight you’re mine”

“What are we going to do about that?” Aj asked reading the note over my shoulder. I shrugged.

“I figure I’ll just sneak over here once she’s done with whatever she wants to do” I said with a grin “I don’t think I can sleep without you next to me anymore anyway”

“At least it’s not just me then” He said with relief as I gave him a peck on the cheek and then shut myself in his room to get changed. I changed into a long sleeved white and black varsity style shirt and some tight black dance shorts. Then I put on some knee high socks that were black with white stripes on the top and placed a netted old school style baseball hat sideways over my braids which had stayed pretty much intact through the night. Mollee sure knew how to dress me. I forced my flip flops on over the socks and walked out to a grinning Aj. “Sometimes I’m not sure you can get any more adorable and then you walk out in an outfit like that”

“Thank Mollee, she picked it out” I said giving him a kiss on the cheek and taking his hand so we could walk together to rehearsal. As we got closer to the studio I saw a familiar brunette walking out the door and I dropped Aj’s hand to rush to meet him. “Hey! Josh!”

“Kat! Hi! I was looking for you” He said as I smiled a little. He discreetly gave me a head to toe sweep and I watched the appreciation register in his face. I have to let Mollee dress me more often “You look cute”

“Thanks! What did you want?” I asked as Aj caught up with us

“I was looking to see if you might be dancing this morning. I wanted to bring you this. You probably already have it but I figured if you were here and dancing that maybe you could dance to this and I could watch…” He trailed off nervously as I took the burned CD from him.

“Midsummer! Oh I love this ballet!” I said glancing up at his excited expression

“Yeah, it’s Mendelssohn and it was choreographed in the 60s by-” He started but I cut him off

“Balanchine, I know! Gosh it’s one of my favorites. Thank you so much!” I gushed and I felt Aj’s hand on my back. I turned to him and saw some emotion flash across his face that was new to me but I brushed it aside and giggled “Sorry, Aj this is Josh, Josh this is Aj. I told you I met a roadie, right Aj? Well here he is!”

“Josh, at your service” Josh joked and Aj hardly cracked a smile

“Aj, her boyfriend” He said as I registered what emotion I had seen. It was jealousy. I hit him lightly and gave Josh a quick hug.

“We have to run but thank you so much! Are you free around 6? That’s when we get out and I could dance the bit that I know from this” I said as Aj cleared his throat

“Aren’t you spending time with Mollee tonight?” He said and I sighed

“Well she can wait a bit so Josh can see me enjoy his present. She won’t mind. Are you free?” I asked again as Aj sent out as many unfriendly vibes as he could.

“I am. Meet you here at six?” He asked. Either he was completely unfazed by Aj or unwilling to show it but he acted as if Aj wasn’t standing protectively next to me with his hand pressing harder and harder down on my shoulder.

“See you then!” I said excitedly before dragging Aj into the studio and then turning to him when we were alone “That was not very attractive”

“Well he likes you. It’s obvious. He should know where you stand. Where do you stand anyway?” He asked as I rolled my eyes

“You are ridiculous. I stand right here, next to you” I said and he looked away. Suddenly I remembered the portion of our conversation from last night where he confessed his ex had cheated on him. My annoyance evaporated and I placed my hand lightly on his cheek to direct his gaze to my eyes. “I am yours and only yours. I just met Josh-”

“You just met me” Aj scowled

“Well he’s fun because he knows a lot about ballet and music. That’s all. He fits that little niche in my life. You fit a much bigger niche. It’s more of a hole than a niche. It’s like a sink hole, getting bigger all the time.” I explained and he laughed a little

“Good analogy. I’m the sink hole of your life” He said but smiled all the same “I’m sorry”

“We’ve all got past, right?” I repeated his words back to him and he kissed my head. We walked over to my corner and I kicked off my flip flops, figuring I’d dance in the socks today.

“Have fun last night?” Mollee asked putting her stuff next to mine

“I sure did. Thanks for making me look so cute, I’m getting compliments left and right” I said squeezing her in a hug. “Oh and do you want to ballet with me after rehearsal?”

“Why?” She asked. Ballet was never her favorite thing.

“Josh, that roadie I met, gave me a copy of midsummer and I promised I’d show him what I remembered before we spend our night together” I said hoping she wouldn’t be mad

“Oh. Well I’ll let you dance for him then. Just come straight to me when you’re done. No stopping off with him” She said pointing at Aj who pouted at her and she laughed “It’s not that you’re so bad, I just miss her”

“I can share” He said innocently causing me to laugh

“Sure you can” I said sarcastically. Fly bounded in and I ran to Brian’s side, skidding in my socks so he had to catch me before I fell over

“SAFE!” He said like an umpire as I giggled at him “Cute outfit”

“Thanks” I grinned

“Alright everyone today we will finish up the rest of the choreography that includes both the guys and the dancers, God willing. Then we’ll have a few days of review and then the schedule will change a bit. But for now let’s get ready for Bye Bye Love” Fly said as we cheered

“I can’t believe we almost know everything!” I said excitedly as Brian sighed

“You know almost everything. We have another half a show to learn. I’m so tired!” He exclaimed leaning all his weight on me which I staggered under

“Bri!” I warned as he almost squished me. He pulled himself back up to a standing position. Bye Bye Love was an adorable dance. We were only in the first half but it had lots of cute little moves and involved Brian, Nick, Mollee, and I all up front together acting the verses for the most part. We had a blast and Fly dismissed the dancers for an early lunch while he taught the guys their part for the end. I took Mollee’s hand and grabbed a bagel before sitting with the other girls.

“So tell me about this Josh” She said as she took a bite of her sandwich

“He’s a roadie, he’s adorable and he knows all about ballet” I said as she smirked

“Aj doesn’t like him, huh?” She asked

“Why do you say that?”

“He’s a guy. That you like. That knows about stuff he doesn’t and that you want to spend time with. Just a hunch” She said as I frowned at my bagel

“Is that bad?” I asked and she threw her arm around me

“Little sis there is much you still need to know about men” She said as I ducked out from under her arm. I hated when she lorded her age and supposed experience over me.

“Aj doesn’t care that I’m close with Brian” I said as she sighed superiorly and I fought the urge to smack her

“Brian is married”

“Nick then”

“Nick is dating your sister. They are both non-threatening. This is an unknown force. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be friends with Josh, quite the contrary, I think it’s good for you to have other people in your life. I’m just saying that it may take Aj a while to get used to it. And they probably won’t be best friends” She advised as I took a bite of my bagel

“Boys are stupid” I said and she laughed

“Damn straight” She agreed. The guys joined us for a little bit of lunch and Aj was normal considering how tense he had been in the morning. The fact that Josh wasn’t with us probably helped. We walked back in to the studio to learn Straight through my heart and Fly looked us all up and down before he started talking

“Ok so this dance has some acting in it” Fly started

“Let’s hope it’s not Kat again” Nick snickered and I threw my gum wrapper at him

“But we need to get through it today so I need you all to try and hold it together” Fly said as we all looked at each other and started giggling. This was going to be challenging. “Ok, I just need the girls first” Fly said as we stood up. The basic gist was that we were criminals stealing various things and the boys would come in as the police. Our dance acting started to the 007 theme which was fun and Mollee and I got to be featured in front. When it broke down into a hip hop segment we all had a blast, really able to show off our own moves without toning it down for the boys. They were great singers and everything but we were happy to stretch our dancing muscles and really show off. I could tell Aj was impressed with my moves and I had a blast dancing just for him. Then I got to stay on stage a bit longer and fake fight with Brian until Nick came on. Then the guys learned their segment without us and Aj sang straight to me as usual which had me feeling all kinds of good. Overall it was a good rehearsal which actually wasn’t too dance heavy for us so I was totally ready when six came and I was strapping on my point shoes.

“Can I watch too?” Aj asked shyly as I warmed up my ankles

“That depends. Are you going to be nice?” I asked as he sighed

“I guess I’ll have to be” He said with a pout. I stood up on point and was about level with him so I kissed him lightly.

“I love you” I said which made him grin from ear to ear

“Love you too” He said as I heard the door shut behind me. I turned to see Josh come in awkwardly and I had to laugh. He had worse timing than I did!

“Are you ready to see some sick ballet?” I asked as he smiled

“Always” He said pulling a seat over near where Aj was sitting but still a good five feet away from him. Boys are impossible. The music started and it took me a while to cue it to a portion that I knew some choreography to but I got there eventually. It felt good to be doing some more serious ballet and I relished in each extension as my body stretched and all the stress I had flowed out. I could feel the tension emanating from the boys but once I got really into what I was doing the world disappeared. I went into a turn sequence and couldn’t hide my grin as I landed the end pose perfectly and looked up at the two guys who had forgotten to hate each other in the presence of the ballet. Dance has such power sometimes.

“That’s all I know off hand. I’m sure I could learn some more or come up with something. I mean it would be no Balanchine…” I trailed off as Josh stood up and gave me a quick hug.

“It was beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing it. I’ll let you get back to your sister” He said shyly. I nodded and he headed out. Then Aj’s arms were around me and I giggled as he planted kisses all down my neck.

“You’re a really beautiful dancer” He said once he was able to meet my eyes.

“Thanks babe” I said sitting to change out of my shoes

“Do you hate that I can’t talk ballet with you? That I don’t know who composed that music or what on Earth you mean by Balanchine?” He asked with concern in his eyes. I smiled and reminded myself to be patient

“Does it bother you that I can’t carry a tune and don’t know the difference between your harmony and Howie’s?” I asked hoping to make a point

“Ok. I’m sorry. I’ll settle down” He said as I took his hand and we walked together over to the bus

“It’s ok, I understand. It’s kind of cute that you’re so worried that any guy could take me from you”

“It is a little ridiculous, huh?” He asked as we approached the bus

“A little” I said leaning in for a kiss. As always we were broken apart by my lovely sister clearing her throat.

“Say goodnight, you’re coming with me!” She said as I smirked

“Goodnight my love” I whispered

“Sweet dreams” He said turning and reluctantly walking away.

“What are we doing tonight?” I asked as Mollee all but dragged me to the front lounge

“Having sister time. I want to make shirts!” She said giddily as I laughed. Mollee and I had been to every dance studio imaginable and most of the time the studios didn’t have enough money for proper costumes for each dance number so dancers got really good at creating sweet outfits that would match and look good on stage. Of course since we had moved to New York we hadn’t needed to make our own stuff but apparently Mollee was feeling nostalgic.

“You are crazy. Shall I drive to get some tie dye?” I asked as she nodded happily and threw me the keys which I caught in an amazing move of coordination. We hurried into the car and I turned on the ignition. Aj’s solo album blared out of the speakers causing Mollee to shoot me a look before turning it down “Hey it’s good music”

“You have no idea how to have a healthy relationship” She teased as we drove off the lot.

“Well you’re dating a coworker. That’s not healthy” I retorted defensively

“So are you!” She shot back

“Not the one I’m with all day. I hardly see Aj in rehearsal” I explained as Mollee, in a perfect imitation of me, rolled her eyes

“The only reason you’re not dating the one you’re dancing with is because he’s married” Mollee said and I punched her in the arm

“Don’t be mean to me” I pouted and she punched me back causing me to swerve a little in the road “And don’t make me crash this car”

“I’m sorry. I just think you and Aj could stand to slow things down a bit” Mollee said and I shot her a look “Hey, I like him and everything. He treats you well but you two are just so intense. It’s a little scary for me to watch”

“I understand your concern and I feel it sometimes too but when I’m with him it’s just like everything is right. I know who I am. I’m not so nervous. Besides you he’s the one person who knows everything about my past and still loves me enough to deal with it” I said staring determinedly at the road

“I know you have trouble making friends of any kind and I know I’ll never understand what that’s like” She conceded which made me sit up and pay attention “I just saw you get in over your head with a guy before and I don’t want something like that to happen again”

“Aj is nothing like Rich” I said sternly and Mollee fell silent for a minute

“Kat” She said cautiously, obviously trying to word something difficult “I don’t think Aj would ever do what Rich did. But if you let yourself get absorbed by someone again you open yourself up for the possibility. They say that victims of these kinds of things often search out similar situations in an effort to cope-”

“You’ve been reading too many psychiatry books” I said impatiently “I’m not searching out anything. I wasn’t searching when I found Aj. He was just there. What we have is completely unexplainable”

“Ok. Just be on guard please. Hang out with the other guys a bit. Maybe eat lunch with Sophie.”

“I am capable of making friends. I found Josh” I said as she smiled

“You sure did. And how hot is he?!” Mollee sighed as I grinned

“He certainly has something” I said as we pulled into the store. We got some supplies for tie dye and some fabric markers and drove back without too much more conversation of my relationship with Aj. When we got back to the bus we forced Sophie and Camie to join us and we had a blast making a mess behind the bus on the pavement. Mollee and Camie were still quite cold to each other but she was warming up a little to me. Sophie worked as a great buffer and was sweet as always. We had the girls’ night we had wanted a few nights ago without incident and when I went to bed Mollee looked pleased with my ability to have fun without Aj around. I laid in my bunk and looked at my phone, fully intending to text Aj that as soon as the coast was clear that I’d be sneaking out to see him but then I began to think about Mollee’s concerns. Maybe it would be good for me not to spend the night over there. Just to prove that I could. I sent him a text saying that Mollee was holding me hostage and he sent back his disappointment with an invitation to bring Mollee to a press junction that the guys had tomorrow morning. Seeing the publicity side of things sounded exciting so I agreed and fell asleep happily anticipating the next day.

“Molls! Wake up!” I shook Mollee early the next morning and she groaned and rolled over

“No. No rehearsal this morning. I sleep” She said groggily

“Want to come out with the guys and watch some interviews? It could be fun!” I said as she opened one eye and surveyed me cautiously “Nick will be there”

“I don’t make my decisions based on the presence or lack thereof of one Nick Carter” She said pointedly but grinned all the same and hopped out of her bunk with newfound energy. I had to laugh at her.
“We’ve got 15 minutes to meet by Nick’s bus and they’ll drive us to the hotel where all this is happening” I said eagerly as Mollee nodded
“Why are you so in the know about this?” She asked standing in the clothes room as we both tried to figure out what to wear
“Aj texted me last night” I said and Mollee sighed “Hey! I stayed and slept here alone when I could have snuck out! We only texted a bit”
“Ok I guess that’s a start” She said as I frowned at her stubbornness. You would think I was just some irresponsible love sick teenager. I buried my frustration when Mollee suggested that we try to match and that we wear the shirts we made yesterday. We both dressed in jeans and boots and then pulled on the matching dance shirts we had made. We had cut open the huge shirts they had given us and then weaved suede chord through the sides so it gave a provocative view of our silhouettes. Mine was white and blue tie dye with black wording and hers was white and pink tie dye with black wording but they both said the same thing. “Do what you love. Dance” We took turns braiding each other’s hair into pig tails and put on matching baseball hats. We ran out, a little late for Aj’s rendezvous time and we rushed into the van that would take everyone to the hotel.

“Kat! You’re coming!” Brian said happily as I got in and slid next to Aj in the back seat. Mollee slid in next to me and Nick slid next to her. “And Mollee is here! This will be fun”

“We just can’t handle even a day apart from you guys” Mollee joked as she hugged Nick tightly.

“I missed you” Aj whispered to me as I looked into his eyes. They were alight with the excitement of the day and seeing me and it was all I could do to keep from jumping him right there. “This shirt is adorable”

“Thanks. We made it” Mollee butt in as I rolled my eyes.

“I’m glad you guys had fun” Aj said kissing my nose lightly causing me to smile like an idiot. Suddenly from the seat in front of us I felt Brian’s hand as he swiped my hat

“Hey!” I said trying to grab for it as he stuck it on his head

“How do I look?” He asked with a grin as I launched myself at him. In the battle for the hat a random elbow went off course and landed on Aj’s forearm.

“Oh I’m so sorry!” I said leaning back victorious with my hat on my head as I studied Aj’s wound. It was starting to bruise and I kissed it. “All better?”

“All better” He confirmed as I smiled. Finally we arrived at the hotel and were quickly herded inside so the guys could set up while Mollee and I pulled up chairs out of the camera’s view. The room seemed very crowded as people ran around adjusting the guys’ microphones and make up. A stylist worked hard on Brian’s hair to fix what we had wrecked in the back of the van and he stuck his tongue out at me from behind her back as I gloated that I was comfortable and not being prodded.

“Can you imagine all those people swarming you?” Mollee whispered to me as Nick threw her a helpless look when a sound guy tried to attach his microphone to his shirt all while a makeup lady was powdering his face

“Not at all” I said as everyone started to clear out to begin the first interview. It started off controlled enough, but like anything involving Brian, things quickly got out of hand. First Nick was asked a question about working as a solo artist and he started to answer truthfully and then he started talking about the beatings the media always gave the guys and out of nowhere Aj whipped out his arm and showed a huge bruise.

“Yeah it hurts, a lot” Aj said pointedly towards me “And it itches a lot”

“Butthead” I pouted as Aj stuck out his tongue at me. That was all Brian needed to begin to spin the interview out of control. Nick was fielding another question about group arguments and Aj and Brian started whipping their heads towards me and back to each other as Nick tried not to get distracted. I started giggling and Mollee had to cover my mouth with her hand. Then Nick got sick of being the mature one and started trying to throw Brian under the bus with every question. He insisted that Brian only liked to listen to Norah Jones and then his voice cracked as he started talking about the ups and downs in relationships and everyone lost it, clearing their throats to make fun of him. Nick brought it back down for a moment when he mentioned Brian and Howie had been lucky enough to find women to marry and implied that he and Aj were headed in a similar direction. Mollee and I blushed identically which caused everyone to crack up again. Brian and Nick started singing about holding coffee cups and harmonizing while Aj tried to talk and Howie tried to get them under control but only got sucked in when they started talking about who the unofficial leader of the group was.

“We’re a team. And there’s no ‘I’ in team” Nick said trying to bring it back to the topic

“There’s an e, a, and an m” Brian said as Nick sighed, his hopes for saving even a tiny portion of interview dashed

“If there was an I it would be Tim” Aj corrected as I groaned at his horrible pun and Brian high fived him

“That was a good one dude!” Brian said as everyone laughed. Finally the last question was asked about what to expect for the new tour and Howie got an evil glint in his eye.

“Well we are bringing dancers with us again” He started and I shook my head. If he thought he could get us on camera he was crazy

“We actually have some with us now” Brian said catching on as I shook my head more vigorously

“They even match!” Nick said and Mollee jumped up, eager to be in the spotlight but I put my head in my hands

“Sisters Kat and Mollee everyone” Aj introduced and Mollee pulled me in front of the camera and waved as I waved shyly from behind her

“We often force members of the tour to dress alike so we know they’re ours” Brian said as I pushed him lightly and he pretended he had been socked in the face. I crept out of the view of the camera and wrapped my knees up to my chin in embarrassment, vowing revenge. The rest of the interviews were similar to the first. Howie tried desperately to keep the other three on task but there was a lot of squirming and singing while other people were talking. All in all it was a real blast and while Howie kept trying to get Mollee and me on camera mostly we just provided a laugh track to the guys’ antics.

The day flew by and before we knew it we were in the van heading home as the sky darkened while the sun sank slowly beneath the horizon. Aj was holding me on his lap and I was resting my head on his chest, staring out the window to watch the sunset when I felt him press his lips sweetly to the top of my head. I tilted my head up and pouted, wordlessly demanding a kiss on the lips and he obliged. The world dropped away as it always did and I was sucked into Aj’s touch as we made out in the back of the van. The van must have stopped at some point because the next thing I knew Aj was laying me carefully down on the back seat while kissing me passionately. I wouldn’t have noticed if not for the effort required to keep balanced on the seat. Once I realized what was happening, I pulled back a little to survey the scene. It was almost entirely dark and no one was in the van with us. I squinted, trying to remember how we’d arrived in this position and Aj smirked

“You’re so cute when you’re puzzled. What’s wrong?” He asked smoothing the wrinkles that appeared at the bridge of my nose and between my eyes when I was confused.

“When exactly did everyone leave?” I asked

“I don’t know, I was distracted” He said attempting to kiss me again but I stopped him

“We have to stop losing time like this, it can’t be healthy or normal” I said as Mollee’s words from yesterday drifted into my consciousness

“Why are you so worried about normal?” Aj asked between planting sweet kisses on my neck. I moaned a little in a pleasure but reluctantly stopped him and sat up. Aj sighed knowing I wasn’t going to drop this and sat up as well facing me.

“Seriously, doesn’t it worry you that we are moving so fast and furious?” I asked with concern

“Honestly I’m not worried. I’ve never felt like this before and I just don’t want it to end. Sometimes I feel like our time is limited and that thought is more than I can bear. I’m not rushing you, am I?” He asked meeting my eyes

“No no, you are very good and staying in my comfort zone. What do you mean you feel like our time is limited?” I asked leaning my head into his chest as he wrapped his arms around me and pulled me to him

“I don’t know, I can’t explain it. You’re just so good for me, you have no idea, and maybe it’s my problem but I just feel like it can’t stay like this forever. That we have a timeline and I have to get all the good parts in before something terrible happens” Aj said sadly

“Aj” I sighed and maneuvered myself on top of him so I could straddle his lap and meet his eyes “No matter what I’ll always be here for you”

“I know. I’m just really good at messing things up” Aj confessed and I kissed him lightly on the lips

“Well I don’t know about all of that. But I do know that you are everything to me and that it is terrifying but also the best feeling in the world. I’m not alone in the world anymore. I have you” I said as a small smile came to his lips

“I know the feeling” Aj said sweetly pulling me into a tight hug “Are you allowed to stay with me tonight?”

“Absolutely” I said as he helped me out of the van and we walked in a comfortable silence towards his bus. I was about to go in when he stopped me

“You know I’ll be here for you too. Always, no matter what” He said seriously searching my eyes

“I know” I said before pulling him into my lips.
Chapter 9 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 9
The next two weeks were the best of my life. The schedule changed so the dancers only rehearsed with the guys in the morning and the afternoons were designated for press functions. I woke up to Aj’s smiling face, did the thing I loved most in the world in the mornings, had lunch with Aj, spent the afternoons lounging on the beach with the girls and met Aj when he returned at night for dinner and fell asleep in his arms. The intensity between Aj and I never faltered and though we had been officially dating for only about three weeks and known each other for only a little over a month, we were so connected that I felt like I’d been with him all my life. To appease Mollee I spent a lot of time with her and the dancers in the afternoons and tried desperately not to pine after Aj while he was gone but I couldn’t entirely hide how serious we were from her. The only time I managed to get Aj out of my head was the odd afternoon when Josh would have some time off and we’d go out around Tampa. He had grown up in the area so he knew all the cool places and we had a good time goofing around at the various skate parks, boardwalks, beaches and cafes. Aj was never thrilled when he came back from a press junction to find out that I had spent the afternoon with Josh but he was slowly getting better about it.
Nights were by far my favorite as Aj and I spent our time out on romantic dates and making out in his spacious bed. The physical side of our relationship was intense as well but I always stopped him before it went too far. Sex was something I was still very fragile about, especially since Rich. He had always used it as a weapon and no matter how hard I tried the minute we began to cross that line, I’d flashback. Aj seemed patient enough about it but I always felt guilty. I knew his reputation and the kinds of relationships he was used to. In a moment of thoughtlessness he admitted to me that he couldn’t remember the last time he’d gone this long without sex. It upset me more then I let on that I had to hold us back but I hoped that I could at least use all my other skills to keep him occupied. To that end we utilized everything else under the sun to fill our nights with the passion that we felt so strongly during the day.
Mollee was still concerned but she seemed to slowly accept the fact that this was just how Aj and I were and as time passed and he remained as true and wonderful to me as he was at the start, she warmed up to him. There were times when I’d catch them hanging out during rehearsal and it always warmed my heart to see them forming a relationship as well. Brian and I got closer as time wore on and we became partners in crime when it came to pranks and disrupting rehearsals. Nick and I had strengthened our relationship too and we were often found chatting in corners of the rehearsal studio about anything and everything. For someone who had had almost no formal education he was so inquisitive and we became known for our intense theoretical conversations about life, love, and everything in between. Howie was my rock as this world got crazier and crazier. I don’t know how he did it but any time I became overwhelmed, he was there with an arm over my shoulder, grounding me and reminding me who I was. He was a deep soul and I loved how he focused me.
It wasn’t long before we were wrapping up the last week of rehearsals and preparing to move onto the stage. In honor of a really great rehearsal and the arrival of Leighanne and Leigh, the guys had planned to go out clubbing. We had rehearsal the next day so it wasn’t going to be too out of control but everyone was excited to get off of the lot together for some fun for the first time in almost a month. All the girls raced back to the dancer’s bus after rehearsal to begin to get ready and the excitement in the air was palpable. We all helped each other find the perfect outfits and do our hair and makeup and the mood was nothing but positive. Mollee even helped Camie with a smoky eye effect which was kind of her specialty. Though Mollee would probably never forgive Camie for what she had said to me, she seemed to be warming up to her as the weeks passed without incident. Camie had calmed down a lot and seemed to actually enjoy spending time with everyone but her obsession with Aj had her still lashing out at me. It was nothing huge and no one knew about it except me and Aj (who was the one person I confided in when her words got to me) but it was enough to make it clear that she was going to fight me every step of the way if I wanted to be her friend. Of course that only made me fight harder to be nice to her and understand her issues.
Finally it was time to go and we all left the bus to meet the guys at the various cars we had decided to take to the club. I took in Aj’s muscle shirt with appreciation as he looked over my form fitting black dress. We both smiled at each other, whole once again now that we were reunited, and climbed into the back seat of Mollee’s car.
The club was rocking when I entered with Aj’s hand firmly in mine. A quick glance told me that everyone was pretty much paired up. Mollee and Nick were beginning to freak dance in the center of the room, Brian and Leighanne were deep in conversation at the bar over drinks, Howie and Leigh were making out in the corner and Sophie was talking to a random guy by the DJ station. Aj attempted to pull me onto the dance floor with Nick and Mollee but the sight of Camie sitting on the far end of the bar sadly stirring a drink made me stop short.

“How much do you love me?” I asked Aj before he could pull me farther in the door

“I love you to the moon and back. Why?” He asked suspiciously

“Look at Camie at the bar. She looks so lonely…” I started as Aj cut me off

“Oh no, you need to learn to leave people alone who don’t like you. She is a bitch to you all the time and you keep trying to go out of your way to be nice to her. Well I’m not enabling you. No sir. Stop looking at me like that it’s not going to work”

“Please Aj?” I asked pitifully giving him the biggest pouting eyes I could generate

“No”

“But it’d be a good deed. And it would just be for one dance, or maybe two. Let her know that you don’t hate her so her night won’t be completely ruined”

“Absolutely not”

“I’d be willing to trade favors for it” I said seductively as Aj groaned

“You are the worst. I better get some serious payment” He said as I grinned and took his jacket for him

“You will get so much payment, more payment then you know what to do with. Go!” I said happily as he frowned and slumped off in the direction of the bar. I watched him approach Camie and saw her face light up when he asked her to dance. It was worth it to see her seem human for a second even if it meant that I was now alone in a club with no one to dance with.

“Kat, come over here!” Mollee yelled. I took advantage of her kindness and joined her and Nick as they tore up the floor. She eyed me and then noticed Aj dancing with Camie “Being saintly?”

“As always” I said rolling my eyes for her benefit

“You have to cut that out. I don’t know why you insist upon being nice to that girl, she’s nothing but trouble” Mollee said loudly over the music

“Because everyone keeps telling me that I shouldn’t be” I said

“That does sound like you” She laughed. Nick took one of my hands and one of hers as a new song started so we could both dance with him

“Such a pimp” I joked to him

“Oh yeah” He said with a huge grin “Hot sisters”

“Hey!” Mollee and I said together smacking him lightly in the chest. I was having such a blast dancing with Mollee and Nick that I totally lost track of time. Mollee finally pulled us away from the dance floor after about an hour to get a drink and I looked around for Aj but couldn’t find him or Camie anywhere

“Seen Aj?” I asked Brian as we joined him and Leighanne at the bar

“I saw him leave with Camie about 20 minutes ago I think. I assumed you were behind it” Brian answered as I frowned

“I was behind him dancing with her but there was nothing that included leaving with her without saying goodbye to me” I said with a pout as Brian laughed

“Well it’s his loss. Why don’t we show my wife what good dance partners we are?” Brian said offering his hand as I grinned

“It’s ok with you?” I asked Leighanne awkwardly. She laughed and waved me away with one hand as Brian pulled me on the dance floor

“You don’t have to ask my wife for permission to hang out with me” Brian said with a laugh

“Shush, I’m not good with these things” I scolded him

“You’re not good with these things or all things in general?” He joked as I scowled and he pulled me into a dip “Stop that. Dance with me”

“If I must” I said offhandedly with a grin and we started goofing off all over the dance floor. Time sped up again and it was getting really late before Howie joined Nick, Mollee, Brian, Leighanne and I on the dance floor.

“Hey we should get back guys. We have a tour to promote” He said causing a storm of complaints “Come on, let’s go”

“Yes sir!” Brian said loudly with a salute and led us all marching out of the club. The ride home was short and we were all completely obnoxious in the back of Howie’s car.

“Hey Howie, drop me at Aj’s, I want to say goodnight” I said as he nodded and pulled up to Aj’s bus “Night everyone!”

“Goodnight!” They all yelled as Howie drove away to the next closest bus. I crept up the stairs and turned the handle, trying my hardest not to make any noise. I heard some shuffling sounds from the bedroom so I figured Aj was back there and restlessly waiting for me to come home. I snuck down the hallway hoping to surprise him and pushed the door open slowly. What I saw made my heart drop into my stomach. Aj was in bed. His clothes were on the ground. But he was not alone. A shock of red hair was mixed with his brown and I froze, unable to pull myself away from the gyrations that were clear even in the half light of the cracked windows.

“Aj” I croaked with what little voice I could muster.

“Kat, Shit. Oh Shit, Kat” He scrambled toppling a naked Camie from her place on top of him

“Oh my god, Oh my god” I said quickly as I backed out of the room

“KAT, WAIT!” Aj yelled trying to pull the blanket with him off of the bed and follow me

“Oh my god” I repeated and bolted out the door. I was in complete shock. Camie and Aj were in bed naked. That really just happened. I could hear Aj trying to follow me, calling my name, but the only thing that was functioning in my whole being was a voice inside me telling me to get out of there, get away from him, and fast.

“KAT” I heard knocking me back into reality and I booked it around Nick’s bus, behind the dancer’s bus, and into the next available bus. I closed the door quickly behind me and leaned against it panting. Images of Camie on top of Aj burned themselves into my mind. The sound track I had not registered in the moment seemed to just now be bleeding its way into my consciousness and I shook my head vigorously to clear the noises I recognized from Aj as I had elicited them myself not too long ago.

“Kat what are you doing here?” I heard as the light switched on and Howie walked through the door having just finished dropping everyone off. The sight of him, of something familiar and linked in my brain with Aj brought reality back to me at an alarming speed and all of the sudden I was suffocating on my tears. “Oh my god what’s wrong? What happened?”

“Aj” I started as I tried to catch my breath while my world collapsed around me

“What about Aj?” Howie asked as I leaned into his chest. How did I get here? Was I on the couch?

“Camie” I squeaked out as tears poured down my face at a shocking rate. I was losing track of time. Some seconds seemed to last hours and others were non-existent

“Yes, Aj left with Camie. Are they not back?” Howie asked as I began coughing “Come on, take some deep breaths. Tell me what’s wrong. Are they ok?”

“In bed” I whispered as I watched it all click in Howie’s eyes

“No way, there’s no way” He said moving me onto the couch so he could crouch in front of me and search my face

“I saw” I said through sobs as we heard a knock on the door. Suddenly my tears stopped as fear gripped me hard. It was him. I couldn’t see him. “Howie I can’t. I can’t see him”

“It’s ok. Go… go upstairs to the reflection room and stay there until I get you” He said as I scrambled up the stairs and Howie watched to make sure I was gone before opening the door to the frantic knocks

“What?” I heard Howie’s voice drift up the stairs as I stood paralyzed, knowing it was going to kill me to hear his voice but unable to move in the anticipation of it

“She’s here” Aj slurred “I know it. I saw her”

“Are you drunk?” Howie asked slowly with mounting anger in his voice. Damn these buses. Sound travelled through them so that I felt like I was standing next to Howie even as I sat, clutching my knees to my chest, in the dark room on the second floor

“Camie’s bitch” Aj slurred again

“You’re drunk. Aj man what did you do?” Howie asked and I heard a small scuffle

“Let me in. I need her. I’m sorry” Aj said forlornly and what was left of my heart shattered

“You need to drink some water and get back on your bus. You can’t see her. You fucked up Aj. You really fucked up” Howie said helping him out the door and shutting it

“KAT I’M SORRY!” Aj yelled from outside as I started shaking violently. Tears were streaming down my face as Howie bounded up the stairs and found me shivering in the corner.

“Come on. Let’s get you some blankets. We’ll set you up in here” Howie said quietly as he lifted me up and carried me to his reflection room. He set me on some pillows and draped a blanket over me but my shivering did not stop. He sat and let me rest my head on his lap as he picked up his phone. “Sophie? Get me Mollee”

“Molls” I said quietly through my shaking. I could still hear Aj yelling from in this room but I couldn’t make out the words.

“Yes sweetie I’m going to get Mollee for you. You can stay in here tonight unless she wants to brave outside with you” Howie said soothingly causing my shaking to slow a little

“Molls” I sighed as I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate on any other noise in the world other than Aj’s yelling or Howie’s relaying the story to Mollee over the phone. In an instant she was at the door to the reflection room.

“I sent him to his bus” Mollee told Howie and I looked up a little to meet the eyes of my big sister. I could see the heartbreak from my eyes reflect in hers as she took in my state.

“Why?” I asked quietly before more tears started again and Mollee rushed over to me and held my face in her hands

“Kat I know this hurts. I know. But we’ve been through worse. You can make it through this. You are strong. Come on, let’s get you home” Mollee said soothingly as I nodded and tried to stand but the emotional expenditure was too much and I fell back where I was sitting. Without being asked Howie’s arms were under my knees and behind my back and I was in his arms as he carried me to the dancer’s bus with Mollee marching an escort in front of us. It was a good thing because as we approached the bus we came face to face with a very drunk and distraught Aj.

“Kat, please listen. Kat” He slurred and I buried my head into Howie’s chest

“Bring her inside, I’ll handle this” Mollee said with anger coursing through her. Howie brought me in the bus but not soon enough to miss the sound of Mollee’s hand as it met Aj’s face

“She’ll get in trouble” I protested from Howie’s arms

“Shush, it’s ok. I’ll make sure nothing happens to her. Is this your bunk?” Howie asked pointing to my bunk which was partially open

“Yeah” I whispered as my shivering started up again

“I’ll stay until she gets back” Howie said letting me down into my bed but keeping his hand on my face

“Thanks” I said quietly as a new wave of sobs took me from the memory of the night when Aj was the one standing outside my bunk comforting me. Another immeasurable amount of time went by and then Mollee was next to me, the lights were out, and Howie was gone.

“You’ll survive this” Mollee whispered to me as she ran her fingers up and down my forearm “Just like you always do. You’ll survive this”

“It hurts” I whispered as Mollee sighed and pulled me into a hug

“I’m so sorry” She said kissing my head. I don’t know if I fell asleep or spaced out or lived in that moment of horrified discovery all night but within an instant it was light out and Mollee was shaking me.

“I can’t…” I started but Mollee shook her head and forced me out of the bunk and into the bathroom

“Just take a shower. We’ll take today one step at a time. You can shower” She said as I nodded and did like she asked. I was a zombie getting dressed and Mollee had to pull articles of clothing away from me more than once as I tried to put them on backwards or inside out

“Ok. Come on” She said taking one hand as Sophie took the other

“I can’t. I can’t see him. I can’t do this” I said dragging my feet as the two of them marched me out of the bus and across the parking lot. My heart began to accelerate rapidly as we approached the door and it swung open. The first face I saw was Howie’s as he took point in front of my own little escort to my usual corner where I put on my dance shoes. Mollee did all the work as Brian joined us and took my hand

“I’m here for you today. You’ll make it through this” He said kissing my hand and meeting my eyes. A single tear fell and he wiped it away quickly.

“Kat” I heard from across the dance floor and soon my eyes were filled with tears as a sharp pain stabbed at my ribs

“Nick” I heard Mollee say and I felt rather than saw the tall blonde approach Aj as he tried to get to me

“Not now bro. Give her time. She needs to get through this day. Not now” Nick said blocking him from my view

“She needs to know. She needs to know what happened” I heard the voice that sent me into near hysterics and Mollee pulled me close as I sobbed into her shoulder

“Not now, later. Give her space” Nick said as Aj sighed and sent words my way

“Kat I’m sorry. I love you” And then he turned and sat in the opposite corner as Mollee tried to dry my eyes and get me presentable for rehearsal.

“Review today, everyone up, we’re running PDA” Fly said as he marched into the room. I had to do this. I had support. I could do this. Brian took my hand and Mollee wiped the last of the tears away from my cheeks and I used all the energy I had to move with Brian to our positions. I don’t know if Fly was very oblivious or if he knew something was going on but knew better than to draw attention to it, but either way he ran rehearsal as usual. Aj kept his word to Nick and let me be though I certainly felt his eyes on me at multiple times during the rehearsal. Brian’s hand barely left mine and many times he pulled my face to his to look me square in the eyes and tell me how strong I was or how well I was doing. As PDA played and we neared the portion where I had a few body rolls with Aj I felt my stomach enter the general vicinity of my throat. The steps approached and time slowed down as I looked with fear at Brian and he sent me waves of strength. I got to Aj, looked determinedly over his left shoulder and executed the move like it was nothing more than a simple ball change. I scurried to the next position with Brian and he received me like a long lost friend and time sped back up again. “There’s a lot of marking going on this morning guys, let’s step it up”

“You’re fine” Brian whispered in my ear as I took Fly’s words to heart. I was better than this. I wasn’t the girl who let a guy get to her this way. Perhaps if I had taken the time to look in Aj’s direction then I would have noticed how Camie and he were dancing as if the other were not even present. They did not touch unless they had to and when they had to, it was without emotion and they never met each other’s eyes. The morning crept on as we continued our review and finally by 11:30 Fly had had enough.

“Alright, Aj you’re staying with me, the rest of you get some lunch and find some energy. There is no event today so I’m keeping you for the afternoon. I don’t know what is going on and I don’t care, just fix it and come back in here ready to work in an hour” Fly said angrily as Mollee, Brian and Nick rushed to my side, helped me change my shoes and got some food from the buffet.

“You did really well, I really proud of you” Mollee whispered to me as I sat and considered the bagel in front of me “Come on, eat up”

“Not hungry” I said quietly as I wrapped my arms around my stomach and pushed as hard as I could. I wasn’t certain this day was real. I wasn’t certain I was real. I needed to feel something.

“Stop that” Mollee said prying my hands loose from my sides and pulling my plate closer to me “Eat”

“Molls I can’t” I said with what little fight I had in me. I met her eyes and I saw the concern there but I couldn’t bring myself to address it. I couldn’t feel bad for making my sister worry, I couldn’t feel hungry even though I hadn’t eaten anything today, I couldn’t feel guilty for making Fly angry at the group and I couldn’t bear to replay the moments that had been running through my head all day even one more time.

“Ok. It’s Ok. Just try a bite for me please? You need some fuel” She pleaded ripping off a piece of bagel and handing it to me. I noticed quite suddenly that everyone except Aj and Camie were sitting at the table with us and they were all silently watching my breakdown.

“Am I better than TV?” I asked in what I hoped was a joking tone but no one laughed. I ate the piece of bagel and swallowed it feeling nothing but emptiness as Mollee sighed

“You’re allowed to be upset. Everyone thinks that, right guys?” Mollee prompted as everyone eagerly jumped in with affirmations.

“I just need to get something from my bunk” I said quickly as the wave of sadness threatened to overtake me again prompted by the kind words from my friends. I tried to stand and Mollee was right on my tail but I held out my hand “I can do it. I love you but I can do it myself. Eat”

“Are you sure?” She asked searching my eyes

“Yes. And stop looking for blue. Today is going to be a grey day” I said as she sighed again and gave my hand a little squeeze before allowing me to march off. I took a deep breath and reveled in the alone time I had just scored. Of course now that I had made up the excuse to go to my bunk I had to go and figure out something to bring back that I might need. I felt a little light headed as I walked, probably a result of the not eating, but I decided to focus on the slight dizziness as a positive. At least it wasn’t misery. I went to open the door to the bus and stood there pulling on it like an idiot for at least ten minutes before I realized that the reason it wouldn’t open was because there was something stuck in the handle. I pulled at it and recognized at once that it was a piece of paper and I unraveled it quickly. I closed my eyes tightly and then squinted, prepared to drop the paper if I saw Aj’s untidy scrawl but instead I saw a masterpiece. It was an intricate drawing of a ballerina in a dance studio. She looked remarkably real and it hit me as I took in her features that it was me. Everything from the curl in my hair to the scuff on my point shoes was drawn in intricate detail. It took my breath away and I looked around to see who might have dropped it there. No one was nearby so I glanced back at the paper and found the clue I was looking for in the bottom left corner.

“Don’t be freaked out. I’ve just had this image in my head for weeks now and had to get it on paper” I read out loud before taking in the word hastily scribbled beneath the sentence. Josh. The smallest shadow of a smile crossed my lips as I took the paper and brought it to my bunk. I grabbed my ipod and headed back in the direction of the studio again, my head swirling with the old images from last night and the new thoughts of Josh. I was so lost in my thoughts that I nearly ran into Fly before I registered that he was calling my name.

“Sorry” He said quickly as I steadied myself and met his eyes

“I was in my own world, my fault, what’s up?” I asked quickly looking away as I felt his eyes probe mine for some piece of information.

“I need a favor. It doesn’t seem like a big one but I’m thinking now it might be” Fly said still searching

“Anything, what do you need?” I asked quickly hoping to get this over with before lunch was over so I could have a few more minutes to sort out my thoughts before returning to the hell that was becoming today’s rehearsal.

“Well Camie and Aj don’t seem to be able to dance together anymore. I don’t know what happened but Aj is refusing to work with her. Normally I’d just fire her and find someone else but she already knows the dances and we’re pressed for time. So I was thinking she could just switch partners with someone else. It would be a lot less work for me and would only put us a day behind as opposed to the week it would take to teach everything to someone new” Fly said quickly but with a business air. I couldn’t understand what he was saying because my head was so full already it was about to burst. My heart reacted to some conclusion my head had not yet drawn as it started beating rapidly.

“Ok…”

“Well Mollee and Sophie are too tall to dance with Aj-” Fly started as the world shifted around me. Surely this was a joke, a cruel and awful joke.

“You want me to partner with him?” I asked quietly as Fly registered my hurt

“You know what? Forget it, we’ll find someone new” He said quickly and started to walk away but I stopped him

“Wait. If it’s for the better of the tour, I’ll do it” I heard the words out of my mouth before I could quite catch up with them. What was I doing? I could hardly look at the guy, let alone dance with him. This is not going to work.

“Are you sure? You’re my top dancer, if this will hold you back then it’s not worth it. I just thought that you would be able to handle it if anyone could” Fly said as I shook my head, stopping his unnecessary compliment.

“I’m sure. I’ll see you in there” I said quickly, needing time now more than ever to think. I crept around to the back of the rehearsal studio and took a deep breath. This is so typical Kat. When life is beating you down, take another blow to the head. Why was I always making things harder for myself? How was I going to dance with Aj to This is Us? What about the sexual moves in PDA? What the hell was I thinking? I leaned back into the wall of the rehearsal studio and let my weight drag me down so I was sitting with my knees tucked in front of me. I rested my head on them and felt more than saw a figure sit next to me. I glanced up and saw that it was Howie and he just took one of my hands and held it. We sat there in silence as my thoughts spun in circles. How could he have slept with her? It could not have actually happened. But it did, I saw it. He is scum. No he’s not he’s the only real love I’ve ever known. What is love anyway? It’s only caused me intense pain. How was I going to dance with him? What was Josh playing at leaving me drawings? Did he know what happened last night? Was he moving in? Did that bother me? Howie must have seen that it was time for rehearsal again but instead of talking he just squeezed my hand and stood, helping me along with him. As we walked into the studio he hushed people as they tried to approach me and in my emotional state I was so filled with gratitude for his perfect handling of the situation that I started to silently cry. He noticed and met my eyes with a concerned look and I shook my head.

“You’re being so wonderful Howie, I don’t know how to thank you” I whispered as he gave me a sad smile

“Just get through this. I’ve been where you are and I know it’s impossible to see but it will get better. And until then I’ll be right here” He said kissing my cheek. I slipped on my jazz shoes and then looked uncertainly at Brian. Did he know? Did Aj? I glanced at Camie and she was calculating the same way I was about who to stand with. She must know. Fly came in and quickly got everyone’s attention.

“Alright everyone there’s a small change of plans. Brian is now dancing with Camie and Kat is dancing with Aj so this afternoon we-” Fly started but was stopped by a sudden wave of protest from everyone in the room.

“Fly that’s not what I meant…” I heard from Aj

“This is not going to work” Brian said quickly

“Fly I need to speak with you now” Mollee started trying to pull him aside

“I don’t think this is the best idea right now” Howie said from my side. I barely registered everyone else’s arguments before I’d had enough

“HEY!” I yelled and everyone stopped talking immediately “Fly asked me to do him a favor and I’m going to do what is best for the tour. It’s my decision. It has been made. Let’s move on”

“Kat you don’t have to do-” Mollee started but I stopped her with a look

“It’s done, let’s just dance” I said firmly as Mollee shook her head. I could feel the waves of pity as they washed over me from everyone in the room and I just prayed that the seconds until Fly took control again would move with some speed.

“Ok, so as I was saying we’ll be using the afternoon to run the pattern changes to make sure the girls know what they are doing. This only puts us an afternoon behind so let’s stay focused and hopefully we will be able to catch up for lost time tomorrow” Fly said quickly as everyone moved into position for the start of the show. I moved in the direction of where Aj stood and tried my hardest to block him out. I needed to pretend he was any other dancer. For Fly, for the tour, I needed to be able to dance with him without hurting myself. This would take some creativity.

“This is not what I wanted. I want more than anything to make things easier for you, not harder” I heard from my left where he must be standing. I held up a hand to stop his explanation without looking at him and then clenched that hand into a fist before dropping it back to my side. It was the most I could do right now. I might be able to get through this if I didn’t have to talk to him. The music was cued and we came out for PDA. The first time I looked at Aj I was a little taken back and I missed a step but I gave myself a little mental shove and worked out that if I looked right at his left ear it still seemed like we were connecting without the pain in my chest becoming unbearable. At least he had the decency not to approach me in any of the dances more than what was strictly necessary and he didn’t try to talk to me again. Finally, after hours and days and years of rehearsal it was five and Fly was getting ready to let us go.

“Alright everyone, good job today. I know it’s tough but we’ll get through this and put on a fantastic show. Camie, Brian, Aj and Kat if you could meet either after rehearsal today or early tomorrow to run your stuff once through just as partners to solidify the changes that would be wonderful so we can move on as we had planned. Goodnight everyone, see you tomorrow” Everyone started moving at hyper speed as I slowly took in the words Fly had said. I vaguely realized that Aj was still standing with me in the middle of the room while everyone else was scattering and then Mollee was at my elbow.

“Come on Kat, we’re going” She said as I shook my head

“We need to stay. Fly asked us to and I don’t want to have to do it tomorrow. I’m here now. Let’s just get this over with” I said to Mollee even though it was directed at Aj. Mollee scanned my eyes and was apparently not pleased with what she saw but she conceded nonetheless.

“You’re a masochist” She said to me and then shifted her attention to Aj “I’ll be right outside the studio waiting. If I hear anything that indicates my sister is in pain I’ll be back in here in a flash and you will not be happy”

She walked out and I watched the door close slowly behind her. As it clicked shut I became acutely aware that I was alone in a room with Aj for the first time since I had witnessed him in bed with Camie. The air was suddenly thicker than water and I had to use a lot more energy than usual to draw it into my lungs. His presence next to me became the only center of gravity in the room and I felt disoriented, like I was being pulled towards him even though everything in me wanted to move away. My heart sank like it weighed a ton while my stomach floated uncomfortably in the direction of my head as if it had no weight at all. This place that was once so safe and so joyous had become foreign just as this man that had once been everything to me was now a complete stranger. All of this registered in a mere second of watching the door close and I almost broke down right there. To counter the feeling I ripped my feet from the floor and forced them in the direction of my ipod and started shuffling through the songs, willing myself to focus on the illuminated words instead of the man standing a few feet away.

“I guess we’ll just start from the beginning” I said quietly, more to center myself than anything else, before pressing play. PDA started and I hit the first move hard with renewed focus and as I had been trained (and completely without thinking) I looked directly into Aj’s eyes. My world stopped abruptly and the momentum building from a day of intense struggle seemed to propel me right off of it. Those eyes that had once been my heaven were so filled with hurt and I could feel the very fabric that made me who I was becoming undone. Suddenly the world was moving at hyper speed but it had left me behind. I tried to force my mind to catch up to it but everything just came crashing in on me. I fell hard and had to use all of my energy to stifle the sob building in my chest. The last thing I needed was Mollee in here. I was clutching my sides until they ached and focusing on my breathing but nothing was helping me keep a grip on myself. Suddenly his face was in front of me and his voice was tentative but kind.

“Hey you’re ok. Kat please don’t do this” He whispered trying to figure out what to do to keep me from a complete breakdown but not overstep his boundaries “Kat I need you to listen to me. I know I have no right to ask you for anything but I’m asking anyway. Please just listen”

“Fine” I whispered with the little voice I could find. My ipod played on but I could barely hear it as Aj’s voice drifted into my ears and I stared hard at the floor to keep my cool.

“I’m an alcoholic” He started which jolted me. That was not where I thought this was going “When I drink, I get drunk. I have no control. And when someone enables me and continues to force drinks upon me, I have no way of saying no”

“Is this going somewhere?” I whispered harshly. I was in no mood to play games and talk about things that weren’t relevant

“Last night when you sent me to Camie, she convinced me to drink and drink a lot. Because there is no way I would ever think of hurting you, ever touch her, unless I was not me” He said as my chest constricted and my breaths became uneven and rapid.

“Yet you weren’t too drunk to manage putting your penis in-” I started and then stopped at the painful image that flashed in my head

“Kat I know it’s impossible for you to understand but I need you to know that nothing but large amounts of alcohol would ever make me hurt you. Nothing but being out of my mind would make me even think of another girl over you. I love you with all of my heart and I know I don’t deserve any slack from you but I thought you should know. You deserve to know” He said as his voiced cracked on the last word. I’d never heard that happen to him so I looked up before I could stop myself and was met with his tear stained face. It was too much for me. It had been a trying day and now he was crying. I couldn’t do this. I got up, pulled my iPod from the speakers and jammed my flip flops on before hurrying out of the room. Mollee caught up with me right as my sobs overtook me as I approached the bus and she caught me as the last of my strength left my body. In the middle of the lot, in my sister’s arms, I let all my hurt pour out through my tears. I couldn’t stop my sobbing and I was having trouble breathing but I held onto Mollee tightly.

“Ok. It’s over babe. It’s over” I heard from above me as I felt a hand on my back. I didn’t need to look up to know that it was Howie, being perfect, doing exactly what I needed. I released my grip on Mollee and she looked up at Howie helplessly as he picked me up and brought me past my bus out towards the beach. “The water helps me focus maybe it’ll do you some good”

Howie carried me slowly over to the beach and I concentrated on his heartbeat. It was something pure, something apart from me and my own ridiculous drama and so it calmed me. By the time we found a good spot on the sand to sit my sobbing had stopped and my breathing paced back to normal. Only the tears that still spilled out of my eyes remained to represent the intense pain pounding in my heart. Howie placed me down on the sand and then sat behind me, allowing me to settle back into his chest. Mollee sat next to us and took my hand as I gazed out into the waves. We sat in silence for a while just watching nature's ebb and flow until Mollee spoke up.

"Kat, what are we going to do? I can't do another day like today and I know you can't either. It was very noble of you to agree to switch partners but I'm worried about you" She said quietly as I sighed.

"What can I do? I've already committed to this. You know me I can't go back on that kind of promise. Plus if I don't do it Camie will lose her job -" I started as Mollee dropped my hand in surprise

"Why are you even considering her feelings in this Kat? Where was her consideration when she was screwing your boyfriend, when she was handing him drink after drink so he'd forget all about you?" Mollee asked and the truth in her words stung me a little

"How'd you know about that?" I asked quietly as I felt Howie tense

"I eavesdropped. I wanted to make sure you'd be ok" Mollee said unapologetically taking my hand again and stroking it lightly with her fingers

"So that's what happened. She made him drink" Howie said quietly

"I hardly think you can make someone drink" I said coldly as I felt Howie shake his head

"You don't know what he’s like, what he’s been through. Aj is an addict and he's still only just getting a handle on things. If someone were persistent enough he wouldn't be able to stop himself" Howie explained

"Are you sticking up for him? Are you excusing his behavior?" Mollee asked quickly and I could feel the maternal side of her churn as she displayed her need to vilify anyone who would cause me this amount of pain

"No, I'm not excusing it. It just makes sense now. You know as well as I do that Aj feels very deeply for Kat and it was beyond me why he'd throw that away. Now I understand" Howie said slowly, not rising to Mollee's bate. His serene calm in all tense situations was the most amazing quality. I snuggled back into his chest, willing some of his rational thinking to enter into my own consciousness but I guess I was still too hurt. We fell silent again, each alone in our own thoughts as we were joined by Brian.

"Hey" He said slowly taking my free hand and meeting my bloodshot eyes

"Hey" I said as I watched sadness play across his face

"I missed dancing with you today. But more than that I miss your smile" He said quietly as my heart throbbed uncomfortably.

"I'd give just about anything to be dancing with you. And smiling" I said with a wince as he kissed my hand lightly and settled in on the other side of Howie and I. The silence grew with the shadows as day slowly gave way to night. Before long Sophie had eased herself on the other side of Brian and Nick had joined us and pulled Mollee onto his lap. I felt her relax a little at his presence and my stomach clenched as I remembered that feeling of comfort Aj had given me. I turned away to hide the pain that I'm sure was visible on my face but Nick caught my chin and brought it to his eye level. He searched my eyes for a long moment before sighing and dropping his hand to Mollee's. The message was clear. He had been looking to see if I was getting through this and what he had found was more pain. I felt a twinge of guilt as I took in the people sitting around me, most of whom hardly knew me, but all of whom cared so deeply about me. I had to find some way through this, not just for me but for them. I had to shake myself out of this. Then it hit me "Is the studio still open?"

"I’d assume so, why?" Nick answered as I stood up. I shook a little at first but I regained my strength quickly as I focused on my idea

"You guys want to dance?" I asked with a small smile, my heart warming just at the sound of the word that up until I had met a certain Aj McLean had represented all I really needed in life. Mollee smiled at me, catching on.

"I've got some amazing choreography I'd love to try out with some professional dancers" Mollee said joining me

"I'm game" Howie said as he stood and shook the sand from his clothes

"Only if I get to partner with you" Brian said with a big grin as I nodded and he wiped my face dry of the few remaining tears that glistened on my cheek.

"Let's do it" Nick agreed and led the way to the studio. We snuck quietly around the busses and into the studio, making sure all the blinds were shut before turning on the lights. I'm sure no one would actually give us trouble for being in the studio after hours but it was more fun to pretend that we were breaking major rules by being out here.

“Shall we warm up our way?” Mollee asked with a wicked grin that I tried to return

“I don’t know if they’re ready for that” I joked

“Why, how do you all warm up?” Nick asked as I rolled my eyes

“Well now we HAVE to show you” Mollee said dragging me to the middle of the floor and then running off to set her ipod up. I heard the beat start in of La Roux’s

"Bulletproof" and I let a small half laugh escape from my lips.

“Did you choose my best song because you’re feeling sorry for me? Because I won’t do this if you’re going to hold back” I warned her as she grinned at my teasing. I could feel the warmth begin to return to my body as the music flowed through me

“I chose this song because I thought it was poignant. And I never hold back little sis” She said, all business and I backed up

“You first” I said offering her the floor and she jumped in right as the words started.

“Been there, done that messed around, I'm having fun, don't put me down. I'll never let you sweep me off my feet. I won't let you in again. The messages I tried to send my information's just not going in” Mollee sang with the music as she brought her A game. Since Mollee and I were little girls we were always having “dance offs” and it became our traditional warm up if we had a studio to ourselves to mess around in. She started with a simple arms forward variation on an energy ball and then fell back on the beat of “around” only to catch herself and move into a hip roll. It wrapped into a funky Egyptian looking pose and she developed it right into kick that reached her ear (her specialty) then lay out and swept one leg under the other, giving the illusion of falling for “sweep me off my feet.” Then she landed in a plank and rolled her body seductively up while winking at Nick then exploding into a star turn before handing the floor off to me.

“Nice sis” I said as everyone clapped, all very impressed with her skills. I waited through the chorus for the lyrics I wanted and then jumped right in.

“Good luck” Mollee challenged right before I started, eliciting a grin.

“Tick, tick, tick, tick on the watch and life's too short for me to stop. Oh baby, your time is running out. I won't let you turn around and tell me now I'm much too proud. All you do is fill me up with doubt” I sang with the lyrics while I danced. As always I counted on lyrics to help put feeling into my dances which is what I knew my strength was. I had an excess of feeling today so I really let it rip. I jumped right in with a hard and fast pop and lock combo to match the staccato wording which got everyone cheering and on “out” I swept into a quadruple spin in coupe that opened up to a layout. Then I really went all in with leaps, starting with alternating tilt jumps into a switch leap and then a loop. I landed that, gave my own body roll and did a fake faint into a reverse plank, lowered my body down and kicked up for “doubt.” Mollee rushed over and we worked off of each other for the chorus, doing variations on matrix bullet dodges, Mollee emphasizing her flexibility, me my leaps. When the chorus began to repeat and break down we got everyone involved just dancing crazy, some of us being more risky than others and we all struck ending poses as the music stopped.

“Is this really what you do on your time off?” We all heard from the door as I whipped around to see a smiling Josh

“Hey! Josh!” I said giving him a hug. I was feeling much better after dancing but any remaining anxiety I had vanished when I saw Josh

“Hey” Everyone said vaguely familiar with the guy who I was seen hanging around with in my spare time

“I just wanted to see if you got my picture or if you had a restraining order put on me for sketching you dancing” Josh joked as I smiled

“No restraining order yet. It was beautiful, thank you” I said with a small blush. The life was slowly returning to my heart and while it was still very much wounded, it was showing signs of improvement as it beat passionately enough to bring a blush to my cheeks

“You’re welcome” He said smiling a little himself

“Want to dance with us?” I asked excitedly as Mollee nodded in agreement after seeing the effect his presence was having on my mood.

“I don’t know, I’m more the build and tamper with wires sort, not the bust a move sort” He said doing a lame fake break dance when he said ‘bust a move.’ I giggled a little

“Come on” I took his hand and pulled him to the middle of our circle as Mollee cued up the music. “Just Dance” by Lady Gaga started and we all went crazy. I showed off a bit for Josh and he spent most of the time laughing at his own silly white boy moves. The dance party continued for about an hour longer until Howie turned the ipod off.

“We have a whole day of dancing tomorrow and Fly will be really angry if we’re all too exhausted to function” Howie said in response to our groans. I was reluctant to leave the excitement of our dance party as I could already feel my sadness creeping back in so I walked everyone back to their buses until it was just Sophie, Mollee, Josh and I approaching our bus. I saw a figure leaning against it and I knew without looking who would be waiting for me.

“Molls” I whispered to her in warning as she squinted in the darkness to make out Aj’s outline.

“I’ll take care of it” She said marching ahead of us as I turned to Josh

“Thanks for making a fool out of yourself with us” I said as he grinned

“It was fun. I think I was more fool than you guys but I was happy to hang out. Expect a picture soon” He said with a little wave as he walked in the direction of the many hotels that lined the beach. Sophie took my arm as we continued our walk towards the bus. I could see that Mollee was still arguing with Aj so I hesitated and Sophie took advantage of it to whisper to me.

“He’s really hurting. I’m not saying that he deserves sympathy, especially from you, but I talked with him after rehearsal and he is really torn apart. Maybe you could just hear him out?” Sophie’s heart was the biggest I’d ever encountered. I decided to take a page from her book and show some compassion for the hard day Aj must have had as well. I squeezed her hand in thanks and tapped Mollee’s shoulder as we got level with her.

“You aren’t talking to him” She said swiftly, knowing it was me.

“You don’t control her Mollee she can make her own decisions” Aj said in a frustrated tone as a look of shock came across my face. Did he really just talk back to my sister?

“Watch it” She spat at him and then turned to me “Do you want to talk to him?”

“Yes” I said and her jaw dropped

“Kat…” She said with pain evident in her eyes as she calculated the possible consequences of my actions

“You said it yourself that I need to find some way to make sure every day isn’t like today. I can’t dance party my way out of this, even though I had a blast” I said and a small grin played at her lips “Maybe we should talk this out a little more”

“Last time you tried to talk this out you nearly broke down” She whispered to me but not low enough so that Aj couldn’t hear. I saw him wince out of the corner of my eye and it made my decision for me.

“I need to do it Molls. Rip off the band aid. It’ll hurt but it’s better than torturing myself by working on it in slow, small sections for a week” I reasoned and she sighed

“Please be careful” She said kissing my forehead and heading into the bus. I took a second as I watched her leave to gather all the happiness I’d been able to cultivate during the dance party and place it in the empty space in my heart. I let it warm me as I remembered Nick’s flushed face as we competed in break dancing, Howie’s moon walking skills, Sophie’s ridiculous 80s dance, Brian’s hand stands that ended in complete chaos and my sister’s face as she watched the life come back into my eyes. I took an extra second for Josh and the feeling of peace he gave me as someone outside the crazy dancing tour life that we had going and then I faced Aj. He had the hollow look I recognized in myself from this morning and it hit me how lonely his day must have been. Sophie said she had spoken with him but the guys must be furious about his drinking last night. Who did he have to warm his heart? Who held his hand all day to make sure that he got through it? Who sat with him quietly while he thought over his options?

“I have no idea what to say” He broke down sinking slowly to the ground and covering his face with his hands “I’ve been trying all day to think of something and I just can’t”

“Aj” I said compassionately sitting next to him but with enough space between us that we weren’t touching. I could only be so saintly right now. Just as the thought crossed my mind he leaned in and recklessly kissed me. The pain flared up in my chest and I pulled away from him quickly standing back up and taking in his terrified look.

“I’m so sorry. That was stupid. What is wrong with me?” He asked breaking into sobs again. I took a few seconds to compose myself before sitting across from him. “You should leave me alone. I don’t even trust myself anymore. Just get as far away from me as you can”

“I’m not running. Am I running?” I asked echoing one of our first conversations. It seemed to strike a chord with him and he sniffed a little and met my eyes. I felt a flash of pain and then pity as I took in his confusion. He was so lost. Not only had he betrayed me but he had gotten drunk. His sobriety was at risk. “Now if you promise not to try to kiss me, I’ll talk to you”

“Ok” He said quietly, seeming to not be able to believe that I was willing to sit here with him. To be honest I couldn’t quite believe it myself.

“What happened last night is unforgivable” I said taking a pause to fight back the images that threatened to come into my consciousness for the millionth time today “And I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to trust you again”

“I know” He whispered

“But I believe that you would not have done it if you had been sober. I believe that Camie had a lot to do with it and that you weren’t just acting on your own desires” The conclusion I had drawn in the hours of looking at those waves in Howie’s arms spilled from my lips before I could even really understand them.

“I would never hurt you if I could help it Kat. I swear” He said meeting my eyes carefully

“But I am really hurt by this Aj” I said fighting back the tears that were building in the corners of my eyes. I can’t believe I could still cry after this long day of sobbing. “And I’m trying hard to understand something I can never really comprehend because I’m not an alcoholic and I don’t have those kinds of excuses for the things I do. I can’t grasp the idea of eradicating all the blame for such a terrible indiscretion simply because some Jack Daniels is thrown into the mix”

“I don’t want forgiveness. I don’t deserve it” He said quietly as I sighed. He needed more compassion than I had right now. This day was just not going to get easier.

“You made a mistake” I attempted again “And it’s not ok, but it doesn’t erase all the wonderful things about you. This person you become when you drink does not erase the sober person I fell in love with”

“Kat, how can you say that? How can you think anything good about me after what I did?” He asked. He was so lost. I wanted more than anything to hug him but I knew I needed to keep a safe distance to protect both of us.

“Aj you are a good man” I said as he looked away

“A good man would never do what I did to someone as perfect as you”

“Aj” I said again and he met my eyes “You are a good man”

“How can I live with myself?” He whispered but a little less convinced than he had been. I cautiously took his hand and after a moment of stealing strength that I was sure I didn’t actually have I was able to look back into his eyes.

“You can do this. Look in your heart. You are a good man” I said and the tears finally slowed their descent on his cheeks. “Now we need to make a few new rules for ourselves if we’re going to be able to move past this”

“Ok” He said quietly as I watched some strength return to his eyes

“It may take me a while to talk to you like this again. Tomorrow may come and this sadness may turn to anger. I’m not a perfect person and this is likely to happen. But I need you to remember what I said tonight ok?” I asked “What did I say?”

“I’m a good man” He echoed as I squeezed his hand

“Great. Now I don’t think we can really hang out outside of work anymore. At least not for a while” I amended as panic screamed across his face “And in the studio we need to act like professionals. I’ll dance with as much passion as I’ve got but it’ll just be dancing. I’ll expect the same from you”

“It’s going to hard” He said as I nodded

“It’s going to be excruciating. But I think it’ll be the best in the end. I think if we stick to that plan then we will slowly be able to move on. We may even become the best dancers on that stage” I said with a small smile that he returned

“Of course we will be” He whispered and I saw some warmth creep in. I didn’t know how much longer I could do this, just sit here and talk so intimately with him so I let go of his hand and stood up.

“I’ll be patient with you if you can be patient with me. We’re both hurting. This will take time” I said as he stood up as well

“Ok. I will. I’ll be ok” He said as I searched his eyes

“Me too” I said turning to go into the bus

“Kat, one more thing” He called as I turned back to him with the door cracked open “I still love you. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop doing that”

“Me too” I whispered and my voice cracked and the tears returned as the fatigue from the day and from the conversation caught up with me. I was acutely aware that I had not yet eaten anything and I forced myself into the bus and collapsed on the couch. Mollee was there with a slice of pizza and a coke. She always knew.

“Eat. Now” She commanded as I took a bite of pizza. She put her arm around me and watched me chew

“How was that?” I asked knowing it was pointless to pretend she hadn’t been listening, especially when I felt the breeze from the open window behind my head

“You were saintly and so much more than he deserved. You’re a better person than I am, that’s for sure Booger” She said as I smiled a little and slowly ate my way through three pieces of pizza.

“I’m going to try to sleep” I said through a yawn. I knew it was going to be hard but I would be a complete mess tomorrow if I didn’t at least try. Today had been exhausting.

“Want me to sleep with you tonight?” She asked following me into the clothes room and changing with me into pajamas.

“I think I’ll be better off by myself. I need to do this. I need to get over him” I said determinedly as she ran her fingers lovingly through my hair

“Don’t push yourself too hard. You’ve been exceptional today. Maybe tonight you should give yourself a rest and be immature. Eat some ice cream. Burn some pictures. What’s that?” She asked coming even to my bunk with me and noticing Josh’s rolled up picture on my bed. I handed it to her and she smiled. “Well would you look at that that”

“What?” I asked

“It seems that Aj might not be your only romantic option on this tour” She said coyly as I sighed

“If I’m even capable of being in a relationship after this it will be a miracle” I said as she kissed my forehead. I rolled into bed and Mollee shut the curtain for me. Suddenly the bunk felt very big and very cold. I was regretting not having Mollee sleep in here with me. I got under all the blankets and almost crushed the picture while doing so. I smoothed it out and propped it next to my head. I focused on the lines and details drawn with such care. Maybe Mollee was right. Maybe Josh was something I could look forward to in my future. It would be something less intense but something more normal. It could be something that wouldn’t hurt so badly. And there it was again, the heart breaking, breath stealing and tear inducing pain. I focused on the picture, yearning for anything that might distract me from the pain. Ever so slowly I drifted into a half sleep. Every few hours a dream would shake me awake and I’d end up sobbing. Once I knew I woke up Mollee but mercifully she didn’t come into my bunk to investigate. As stupid as it was the only thing that gave me some comfort throughout the night was the knowledge that across the lot there was a man in a bus feeling just as much pain as I was.
Chapter 10 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 10

I woke the next morning from my restless sleep feeling completely exhausted. I stumbled out of bed and threw on some dance clothes and then made my way slowly to the studio while mumbling a groggy hello to everyone I passed. I collapsed in my corner and leaned my head against the wall. The pain today was less but my fatigue was more and I felt myself becoming irritable. God save the person who got on my bad side today.

“Good morning sunshine!” Brian said enthusiastically sitting next to me “How are you feeling?”

“Tired” I yawned as he rubbed my head and messed up my hair

“That’s an improvement!” He said always so full of life and happiness. I was suddenly hit by the ridiculous notion that I was actually happy to be dancing with Aj today as he would be just as exhausted as I was. The thought made me giggle a little insanely and Brian raised an eyebrow.

“Sorry. I really didn’t sleep well” I explained as he nodded and jumped up to welcome Nick into the room. I watched everyone come in like I was watching a movie and no one approached me which was wonderful. I wonder if Brian tipped them off to my fatigue. Fly came in and made some noise about running the show through to make sure all the patterns were figured out with the new partners and how it would take all day again and I propelled myself up to join Aj at our starting side of the stage.

“You look tired” He said cautiously. I glanced at him and took in the dark circles under his eyes and his slouched posture

“I’m not the only one” I said and then focused back on the dance floor. Somehow the exhaustion seemed to be dulling my pain as I danced with Aj. At the very least I could look at him without crying. The worst was when I would space out and go into auto pilot. I would assume I was still dancing with Brian and then when I came back to the world I was always shocked to see Aj and then the events of the past few days would fast forward in my head and I’d feel the tears start to fall. They only actually fell a few times and each time Aj would look away as I dried them, pretending he didn’t notice. We got through the whole show without too much incident. It was helpful to have a run through so Fly could direct us to where we all needed to go. It was kind of complicated since he didn’t want to take my solos away so he had to keep switching me from Brian to Aj to cover for Camie. I did feel a little better about the whole thing by the time we had gone through all of it and headed out to lunch. Keeping his promise, Aj sat at the table next to mine and was joined by Sophie and Brian. Mollee, Nick and Howie came to approach me and I waved my hand.

“Need some alone time?” Mollee guessed as I nodded and laid my head on the table facing away from everyone. The three of them joined Aj’s table, Mollee sitting as far away from him as possible, and soon the air was filled with enough conversation that I could convert it to background noise. The bench next to me moved a little and I squinted, not realizing my eyes had actually been closed. A small smile came to my face as I met Josh’s look and he mimicked my position, sitting next to me with his head on the table and his face facing mine.

“What’s up bright eyes?” He asked casually

“I’m exhausted” I said as he frowned

“I’m sorry. I have the same lunch as you today. Can I sit here? I promise not to be too taxing” He said as I nodded a little and he put down his sandwich. I looked at it closely (since my head was right at that level anyway) and noticed there seemed to be worms coming from it.

“What are you eating?” I asked a little more grumpily than I had meant to

“Spaghetti sandwich with Nutella” He said as if it were nothing. I made a face.

“That’s disgusting”

“You’re disgusting” He retorted and I grinned.

“Good one”

“So why couldn’t you sleep last night? I like you and everything but I have to say that you do not fare well when you don’t sleep enough” He said taking a bite of his sandwich and causing me to cringe

“Haven’t you heard the gossip? Aj and I are no more” I said as casually as I could manage and added “apparently I’m no good at sleeping alone in a bed anymore”

“What happened?” He asked innocently as I forced back those stupid images that threatened to overtake me again “Never mind”

“It’s ok. I just caught him cheating, like literally in the throes of it. It was awful. What am I saying? It’s still awful” I said as one tear rolled down my cheek. This was embarrassing. I did not want to be crying in front of Josh. Yet for someone who is so awkward in normal situations he was surprisingly cool now. He handed me a tissue and took my hand casually while taking another bite of his sandwich.

“Have you eaten anything since then?”

“I had some pizza last night. Nothing today” I said still marveling at his grace in a hard situation.

“Well you obviously don’t want some of my lovely sandwich” He said with a grin as I looked up at him and made a disgusted face. “Hang on I’ve got the perfect thing!”

“He’s crazy” I whispered to myself and it made me smile. I watched him bound around the table to the buffet and come back with a spoon and a bowl. I slowly lifted my head and looked in it, seeing that the yogurt that usually belonged to the parfaits at breakfast had been poured in and fruit had been arranged to make a smiley face. There were blueberry eyes, a sliced strawberry nose, an apple slice mouth and little mango spikes for hair. It was so cute and so ridiculous all at once that I just started laughing. I couldn’t help myself. I was so over tired that despite my pain I was laughing hysterically. Soon Josh joined in and my tears of pain turned into tears of laughter as I wiped them from my face.

“What is going on over there?” Mollee called from her table as I looked up at her and still stifling a laugh tilted the yogurt face so she could see it. She cracked a smile and shook her head as Josh handed me a spoon.

“Just eat up a happy face!” He sang with jazz hands to the tune of ‘Put on a happy face’

“I’m coming after that nose!” I exclaimed as I speared the strawberry “What smells? You’ll never know!”

“See you later eyes!” Josh joined in with his fork, spearing a blueberry.

“Lips stop mouthing off to me!” I added before chomping on the apple slice. Pretty soon it was bad puns everywhere as we devoured the face, ran to get more fruit, made other faces, and devoured them just the same. I honestly didn’t think I could eat a few minutes ago and now I was happily devouring the entire fruit cart.

“Come on Kat, rehearsal!” Howie called as I looked over and realized everyone had cleared their plates at the other table. I looked at my phone and was shocked to see that our hour lunch was over.

“Ah! I’m going to be late. Thanks for lunching with me Josh. It really means a lot” I said as he smiled

“Hey, that smile is all the pay I need. See you around bright eyes” He said with that small wave of his and he marched off to the sound equipment. I made my way to the studio, still giggling over some of the more awful puns and found myself face to face with Aj.

“I thought you needed to eat lunch alone” He said coldly as I glanced at him

“So did I” I said and turned my attention to Fly

“I don’t like him” Aj said softly behind me

“Well I do” I said quietly to myself with a small smile

“Alright everyone the run through looked good and I was planning on working more of it but I thought about it over lunch and decided I’m going to let the girls have the afternoon off and just keep the guys to start working on some of their numbers. Sorry I didn’t plan on it before lunch girls” Fly said apologetically

“Hey we get the afternoon off. I’m not complaining” Sophie said as we laughed appreciatively. I went to pack up my stuff but was stopped before I could take three steps.

“Kat, I have a favor to ask” Fly said as I turned and met him in the middle of the floor

“Sure” I said trying to look amicable but inside really wishing I could just go and take a nap

“Could you stay for a bit and help me teach this number? It has some funky pattern changes that I won’t be able to explain without a body” Fly said as I sighed

“You know I’m really starting to hate these favors of yours” I joked but nodded and followed him to the middle of the floor

“Alright guys, Kat is going to help me. We’re going to start with Undone” He said as my heart sank. It couldn’t have been Everybody. It couldn’t have been Straight through my heart. It HAD to be Undone.

“Fun” I said sarcastically as Howie sent me a look of sympathy. Why oh why must this happen? The guys gathered around as Fly tried to explain the pattern flipping in the beginning. He was right, it would be impossible to work without someone helping him. As we talked through it Brian came over and put his arm around my shoulder. I smiled weakly at him and he playfully messed with my hair. We worked through the beginning section slowly and it actually wasn’t so bad because since Brian’s legs were so much shorter than Nick’s and he always had to travel the same distance, he was constantly sliding in late and being a goofball about it. It wasn’t until we started in on the dance during Aj’s verse into the chorus that things began to slide out of control. We learned the counts first and I stayed to help Brian since we were on the same page dance wise and Fly looked grateful for the extra pair of eyes. Then Fly wanted to run it with the music. I danced through the pattern changes with the guys in the intro and then made the fatal mistake of moving out in front of them to watch the dance as Aj sang. But I didn’t get to watch much of the dance as I became distracted by Aj’s eyes while he sang directly to me.

“Your words burn, they're melting what we had. I'm breaking down. No reason, no warning, no love loss. You might as well take our pictures off the walls tonight. I don't wanna see you no more, I don't wanna feel you no more. Take our memories, throw them all aside. I hope you finally get what you want. Now you know.” He sang locking eyes with me. I could feel my heart breaking, my stomach clenching, the sweat breaking out on my forehead. I was trapped. This wasn’t fair.

“I didn't wanna live without you. I didn't wanna love without you. I used to think I'd die without you. Now it's killing me that we could be undone. I can't feel without you. You know I can't deal without you. And now I got a life without you. And it's killing me that we could undone” Played and I tried desperately to hold onto my composure. I was having trouble breathing. The tears were cascading down my cheeks. I had to get out of there. In a near state of panic I rushed out of the studio. I got out and barely registered that it had started raining. I stood there in the lot, letting the rain soak me to my bones and I began to shiver but I couldn’t tell whether it was from the rain or the exhaustion or both.

“Kat” I heard from behind me and saw that my escape had not been alone. I turned and was face to face with the last person I needed to see right now

“Please. Please just leave me alone. I can’t do this” I said burying my face in my hands so I didn’t have to look into Aj’s eyes any more. I wanted to pretend this wasn’t happening. I had been doing so well. But it seemed like no matter how hard I tried I could still be destroyed by this one man, this one man that I loved.

“I’m sorry” He started and suddenly anger flared in me as strong as my sadness

“That was really unfair” I spat and Aj looked honestly taken aback. “You knew that was going to be a hard song and you sang it right to me”

“I didn’t plan it. I looked up and you were there” He said defensively

“So you had to serenade me? Well if you really believe those words then why don’t we make them the new rules? We won’t see each other unless we have to. We won’t speak to each other at all. For all intents and purposes I am just another dancer” I said harshly. Clearly my exhaustion was getting to me. Suddenly the sound seemed to cut out from the world and all I heard was the echo of the anger in my words. That wasn’t what I wanted. I just wanted him to hug me. I wanted things to be the same as they were. In the foe silence time slowed down and I was able to see every bit of pain as it registered in Aj’s eyes. Oh God can I take it back?

“Fine” He said as anger began taking him over too “You’ve already moved on anyway”

“Aj do you really think that Josh has anything on you?” I said before I could stop myself. For a moment he seemed to understand that my words had come from my pain and not from my heart. He seemed to want to take his words back too. We stood there for an instant and forever all at once. The rain dripped down his face and I watched a droplet land on his eyelash. Suddenly I was completely exhausted and it was all I could do to stay standing. I pushed my way through the air that seemed to have thickened to molasses and walked off towards the bus.

“Kat” Aj shouted behind me “KAT!” But I just kept on walking. I was done being a saint. I was ready to take on the role of the victim. Screw being strong and brave and all that other bullshit. I had been cheated on. He had done wrong. I was done cutting him slack. I stormed into the bus, dripping water everywhere as Mollee approached me.

“Are you ok?” She asked cautiously

“Is the shower occupied?” I asked slowly and deliberately. I needed to keep my composure and the only emotion I had left was anger. I’m sure I was a terrifying sight, soaking wet, exhausted and pissed off.

“Nope” Sophie said as she moved away from the door handle she’d been about to turn. It was obvious she was just about to go in and shower but I couldn’t care as I slipped in and locked the door behind me. In complete auto pilot I turned on the water and undressed before getting in. I turned the water heat up to scalding until it burned just to be in it. I wanted to steam out the hurt that was threatening to overtake me. I closed my eyes and put my face in the water and then I let loose and cried. I cried for the embarrassment of running out of the studio, for the pain evident in Aj’s eyes and for the harsh words I’d never be able to take back. It must have been a half hour before I was able to pull myself together enough to turn off the water and head into the clothes room. I threw on the first pajamas I could find and hurried into my bunk, sliding the curtain closed behind me. I stared at the wall and noticed the picture propped there that Josh had drawn from where I had left it yesterday. A stab of pain raced through my stomach as I looked at it and I hastily threw it down towards my feet.

After a moment of staring hard at the wall I heard the curtain move behind me and the mattress bend under another person’s weight. A good portion of me got excited at the chance it might be Aj but when I felt Mollee’s hand in mine I knew I was just being stupid. He was never going to talk to me ever again, let alone share my bed. A fresh wave of tears took over and she laid her head next to mine.

“It’ll get better” She whispered as I closed my eyes. Thankfully my exhaustion was a good contender against my pain and it won over as I drifted into a dream. I was walking down a dark hallway and I was scared. I didn’t like being alone in this place. Suddenly I felt a warmth from my hand as someone took it. I tried to look and see who had joined me but I was blinded by a bright light in the place that the person should have been.

“Who are you?” I tried to whisper but as in most dreams, nothing came out. The light faded a bit as it neared my face and I felt its warmth travel through to my cheek. That burning sensation I’d felt once before met my skin before I could recognize what it meant. Then it all came to me. “Aj I love you. AJ!”

“Hey, it’s ok, calm down” Mollee said as I opened my eyes and tried to take in my surroundings. The sun was just starting to come up and Mollee was shaking me awake.
Chapter 11 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 11

“What happened? Am I late?” I asked groggily

“You were shouting in your sleep. I figured I would get you out of that dream” Mollee said as I calmed down and my breathing slowed.

“I’m going to go dance” I said swinging out of the bunk to the clothes room

“Want company?” She asked poking her head out of the curtain I’d left open

“It’s ok. I’ll see you at rehearsal” I said

“No rehearsal today. The guys have a promotional event” She said

“Oh. Well I’ll see you when I’m done” I said as she rolled back into my bunk to sleep. I changed quickly into dance clothes and grabbed my ipod before heading out to the studio. It was very quiet and still this early on the lot and I took a deep breath of morning air. The dream I had just escaped was fresh in my mind and I knew I just needed to dance to bring myself back to reality. I crept into the dark studio, only lit dimly by the rising sun in the high windows, and decided against turning on the harsh florescent lights. I took a deep breath and did a quick check that I was really alone in the studio before playing my ipod.

“So empty, can't feel no more as I'm left with my tears on the floor. I wait for my heart to mend but you keep tearing a hole.” Played through my speakers and I took another deep breath to gather my courage. Dancing to this song was going to be a whole different experience than it had been at the audition. As Aj’s voice came at me with words I could truly hear him saying I had to fight off the tears. There was no feeling of fear or panic attached to the song anymore. It was all pain. I let Aj’s voice wash over me and then started in on a lyrical piece as Brian’s voice took over.

“Inside I'm so lost in the middle of my heart. It's a battlefield of love I've been fighting for too long.” Played as I extended each movement to its breaking point. I stretched my muscles as far as they could go in an attempt to relate the turmoil I felt inside to my dance. Then the music began to ramp up into the chorus and I ran full out into a huge star leap that landed in a roll on the floor.

“And now I'm shattered (From the chip in my heart, kept taking it till it broke). Oh how it hurts (fell and slipped from your hands, hit the ground and now it’s shattered). I'm so shattered (Can't believe it was me, I'm so shattered). So shattered (Can't believe you hurt me I’m) so shattered (Can't believe you left me shattered). I'm shattered cut from within inside” I really let loose and left my feelings right out on the dance floor. It was wonderful because I could get the relief from crying with my eyes remaining dry. Once I had hit the emotional peak of the chorus I started to really try out some new technical dance elements and was focusing more on that until the key change when Aj’s voice returned and hit me like a ton of bricks. I faltered in the leap I had been attempting and landed hard on the ground. I lay there looking at the door, unable to move for the shock of finding myself on the floor and then I heard footsteps.

“You ok?” I heard a familiar voice and sent a little thank you to the heavens for it not being Aj

“I think so” I said trying to sit up to meet Nick’s blue eyes. He sat down next to me and watched helplessly as I attempted to stretch out my limbs. “Still have ten fingers and ten toes”

“That’s a start” He joked

“It’s something Mollee and I used to say to each other every morning, especially after we lost our parents. Inevitably one day you’d wake up with more sadness and hurt than another and we’d always try to put it in perspective by listing the little things we were thankful for like having ten fingers. Ten toes. Each other” I said attempting to stand “Where did you come from anyway?”

“Promise you won’t get mad?” He asked as I gave him a look

“Can’t promise that”

“I was in here writing before you came in and when you got in you were so in the zone that I just decided to watch you dance…” He trailed off as I rolled my eyes

“Why didn’t I see you?” I asked only a little annoyed but not enough to hold it against him

“The old closet trick” Nick said leading me over to a small door on the far end of the room next to edge of the mirror. You’d go past it if you didn’t know it was there but inside Nick had clearly made a small space with a bunch of pillows and a small lamp. From the door, even with the lamp on, it was virtually invisible

“This is cute” I said as he shrugged

“Life gets crazy sometimes. We all need a little private space” He explained

“Like a dance studio” I said with a pointed glare at him. He pouted and I punched him in the arm “It’s fine, I still like you”

“So how are you doing? I mean that was an interesting choice for a song to dance to” Nick said shyly as I sighed

“I guess every day gets a little easier. I had a dream that pointed out some hard truths and I just wanted to dance to something that reminded me why I’m sticking with the new plan” I said sliding down the mirror so I could lean against it and folding my knees into my chest.

“There’s a new plan?” Nick asked joining me

“Aj and I aren’t speaking anymore. We had a bit of a tiff in the parking lot and came to the conclusion that we just shouldn’t interact” I said sadly. Saying it out loud was like admitting it and I didn’t like how much it hurt to think of never sharing anything with Aj again.

“You really think that’s the best idea?” He asked as I sighed

“Nope”

“I see” He said sagely before looking at his toes “I wish I could do something to help”

“Me too but I think it just needs time. And I’m glad that you are here for both me and him. I love Mollee and I appreciate her trying to get everyone on my side but it hurts to think that no one is on his” I said with a frown

“Well you weren’t here when he was doing this stuff on a regular basis. Getting drunk I mean, not hurting the girl he loves” Nick corrected and my heart gave a small throb

“The drunk Aj is not someone I enjoy” I said as I picked up a small pebble from the floor and chucked it at the wall with all my might. It bounced off the opposite wall and rolled to a stop right at my foot again.

“What helped me and still does is differentiating between the drunken Aj and our Aj. Our Aj is the sweetest guy you’ll ever know. He’s a big goofball and he’s always there for you. That’s the guy that makes it worth suffering through the few times you have encounters with drunken Aj and he really gets to you. And believe me drunken Aj will soon be completely gone if we can keep supporting him” Nick said “But none of that helps when you’ve been hurt so badly by the one person you truly love, huh?”

“I won’t say it doesn’t help” I allowed “But it certainly doesn’t let me hate him like I want to”

“I see how that might be annoying” Nick said with a grin.

“Don’t you have a press thing today?” I asked as Nick groaned

“You had to remind me! I hate these things. I’d kidnap you just so I’d have something to entertain me but I think you’ve been through enough lately” He said slowly getting to his feet

“Yeah I don’t want to see Aj, not at all. But I’ll be here when you get back. Hopefully even in one piece!” I said trying to ignore the pain and anxiety that shot through me at the idea of having nothing to do today except dwell on my current life situation.

“You’ll make it through. You’re an Amazon” He said as I smirked.

“An Amazon?” I asked with a raised eyebrow

“Yeah. And nobody messes with an Amazon” He said like it was the most obvious thing in the world. He was such a dork. He gave me his hand so I could stand as well and a book dropped open on the floor.

“So what was so secret that you got up early to write?” I asked with an evil grin, snatching the book before Nick had a chance to. He tried to get it back from me and we ended up in quite the wrestling match. He had me pinned against the floor but I had the book under me so we were both stuck in a stalemate.

“Come on, Kat!” He said impatiently

“If you get to watch me secretly dance the least you can do is let me see what you were writing” I reasoned

“That’s not the same. When I write it’s about stuff that I can’t talk about. It’s personal” He whined

“Yeah, that’s NOTHING like when I want to dance privately” I said sarcastically as he sighed and rolled off of me. I stretched my limbs and took a deep breath to make sure he hadn’t crushed my lungs so much that they were unable to function.

“It’s stupid. I was just messing around. I’ll probably just throw it away anyway” He said as I rolled my eyes

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m sure it’s great” I said opening the book to its freshest page. The title “Special” leapt up at me and I grinned.

She makes me wanna fly
Both feet on the ground
Takes me to this place
I don’t want to come down

Gives me something fresh
Someone that is real
separate from the rest
Makes me wanna feel

I got the perfect imitation
Of a world that is full with smiles
With our spirits free and wild
But it’s a bittersweet sensation
‘Cause I’ll never have her heart

No matter how I try she’s always on my mind
At night, everyday and with every breath I take
On the way she’ll make a grown man cry
With one look deep into her eyes
outrageous, make you crazy, it’s amazing
She’s special

Footprints on the sand
Hear the ocean crash
Underneath the moon
Walking hand in hand

Shadow by my side
Wishing you were mine
Keep you in my dreams
Locked deep inside

Bridge
Chorus

Oh, I swore to you girl I will follow
I know some day you’ll want me
When you’re not so cold and lonely
I’ll be the whisper in your ear
If ever you should call me
I’ll be here

Chorus


“Are you happy now?” Nick asked anxiously

“It’s powerful” I said as I read through it quickly again

“Can I ask a question?”

“You might as well” He said nervously taking the book back from me

“Why would you never have her heart?” I asked cautiously meeting his eyes

“I’ve asked her to be my girlfriend about 60 times and she keeps saying that she needs more time. I’m starting to get the feeling that she just doesn’t want me” He said quietly as I sighed

“It’s not you” I said taking his hand “I swear it’s not. Mollee is carefree about everything in the world except her heart. She’s never had a serious relationship but she’s watched the few I’ve had crumble before her eyes. I think the fact that she won’t say yes shows just how much she feels for you. I think it terrifies her”

“You really think that’s it?” He asked quietly as I nodded

“Give me some time, I’ll work on her. She really likes you Nick and you’re amazing together…” I started but had to stop to inwardly curse the tear falling from my cheek. Nick’s love for my sister was bringing all my pain to the surface

“Hey. You’re ok. Amazon, remember?” He said quickly putting his hands on my shoulders and staring intensely into my eyes

“I’m sorry. This has nothing to do with me and I’m a complete mess” I said as I wiped the tears falling silently down my cheek away as fast as I could

“You’ve been through a lot” Nick said pulling me into a hug. I took a few deep breaths from the safety of his embrace and then eased myself away from him to grab my dance bag. I had wanted to dance more but suddenly I didn’t have the energy

“It’s still an amazing song. Is it for the guys?” I asked trying to pretend I hadn’t just broken down

“I’m thinking about recording another solo album. It would be for that” He explained as I nodded

“It’s got my vote” I said as he put his arm around me and led me out of the studio

“There you are. Nick! We’re going to be late! Let’s go!” Howie yelled from across the parking lot as Nick rolled his eyes and I had to laugh at him

“Sorry I got you in trouble” I said as he turned to hug me goodbye

“It’s cool. Keep your head up today. I’ll be back and Mollee and I will keep you company” He said sweetly kissing the top of my head

“And I’ll talk to her, I promise” I said and a small smile twitched at the corner of his mouth.

“Thanks” He mouthed before turning and jogging over to where the guys were standing. I tried not to look over at them but inevitably I caught Aj’s eyes from where I was. I turned quickly as he started to open his mouth to say something in my direction and all but ran directly into Josh. I tried to stop myself before colliding with him but my haste at getting away from Aj left me off balance and I fell on my ass.

“Oh God, I’m sorry, are you ok?” Josh asked as I blushed

“I’m fine, it’s my fault I don’t walk well” I explained as Josh smirked

“I won’t argue with that” He said and instead of helping me up, he sat next to me on the pavement. I arched an eyebrow at him.

“What are you doing?” I asked as he sat across from me

“Hanging out with you” He said simply as if it were the most normal thing in the world to sit in the middle of a parking lot

“You are so weird” I said as he reached into his back pocket and pulled out some paper and something black

“Stay right there” Josh said and I froze, basking in the randomness that was this guy. He quickly put the black thing to his paper and sketched in silence for about five minutes before turning, sighing and putting the book down

“Can I move?” I asked out of the corner of my mouth exaggerating the fact that I was freezing per his request

“Yeah” He said as I stretched and glanced behind me. I saw the back of Aj and knew he had been watching me, but he got in the waiting van without so much as a backward glance and it drove off.

“Can I see what you drew?” I asked as Josh smiled

“It’s nothing you don’t see every day in the mirror” He joked as he turned the paper to face me. What I saw took my breath away. It was my face, sure, but it was so much more. The look on my face was so complex and Josh had captured my feelings easily. In my eyes was hurt and pain but also determination. There was some surprise and some anxiety. And then there was excitement. In the picture my hair was blowing lightly in some unseen wind and behind a strand was a shadowy figure was fixated on me. My heart clenched as I realized the moment he had captured was not just of me. It was of Aj, of us. Of the relationship we now had. It made my heart ache but I focused back on my own eyes looking up at me filled with hope and excitement. It was what I saw when I looked at Josh.

“My God you’re talented” I said once I found my voice again.

“Eh” He shrugged taking the book with the picture inside and closing it before stuffing it back in his pocket “What are your plans for the day? Looks like the guys are gone does that mean you have the day off?”

“I do in fact” I said as he grinned

“Want to spend a day in my shoes?” He asked eagerly and I had to smile. The strangest things happened to me when I was with Josh. My heart did not become full. The holes that had been ripped in it did not magically mend. Instead, my heart warmed. The whole thing, holes and all, swelled and I felt like the sun had moved from behind a cloud to shine just on me.

“Promise I won’t get hurt?” I asked. The full meaning of my statement hit me a second later. I wanted to open up my heart to him but I was scared

“I can’t promise that. But you’ll have fun” He said with the lopsided grin that I was beginning to adore.

“Let me change. I’ll meet you out in front of my bus in 15 minutes” I said eagerly as I jumped up and raced towards the dancer’s bus

“Don’t wear anything you don’t want to get ruined!” He yelled to my back and I threw a hand in the air so he knew I’d received the message. Mollee was inside eating with Camie and Sophie on the couch as I bolted past them.

“Kat” She asked as I stalled in the clothes room. What to wear?

“I’m fine. Spending the day with Josh” I yelled to her as I settled on some ripped jeans and a simple black wife beater. I threw my hair up in a messy bun and slipped on my converse

“I support that decision” She said as I ran back out and attempted to rush past her again. She stopped me and took my hair quickly down from its bun. She whipped it into two smaller messy buns down by my ears and put her baseball hat on my head, slightly off center. “Perfect. Go get him”

“Thanks Molls!” I said excitedly before kissing her on the cheek and starting to race out the door again. Suddenly Nick’s song hit me with enough to force to stop me in my tracks right at the doorframe

“We need to talk later” I said turning abruptly back to a stunned Mollee

“Ok. Should I be worried?” She asked as I smirked

“Nope, I just need to run some things by you” I said vaguely as she nodded and I opened the door, confident that I was at least going to be able to help Nick out, to find Josh leaning against the bus.

“That was fast. You ready to hang some lights?” He asked and I nodded with a huge grin. My day had become instantly better. Not only would I be completely distracted from the pain I was now living with daily, but I’d get to spend some quality time with Josh. “Not afraid of heights, are you?”

“I’m not afraid of anything” I said with foe bravado as he took my hand and my heart thudded. We walked out past the rehearsal studio to a section of the lot I’d never been. Ahead of us loomed a huge warehouse. It looked like it could have been an airplane hangar at some point. Josh waved at the security guy near the entrance and he looked me up and down.

“Scott, Kat, Kat, Scott” Josh introduced simply as I waved

“Hey Kat, we don’t get many pretty girls like you around here. Where’d Josh find you?” He asked as I smirked. How lame.

“I’m a dancer” I said as he nodded and gave Josh a wink

“Usually the artists scoop up the dancers. Go Josh” He said as Josh rolled his eyes at me and led me inside

“Don’t mind Scott. He’s always like that” Josh explained as I nodded. It was actually kind of flattering. I stopped short as I took in the sight in front of me. It seemed that we had entered a huge puzzle of what the Backstreet stage would be but all the giant pieces were scattered everywhere. Guys were wiring up different screens and sections of stage were upside down as different people attempted to run wires around them. As I gawked, Josh led me to the tall pieces of scaffolding that loomed high above everything else. About a hundred lights littered the floor surrounding the many pieces of scaffolding and though it looked like complete chaos to me, Josh smiled. “Looks like someone sectioned these out for us so all we have to do is hang them. Awesome”

“Yeah” I said feeling completely lost. Josh gave me a look and then squeezed my hand

“Don’t worry, you don’t have to know anything about this to do it right. All we have to do is recreate this plot up there. We don’t even have to focus them or anything. Just use these clamps to attach the lights to the bars” He explained as I nodded, still a little nervous.

“Come on, let’s harness you” He said leading me to the left where a bunch of safety equipment lay. He picked up a harness and we spent a few confused minutes trying to get the thing on and tightened the right way. Finally I was in and then Josh whipped his harness on in a matter of seconds so I rolled my eyes at him. He threw me a helmet and fastened one to his head before walking back to the scaffolding.

“Helmets, that’s comforting” I said with a grin

“If you’re too scared we could always go and play some chess or something” Josh teased as I scowled and put on the helmet

“How do we get up there?” I asked with new determination

“I’ll hook you in here” He said sliding a carabineer into place on my harness “And then you climb”

“Climb what?” I asked as he slid his carabineer into place as well

“This” He said simply swinging one foot onto the scaffolding nearest us and beginning to scale it. I shook my head, unable to believe that I was about to do this, and then swung my foot up to the first bar as well. I pulled myself up and then looked up to see Josh smiling down at me.

“You’re lucky I’m a good climber” I said as I quickly caught up so we were eye to eye

“You’re certainly no average girl” He said with a grin as I blushed. He swung down and grabbed one of the lights before leading me higher and higher until we could touch the ceiling of the warehouse

“This is awesome” I said looking down at the people who now looked like ants as they worked away

“It’s a good view, I have to say” He said with a smile, surveying the floor as I did “Ok, so now we just clip this into place. The angle isn’t important yet, we’ll have another day just for focusing once we get closer to getting you all on the stage. For now, we’re just getting the lights up here. Once they are clipped, plug them into these wires I ran yesterday and we should be good to go”

“Easy” I said starting to climb down to grab another light. Josh and I had a good time hanging lights. We got to talk, joke and get a good workout from all the climbing. Josh was really grateful for the help as he insisted it would take him eight times as long to hang them all alone and I was happy to be working. We took a lunch break and I got to talk to all of the other tech guys who seemed impressed that a dancer would spend her day off working on lights and I enjoyed hanging out with people who knew me as some badass chick who was a good climber as opposed to someone who had been shattered by her boyfriend’s infidelity. After lunch we did some more hanging and we were nearing the end of the pile of lights as it got dark and people started to leave.

“Come on Kat, it’s supposed to be a three day project, we don’t have to finish” Josh said taking a sip of water once we had descended again. He threw me the water and I took a swig and stood with my hand on my hip, breathing a little hard.

“I know but we only have a few more to go. Don’t you want to finish?” I asked

“You are crazy but I’ll stay if you will. I just don’t want you to be completely exhausted for your rehearsal tomorrow” Josh said as I smiled

“Believe me, exhausted will be the best feeling I’ll have had at rehearsal in a few days” I said as I snapped four heavy lights onto my harness and began to climb up

“Four? You are crazy” Josh said matching my efforts and climbing up behind me. One of my favorite parts of today was that Josh had found me exceptionally capable. He never felt the need to protect me or make sure that I was being safe. He just trusted that I could do the work I said I could do. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but as a youngest child I had gotten used to thinking that I had to be cautious and always be looked after in life. Having a friendship where I was seen as capable was something I loved. It was an empowering feeling in a week that had been so demeaning. We hooked up the last of the lights and sat on top of the scaffolding, looking over the now empty warehouse.

“When did everyone else leave?” I asked as Josh sat next to me and laid on his back

“Somewhere between light 150 and light 200” He sighed as I gave him a look

“Did I tire you out?” I joked as he swatted me playfully

“You’re a lot to keep up with. You’re kind of amazing that way” He said as I smiled and swung my feet “The last girl I took to work was too concerned about breaking nails to actually help at all. You I would hire as an assistant”

“Are your assistants usually better than you at your job?” I joked

“Keep it up, I’ll throw you off this thing” Josh said as I smirked

“I’d like to see you try” I challenged. My improved mood had made me a little punchy

“Yeah I’m too tired to fight you” Josh said as I laughed and we descended the scaffolding for the last time. I took off the harness and stretched my arms out only now realizing what hell I would be in tomorrow for over working them today

“Ok, I have to admit that you were right about one thing. I am going to be SORE tomorrow” I said as Josh joined me and we left the building. It was dark and I had to take Josh’s hand so I knew where I was going. Not that I minded holding his hand.

“Don’t tell your people it was my fault. They won’t let me near you again and I don’t think I’d like that” He said squeezing my hand a little. My heart thudded recklessly and I scolded it. How could I be feeling anything for anyone in the state I was in? Josh was wonderful but I was so hurt over Aj. I was not one to fall in and out of these things so easily. What was I doing?

“Whoa” I said as I almost ran into the bus, not realizing in my mental berating that we had reached our destination

“You are a little busy up there tonight” Josh said pointing to my temple and standing in front of me “Want to share with the class”

“Not really” I said looking down at my shoes. Josh moved his free hand slowly to mine and rubbed the back of it with his thumb. I watched that for a little and then looked up, startled to see that his face was mere inches from me.

“I’m sorry he hurt you” Josh whispered as I reluctantly met his eyes

“I’m Ok.” I said trying to convince myself as I said it

“You’re more than Ok” He said with that lopsided grin. I giggled a little at it and he took that moment to lean in and kiss me. His lips were so soft and warm; it was like falling into a huge pile of pillows and being embraced by a long lost friend all at once. It didn’t have the urgency and ferocity Aj and I had but it was really nice. He moved his hand slowly to the back of my neck and my mind reacted before I had a chance to stop it. Flashbacks of that hotel room where I had been trapped by Rich. My scalp screaming as he dragged me by my hair to the bathroom and the sound of the slap as he knocked me to the ground. I was screaming and I couldn’t hear anything and my breath was coming too fast for me to get any oxygen from it and then suddenly I was warm and felt surrounded on all sides in a safe and comforting way and I heard above me the intonation of words I couldn’t understand but there was a rhythm in them and I focused on that to bring me out. My breathing slowed and the scene gradually came into focus. Josh was kneeling next to me looking like he was at a complete loss. His eyes shone bright with panic and helplessness as he gripped my hand. Slowly I registered that grip and the feeling began to return to the rest of my body. I was on the ground but not alone. I glanced up to see the chocolate brown eyes I adored. In those eyes was the all too familiar pain that had lingered there for the last few days but also a strange confidence. As I tried to interpret that I noticed I was still speaking and I smashed my lips together when I realized that I had been repeating Aj's name.

"I'm right here" He whispered quietly "You are here and I am here. Come back to us"

"Oh God" I said quietly as the pain from the flashback radiated through my muscles. I took a deep breath and tried to rid them of the tension that racked my body.

“Kat, I’m so sorry” I heard Josh from my left and I met his eyes slowly

“Stop I’m fine” I said breathlessly still using the majority of my energy to stay grounded in this world and not retreat back into the memories that lay freshly open in my mind "It's my fault. You didn't do anything wrong"

"What happened?" He asked and instinctually I looked up at Aj. I couldn't explain this to Josh now. Not so early in our friendship or whatever we had and definitely not so soon after a flashback. It might trigger another one. A look of understanding came over Aj's face

"It's just something that happens when she gets nervous" Aj explained tentatively, not wanting to reveal more than I was ready to "She's got some crazy past that haunts her"

"I don't know what to do" Josh said quietly as I looked him full on in the face

"Why don't you leave me here. Aj will make sure I get in safely. He's dealt with this before" I said softly as conflict spread across Josh's features. Clearly he didn't want to leave me here alone with Aj but he didn’t know how else to help me.

"If you tell me what to do I could help-" Josh started

"It's cool dude, I got her" Aj interrupted with more smugness in his tone than I liked. Josh looked at him and then back to me and, looking like he felt like he was making the wrong decision, slowly nodded

"I'll explain everything tomorrow, I promise" I said quietly as he stood up

"I'll see you at lunch" He said reminding Aj with whom I now chose to keep my company. I watched him walk away and then groaned. The pain from the flashback had nearly faded and now the embarrassment of the situation rolled in. I became acutely aware that I was still in Aj's arms and I attempted to move but my body betrayed me in its exhaustion and I fell back into his lap. He sighed and helped me sit next to him so I was leaning against the bus but he didn't leave my side.

“This is the most embarrassing situation I have ever been in” I mumbled burying my head in my hands

“I found it kind of charming when it happened to me” Aj said as I glared at him

“What happened?” I asked quietly. I shivered a little and realized suddenly that I was wrapped in Aj's hoodie. Why was he everywhere right now?

“I was walking back from the van to my bus after our press event and I was detouring, as usual, to see if I could catch a glimpse of you before bed” Aj said unabashedly as I groaned “And I saw you with him and then I saw you flashback and Techie was standing there like an idiot-"

"Hey" I interrupted him "He has a name. And if you're going to badmouth my friend then you can just leave"

"Friend huh? I wasn't under the impression that you spent that much time kissing your friends" Aj said bitterly. I glared at him and he relented "Fine. Josh. Josh was standing there like a deer caught in headlights - don't yell at me it's true - so I came over and used all the tricks I learned to help you out of your flashback. You were shaking so I wrapped you up, you weren't breathing well so I tried to verbalize a rhythm you could hold on to, and then when I heard you saying my name-"

"I was not" I interrupted as Aj glanced at me

"Not what?"

"Saying your name?" I asked cautiously as Aj tried to hide his grin and nodded. This really couldn't get any worse.

"Well I figured if you were calling to me then that was as much permission as I was going to get to touch you so I held you until you came back to us" Aj finished still radiating that smugness that made me want to punch him. That rhythm I had heard that had brought me out. That was Aj. He had pulled me out of that place. That place I had gone to when Josh kissed me. Oh God.

“He is never going to speak to me again” I said quietly. Aj sighed

"Calm down. You've just made sure he'll be thinking about you all night. Which sucks" Aj pouted as I glared at him, my cheeks still red with embarrassment "I thought you didn't like him like that anyway"

"Things change" I said quietly as Aj's eyes immediately shifted to the ground. Sure, Josh didn't make me feel like the world was ending every time he left. His touch didn't send electric shocks through me like I'd been struck by lightning. Talking to him, while fun, held only a small portion of the connection that talking to Aj had. But I couldn't pretend that I didn't feel for Josh. It scared me and I hated myself a little for it, but in my state of extreme pain Josh had become some clear and pure facet of my life and more than anything I needed something easy, something normal.

“Come on, what does he have that I don’t have?” Aj asked incredulously. It was like he couldn’t believe I could feel for anyone but him.

“He treats me like I’m capable. He doesn’t treat me like I’m broken. Like some girl who lost her mind when the guy she loved broke her heart” I snapped back. I saw hurt register on his face and I instantly scolded myself for causing him pain.

“No one thinks of you like that” Aj whispered as I sighed

“You don’t see the way they look at me. He makes me feel human. Like I’m not dying every second…” I stopped as tears clouded my vision. Aj tried to take my hand but I moved it away from his touch.

“I feel it too you know” He whispered and I nodded

“I know”

“I don’t think he’s right for you” He continued

“I know” I said with a little more force. He opened his mouth to say something and then stopped. We sat in silence for a few minutes and I shifted uneasily.

“Are you going to be ok?” He asked breaking the silence as I nodded and slowly got to my feet

“I’ve got a bit of a bruised ego but other than that I’m fine” I said as Aj brushed the dirt off of his pants

“Better than a broken heart I guess” Aj said. We stood in silence and then Aj gave me a look of longing. More than anything I wanted to lean in and kiss him. I wanted to not feel so hurt and conflicted. But most of all I wanted to erase the pain so prominent on Aj’s face. Whatever bravado he had drummed up for the benefit of Josh was an act and we both knew it. He was in real pain at the idea of me being with someone else.

“Aj-” I started trying to find the words to express how sorry I was that he was hurting. I opened my mouth several times but nothing came out. Why was it so hard to talk to him all of the sudden?

“You should lie down. You’re still grayed out” Aj said and I watched his protective walls slide back in place. I hated when he did that because suddenly he wasn’t my Aj anymore. It was closer to the Aj that had been in bed with Camie. I shivered from the memory.

“Your sweater” I said attempting to hand him back the hoodie that I just realized I was griping to myself with all my might. I realized that it was holding me together and Aj seemed to realize that as well

“Keep it. I’ve got a ton” He said slowly turning to go. As he turned away from me I felt the hole in my heart burn and I almost choked as I tried to cope with it.

“Wait!” I called more to dull the pain in my chest than anything else. He stopped but didn’t turn back to look at me. “Thank you for being there for me. I don’t know what I would have done”

“I promised I’d always be here for you. No matter what happens I’ll keep that promise” Aj said with his back still facing me. I watched his shoulders slump from behind as he walked away and I leaned back against the bus and slid to the ground. What a day.
Chapter 12 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 12

I don’t know how long I stayed outside but when I snuck back onto the bus my small prayer was answered in that everyone was asleep. I tossed and turned all night as my brain sent me one disturbing dream after another. First there were flashbacks with Rich and I would wake up sobbing. Then I’d have a dream where I was stuck in a loveless relationship with Josh all the while wishing I was with Aj. Then I had dreams where I was married to Aj but he would get drunk every night. That dream ended the same way every time I had it, a shock of red hair against his pale skin in the moonlight. The noises I’d never escape. His face when he saw that I had caught him. I woke up anything but rested and dragged myself into the clothes room to get ready for rehearsal.

“Good morning sunshine! How was your day yesterday?” Mollee asked as I yawned

“Full of drama because that is my life” I said grumpily as she frowned

“Aj?” She asked as I nodded and she sighed “Well we’re working on the stage today so maybe you’ll get to see Josh”

“Maybe” I said as my heart stammered in its rhythm at the thought that Josh may not want to see me today. He certainly understood yesterday but a night’s sleep changes things. Maybe he decided I wasn’t worth the time. And that thought bothered me more than I liked. Lost in my own world I walked wearily to the warehouse that I was now familiar with and was joined by Nick half way there.

“You ok?” He asked jolting me out of another scenario I had made in my head where Josh, heartbroken and hurt, accused me of leading him on just to break his heart.

“I’m alright. Why?” I asked as I tried to force myself into the current moment

“I’ve been trying to talk to you for the past five minutes” He said with a frown as I sighed. He hopped in front of me and I leaned into his chest. He wrapped his arms around me and rested his head on mine. I took a deep breath of the beach smell he always had and tried to loosen up. Then I remembered my promise to him.

“Nick I’m so sorry, I haven’t talked to Mollee yet. I will though, I swear I will” I said into his chest

“Stop, it’s Ok. I’m sorry I even shared that with you in the state that you are in. Just worry about getting through this and getting back to the Kat we all love” Nick said as I sighed and closed my eyes.

“Is she ok?” I heard from behind us and I felt Nick nod. I looked up to see Howie giving me a sad smile. I returned it.

“I’m just tired. I need to start sleeping again” I said and the two guys flanked me as we walked towards the stage

“That would help” Howie said empathetically. We came even to the booth Scott was at and he gave me a big grin

“I knew a simple lighting guy couldn’t keep you interested for long gorgeous.” He said eyeing my escort. Nick was about to say something but I stopped him

“Good morning Scott” I said as he gave me a wink and buzzed us into the warehouse

“How do you know him?” Howie asked as two more guys I had eaten lunch with yesterday passed me and gave me waves and big smiles “Or them?”

“I spent my day off here helping out. I made some friends” I said as Josh rushed up to me. I had to deal with this already? I had hoped I could at least get through the morning

“How are you feeling?” He asked as I shrugged “That’s a stupid question, huh?”

“No, I’m just tired” I explained as Howie and Nick looked awkwardly at each other, torn between whether I needed their support or if I wanted some alone time

“Well I wanted to give you this and tell you that I’m still in if you are” Josh said quickly handing me a drawing. It was me with a big smile up in the grid surrounded by lighting equipment. I smiled and met his eyes

“You have an impeccable memory” I said marveling at the detail in everything from the color of my hair elastic to the location of the rips in my jeans

“What can I say? You’re fun to look at” He said with a hint of the smile

“I’ll see you at lunch?” I offered as his smile grew and I couldn’t help but return it

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’ll be above you working lights all rehearsal so if anyone gives you trouble, I’ll know” He said giving an eye to where Aj was standing pretending that he wasn’t watching my every move.

“I’ll be fine. See you later” I said as he walked away and Nick nudged me

“He’s cute” He said in a valley girl voice

“Guurrrlll” Howie added as I rolled my eyes

“You guys are embarrassing yourselves” I joked hardly able to hide the small grin they inspired as we walked over to where Aj and Brian were stretching. I gave Brian a quick hug and then looked over at Aj and saw him quickly look away pretending not to have seen me. My stomach clenched and I had to close my eyes to keep them from filling with tears. Then, standing there with my muscles tensed and my eyes squeezed shut, something hit me. I thought of Aj’s kindness and strength in a difficult situation last night. I had been kissing another guy only three days after we had broken up. He didn’t have to come and help me. He could have left me there on the ground in my own personal hell while Josh tried to figure out what to do. He could have turned and walked away. I’m not proud of it but I think that’s what I would have done. But he had stayed. I knew I’d never hate him and I knew that I couldn’t stand to see him hurt so why was I trying to do both? What rule was there that I had to force myself to be angry with him? I was definitely hurt but something in me knew that the best way to dull the pain was to try to help Aj. I opened my eyes slowly and saw Mollee from across the room looking at me with concern. Everyone was walking on eggshells around me and all because I was refusing to do the one thing I knew would make me feel better. I took a deep breath, put one foot in front of the other and sat next to Aj. He was visibly shocked and I watched as he opened and closed his mouth a few times, unable to decide what to say.

“Hi” He finally got out and I grinned

“Hi” I said pushing my legs into a straddle and stretching down to my knee. I could feel his confusion and more than just his pair of eyes on me as everyone filtered in and took in my proximity to the guy I’d only confronted when I had to for the last few days. I smiled a little, enjoying the awkwardness more than I probably should have. Somehow, even with all the attention on me, I couldn’t bring myself to feel embarrassed. I was certain in my decision. This is how I would make it through.

“How’d you sleep?” Aj ventured as I moved to my other leg. I guess he decided that since I seemed like I would be civil with him he would try and get as much out of me as possible before I changed my mind.

“Not so good. I’m exhausted. Looks like you didn’t fare too well either” I said glancing up at him and taking in the dark circles under his eyes. He met my eyes for a moment and that time stopping power of his caught me off guard. In his eyes was still a good amount of pain but I saw for the first time a bit of relief as well. It strengthened my resolve that this was the way to handle the situation.

“I kept dreaming that I’d lost my one true love forever” Aj said as I quickly looked down and paced my breathing as time sped up around me again “Sorry”

“I brought it up” I offered and Aj sighed. I knew for this to work that I’d have to clue him in to my new plan. “Look. I’ve tried ignoring you. I’ve tried feeling sad. I’ve tried being the victim. I’ve tried hating you. I’ve tried everything I can think of except to try to forgive you. It’ll take time but what you did for me last night was special. It’s something not too many people in my life would have done in your position. What it took to help me out when I was with someone else…the pain you must have felt…”

“It wasn’t so bad when I heard you calling to me” Aj said with a quiet smile as I caught my sadness in my throat.

“Well I figured that I couldn’t let a friend like that go” I said without looking at him

“Friend?” Aj asked with a hint of disappointment

“I can’t pretend that I trust you enough to be more Aj. I’m sorry. I really am” I said and meant it. I met his eyes and this time he looked away, clearly ashamed that I couldn’t trust him.

“I’ll never stop fighting for you Kat. I’ll never stop loving you” He said as I sighed

“Look, if being friends is too much for you we can go back to the other way…” I started and he looked up quickly and took me by the shoulders

“Any piece of you I get is something I’m grateful for. Acquaintances, friends, lovers, whatever, I need you in my life Kat” He said seriously and I smiled

“Friends?” I asked holding out my hand

“Friends” He said taking it. We both smiled at each other and incredibly I blushed. That got Aj laughing which, in my overtired state, got me laughing too. It was like everything in the world had re-aligned. I was here, next to Aj, and he was smiling. Our laughter died down a bit and we were left in a comfortable silence. We kept staring at each other and the tightness in my stomach slowly loosened and became butterflies.

“What is going on?” Mollee asked pulling us out of our trance

“Nothing, I’m exhausted” I said as if that explained everything. Mollee looked me up and down and raised an eyebrow. Right on time to save me from some awkward explanations Fly came in and got us up on the stage. We were all really excited to be running the show with the staircases for the first time and everyone buzzed as we climbed them to our starting positions up on top where a screen would eventually block us from the audience. But I was buzzing for a completely different reason. Aj was directly in front of me and as the intro music played for his entrance I leaned in and whispered “Break a leg”

“See you out there” Aj said unable to hide his grin as he jumped out with the guys and ran the intro before we entered. I watched him, grinning like an idiot as he easily executed the difficult dance steps and Mollee caught my eye.

“What is going on?” She mouthed and I shrugged as annoyance clouded her features. Our entrance came and we all walked out as planned. We danced the opening and I fell into Aj’s arms, enjoying the electric current that raced through me when he caught me. I landed perfectly in my ending position for We’ve got it goin’ on which was now in front of Brian.

“Someone’s happy” Brian whispered in the applause break in the music as both Aj and I gave him identical looks of annoyance. He started cracking up and I met Aj’s eyes and we both grinned. The music transitioned into PDA and for the first time in the last few days it didn’t send dread through me. We executed the first section perfectly and then I approached Aj for the sensual partnering section. I swung my leg around his body from behind and I could feel a shiver run up his spine as I pressed my body to his. All the sadness and pain between us was breaking off in waves and converting unexpectedly into some serious sexual tension. As I whipped my hair back and slid in front of him I couldn’t help but grind very seductively into him. He grabbed my leg and slid his hand farther up my upper thigh then the choreography deemed necessary before I launched myself up into the next pose behind him. I gripped his shoulder and I heard his quick intake of breath. He turned to me and prepared to run his hand along my collar bone as rehearsed but since we’d been partners he’d never actually touched me. He smirked a bit as he seductively trailed his fingers over the exposed portion of my cleavage and this time I was the one holding my breath. We moved into the next section and each rolled thrust in the chorus moved us closer and closer together until I was acutely aware of every piece of clothing separating him from me. Mercifully he broke away from me to sing the bridge and I composed myself as we finished the dance and ran off for our exit. The next thing in the lineup would be Quit playing games but we had to pause to fix some sound equipment and Aj ran up to me as I leaned with my hands on my knees, trying to give myself the mental equivalent of a cold shower

“That was…” Aj started meeting my eyes with a wicked grin

“Interesting” I finished focusing on my shoes in order to catch my breath for more than one reason. I watched with bated breath as his hand moved slowly from his side to the general vicinity of my cheek and paused about a centimeter from my skin. I could feel my breath as it reflected off of his palm and then his skin tenderly met mine as he slowly brought my eyes to his. We stood there, him with his hand on my jaw bone, me staring into the endless depths of his chocolate eyes until Mollee bumped into us and sent us stumbling in opposite directions

“Sorry. Aj they need you” She said with a huge fake smile as Aj shook his head to clear his thoughts and raced out to where the guys were setting up to run the next section of the show without us. I watched him go and Mollee grabbed my arm roughly and pulled me towards the folding chairs they had set up in front of the stage.

“Ouch Molls, Jesus!” I said as she attempted to rip my arm from its socket and slammed me into a chair in the remotest corner of the space

“What the hell are you doing?” She asked angrily as I clenched my jaw and prayed for patience

“Dancing. Isn’t that what we get paid for?” I said coldly

“We get paid to dance, not dry hump boys who have broken our hearts” She said as I exhaled loudly

“Mollee I decided I don’t want to be mad at him anymore. It’s not helping me move on and it’s not helping him” I explained as she made a frustrated noise in the vicinity of her throat

“You are just going to let him back into your life after what he did? Do I need to remind you that not three days ago he made a decision to bump pelvises with the only girl on tour who hates you?” She asked and a shot of pain raced through my chest. That’s when I got angry

“No Mollee. You don’t need to remind me. I was there” I said harshly turning away from her and focusing angrily at the wall

“Well it seems like someone does because you seem to have forgotten that what he did was unforgivable. After what you’ve been through any guy who would take advantage of the little compassion asshole left you with is complete scum. Have some respect” She spat at me.

“Have you noticed this is the first day I’ve made it this long without crying? Maybe I know what I’m doing. I’m a big girl now Mollee, I can take care of myself” I shot back

“After your actions this morning, I can’t say I agree” She said angrily turning her back to me. We sat there in tense silence as I stubbornly crossed my legs and arms and felt Mollee do the same. It would have been funny if I wasn’t so pissed at her. Who did she think she was? No one but me knows what I’m feeling and therefore no one but me knows the best way to mend my heart. The guys finished As long as you love me and I heard the beginning of This is Us start to play. I felt the hurt and sadness begin to creep into my heart and I fought against it with all of my might. My own words echoed in my head as I stared at the wall determined to make it through today without crying. I was tensing all my muscles, trying with everything I had to hold in the breakdown threatening to race through me and instinctually I moved my arms from where they were crossed on my chest to my stomach so I could squeeze my sides and physically hold myself together. I was vaguely aware that my foot was shaking off of my leg and that the force with which I was squeezing my sides was actually keeping me from taking a deep breath. I started getting a little light headed and it became clear that I was either going to pass out or sob so I looked helplessly towards the stage. Aj’s eyes met mine and registered my pain. The song ended and I was fighting with all my energy to keep my cool while I watched in slow motion as Aj asked for a five minute break, jumped off of the stage, and attempted to approach me. The problem was that I was between the wall and Mollee so Aj had to face her before he could get to me.

“Kat” Aj started as he got near me and Mollee stood up blocking his path

“Stay away from my sister” She growled at him. The sight of two people I cared so deeply about with so much tension between them was more than I could handle and I doubled over, head between my legs, fighting with every particle of my being not to lose it. “She might be deluded into thinking you are worthy of her time but I see you McLean. If you love her as much as you claim, why don’t you leave her alone and let her move past you to someone who won’t hurt her? You have to know that you aren’t good enough for her. Man up and let her find someone who will treat her the way she deserves to be treated”

“Mollee look at her” Aj said taking in her words but being more concerned at my hyperventilating than anything else. She turned quickly and her eyes widened as she took in my rapid breathing, tense muscles and scrunched up body position. She sat quickly and tried to put her arm around me. The combination of all the intense feelings of today mixed with my lack of sleep, however, left me in no mood to be coddled by either Aj or my sister. I moved quickly away from her and buried my head in my hands praying that some emergency system in my body that controlled my lungs would kick in any minute to help me gain some control. Then something from my periphery distracted me. It seemed that someone was vaulting over chairs to reach me. I looked up and saw the familiar mop of brown hair as it landed in the chair in front of me. Josh’s green eyes met mine but instead of looking at me with pity or concern he crossed them and stuck out his tongue. It was the most ridiculous response and not what I expected but I let all of my tension out with one laugh.

“Hey bright eyes” He said with that lop sided grin as he swept a piece of hair off his forehead “You’re looking over stimulated”

“A bit” I choked out with a small smile

“You know when you’re not happy the whole room vibrates with it. I was up there focusing lights and I could literally feel the Earth shaking as you got upset. Or it could have been the shaking of your foot on the scaffolding I was climbing but it’s your pick” He said with a grin. I unfolded myself slowly and took a deep breath. A smile spread across my face and he punched me in the arm. “There you go slugger”

“You are so weird” I said as Fly began to call us all back to work on some pattern changes with the lights

“I know, right?” He said shoving me playfully before vaulting back over to his equipment and scaling the scaffold again. I turned with a smile to see Aj and Mollee looking completely bewildered and I sighed

“Going to move so I can get to rehearsal?” I asked as they both simultaneously moved out of my way, a little scared to say anything to me right now. I’m sure I was coming off as completely bipolar but I didn’t really care. I was happy to have Aj in my life but I didn’t want him saving me. The more time I spent with Josh the more I began to feel that too many people in my life spent their time protecting me instead of letting me make my own mistakes and fend for myself. I loved Mollee but the over-protective sister thing was getting old.

“Oh how I miss dancing with you!” Brian whispered into my ear as I approached him on the stage waiting for Fly to tell us where we were starting from

“I miss you too Bri” I said giving him a big hug. It was strange for Brian to be anything less than completely positive about every situation so it worried me a little that he was struggling with Camie “At least we still have a few good dance moments on stage together”

“Believe me I look forward to those moments every day” He said mussing my hair as usual before going to his spot on the top of the stairs. We spent the rest of the morning running the beginning portion of the show with lights and sound and it took a lot of patience. I was ecstatic when Fly dismissed the dancers for the afternoon so he could work with the guys on the portion we weren’t involved in.

“Eat with me?” Aj asked cautiously, still a little uncertain of his boundaries as they currently stood

“I’ve got a date” I said simply and I saw hurt cloud his expression. Why oh why did I use the word date? “I mean I already promised Josh. Sorry. Can I get a rain check?”

“Yeah” He said slowly turning and walking over to the buffet. I had a moment of watching him go, wondering if I would enjoy eating with him more than Josh, when I felt a tap on my left shoulder and turned to my left, seeing no one there. Confused, I faced forward again and felt Josh giggle on my right.

“I can’t believe you fell for that” He said grabbing my hand excitedly “I have set up a picnic for you but you need your harness!”

“Odd” I said with a grin and an arched eyebrow. His enthusiasm was contagious and I found all thoughts of Aj were mysteriously absent when I was faced with the prospect of a new adventure with Josh.

“Ok, follow me!” He said once I was strapped in and clipped into the system running up one of the tallest light trees. He began to climb and I mirrored him on the far side since there wasn’t enough room to climb side by side. We reached the top and I swung myself up to the small platform that sat looking over all of the lights

“This looks complicated” I said motioning towards all the wires and specific angles all the lights were now in.

“That’s why they need me. Only mad talent can navigate this” Josh said with a smirk handing me a container with a little bit of everything from the buffet “I didn’t know what you wanted but I figured you’d like options”

“Perfect. I don’t eat meat so anything without is good for me” I said pulling some vegetarian lasagna over towards me

“Do you love animals or hate plants?” He asked while attempting to compile his usual Nutella and spaghetti sandwich

“Both” I said as he grinned and took a big bite of his meal. I made a disgusted face and he shook his head

“Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it” He said through a full mouth

“You couldn’t pay me enough” I said taking another bite of my food

“Speaking of money, what happened last night?” Josh asked lightly

“Speaking of money?”

“The best segue I could come up with” Josh explained like it was obvious and I stifled a laugh

“Well I have bad panic attacks sometimes because I flash back to some really awful stuff from my past” I said vaguely hoping it would be enough but of course it wasn’t

“Flashbacks, that makes sense. So why did it happen when we kissed?” He asked with the air of an inquisitive first grader pondering the color of the sky or why apples were red.

“The bad stuff involves my romantic past. Kissing, heavy petting, sometimes just the wrong kind of touch can set it off. Nice to know you’re friends with a porcelain doll, right?” I asked, my eyes dropping to my food

“Speaking of friends” Josh said as I suppressed another small laugh

“You really need to work on that whole changing the subject thing” I joked

“Are you and Aj done? I know what you told me the other day but I couldn’t tell” He said as my muscles tensed a bit. He must have been watching us dance. Why was this so complicated?

“We’re not romantic anymore, no. He hurt me and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to trust him again. But I’m no good at being mad and I’m sick of crying so we’re trying to at least be friends” I explained as he nodded

“Admirable”

“What is?” I asked. Sometimes talking with Josh was like trying to balance on a moving train. I kind of loved it.

“How you don’t want to be mad or sad. Your compassion, it’s really hot” He said and I shook my head at his word choice. Would I ever get used to his wonderful idiosyncrasies?

“Thanks. So are we cool?” I asked

“As cucumbers, which, to be completely honest, are not terribly cool” He said with a sweep of his hair

“Can I help you this afternoon or is what you’re doing today too complicated for a mere dancer?” I asked after a few minutes of comfortable silence and chewing. I had weighed my options for the rest of the day and while I knew I should try to sleep and rest my sore muscles I also knew that I was happier when I was working, especially if I was working with Josh.

“You aren’t a ‘mere’ anything. Of course you can help. Why don’t you bring this stuff to the trash for me so I can organize my thoughts and then we’ll decide which project to tackle together” He said as I smiled. Together, I liked that. I grabbed the trash and climbed down the scaffold, carefully unhooked myself and walked over to where the guys were sitting with their lunches

“Where did you just come from?” Brian asked as I startled him by coming from the opposite direction of the door

“That light tree. I was eating with Josh up in the scaffolding and I’m going to help him focus lights while you all rehearse this afternoon” I said explained

“Look at you. Don’t drop any lights on my head while I’m dancing” He joked as I smacked him playfully in the back of the head

“Dancing? Is that what you call your sorry moves?” I joked back as Nick and Howie reacted and cat called

“Oh that was an ice burn!” Brian said with his hand dramatically over his heart “You’re getting sassy in your old age. I like it!”

“Ok guys, let’s get this started” Fly called as the guys got up from their lunches and moved towards the stage

“I’m sorry if I made things awkward with Mollee earlier. I was just concerned about you. That song is hard for me to hear too” Aj said catching up to me as I turned to walk towards the scaffolding

“It’s ok. I’m not mad at you. Have a good rest of rehearsal” I said platonically as I clipped myself in and began to climb

“When did you become lighting girl extraordinaire?” He asked before I got too far from him

“When I started helping out Josh to distract me” I said without thinking. Again I wished I had learned to take two seconds to think before I spoke. I’m sure Aj didn’t love the fact that his mistake was bringing Josh and me closer together.

“Be careful ok?” He asked and his compassion struck me right in the chest so that I had to pause to catch my breath. I hated the power he had over me, the way he could stop my heart with just one look or hint of kindness. I’d have to get better at this.

“Of course” I said beginning to climb again as I heard Fly call to Aj. I climbed up to Josh and he had spread out an intense light plot that made very little sense to me. I spent the afternoon carefully following his instructions and after a few hours I felt like I was actually helping him as opposed to getting in his way. He didn’t seem to mind either way as he insisted that at least he wasn’t alone. When the guys called it quits we did as well and Josh walked me out after we had removed our safety equipment

“Cute helmet hair” He joked as I tried to save my squished pony tail. It seemed to be a lost cause however, so I just took my hair down and shook it out. I didn’t think it was terribly seductive but when I looked back at Josh with my hair falling lightly in front of my face with its half curled half wavy state I found he was looking at me with the same look he had when he kissed me the night before

“You ok?” I asked after a few moments had passed in silence where he didn’t seem to blink

“Oh, yeah, sorry, you’re just breathtaking sometimes, you know that?” He said sweeping a lock of hair behind my ear. I immediately thought of how Aj used to do that and then I pushed that thought away. No thinking about Aj when you are with Josh.

“I’ll try to tone it down a bit” I apologized as he took my hand

“I wish you wouldn’t” he said quietly as I blushed

“Look at you back with my boy Josh. Watch it buddy she’s got men on the side, I’ve seen it” Scott said as we passed him

“They’re not single” I tried to explain but Scott cut me off

“She admits to being the ‘other woman.’ If you weren’t so hot I’d think you were trouble. What am I saying, it’s because you’re so hot that I KNOW you’re trouble” Scott joked as I sighed

“Goodnight Scott” Josh said with a bit of annoyance as he steered me away from the warehouse and towards my bus. The sun was setting over the water and the view was gorgeous. It struck me how similar this was to last night with the sunset and the cool breeze and Josh holding my hand while making small circles with his thumb on my wrist. We approached the bus in silence and then Josh stopped me

“So. I like you”

“I like you too” I said wishing with all my aching heart that this wasn’t happening

“But you’ve been hurt. Recently” Josh continued as I nodded and looked at the ground

“Yeah”

“And you’ve been hurt in your past too” He reasoned as I met his eyes again. What was he getting at?

“Pretty bad” I said softly

“Knowing all that, would it be inappropriate for me to kiss you again?” He asked as I met his eyes. A part of me wanted to kiss him. The second time had been the charm for Aj and me. But there it was, Aj. He was still so much a part of me and I couldn’t get him out of my head even when Josh was standing so perfect and attractive and exciting inches from me with green eyes sparkling and the breeze off of the ocean blowing his hair around his face in a crazy halo.

“I think we should wait. I’ve recklessly followed my heart recently and it didn’t end well so maybe it’s time to listen to the old noggin” I said cautiously gauging his reaction in his eyes

“Alright, fair enough, I’ll see you tomorrow from above. Goodnight bright eyes” He said leaving with a squeeze of my hand. I stood there and watched him go for a while as the battle raged in my head as to if I was making the right decision. I was starting to get cold so I turned to enter the bus but stopped when I heard my name.

“Kat” Aj said from behind me and I hated the shot of adrenaline that sent my heart pounding in my throat

“Hey” I said trying to compose myself

“I…” He started and I waited, watching him try to come up with the words to whatever he was thinking. One minute turned to five and I shivered in the cold breeze “Ok. That’s all”

“What?” I asked as Aj turned and began to walk away. He stopped and took a few quick steps towards me and I froze as he leaned in close to me. At first it seemed like he was going to kiss my neck, something he knew would weaken my knees, and in just the anticipation of it I could feel warmth deep down in me begin to build. His lips got closer and closer to my neck and my breathing became ragged until finally he turned slightly so instead of meeting their destination on my neck his lips brushed next to my ear

“I wanted to make sure you were still mine” He whispered and then turned and walked quickly away. I tried to catch my breath and recover and as I started to free myself from his intensity the annoyance began to build. What was he doing? His, I wasn’t his. I wasn’t anyone’s. I was mine. Annoyed and a little frustrated that I had been in kissing distance with two men tonight but had yet to be kissed I turned and stomped up the steps to the bus. I slammed the door a little harder than I’d meant and Mollee looked up suddenly from where she had been curled up reading on the couch

“Sorry” I mumbled as I plopped next to her

“Want to talk about it?” She asked cautiously as I sighed and rested my head on her shoulder

“Not really” I said

“Ok” She said simply and opened her book. I shifted so my head was on her lap and she entwined her free hand in my hair. As I closed my eyes and centered myself in my big sister’s lap I began to feel guilty for how I’d treated her today

“Hey, I’m sorry about earlier” I said suddenly making her jump again “I’m a mess right now but I have no right to take it out on you”

“Damn straight” Mollee said but she betrayed her act with a small smile and I smiled a bit too before settling in on her lap to think over my options.

“Oh!” I said suddenly sitting up and startling Mollee so badly that she dropped her book

“Is there something you want to say?” She asked sarcastically

“Why won’t you be Nick’s girlfriend?” I asked bluntly as Mollee raised her eyebrow at me

“Where did that come from?” She dodged trying to pick up her book from where it landed on the floor but I intercepted her hand and held it in mine

“Come on. What are you so scared of? He’s a great guy and I know you like him. It’s obvious he likes you” I said as she sighed

“What am I scared of? Seriously, have you looked at yourself recently?” Mollee said as my heart sank. So this was my fault

“Mollee, you’re not me. Just because I suck at relationships doesn’t mean that-” I started but she cut me off

“No, that’s the thing. You are awesome at relationships. Your heart is the biggest of anyone I know. If someone with such a big heart and such a great ability to love can be as hurt as you have been than where does that leave the normal people like me?” She asked for once showing her relation to me by dropping her eyes nervously to the floor

“Molls” I said sympathetically. What could I say? She was completely right. I couldn’t point to any relationship or situation that would make her less terrified to take the plunge with Nick. Of course she was scared.

“Just go get some sleep” She said gently removing her hand from mine and picking up her book. I stood up frustrated in my failure and began to walk towards my bunk

“For what it’s worth” I said turning back to her “I wouldn’t change a thing. The hurt is worth it when you consider how good it feels when you’re in love” I swung myself into my bunk with plans of listening to some music and sorting through my thoughts but I was more tired than I thought so I fell asleep and found myself in the middle of a vivid dream. I was me but somehow not as I registered two forces acting on me from opposite directions. From my left I felt something akin to a summer’s breeze. Everything was light and easy like floating on the top of still water or resting in a swing being rocked by the wind. I felt warm and comfortable, almost drowsy as I basked in the summer sun. Then from my right I felt something strong pull my attention. It was a whirlwind of colors and images and objects all whizzing by so quickly that I could hardly glance at them before they’d pass. My heart thudded as I saw a glimpse of a deep red sunset and then heard the sound of the waves crashing into the shore and I could feel my eyes widen as I tried to take in all the exciting sights and sounds around me. The stretch of a mountain range as it rolled out from the view of its highest peak, the laughter of friends and the clinking of glasses, the darkness and mystery of a dark club as the beat courses through you, your favorite song turned up so loud you love it and it hurts all at once and then a bright light flashed and I was falling, falling with the light summer breeze and the intense dark red sunset, falling with crickets chirping and music pounding through me. Falling and falling until all I saw was nothingness. No sun, no dark, no nothing. And then I hit the ground.
Chapter 13 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 13

I woke up quickly to find myself on the floor next to Mollee’s bunk. I stared hard at the ceiling, trying to orient myself as my breathing gradually slowed to something more manageable. Apparently in my thrashing as I dreamed I had rolled out of my top bunk. I sat up slowly, feeling a dull pain in my neck but taking comfort in the fact that nothing seemed to be broken or seriously wrong. Ten fingers and ten toes as we always said. Through my squinted morning eyes I could see that it was only just becoming light out and I groaned a little. Why couldn’t I just get a good night’s sleep? Certainly my life would be easier to figure out if I could only get 8 or 9 hours just once. Of course now that I was up there was no way I was going back to bed so I carefully got up and stretched my sore muscles (half from the fall this morning and half from so much time spent climbing lighting equipment) before heading into the clothes room and throwing on the first danceable things I saw. I gathered my unruly hair into a pony tail, grabbed some dark sunglasses to hide the circles under my eyes and headed out, taking a deep breath of the fresh morning air rolling in over the ocean. I decided for once that dancing was not something I needed to do with my body already screaming at me from a few days of over exertion and no sleep so I headed out to the sand and sat down facing the ocean watching the sun peak up over the horizon. I sat there spacing out until I felt a body plop down next to me. I looked over carefully and smiled a little as my heart swelled.

“Good morning” Aj said tiredly through a yawn

“Morning” I said sweeping my hair nervously back behind my ear as the breeze blew it out of place

“I have to say I’m normally a sunglasses person but it’s a crime on you” Aj said casually as I focused back on the sun, more to keep myself from falling prey to the heightened feelings I always got around him than anything else

“Maybe I don’t want you to know what I’m thinking” I said quietly as he sighed

“I don’t doubt that” He answered leaning back on his hands and letting his head fall back between his shoulder blades so he was looking straight up at the sky “I wish I could get some sleep”

“I hear you” I said through a yawn

“It seems that I’m no good at sleeping unless you’re there” He said and I stared ahead with more intensity, determined to do my best to ignore his comment

“I just wish I could stop dreaming” I dodged “I woke up on the floor today because I’d fallen out of my bunk from flailing through a dream where I was falling. My neck is not happy”

“Let me help” He said sliding behind me before I could stop him and placing his hands on my shoulders. His touch sent shivers down my spine but as he started to slowly rub my neck it felt too good on my sore muscles for me to do much more than let out a slight moan. I heard Aj snicker and I rolled my eyes

“I hate you. But it feels so good” I said as I let my head drop between my knees

“You don’t hate me. You wish you could but I’m so damn cute” He joked

“I would fight with you about that but this feels amazing so I’ll hold my tongue. I promise that you’ll get yours eventually” I mumbled as he let out a laugh. I smiled, unable to contain my contentment at spending this moment with Aj. It didn’t erase what had happened but it felt nice to just be able to be with him, like I was suddenly a little closer to whole. A few minutes passed in silence and I felt my eyes begin to droop “Ok, I’m going to fall asleep and then I’ll miss rehearsal if you keep this up”

“You can sleep, I’ll wake you up in time” He offered

“Tempting” I said groggily “But the last thing I need is for Mollee to find me out here asleep on you”

“She really hates me, huh?” He asked stopping the massage and sliding back in next to me so we were both facing the ocean. His hand brushed mine and then settled near enough to it that our middle and index fingers crossed. I hated to admit how much even that little bit of contact thrilled me.

“No, I hate you. She just hates what you did” I explained

“You don’t hate me”

“You keep saying that” I teased “And yet”

“Oh come on. I messed up but you still love me” He said as I glanced in his direction to see if he was serious. His eyes were clouded over as he obviously fought to keep his face neutral

“It’s too early for this” I mumbled shaking my head and focusing back on the sun

“Point proven” He said with a cocky smile as I sighed. I couldn’t lie to him. What I felt for him was intense and terrifying so it probably was love. But I also felt so much pain. And then there was Josh. As if he read my thoughts Aj brought up another topic it was too early to properly discuss “So when are you going to tell Josh that he’s wasting his time?”

“Damn Aj just give it a rest” I said with a big sigh

“It’s just not fair to him” Aj reasoned and I took off my sunglasses to meet his eyes

“Aj I genuinely enjoy spending time with the guy. I’m too hurt right now to even begin to think of starting something serious with him and we all know whose fault that is” I started

“Maybe it’s not all bad if it keeps you from him” Aj interrupted and I rolled my eyes

“He is just so much less complicated then this” I said motioning to the two of us “He makes me smile and feel like I’m capable and we move at a normal, healthy speed for a relationship”

“That sounds really exciting” Aj said sarcastically and I started to get mad

“Well at least he hasn’t professed his love to me only to turn around and cheat” I said angrily

“I recall once someone said that he had nothing on me” Aj said ignoring my baiting to approach whatever point he was trying to make “You may like him Kat, and God knows that annoys the crap out of me, but what you have isn’t love. And it’s nothing to what we have”

“Had”

“Have” He said meeting my eyes. I stared determinedly back at him as if it would prove that he was wrong and that I wasn’t in love with him anymore but all it did was melt my resolve as I took comfort in the depths of his soul shining through his chocolate eyes. Damn.

“He is good for me” I said stubbornly and infuriatingly he laughed

“Come on Kat. Good for you? Is that any way to live? With a guy who is good for you? What about passion? What about danger? What about feeling so connected to someone that you’d swear they had been a part of you all along? What about looking into someone’s eyes and knowing that their soul is the mirror image of yours, a part of a perfect whole? What about feeling fire and ice all at once in a single touch, being destroyed and created all in one single kiss? You may choose safety but what you want, what you long for, is passion, love. Me” Aj’s eyes were inches from mine and his hot breath played on my lips. Every atom in my body strained to be closer to him, to touch him, to do something but I was frozen. The moments passed and my resolve slowly built again as I stood up and shook the sand from my pants “I’m sorry if I’ve annoyed you but it had to be said”

“Well you’re right about one thing” I said slowly as I met his gaze from where he still sat on the ground “I choose him. And that is what matters” I took in his eyes as the confidence faded away and pain took its place but I still turned and made my way slowly towards my bus.

The next few days were a blur as we frantically tried to match the technical aspects of the tour with our well rehearsed stage show. Aj and I had warmed up to each other again before too long but his words continued to echo in my head especially as he stepped up his attempts at showing me how much we were still in love. I spent a lot of time with Josh and while he was not oblivious to Aj’s actions he pretended as much when we were together. Mollee still shot me looks filled with daggers whenever I spent time with Aj and insisted on pushing me and Josh closer together but after I’d set him straight he hadn’t attempted to kiss me again. And I was ok with that.

It seemed like only a minute had gone by when we were packing up our belongings and heading to the airport to board our plane to Portugal for our first official show. We would be getting our tour buses back once we got to England but for these first two shows we were living out of hotel rooms and suitcases. Nervous was not the appropriate word for what I was feeling. Neither was excited. It was as if the butterflies that normally lived in my stomach for these occasions had mutated in my extreme anxiety and sprouted extra legs and claws and sharp teeth that bit into my core. My knee shook as I sat alone in the airport by the window, staring at the plane we were waiting to board. Mollee had moved over to Nick after trying and failing to calm me, Howie was curled up half asleep on a chair, Brian was talking excitedly to his son on the phone, Camie and Sophie were playing a heated game of war with a stolen deck of cards and Aj was nowhere to be found. Correction, Aj was easily found as he slid next to me and nudged my shoulder

“Are you going to make it?” He teased as I reminded myself to breathe and those stomach dragons took a swipe at my lower abdomen

“We perform tonight. TONIGHT” I said urgently as Aj tried and failed to hide his grin

“It’s going to be so much fun, just wait” He said as I leaned my head on his shoulder. In love or not no one could calm me quite like Aj.

“I’m going to mess everything up. Everyone will be perfect and you will be stuck with a partner who makes you look like an idiot. Fly should just fire me now. Wait. You have that power, don’t you? Fire me. Just fire me now. Please?” I pleaded as Aj shook his head

“You are absurd. We are the best dancers out there and everyone knows it. I can’t wait for the fans to see it. They are going to love you” He said as I gave him an ‘are you kidding me?’ look and then resumed my stare out the window.

“The fans love you. There is no reason any of them would show any pity towards a crappy dancer” I said stubbornly as Aj laughed “What?”

“Nothing you’re just adorable. Come on they’re calling our seats” Aj said taking my hand which sent a message to those dragons in my stomach that it was time to breathe fire. I kept waiting for the day his touch wouldn’t take my breath away and it just never came. How obnoxious.

“So I’m sitting with you, am I?” I asked playfully as he pulled me past the lady scanning tickets to our first class seats

“Don’t be too flattered. I only do it to see the look on your sister’s face. I think she may slap me again” He said giddily and though I tried to give him a look of reprimand I had a lot of trouble hiding my smile. Sure enough as Mollee filed in ahead of Nick and saw Aj and I sitting side by side her eyes narrowed and she shot me that look of death reserved just for my interactions with Aj.

“She won’t slap you she’ll slap me. You’ve seen her work before” I said referring to the black eye she had given me a month ago

“Well I mean if you WANT to move…” Aj started and I smacked him in the arm

“Shut up” I said looking eagerly out the window of the plane. Screw him for making me forget my nerves. I felt his eyes on me and I turned to meet his stare. The sound dropped out from the world and all I could see for a long moment were his strong shoulders and how the tendons in them seemed to ripple every time he moved. It didn’t help that he was constantly in wife beaters. Hopefully it would be colder in England.

“Hah has Mollee seen this seating arrangement?” I heard in a familiar Kentucky drawl, jolting me out of my thoughts

“Yeah look at her face. I think she might explode” Aj answered happily as I sighed and gave Brian a look

“Come on, it’s a little funny” Brian said as I cracked a small smile

“She’s just looking out for me. She’s my sister” I explained for what I felt like was the hundredth time in the past week. It was true that as I enacted my new plan to be friends with Aj Mollee had begun to spin off into serious over-protective mode but she had been through a lot with me and I couldn’t just stand by and let people make fun of her, especially when it was out of love.

“And he’s your ex dance partner and I’m the guy you refuse to admit you love. You don’t see us freaking out over everything” Aj said acting much too cocky for someone on Mollee’s bad side

“You are very annoying” I said only miffed enough by his comment to get out my ipod and plan on losing myself in music to punish him but not enough to move out of the range of the calming vibes he was able to send my way

“You two are my favorite exes” Brian said with a sly smile before ducking as I threw my pillow at him. He ran off to sit with Howie and I pouted as Aj retrieved my pillow from the isle. I went to grab it and knocked my bag, which had been open in the great ipod search, on the floor between our seats. I started scooping up makeup products and Aj started to help before he came across a stack of papers that had been clipped together. He just sat there staring at them, slowly turning the pages, until I tracked down the rest of the contents of the bag and noticed with a pang of my heart that they were missing.

“These are amazing” Aj said flipping between the five or so pictures of me. I had become Josh’s favorite drawing subject and while he only let me keep a few of the portraits he drew the ones I did get were becoming some of my most prized possessions. There is nothing better for your self esteem than hard proof of what you look like through the eyes of someone who thinks very highly of you

“He’s very talented” I said nonchalantly not knowing if Aj knew who the artist behind the portraits was. He flipped to one of my favorites, me dancing in the empty dance studio with my point shoes on, a serene calm playing in all of my features, when it seemed to dawn on him who the only person who could have possibly drawn me in those specific situations was.

“Ah” He said quickly brushing them off on me as if they were nothing more than gum wrappers “You keep those with you wherever you go huh? A bit narcissistic if you ask me”

“It reminds me that I am worth something. If someone sees me like this, then maybe it’s a reflection of at least a tiny piece of who I am” I said noticing but not letting on the hurt that had permeated his joke. The fact that I kept tokens from Josh so close to my heart was sure to make him uncomfortable. In fact the only times Aj wavered at all in his insistence of my love for him was when I was with Josh. He was constantly taking advantage of situations like this one where Josh had a different flight than us or was otherwise preoccupied. When something happened and Aj knew there was no chance of Josh showing up he was always at my side insisting we spend time together. My affection for Josh was growing and it became clear that it really annoyed Aj

“I wish you could see yourself through my eyes” Aj said quietly, still a little knocked off course by the presence of Josh in this promised Josh-free time.

“I’m sure that I would be naked in your bed. If I kept that picture with me then it would be narcissistic” I joked as Aj shrugged

“Nope, you’d just be happy. Like you were, I mean. Back when nothing stood between you and me. Back when there was no pain. You have no idea how badly I wish I could take it all back and make it that time again. I’m so scared it’s lost forever” Aj said bashfully not meeting my eyes. In complete role reversal I slowly lifted his chin up until his eyes looked into mine. The pain and fear there was almost too much to bear.

“Hey don’t go there. We are working on this. We are working on forgiveness” I whispered as he nodded slowly.

“Maybe your sister is right. Maybe you are too good for me. Maybe I’m just bringing you down-” Aj started

“My sister” I interrupted quickly “knows a lot of things. But there is one thing she knows nothing about, and that’s us. You are worth my time Aj otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here with you”

“Ok” Aj conceded though he was still a much deflated version of his previous confidence. The plane moved along the runway and as we took off I grabbed Aj’s hand. Our eyes met and it crossed my mind that the vertigo from changing altitudes so quickly in a plane was nothing to the gravity shifting that occurred when Aj and I really lost ourselves in each other’s eyes. Once we were stable in the air I reclined my seat and closed my eyes, suddenly exhausted from having been so nervous but now being so comfortable. Aj followed suit and we drifted off to sleep together. I knew that I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep since I found Camie in bed with Aj but I figured it was part of the healing process. It wasn’t until I had Aj so close to me that I realized that it was the lack of proximity to him, the lack of that feeling of calm he was able to give me without trying, that really resulted in my poor sleeping habits. I fell into the deepest sleep I had been in since that night and woke up to a flash of light.

“What?” I asked groggily and I saw Brian standing in the isle holding out his phone

“You were so dang cute. I’m sorry” Brian apologized without sounding sorry at all. He handed me his phone and I looked at the picture. Somehow in our sleep Aj and I had curled so we were not only facing each other but our foreheads were touching. If you looked at it the right way with the bend in our heads and the mirrored curve in our bodies we looked like a heart.

“This picture needs to not exist” I said deleting it before Brian could get his hands on the phone

“Jerk” He said scanning his pictures to see if I’d actually deleted it

“Sorry Bri” I said copying his lack of sympathy. Brian walked away a little miffed and I settled down, determined to sleep facing the window. There were many reasons that picture couldn’t exist and Brian knew it. And yet even facing the window I managed a deep enough sleep to not only ward off any disturbing dreams but also to sleep until we were awoken because we were beginning our descent into Portugal. I brought my seat back up and gave a shy smile to Aj who giggled at me

“Your hair” He started with adoration in his eyes. I lifted my hand to my head and felt the bird’s nest that comes from a good sleep

“Help me?” I asked handing him my brush. There should be nothing sensual in brushing someone’s hair and yet the sexual tension that hung in the background any time I was near Aj nearly exploded as he slowly moved the brush through my tangles until the slight wave that my hair naturally takes was restored. He handed the brush to me and I shook my head a little. “Thanks”

“Any time” He said and meant it. Finally we landed and rushed out of the plane to get into our undercover vans. I turned my phone back on once we were settled in our seats (mine of course right next to Aj) and saw I had missed a text

“Meet me at the arena as soon as you can. I need help! Josh” I read out loud as Aj, nosey as ever, scoffed

“Someone is needy” He commented and I smacked him lightly. Per Josh’s request as soon as we got to our hotel I left Mollee with my stuff so she could bring it to the room we were sharing and grabbed the first shuttle of staff going out towards the arena. I got there and headed over to the largest pile of wires knowing Josh would be in there somewhere

“Oh thank God” I heard before looking up to see Josh directly above me but descending rapidly towards the place I was standing. I took a step back to accommodate him as he jumped off the scaffolding and landed with grace

“Impressive” I joked as Josh gave me a hug “Stressed?”

“Oh, only really a lot. We’ve been at this for a few hours but there was a delay with one plane that has half of my guys on it so they won’t be here until a half hour before the show. I need someone I can trust to help me. Please say you have time?” Josh said in one breath

“Of course I have time for you. I can help until they open the place up. Then I have to get ready” I said already grabbing a harness and a helmet. Josh quickly ran through what needed to be done and I could see why he was so stressed because it was a ton of work. We got right on it and he loosened up a bit after a half hour had gone by and we had demolished a good portion of his to-do list. About an hour and a half from when I had arrived, an announcement went out that the VIP ticket holders were being ushered in for sound check. I had heard that this was going on but had forgotten until this moment when a group of about 50 people hurried to the stage, which was hidden by a red curtain, and began to talk excitedly

“What’s this?” Josh asked quickly

“Sound check. The guys are going to sing a few songs and then I think the fans get to meet them and get stuff signed. Don’t worry, I can stay” I said answering the stress in his eyes. I was hanging quite precariously trying to tighten a light to a pole when an eruption of cheers almost knocked me into the crowd. I glanced over my shoulder once I had caught my balance and my breath and saw the guys walking on stage. Brian waved and started making goofy faces, Howie was all business fixing his earpiece and Nick was hamming it up waving and blowing kisses but I was completely distracted when Aj came on stage dressed in one of the more adorable outfits I’d ever seen. He had a red and black checkered hooded zip up sweater over a white shirt with a bright red baseball hat and fingerless black gloves. Add in the typical washed jeans and black and white checkered converse and I was completely enamored until Josh called to me.

“Hey Kat check the gobo on that light by your left foot” He called shaking me from my open mouthed admiration. I quickly focused on the job at hand as the guys, in their excitement, began goofing off to the adoring crowd. Nick and Aj were taking turns trying to nut each other while Brian did little jigs in the corner. Finally they started taking requests and got through If I Knew Then and Masquerade before I was able to finally focus on my task and tune out the chaos beneath me. Since I was so focused I barely noticed when the guys offered to sing a song off an old album for a fan’s birthday. I only vaguely registered the beginning notes and Nick’s voice as the poignant lyrics drifted up to me on the grid.

“Looking at your picture from when we first met. You gave me a smile that I could never forget and nothing I could do could protect me from you that night. Wrapped around your finger, always on my mind, the days they blend 'cause we stayed up all night. Yeah, you and I were everything, everything to me” Nick sang and my heart sped up as it took in the lyrics my head was desperately trying to ignore. The chorus went by and I channeled my rising emotions into the bolt I was tightening. It was then, whether in response to my feeling his eyes on me or because we were so connected no matter how hard we tried not to be, that Aj and I met eyes and he sang directly to me.

“All the doors are closing, I'm trying to move ahead” Aj sang and then Josh caught up to me and seeing the beginnings of pain in my eyes put his hand lightly on my shoulder. Aj took that in and sang with enough emotion to stop my heart completely “And deep inside I wish it's me instead” I caught my breath in my chest and Aj continued “My dreams are empty from the day, the day you slipped away”

“Kat maybe you should climb down” Josh said cautiously as the color drained from my face

“I just want you to know that I've been fighting to let you go. Some days I make it through and then there’re nights that never end. I wish that I could believe that there's a day you'll come back to me but still I have to say I would do it all again. Just want you to know” drifted to me and a single tear fell slowly down my cheek. Josh wiped it away and gathered me in his arms

“It’s ok, you’re ok. Damn him, he shouldn’t do this to you, he should know better” I heard like a badly tuned radio from above me. The song ended and I took a deep breath and closed my eyes trying to gather my strength

“I should go” I said quietly as Josh nodded. I went to turn past him but he stopped me and put his hands on either side of my face. He looked deep into my eyes and then pressed his lips lightly to my forehead

“I’m sorry he does that to you. You deserve better” He whispered. I sighed, snuck past him without a word, and climbed quickly but carefully down the scaffolding until I could escape into the backstage area. I found the dancers’ dressing room and collapsed into my chair, grateful that the room was empty. Why was I fighting something so strong? It was terrifying but wouldn’t it be easier to just give in? Then there’s Josh who is always there for me and always comforting me. He doesn’t deserve this. He doesn’t deserve to long after a girl who can never give him her whole heart even if she wants to. And I do. I do want to. I want to give him everything. But I can’t give him what isn’t mine. And my heart, though I hate to admit it, isn’t mine. It’s Aj’s.

“Kat, they want you on stage to run some things” A voice from one of the many stage hands drifted to me and I nodded, still lost in my thoughts, before making my way slowly in the direction of the stage. Mollee gave me a quick look which was all she needed to see to guess the gist of what had happened and ran over, looping her arm in mine and bringing me to the center of the now empty stage. I guess the guys had gone to do their meet and greet in another room leaving us with the nearly empty arena. I glanced up to where Josh had been and saw he had moved on too, maybe receiving the help he so desperately needed from his delayed staff

“Hello, anyone home?” I heard as I registered the hand in front of my face

“Sorry Sophie I’m here” I said softly as Sophie gave me a quick smile and I focused on Fly

“The guys will be in here in a second, they are just finishing up with their fans, but I wanted to check a few spacing issues quickly before you all run and get ready” He explained as I nodded and tried desperately to take in what he was saying. Now that I was calming down from the whole Aj surprise I was able to really take in the arena and how full of people it would soon be. I scanned the seats from the top of the stairs I had to walk down and felt myself get a little light headed as Fly started the music. It wasn’t the first time I had heard it through the speakers in a large space but this arena made the warehouse in Florida seem like a small shack. The words echoed off of the walls and back to us and I was acutely aware of how loud it was. Then my dancer instinct stepped in and propelled me onto the top step without my brain being quite caught up and before I knew it I was face down on the bottom of the steps.

“Oh my God. Oh my God Kat. KAT” I heard above me as I registered my position on the floor and realized what had just happened. I fell down the stairs. I literally just fell down the stairs. Embarrassment flooded my cheeks until they were tomato red and I tried to propel myself to a standing position but an outside force was keeping me down. I groggily took in the hand on my shoulder and identified it as Aj’s. When did he get here? “No don’t move yet. Fly went to get help, stay put”

“I’m fine. I just fell” I said and using the thought of all the attention that would come if I stayed on the floor as incentive, I propelled myself onto my feet even with Aj attempting to keep me down. Once I was standing the whole place wobbled and I felt my knee give an uncomfortable throb as I put weight on it

“You are completely absurd” I heard Mollee as she approached me trying to hide her deep concern with humor “You know that ‘break a leg’ is an expression, right?”

“Please don’t let Fly bring paramedics. I’m fine, really. Just a little shocked at going from all the way up there to all the way down here so quickly” I plead with my sister as she took in my state and discerned for herself whether or not to comply with my request

“Kat you should at least let them check you out” Aj said beside me but I didn’t let my eyes leave Mollee. She knew how I hated attention and she knew that if I was hurt I would tell her. I tried to convey that I was alright with all my might and finally she slowly nodded

“I’ll take care of it. Just watch that first step next time, ok Booger?” Mollee said with a small smirk and I nodded a little

“You’re just going to let her go unchecked? What kind of protective sister are you?” Aj asked and I saw Mollee turn slowly to him from her march in the direction of where Fly was headed

“Watch it McLean” She said harshly before turning back around. I couldn’t help but snicker and I saw Aj’s mouth twitch as he fought to stay angry and concerned. We probably could have made it through without laughing but Brian came over and put his hand on my shoulder.

“You just fell down the flipping stairs” He said and then burst into laughter. That was all anyone else needed as all our collected nerves pushed us into hysterical laughter. Thankfully Mollee had found Fly before he could call the paramedics and when he found us all in stitches, rolling on the floor with tears streaming down all our faces, he dismissed us to get ready with a parting eye roll. I shook myself off a bit and stretched out my muscles, checking that they were all in working order. When I felt like I had control over my body again I took a step back and ran through the leap sequence for Shape of my heart without a problem. Aj took my hand and led me backstage to the dressing rooms and I gave his hand a parting squeeze as I walked into the door labeled for the dancers.

For the next hour I didn’t see Aj or any of the guys. I barely saw my sister and she was sitting right next to me. We had makeup and hair people working on us separately so when I wasn’t being prodded with eye liner or having my hair yanked out of my head I was finding any spare space that was out of the way to stretch in. Then it was off to wardrobe to find my first outfit and pre-place my other changes. I was only vaguely aware of the growing noise from the crowd as the arena filled and the pre-show music played. I marked through a few of the harder numbers before being ushered into a room to change into my outfit. It wasn’t until it was on me that I had time to look myself over in the full length mirror I was being forced in front of. I had on tight leather pants that fell just above my black dance shoes. The shirt was sleeveless, had a V-neck top and stopped just above my belly button with a black hood attached to the back.

“Damn” I heard behind me and I turned quickly almost falling right into Aj’s arms

“Back at you” I said taking in his outfit. He had on black jeans that were just tight enough to emphasize his sexy butt, a black v-neck t-shirt with a black fitted jacket over it and an adorable black fedora with a white stripe around the base that he had tilted artfully to the side. Of course he was accessorized to the nines with a checkered black and white tie and a white studded belt and I let my eyes take him in from head to toe a few times before I met his glance which had been racking my body in a similar way. I blushed a little and said modestly “You’ve seen this outfit before”

“Yeah but you’ve got the whole sexy, badass makeup and hair going on now and it was hot to begin with…” He gushed as I blushed deeper

“Ok enough” I said as I swept my hair out of my eyes and tried to stay focused. Suddenly something happened on stage that caused the audience to scream and my stomach dragons roared “Oh God”

“Hey, you’ll be great. No falling down the stairs this time, ok?” Aj said and I nodded, not trusting my stomach enough to open my mouth in this state of nerves as the crowd roared again

“Places in 15” I heard behind me as Aj grabbed my hand

“Come on gorgeous, it’s time to huddle up” Aj said as I nodded again and blindly followed him as he wove me through the backstage area to a section right behind the screen that we would all be entering from. I took in everyone as they approached looking incredibly attractive and in various states of nerves and excitement. Mollee eyed my hand in Aj’s but didn’t say anything as the excitement that radiated from her before any performance took prominence in her eyes. She grabbed my free hand and leaned in close to me

“Are you going to make it?” She whispered and I gulped. I wish people would stop asking me that “Deep breaths. This is going to be awesome”

“Easy for you to say” I mumbled back to her while focusing on my shoes to drown out the sound of the crowd

“Did we position the trampoline yet?” Brian asked from Aj’s other side

“Did we position the what?” I asked nervously as his face broke into a wide grin

“The trampoline, you know, in case you decide to nose dive off of the stairs it can bounce you back up into the choreography” He giggled and I glared at him

“Hysterical” I said pretending to be mad while silently thanking God for Brian and the distraction of his teasing

“How are you by the way?” Nick asked kindly from the other side of Mollee

“Ten fingers, ten toes” I said with a shrug as Nick smiled

“Ok guys, let’s do this thing” Howie said being the last to join the circle between Camie and Sophie. We bent our heads and Howie said a prayer for a good show and a thank you to God for getting us all here. Then we all put our hands in for a Backstreet cheer and went to our starting positions. It was suddenly very dark backstage and the only sounds I could make out were the screams of the crowd. Aj was messing with his earpiece and I watched his shoulder blades as they moved under his jacket, desperate for some distraction. He must have felt my stare because he turned abruptly to face me as the opening video sequence began to play.

“Are you ready to rock this?” He mouthed and I shrugged. He pulled his eyebrows together clearly making some tough decision as the seconds ticked by before he had to jump through the screen

“Aj” I warned as it seemed he might miss his entrance because of the focus he was giving to whatever was on his mind. He leaned in close to me and suddenly the world went silent. The only sound in my ears was the pounding of my heart as he got closer and closer to me

“Don’t fall” He whispered and before I could do anything he pressed his lips to mine. In complete shock and instinct I kissed him back with all the passion and lust that I kept bottled up on a daily basis around him and fireworks burst behind my closed eyelids. He pulled back just in time to jump for his entrance leaving me leaning slightly forward towards the slit in the screen he had just disappeared through. At first I had no room for any thoughts besides how amazing his lips felt on mine but as the seconds ticked by I slowly began to fill with anger. That bastard, he just took advantage of my weakened state to kiss me. That incredible bastard!

“Kat” I heard from a stage hand to my right. I looked quickly and she motioned to my hood reminding me to put it up before my entrance. I flipped it over my head and sent a seething glare through the screen to where I knew Aj was dancing. I hope he can feel it. I heard the cue for our entrance as Everybody ended and I snuck out on stage. In all my anger I had forgotten to be nervous which in retrospect seems to have been Aj’s plan. Not that the realization of that fact made what he had done any more acceptable. He took a step forward and pivoted upstage allowing him the opportunity to meet my eyes with a wicked smirk. I stepped hard into my turn away from him and I swear, even through all the noise from the music and the fans, I could hear him laughing. The music changed to We’ve got it goin’ on and I made my way carefully down the stairs before hitting the first dance sequence as Aj rapped. I glanced out over the crowd and the adrenaline surged through my body as I nailed every step. We were all in sync on stage, feeding off the crowd and each other. Brian sent me a wink as I passed him and Nick made a goofy happy face when I jumped into position behind him. We were trained for this. We were ready. And we were rocking it. We’ve got it goin’ on morphed seamlessly into PDA and I readied myself for some serious revenge as the dancers moved to the opposite side of the stage from the guys. When we came back together for the dance break I got in really close to Aj’s ear

“You’ll pay for that” I whispered as I spun behind him for the first set of sexual moves. I pulled out all the stops, sending all my energy into him as I flirted, teased, and grinded into his body. I heard him trip over a lyric as I did my job and set my jaw for the portion we would be facing each other for. He gave me a suggestive look and I sent one back with the gist of ‘you asked for it’ before turning abruptly away for our exit before their call and response section with the audience. Right as I turned something white whizzed by my ear and I heard Aj swear quietly behind me. I raced off stage and glanced back to see what could have possibly happened but all I saw were matching looks of confusion from everyone except Camie who was laughing.

“Did it hit him? I think it hit him!” She was saying more to herself than anyone else because Camie wasn’t exactly on anyone’s good side

“What happened?” I asked her without looking at her face. Every time I caught a glimpse of her hair I went into a spin of near panic and with all the adrenaline I had going now I could not afford the risk

“That was Brian’s shoe. Look” She giggled and I focused on the stage where Aj was trying desperately not to trip over a white shoe and Brian was dancing with a huge grin in his sock.

“Come on guys, we have to change” Sophie called as Camie and I turned at the same time and knocked against each other

“Sorry” She said quickly meeting my eyes

“Been waiting a long time to hear that” I said harshly before racing in front of her to where I had set my clothes. The rest of the show went by in a frantic blur. The shoe incident was the only hitch and everyone ran off stage in preparation for the Straight through my heart encore buzzing with energy. I did my little acting bit with Brian and relished in having him as a dance partner again even briefly as I had to switch with Camie as soon as Aj came on. After the song the guys introduced us and while all the other guys just yelled out each dancer’s name Aj had to try to embarrass me.

“And the best dancer you’ve ever seen, Kat!” He yelled and I sent him a look of death before doing a small leap sequence and running back to him for our bow. I squeezed his hand tighter than necessary and felt him tense a little as I dug his ring into his palm. Finally we all ran off stage and into our van which would take us back to the hotel.

“That was off the hook you guys!” Sophie exclaimed once we were on our way. The collective energy in the van was out of control and we all seemed to be vibrating from it

“Bri you almost hit me in the head with a shoe!” I giggled and he busted up laughing

“I know! I had to do the slow medley with one shoe on until Aj felt I deserved to get it back” Brian laughed and the van erupted with it. I could not wipe the smile off of my face even when Aj slipped his hand into mine from where he was sitting next to me. As everyone else chattered on about the show and what things did or did not go as planned Aj and I locked eyes.

“I knew you’d love it” He said quietly

“Ok you’re right, that was a lot of fun. I guess I was born to dance in a show” I admitted as he smirked

“I was talking about the kiss but the show was great too” He whispered as we pulled up to the hotel. Before I could answer he slipped out with his body guard leaving me with mixed feelings of anger and left over adrenaline. I cursed him under my breath and climbed out as Mollee caught up with me and babbled on about how awesome the show had been. She brought us to our room which I hadn’t yet seen and I could only escape her by insisting that I was stinking up the place and needed to shower.

I locked myself in the bathroom and put the water on as hot as it would go before stripping and stepping in. I closed my eyes and let the water scorch me as I tried to let go of all of the intense feelings I had from tonight. I eased out the pain of hearing Aj perform Just want you to know and the comfort of Josh’s arms on the grid. I slowly shook off the sexuality of PDA and the hilarity of watching Brian perform with one shoe on. I sighed and let go of the pang of hurt from interacting with Camie and hearing, even from offstage, the guys performing This is us. After about fifteen minutes I lathered up with soap and shampoo, washed my face free of makeup and walked out into the room with a towel around me to find Mollee had calmed a little as well. She brushed past me to shower herself and I changed into some grey shorts and a white tank top. I brushed my hair and looked intently into the mirror. The one feeling I couldn’t shake was written all over my face. The love I couldn’t escape for Aj and for his kiss. It was like the planets had re-aligned when our lips met and try as I might I couldn’t ease the desire I felt for more.

Shaking myself mentally I took the bucket for ice and headed down the hallway to fill it. I pushed the bucket into the machine and watched in a daze as it filled with little ice cubes. I went to pull it out and felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned and barely had time to register the eyes that crept so often into my dreams before his lips were on mine. He pushed me into the back wall by the vending machines so we were out of sight of the hallway and I dropped the container of ice as he hitched me up so I could wrap my legs around his waist while he pressed me against the wall. The ice scattered everywhere as my hands tore his wife beater in their urgency to feel his skin against mine once more and he answered by removing my shirt in a movement so swift I could barely register it. Suddenly his lips were moving along my jawbone and any inhibition I may have felt vanished as he grinded into me while nibbling lustily on the sensitive spot on my neck. I had to bite my lip hard to keep the moan from escaping me and I felt him begin to fiddle with the zipper of his pants. I kept waiting for the panic to take over or for some remnant of my past to creep into this scene and force it to end but it didn’t happen. He met my eyes intently as his pants hit the floor and his hands paused over my shorts. I don’t know if it was the adrenaline left over from the show or the excitement that I was not shaking in a panic attack on the floor but for once I let my instincts take over my brain and I slid my pants down as far as I could. With his eyes still locked on mine he entered me and it was all I could do to keep from screaming out his name as he thrust slowly at first and then with more urgency and lust as I arched my back against the wall. Everything in that moment became hyper sensitive. I could feel his every move, every touch, every contraction of his every muscle and every breath as it staggered out of his lungs. As we both got closer to climax he buried his head in my neck and tilted his lips to my ear.

“I love you Kat. I love you more than anything” And we both let go, shaking and sweating, pressed against one another. It was like I was floating high above the world and its limitations. Our hearts beat as one and a smile eased itself onto my lips as I shook my hair out and took a deep breath. He lowered me slowly down from where my legs had been locked around his waist and when I hit the floor the world came crashing back around me. It wasn’t panic but guilt that ravaged my body as I assembled myself in a complete blur. What was I doing? What the hell was I doing? He looked at me anxiously as I grabbed the ice box and attempted to leave him. Thoughts were beginning to come back into my head and I needed to escape because I didn’t like what they were saying. “Kat?” He asked helplessly and I ducked around him and all but sprinted back to my door. I pressed my ear against it and heard Mollee humming to herself. I couldn’t go in there in this state. I glanced down the hall in the opposite direction of where I knew Aj was standing and probably trying to figure out what to do about the shirt I had literally ripped off of his body when I saw a head of blonde hair peeking out from a door.

“Nick” I whispered and he turned to look at me. God knows what state I was in but whatever I looked like didn’t register in his face as he identified who had called him. Desperate, I ran to his room and forced myself in, closing the door behind us

“You ok?” Nick asked cautiously as I collapsed on the floor with my back pressed against his door

“I just did something really, incredibly stupid” I said with my head in my hands.

“Want to talk about it?” He asked kindly as I shook my head and felt him sit next to me “If it makes you feel better I think I heard it”

“You think you what?” I asked as extreme embarrassment flooded my body

“Um, it sounded like someone was doing some construction down the hall with a lot of banging?” He explained nervously

“Oh my God” I muttered as Nick smirked

“Hey it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. We all knew it would happen eventually. You guys are practically dating with all the time you spend up in the grid with him. You don’t have to be ashamed” Nick said as my stomach sank

“What are you talking about?” I asked with dread coursing through my veins with every pump from my heart

“You and Josh. So are you official or was this just an after show booty call?” Nick asked eagerly

“Nick” I stopped him “It wasn’t Josh”

“It wasn’t Josh?” He asked as his face filled with confusion “Who else could it have possibly been?”

“Who do you think?” I asked quietly and it all clicked into place in Nick’s eyes. He quickly looked down at the floor and I followed suit

“Wow” He said slowly

“Yeah” I answered and we both sat in stunned silence.
Chapter 14 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 14

After a few hours of composing myself in Nick’s room I headed back to mine. I crept in quietly as Mollee had fallen asleep and tried my best to drown myself in the big comforter on the bed. As soon as I closed my eyes however, my brain assaulted me with visuals and details of the event that had unfolded. My fingers on his lower back as the muscles worked with his thrusts, his ragged breath in my ear, the feeling of him inside of me. It was inescapable and I slipped into an uneasy sleep filled with dreams of him.

I woke up the next morning groggy and not very rested to my phone vibrating. I picked it up quickly and saw two missed texts. One was from Aj – ‘we need to talk’ – and the other was from Josh requesting to hang out today. It was hard to tell which made my stomach drop into my feet with more intensity. I put down my phone and sat up, seeing my sister flipping through channels with Nick sitting next to her. Nick noticed I was awake first and I gave him a pleading glance hoping he hadn’t mentioned last night to anyone, especially not Mollee, and he returned my look with a slight shake of his head. I sighed in relief which caught Mollee’s attention and she gave me a smile

“Hey sleeping beauty did you have some interesting dreams last night?” She asked as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes

“Nothing that was particularly interesting. Why?” I asked hoping she wouldn’t see through me

“You woke me up half a dozen times with your talking. I was about to get Aj in here if you said his name one more time” She said stiffly as I blushed. Hopefully Mollee didn’t get the gist of what kinds of dreams I’d been having about Aj. I excused myself to the bathroom and turned on the lights a bit too quickly for my eyes to adjust. Feeling like some sort of creature from the night I squinted in the light as I turned towards my reflection in the mirror. As my eyes adjusted and my vision cleared I caught my breath in my throat. My neck was covered in bruises. I slowly lifted my shirt and saw similar marks on my hips though I could make out that those were a result of hands as opposed to lips. As I turned I tried to convince myself that the soreness in my lower extremities was from dancing full out last night but a voice deep in my head wouldn’t let me completely believe that. As I stood staring into the mirror in horror a small knock at the door nearly chased me out of my skin.

“Jesus you scared the crap out of me, what?” I asked opening the door a sliver to see Mollee looking vaguely annoyed

“Someone is here for you” She said sourly. Taking in her tone of voice it could only be one someone

“Tell him I’m indisposed” I said shutting the door quickly but not quickly enough to miss the look of appreciation Mollee gave at my decision to not jump to Aj’s every demand. If only she knew. I quickly got to work on my neck using every trick I’d learned from years of applying makeup for dance and general life to cover the marks Aj had left. I noticed then that my tank top was ripped and I cursed before grabbing a towel and wrapping it around me while throwing my shorts and tank top in the trash. I snuck into the room and found that Mollee was not there but Nick was

“Morning” He said shyly as I busied myself trying to find something to wear

“Hey” I answered back without looking at him

“About last night” He said slowly and I turned quickly to him

“I’m so sorry I brought you into that but I need you to keep it quiet. Please Nick? Please?” I pleaded as Nick sighed

“I thought you were going to say that. You know I don’t like keeping secrets, especially from friends. Especially from her” He said as I sighed

“And you know that I wouldn’t ask you to do it unless it was really important. Nick if this gets out…” I started and he put his hand lightly on my shoulder

“I know. You don’t need to worry about me. I’ve got your back” He said simply. I placed my hand over his and squeezed. Mollee came back in with a full bucket of ice and I turned quickly back to my suitcase

“If I were the jealous type this would really drive me crazy” Mollee joked as Nick and I gave half hearted smiles “You should see the vending area. It looks like someone took a crowbar to one of the walls. It’s a huge mess, there’s water everywhere and the ice machine won’t work so I had to go up two floors to find one”

“Is that so?” I asked meekly. I grabbed a light blue sun dress that had spaghetti straps and lace accents, a light scarf, sunglasses and a white bucket hat and hurried back into the bathroom

“She’s acting odd” Mollee commented as I swiftly shut the door and locked it

“I guess” Nick dismissed as Mollee snuggled in his arms and began eating ice cubes from the bucket. I threw my outfit together, confident that it was the right amount of covering without being obvious, and slipped on my flip flops. I grabbed my phone and made a hasty retreat from the room as Mollee sent a questioning look to my back. I dialed Josh’s number and he picked up on the first half of a ring

“Hey” I said quickly “Got your text, come meet me in the lobby?”

“Sure! Let me just get dressed. We can go mini golfing” He said excitedly and I allowed a small chuckle at his random nature to escape my lips. I stepped into the lobby and saw Aj there so I ducked behind a planter

“Just hurry because we have to leave at noon to get to Madrid and I want to have as much time in this beautiful weather as possible” I whispered and hung up before Josh could answer. I looked up to check where Aj was but I couldn’t find him in the chair he had been occupying a few seconds ago. I crept out from behind the planter and nearly jumped into the fountain in front of me when I heard my name

“Calm down it’s just me” Aj said as I spun around to meet his eyes

“What are you doing sneaking around like that? You scared me to death” I said angrily

“What are you doing hiding behind planters?” He asked with an arched eyebrow as I averted my eyes

“I’m not hiding. I’m waiting. Josh and I are going to play mini golf before we leave for Madrid” I said quickly sweeping the room hoping Josh would show up soon and save me from the awkward conversation that was about to happen

“Or you could come upstairs to my room with me…” Aj trailed off running his finger lightly up and down my arm

“Hey! Stop it!” I whispered harshly “You can’t just go around touching people!”

“You didn’t mind so much last night” He whispered seductively and I smacked him in the chest

“That never happened. You hear me? NEVER HAPPENED” I said hastily as the mischief in his eyes slowly became confusion

“What, do I embarrass you?” He asked hiding his hurt behind foe bravado as usual

“Alexander James-” I started but I heard my name from across the lobby

“Kat! Hey!” Josh called waving like an over-excited puppy

“I have to go” I said quickly trying to compose myself as I made my way across the lobby but Aj pressed his hand on my shoulder “Touching, again with the touching!”

“We have to talk about this” Aj said seriously while I tried to get away from his grip

“We really don’t” I said pulling away, grabbing Josh’s hand and nearly pulling his arm out of its socket as I dragged him out the front doors.

“Is he bothering you or something?” Josh asked once we were a safe distance from Aj walking down the main drag outside the hotel

“No. Not bothering. Why would you say that?” I asked nervously playing with the fringe on my scarf

“Just because that’s what he always does. It makes me feel protective like I should beat him up or something. Want me to talk to him?” Josh asked causing panic to race through my mind

“No. No I don’t think talking will help. Just stay away from him, ok? He might make up lies just to piss you off. No, just stay away. Far, far away” I chattered as Josh raised an eyebrow “Can we just not talk about him? I’m with you. I want to talk about you”

“Fair enough” He said with a nod. That’s one thing you could always count on Josh for. He’d never push you into talking about something you didn’t want to talk about “I have a question then”

“Sure” I said starting to allow my breathing and heartbeat to return to a normal speed

“I was wondering...” He started off nervously which caught my attention “If you’d like to go on a date with me”

“A date?” I asked barely able to register the beyond awful timing Josh had

“Yeah like a real one. I mean we hang out all the time but it’s always platonic and we’ve grown to be pretty close friends I think. If you’re up for it I’d like to take the next step” He said deliberately as if he’d practiced it in front of the mirror a few too many times. Immediately I began to think of ways to let him down without hurting him but then I stopped myself. Maybe this was a way to make sure that I stayed away from Aj. Maybe this was a way to protect my heart. Getting involved with Josh would help keep Aj at bay and allow me to get over him by being with a really genuine guy.

“You know I think I would love to go on a real date. Like something where I fuss over what to wear and you pick me up at eight and we stay out much too late. That sounds perfect” I said and watched the smile spread like wildfire across his face

“Ok, awesome. We get a few days off once we get to London before we head out to Newcastle. Do you want to go pub hopping with me tomorrow night?” He asked eagerly and I caught his contagious smile

“Sounds amazing” I said as he grinned

“One other thing” He added digging in his pockets. After a minute of searching he pulled out a small present wrapped in orange paper “Happy Halloween”

“It’s Halloween?” I asked thickly as he raised his eyebrows at me

“You’ve been working too hard. Here take it” He said and I held the little present in my hands. I carefully unwrapped it and found a little Tigger Pez dispenser

“This is amazing” I said happily pushing on the head to pop one of the sour candies in my mouth

“You remind me of Tigger. You’ve got endless energy and endless fun. Maybe a little clumsy but the best darn bouncer in the hundred acre wood” He explained as I blushed a bit

“That is really sweet. Thank you” I said kissing his cheek causing him to blush a bit too. I stuck the pez in my pocket and followed Josh to a mini golf course. I played a round with him beating me badly as I continuously shot my balls into any nearby body of water and had a genuinely good time. It helped erase the awkward stress I had been feeling since last night and helped solidify my new plan which included less Aj and more Josh. He walked me to the van that would be driving the guys and dancers the five hours to Madrid and I gave him a peck on the cheek before hopping in. As soon as he walked away I was faced with a challenge as a result of the stress I had been trying to escape. Everyone was in the van and as usual they had left me an open spot next to Aj. I glanced at him and saw he was feeling quite smug about the whole thing and then I looked over to Nick and Mollee.

“You ok?” Mollee asked catching my eye and my anxiety as only a sister can

“I just wanted to talk with you. Think Nick will hate me if I kick him out so I can spend some time with my favorite sister?” I asked laying it on thick. Lately she had been very stressed out by my budding independence and open defiance of her advice when it came to Aj and hearing me asking for her and needing her was too much for her to ignore

“I’m your only sister” She joked with a huge smile. Nick rolled his eyes and snuck past me causing me to momentarily sit next to Aj

“You can’t avoid me forever” Aj whispered in my ear as I turned to glare at him

“Watch me” I said sliding in next to Mollee. I rested my head on her shoulder and closed my eyes trying to release my stress and enjoy my sister. The thoughts spinning around my head, however, were making relaxing impossible. Why am I so angry with Aj? Am I even angry? No, it’s not anger. I’m terrified. I am not the girl who has sex next to a vending machine. I am not the girl who longs so strongly for a guy that I have no control over myself. I can’t be with Aj if he does these things to me. It’s like he’s turning me into someone I don’t even recognize. And I know at the very least that I don’t like that.

“Gosh you’re stressed” Mollee whispered as the van started rolling and everyone settled in for the drive “I found your pajamas in the trash. Did you need those?”

“No” I said sternly. I didn’t need any reminder of that night.

“Ok good because I left them at the hotel” She said wrapping her arm around me “So talk to me”

“I’m just confused. Josh asked me on a date. A real one” I began, trying to figure out how much I could tell Mollee to keep her feeling like I was sharing everything while not sharing the most important thing

“And you said?”

“Yes” I said absently running my hand over the Pez in my pocket

“Well I think it’s a good thing. You may not fall in love with the guy. You may not even like him at all but at least you’re trying to find something normal. He’s a good person” She reasoned as I squirmed. Aj had brought up those exact points a week ago but it wasn’t to push me into dating Josh. It was to prove how boring Josh would be to me especially after having had him.

“I’m a little worried” I sighed bringing my voice to a very low whisper “that maybe I’m in love with Aj and it’s scary so I’m running away to something safe just for the sake of it being safe. It’s no way to live and it’s not fair to Josh”

“Hey stop putting so much pressure on it. Lord knows I don’t get you and Aj. Maybe I never will. Maybe you’re meant for each other. But right now just have fun. Try Josh out” Mollee said and I sighed. She was right. Of course she was right.

“Ok” I said and she grinned, clearly happy to act in her role as older sister and give me the advice I needed. “How are you and Nick?”

“Fine” She said evasively and I took her face in my hands

“He’s good people” I said staring intently into her eyes

“I know” She whispered

“He won’t hurt you” I said seriously

“You can’t know that”

“It’s worth a shot. If I take a shot with Josh couldn’t you take one with Nick? You’re not marrying him you’re just agreeing to a trial run. Who knows what it will turn into?” I reasoned throwing her words back at her

“I don’t need a guy to get in the way of my dreams-” She started

“Molls look around. He IS your dream. You’re contracted to this tour for at least another year don’t you think this is just the time to take this chance?” I asked searching her eyes for the core of her resistance and hoping for both her and Nick’s sake that I could crack it

“When did you get so smart?” She asked as I laughed a little and dropped my hands

“I don’t know about smart but I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I suppose I’ve begun to learn from them” I reasoned while lying back down on her lap

“I miss you” She said quietly as a pang of guilt stabbed my stomach

“I think I’ll be here a lot more from now on” I said squeezing her hand and closing my eyes. There is really nothing like a good talk with the big sister to ease your mind. Of course the visions of last night were still fresh in my head so it was hard to completely relax but the knowledge that I may be able to finally bring Mollee and Nick together was enough to lull me into a light sleep.

Before long we were in Madrid being hauled around the arena. We would be driving to the airport that night to take a quick flight to London where we would finally meet our buses. Even after only a few days I was eager for the comfort and familiarity of our little rolling home. Josh was nowhere to be found and Aj kept trying to corner me so I spent the hours leading up to the show in a state of near panic. Finally the guys were called to do sound check and I buried myself in my hair and makeup prep. I was able to finish up just as the guys came in and as soon as I saw Aj I ducked out of the room and found a corner in the remotest area of backstage to mark out some moves. I managed to stay off of everyone’s radar until we were called to the huddle and I squished myself in between Nick and Mollee

“What did you say to her?” Nick whispered excitedly as I shrugged

“What do you mean? Why?” I asked checking that Mollee was still deep in conversation with Sophie

“She agreed to be official. She’s my girlfriend. Mollee is my girlfriend!” He grinned as I smiled and gave him a hug

“Congrats and if you hurt her I’ll break your legs” I said as his smile grew and he squeezed my hand tightly while Howie led the prayer and cheer. We raced up to our starting positions and I fiddled with the zipper on my coat while Aj watched from his spot in front of me

“You are the most confusing girl in the world” He whispered to me as I focused determinedly on my zipper

“Try to kiss me again and I’ll break your nose” I said simply and his jaw dropped. Apparently I was into threatening people tonight. He turned around, still in shock, and jumped through the screen for his entrance. I don’t know what he’s thinking. Did he honestly believe that after last night we’d be back to normal? He was delusional. The show went well and Brian’s shoes stayed on. Every time Aj touched me a current ran through my body but I ignored it with ferocity which caused his mood to sour every time he noticed it. We ran out after bows and got in a van that brought us right to the airport for our flight and I sat in front with Brian while he checked in with Leigh and Bailey on the phone. The flight was short and I stuck with Brian until we reached the busses. I couldn’t help but grin as I saw the familiar tour bus. I ran up to it and attempted to hug it as Mollee laughed at me.

“It’s just a bus” She joked and I scowled

“It’s home” I said with a goofy grin and Mollee shrugged before going to Nick to say goodnight to him. I watched them out of the corner of my eye and when I saw him give her a goodnight kiss I couldn’t help but cat call. Mollee rolled her eyes but Nick laughed and gave me a departing wave. I watched him leave and then looked up at the sky. London was a big city but you could still see some killer stars. I took in a big gulp of the fresh night air and closed my eyes as my adrenaline slowly retreated. This was the way to unwind after a show. Not with some guy by a vending machine. I shook my head a bit to rid that last thought when I heard a small noise from behind the bus. I turned in time to see a hand grab my upper arm and without thinking I pulled back my fist and brought it square into face of the shadowy figure.

“Holy crap!” Aj yelled holding onto his nose as if he were scared it was going to fall off while I shook my hand out. Punching people always looked so fun until you tried it. Then it just hurt.

“You shouldn’t sneak up on people who have been through traumatic events. You never know how they’ll react. And it’s Halloween!” I said trying to stifle a laugh. I know I should feel badly about causing him pain but I couldn’t help but feel that he deserved it a little.

“What is it with you and your sister punching me in the face? I think you broke my nose!” He whined as I rolled my eyes

“Let me see” I said as he glared at me

“No”

“Aj don’t be a baby I’m not going to hurt you. I’m sorry I punched you but you freaked me out. It’s dark, we’re in a different country and I don’t like being grabbed. Plus I warned you that if you tried to kiss me that I would punch you” I reasoned as I bullied his hands away from his face to check out the damage. It might be a little sore but it wasn’t swelling and it certainly wasn’t broken

“I was just coming to talk to you. I had no plans to kiss you” Aj defended

“Recent events make it hard to believe that’s true” I retorted as Aj let out an exasperated sigh

“What do you want from me Kat? I miss you so much it hurts. You won’t forgive me for something I can’t possibly take back and I’ve apologized as much as I can. Last night was not one sided so you can just stop blaming me for every move that you make that doesn’t fit into the perfect picture of who you think you are” Aj yelled which got my blood boiling

“I was not the one to steal a kiss in a moment of weakness before a show. I was not the one who waited to ambush someone outside their hotel room. And I was certainly not the one who got me to tear down all my walls only to bulldoze right over my heart” I shouted back and Aj got right up in my face

“I said I was sorry Kat and I’m sick of apologizing. It takes two to do what we did last night so stop playing the victim” He attacked and I kept my face inches from his refusing to back down

“What do I have to say Aj? I don’t want you. Stay away from me” I growled softly

“Fine!” He yelled

“Great!” I yelled back. We stood there, inches apart, breathing heavily at each other and then something clicked. It was impossible to tell who made the first move but somehow our lips were pressed against each other as anger turned to lust. I slammed Aj against the back of the bus without breaking the kiss and he grabbed my thighs, pulling me up off the ground so he could carry me quickly to his bus. He kicked open the door and threw me onto the couch before turning to slide the lock shut. I flicked off the lights and we went at it like we hadn’t seen each other in years. Our passionate kisses turned into passionate sex on the couch and then on the floor and then in the shower and finally in the bed. When I rolled off of him after a few hours my high was fading and my actions were coming to the forefront of my mind.

“Are you running off?” Aj asked breathlessly as he tried to recover from our most recent bit of aerobic activity

“This can’t happen again” I said searching the dark room for my clothes “Can you hit the light?”

“Why are you leaving? You know you can stay. No one would know and you could just sleep next to me. I know you sleep better that way” Aj said tenderly before turning on the lights

“I have a date with Josh tomorrow and I hardly think it would be a good idea to spend the night before it with my ex” I said squinting and waiting for my eyes to adjust to the new lighting

“A little late for that I think” Aj said with a smirk “So this date. Is this the real thing? Is he going to take you to dinner and a movie? Pay for your ticket? Nervously kiss you on your doorstep?”

“Bite me” I said harshly as I located my underwear under the bed and began to put them on

“Don’t you think it’s funny that the whole time we were going out we couldn’t have sex but the moment you try to move on you have no problem with it? Not only no problem but you’re a damn marathon runner” Aj mused sitting up and stretching

“Hilarious” I said standing to begin the search for the rest of my clothes

“Sorry about those” Aj said finally being able to take in my entire body in the light

“What?” I asked absently following his nod to the new bruises on my thighs

“I guess I got a little carried away” He said with a hint of sadness in his voice that made me stand up and meet his eyes

“What is it?” I asked reluctantly taking in his deep chocolate brown eyes. I couldn’t stay locked in that gaze for long when I saw the beginnings of tears there

“Are you going to hate me again tomorrow?” He asked quietly

“Who knows what will happen tomorrow” I mumbled returning to the search for my sweat pants I had changed into after the show

“You know I came to you tonight to talk” He attempted as I finally located my shirt and pants and pulled them on before fixing my damp hair into a messy bun

“Well apparently I came to you tonight to fight and screw” I said as disgust washed over my body in an intense tidal wave of emotion

“What are we doing?” Aj asked as I tied my shoe

“I have no freaking idea” I said and to my horror my voice cracked. My knees gave out and a new wave of embarrassment and guilt caused my eyes to immediately tear. Aj jumped out of bed and attempted to hold me but I pushed him away “Don’t. Don’t touch me. You’re always touching me”

“Kat what the hell is going on with you?” Aj asked with real concern flooding his voice

“I’m weak and I need you” I whimpered as Aj stood looking just as confused as ever by my words

“So just be with me” He said slowly trying to get my attention without touching me

“I can’t. You’ll hurt me. I can’t get hurt again” I said sternly as he sighed

“Kat I’ll never do it again. I swear. I’ve said sorry and I don’t know what else to do” Aj said with desperation flooding his voice

“It’s not only that. Look at what I’m becoming! I’m not this girl. Oh God what am I doing?” I said softly and taking advantage of the weakness in Aj I flew past him out the door. He called my name but I didn’t stop until I was safe in my bunk. I squeezed my eyes shut willing the feelings and images from the last few hours to leave my consciousness and let me sleep. I tossed and turned a few times until I heard the crinkle of paper down by feet. I hastily grabbed whatever paper I had rolled on and straightened it out. It was the picture Josh had drawn of me up on the grid. Anger and shame pulsed through me as I took in the incredibly real details of my own face through the eyes of someone who thought the world of me. Who was that girl with the broad smile and carefree eyes up on the grid looking at a guy who adored her? Was that the girl who would have a secret rendezvous with an ex just to satisfy some primal need for sex the day before a date with a new guy? Was that the girl who would use an ex for sex when she knew he wanted so much more from her? Was that the girl who would treat the ex like shit until she got an itch she couldn’t scratch? No, that wasn’t that girl. I was that girl. Silent sobs shook my body as I tried to take in what I was becoming. This was the end of it. No more. Tomorrow began a new chapter with Josh and whatever monster I was becoming I would not turn into the thing that had hurt me the most: a cheater.

I woke up the next morning and took a long and cold shower. Today was a new day and I would start it off by getting rid of anything left over from last night. After letting the water wash my conscience clean I wrapped a towel around myself and grabbed my phone on the way to the clothes room. It had one missed text and one voice mail so I checked the text first.

“Call when you get up I want to take you out today as well if you don’t have plans” I read out loud. I smiled at Josh’s spontaneity and grabbed a short denim skirt that hugged my hips and some black lace leggings with my black rocker boots with the tall heel. Then I pulled on my flowing silver shimmery shirt that fell just at the waist line of the skirt and pulled on my black leather jacket. Then I let my wet hair fall and teased it a bit with some gel before doing some smoke themed makeup with bright red lips and sliding sunglasses on the top of my head.

“That’s hot” I heard from behind me as Mollee came in and smacked my ass “He’ll like that”

“Thanks” I said with a grin before calling Josh

“Get my text?” He asked picking up before I felt the phone could have possibly had the chance to ring

“I’m ready when you are” I said contemplating my rocker jewelry and finally letting Mollee choose a long silver chain necklace and a studded bracelet that matched my leather ring

“I’ll be there in a minute” He said quickly hanging up. I grinned a little and waved goodbye to Mollee while checking my voicemail. I had to turn the volume down on my phone because music began blasting from the message and even though the whole thing was a song it was clear who it was from.

Go, stop and go. I just hit static.
I used to read you loud and clear.
Not like this. It's so erratic
And I'm not rational when I see you around
Your inconsistent and you know it's dragging me down
You're so conflicted baby

You're always walking away
One step and everything's over
And you're running back to me
You say I let you down
Baby take me in or just take me out
I'm already dead, I already said I'm sorry

I've made mistakes, I've been an addict, a blind fanatic.
Don't you know you're not immune to the panic
When somebody turns on you
When the snow hits your skin the cold don't last forever
But you'll live it again if you don't let seasons change

How many times do I have to say it
Before you believe me
I’m already dead, I already said
I’m sorry


Aj’s voice drifted over those last words and echoed through my head. I shut my phone quickly when I heard a knock on the bus door and opened it to Josh. I tried to push the song out of my head as I watched him take me in with appreciation

“Geez if I knew you’d look this good I’d ask you out every day” He said quietly as I laughed

“Are you trying to say I don’t look good on an everyday basis?” I joked

“Of course you do. But now you look hot. And I get to take you out” He said with a grin as I smiled and he held the door for me to exit the bus. We walked past the other buses and I saw Aj’s eyes take us in through his front window. I took Josh’s hand in mine and watched the curtains rustle as he disappeared back into his bus.

“So where are you taking me?” I asked to clear my thoughts and focus on the guy I was with now instead of the one I’d been with last night

“Portobello Road” Josh sang in an uncanny imitation of Angela Lansbury in Bedknobs and Broomsticks

“Wait, that’s a real place?” I asked excitedly. I grew up on that movie and the dream of finding a bed that would take me wherever I wanted if I knew the right words to say

“It is! It’s a huge market with tons of cool stuff and I just got a bunch of money transferred to pounds and it’s burning a hole in my pocket so I’m going to take you to buy some sweet loot” He said with a huge grin. I took a deep breath and let out everything that had been going on. This thing I was doing, this fun and easy thing, this was the right thing. It had to be.

“You’ve already bought me a pez dispenser I don’t know what could be better” I joked

“It IS a hard act to follow but if we’re going to find a contender anywhere it’ll be on Portobello Road” He said squeezing my hand. Josh was very knowledgeable when it came to navigating London and I just tried not to lose him as we moved through the crowded tube system. He was easy to talk to and we chatted about nothing in particular as we approached the market.

“Wow” Was all I managed to get out when we approached the actual road. The street was crowded with people for as far as the eye could see and tents selling different merchandise checkered the sidewalks. From where I was standing I could see everything from fruit to jewelry to old 45s to clothing and everything in between. We began our descent into the masses and I ran excitedly from tent to tent getting completely swept away in the randomness of the place and its intrigue. Josh was not so much into shopping as meeting people so while I looked at merchandise he chatted up the vendors finding out their stories and introducing them to me as if they were old friends after about five minutes of conversation. He was just cool. There was really no other word to describe Josh except cool. After many hours of people, food and accessories it began to get dark and Josh figured we should contemplate dinner before embarking on the pub crawl.

“We should get some real food” Josh argued when I dragged my feet while he tried to steer me back to downtown London and away from the vendors

“But we’ve been eating all day and I want to look at more stuff and I’ll be a much cheaper date if you don’t feed me before we go to the bars” I argued with a pout

“You are impossible to say no to” Josh said with a smirk indicating he had given up and letting me run to another tent. This one had all silver engraved items and I had a good time messing around with a goblet that looked right out of Pirates of the Caribbean.

“Arrgg” I joked in my best pirate voice breaking Josh away from the flask he was looking at

“Come here crazy. Do you like this?” He asked as I returned the goblet and peaked over Josh’s shoulder to see what he was holding. It was a silver flask with a coat of arms meticulously detailed on it that made it look very rocker and old school. It was amazing

“How badass would this be in the pub?” I asked as Josh nodded

“I’m getting it for you” He said and before I could argue he had paid the vendor and taken my hand

“You didn’t have to do that” I said holding the flask close to my body

“I wanted to give you something to remember the day by” He said nervously as I grinned and stopped his walk down the road. The sun was setting and the wind was picking up a bit but my ease and happiness kept the cold from my mind

“Are you really that worried I’ll forget you?” I asked as he stared intently into my eyes

“I plan on making that impossible” He said with some confidence before bending and kissing me lightly on the nose. I smiled at the sweetness of the gesture and he threw his arm around my shoulder as we walked. We spent another hour at the market until things started closing down due to the dark and I finally let Josh steer me to the nearest tube station bound for the pubs. The funny thing about eating small things all day is that it really doesn’t do anything to help you hold your liquor. Or at least that’s what I found out after we had been at the first pub for about 15 minutes

“That was good!” I said loudly as Josh rolled his eyes

“I can’t believe you’re drunk already” He scolded with an endearing smile “I knew we should have gone to dinner”

“Drunk? Who’s drunk? Who wants another shot!?” I yelled and a few boys from the university that were sitting next to us cheered

“This one is from the gentlemen at the end of the bar” The bartender said sliding a dark drink towards me. I looked at a group of younger guys and waved flirtatiously before downing the drink and making a disgusted face

“Oh I think that was whisky” I slurred as Josh grabbed my hand and attempted to stand me up

“Ok you’re cut off” He said as I giggled a bit and stumbled

“If you say so boss” I said trying to reach my purse and stay upright at the same time. Suddenly someone turned the music up and Cowboy Casanova began to play “Oh wait! This is such a good song!”

“Kat I don’t know if you should dance…” Josh trailed off as I waved my hand dismissively at him and started to gyrate in his direction while singing with the words

“You better take it from me that boy is like a disease. You’re running, you’re trying, you’re trying to hide and you’re wondering why you can’t get free. He’s like a curse he’s like a drug. You get addicted to his love. You want to get out but he’s holding you down because you can’t live without one more touch” I sang seductively while grinding into a Josh who was trying to decide whether it was worth it to let me dance or if I’d hate him tomorrow for not stopping me

“Kat let’s just get out of here” He whispered in my ear with a laugh but I shook my head and hiked up my skirt a bit so I could kick my leg up onto the stool next to him effectively blocking his exit as I sang

“He’s a good time. A cowboy Casanova leaning up against the record machine. Looks like a cool drink of water but he’s candy-coated misery. He’s the devil in disguise, a snake with blue eyes, and he only comes out at night. Gives you feelings that you don’t want to fight you better run for your life” I sang while grinding into Josh. The guys behind me were enjoying it so I strutted a bit in the music interlude for them until Josh picked me up from the waist and carried me out of the pub. “No fun!”

“None at all” Josh smirked as he quickly hailed a cab and deposited me in the back seat “You would have hated me tomorrow if I’d let you make more of a show of yourself”

“I wouldn’t hate you any day” I said drunkenly dropping my head into his lap and staring up at the ceiling of the moving cab

“Good to know” He said quietly as I closed my eyes and watched the little colored spots behind my eyelids move in circles. Before I knew it we were back on the lot and Josh had carried me to my bus. He had let me lean against the side once I had promised him that the world had stopped spinning a bit and he had watched me down an entire bottle of water

“Better?” I asked handing him the empty bottle

“Much. The guys will kill me if you are hung over tomorrow for rehearsal” Josh said and I shook my head a little

“I’ll be fine” I said as my attention drifted up to those green eyes “Thanks for taking care of me”

“Any time” He said sweetly as a small smile played across my lips

“I had a really great time today” I said watching my toes

“Me too” He said nervously. We stood there in silence for a minute or so until Josh cleared his throat “So I want to kiss you”

“Do you really?” I asked flirtatiously

“Think I can do it without triggering any flashbacks?” He asked as I nodded and placed his hands in safe locations on my hips. He looked at me questioningly until I had finished placing his hands and then he leaned into my lips. They were as soft and warm as I remembered and the kiss was sweet. He pulled back before it got too heavy “I’ll leave it at that for now”

“Always leave them wanting more” I said with a sly smile that he returned

“Goodnight bright eyes” He said turning and walking away. I watched him a little dreamily as he made his way across the lot and then felt a familiar presence lurking from behind the bus

“If it’s sneaking around and butting into situations it has no right to then it must be…” I trailed off sarcastically and jumped in front of him before he could get away “AJ!”

“I’m not sneaking. I was just hanging out. Geez is that you?” Aj asked as I frowned

“What?”

“I know I’m an alcoholic and all but I swear I could get drunk off of the fumes” He said taking a step away from me

“I took a whisky shot!” I said proudly as Aj grinned

“You’re a bit of a mess” He said taking my hand so I could steady myself

“Sorry. You don’t have to be around me when I’m drunk. That can’t be fun. Hey aren’t I mad at you?” I asked groggily as Aj giggled

“With you, you never know” He said and I stuck out my tongue at him

“I think I’m mad” I said trying to pull away from his hand but losing my balance when I succeeded

“Ok I’m staying here until you sober up a bit. If anyone knows the dangers of walking around as drunk as you are it’s me” Aj said catching my fall and bringing me to the ground where we sat leaning against the bus

“The world is all spinning” I said tracing Aj’s bus in front of me as it swirled around in the air

“All this is from one whisky shot?” Aj asked with a bemused smile as I rested my head in his lap and stared up at his face and the sky behind it

“No that was just the shot some guys from the bar bought me. I had other stuff. I think beer is stronger here than in the US” I said as Aj smirked

“And they serve it in pints which are bigger than the glasses in the US too. You’re learning all sorts of things tonight” Aj said twirling my hair in his fingers “Say, shouldn’t your date be sitting out here on drunk duty?”

“He didn’t know how drunk I was or he’d have stayed. You can go if you don’t want to-” I started but Aj cut me off

“I’m just giving you a hard time. I’ll be here as long as you need me” He said sweetly and I smiled “So is he a better kisser than me?”

“Nope” I said quickly before covering my mouth “Oops”

“So you’re an honest drunk, huh?” Aj laughed as I giggled

“Or maybe I’m a lying drunk. Think about that!” I said proudly causing Aj to scoff

“No such thing. Not when they’re drunk anyway. That’s the funny thing about drunks. All truths when their wasted but all lies when they’re sober” Aj explained

“That’s no fun” I mused focusing alternately on his face and then the stars to entertain myself

“Depends on where you’re sitting” He said mischievously

“I’m lying down” I explained seriously

“You sure are” Aj conceded. We sat in silence for a little longer before Aj decided to push his luck a little more “So do you think you’re mad because the last two nights have been so good and you’re regretting being with someone else or are you mad because you feel that I’m taking advantage of you”

“Neither” I said simply as a look of confusion crossed Aj’s face

“Explain” He said and I furrowed my brow to focus

“I think I’m mad because I was so excited to be able to have sex and to have it with you” I attempted

“That makes no sense”

“If you hadn’t fucked up we’d be having that sex all the time. It’s your fault it can only be those two nights and maybe never again. I really like that sex. So I’m really mad at you” I explained and this time it was Aj’s turn to sigh

“Well I suppose that makes me feel a little better. I was worried for a second there that maybe I’d forced you to do something you didn’t really want to” He said and I watched as it looked like tiny clouds floated across his eyes

“Did you have that sex with Camie?” I asked and he met my glance

“To be honest I don’t really remember it. So my feeling is no. Because I don’t think I could forget sex like the past two nights. Not even if I were as drunk as you” He said and I frowned. “You’ve got another question?”

“A tough one” I warned

“Shoot”

“I’m really drunk, right?” I asked slowly

“Yeah” Aj chuckled

“But right now I know the difference between right and wrong. I could have sex with you right now but I wouldn’t because Josh and I are kind of a thing and that would be wrong. You said you loved me. Why wasn’t that love enough to make you ignore what was wrong?”

“That is a hard one” Aj said glancing up at the sky and taking in a deep breath of the night air

“Is it hard because you realize that you didn’t love me?” I asked quietly

“Katrina Rose” He scolded “How can you even think that?”

“How can I not?” I asked as he shook his head

“You are really drunk right now but my body needs a lot more alcohol than what you’ve had to get to the same place. Now if you were this drunk and I kept offering you more drinks and I used every trick I know to make you fall for me-”

“Like what?” I asked incredulously

“Like if I whispered everything into your ear while brushing my lips close to that sensitive spot on your neck and ran my fingers lightly on the tops of your thighs and every once in a while let a finger escape to your inner thigh where you so like to be touched and if I told you what I really thought of you and how much you turn me on-”

“Ok I get it” I interrupted as Aj smiled a little

“Now think if all those things were happening and you were this drunk. Can you see how ever so slowly, under so much attack, something so strong, even as strong as our love, could be conquered?” Aj asked seriously as I thought hard

“Maybe” I allowed and Aj fell silent. We sat there like that for a while longer before I tried to sit up and realized how dizzy I still was “When will this be over?”

“I don’t know my love. Soon” He assured me as I frowned again “What’s the matter?”

“I think I’m about to talk with you about something that I shouldn’t” I explained as Aj’s eyes lit up with curiosity

“Lord knows this may be the only time I can get you to talk to me about this stuff so why don’t you give it a shot. You can pretend you don’t remember it when I see you tomorrow” He offered as I nodded

“Do you promise?”

“I promise”

“I think I love you” I began as Aj rolled his eyes

“That’s not news”

“Hey!” I scolded and Aj looked apologetically at me and pretended to lock his lips shut and throw away the key “I think that maybe the cheating thing isn’t the reason I want to be with Josh and not you. I think it’s the love”

“Love must be terrifying for someone who has been taken advantage of the way you have” Aj said sadly brushing a piece of hair out of my eyes

“Every time I try to let myself love you my heart and my head start fighting and it’s too much to bear. It’s worse than my nerves” I said as Aj looked thoughtful

“There’s not much I can say to that precious. You have to decide on your own that you’re willing to risk big so you can win big. All I can offer you is the promise that I’ll be here waiting for you when you decide to give it a chance”

“When I decide?” I teased

“It’s only a matter of time. I’m very determined and I always get what I want” Aj said cheekily and I smacked him playfully in the chest

“Tomorrow is going to be hell, huh?” I asked finally able to slowly sit up without the world pitching under me

“You’ll be pretty hung over” Aj offered as I shook my head

“No. I mean with me pretending this never happened but knowing that it did and Josh asking me on a second date and you being all cute and maybe keeping your promise depending on your mood” I said as Aj took my hand

“You must be sobering up if you’ve begun to realize that. Perhaps I should escort you to your bed?” He asked as I nodded slowly and he helped me stand “You sure do like to put yourself in awkward situations”

“I blame you” I said with a sly grin

“Don’t you always?” He retorted before silently helping me into my bunk. He carefully slid my shoes off and helped me take off my jacket and accessories before letting me collapse into my pillow. I felt him cover me with a blanket and press his lips lightly to my cheek

“Aj?” I asked before he turned to go away

“I’m here” He said tenderly causing my heart to throb

“I’m sorry” I whispered

“I know” He whispered back and with a small squeeze of my hand, he was gone.
Chapter 15 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 15

I woke up in the morning to my alarm going off from my phone in my pocket. It sounded like the siren of a fire engine and I almost launched myself off of my bed in my efforts to quiet it.

“Good morning sunshine!” Mollee yelled happily jumping on my bed and giving me a hug

“Shush” I groaned rolling over away from the light that was streaming in through the crack in the curtain of my bunk

“Did you have fun last night?” She asked excitedly, unaware that the volume of her voice was going to be too loud unless she was whispering

“The bit I remember, sure” I said softly as she giggled

“Look at that! You had fun without a certain Backstreet Boy” Mollee bragged and I opened a tired eye at her

“I saw him as well. That, I remember” I said as she frowned

“Whatever. Tell me everything having to with Josh” She said as I shook my head

“It’ll have to wait until rehearsal. I need to wash off last night’s makeup and hair and try to get the stale whiskey taste out of my mouth before I can even think about talking to you” I said slowly attempting to roll out of the bunk

“Look out below!” Mollee yelled right next to my ear as I steadied myself next to my bunk

“Mollee if you scream again I’m throwing you out in the rain” I said becoming vaguely aware that at least a small portion of the pounding in my head was from the noisy rain on the roof of our little tin can of a home

“Fine grumpy, I’ll see you in the van” She said pretending to be mad but betraying her act with a smirk. I made my way slowly to the shower and did everything possible to wash the remnants of last night from my mind. I tried to focus on the good parts from yesterday like when Josh introduced me to a west end performer who had worked with Laurence Olivier or the toothless woman who had forced us to eat the sweetest cake I had ever tasted. With thoughts like these in the forefront of my mind I made my way to the clothes room and threw on some gauchos, a tank top, and my flip flops. I went to pick up my bright pink umbrella when my phone started ringing loudly and I scrambled to silence it before my head exploded. I looked at it like it had personally offended me to see that I had a new voice mail. I angrily turned the earpiece volume very low before playing the message which ended up being a good thing because music drifted to me immediately. As the first words penetrated my hangover haze I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. It was clear what this was all about.

Here I am again
Waiting on the moment you decide
To leave me stranded on the edge of nowhere
I’ve been so close to you so many times
I feel like I could drown
I wish that I could fly away from here
But I’m still coming down
From the last time that you came around
In the starlight
Now I’m pulling to your gravity
Spinning helplessly
I’m falling through the night
Like a lonely satellite

We walked on Jupiter
Flew around the moon a time or two
Left a mark on every star we could find
but now I’m burning like a meteor
that never hits the ground
Wish that I could fly away from here…

Love is poisoning the atmosphere
It’s keeping everything unclear to me
something in your eyes never satisfies
I’m feeling so alone tonight


I sighed and grabbed my dance bag before running through the rain to the van waiting to take us to the stage in Newcastle for our clean up rehearsal. Apparently the busses had to take an alternate route because they were too big so to get the maximum amount of rehearsal time today we had to be shipped the short way in a van. Aj eyed me as I slid in next to Howie who looked up with surprise when I interrupted his fiddling on his phone by slumping in the seat next to him.

“You ok?” He asked cautiously as I nodded and pulled my sweater out from my bag and placed it over my face

“Hung over” Aj explained for me as I gave a “thumbs up” to indicate that he was right

“Beer is stronger here” Howie said helpfully and I let the sweater fall just enough so I could give him a look

“That is very helpful in retrospect” I whispered as Howie laughed a little and gave me a quick hug before returning to his phone

“So are you avoiding me again?” Aj asked quietly leaning over his seat to whisper in my ear once everyone was engaged in conversation or sleeping

“I don’t think my stomach would like any seat that isn’t in front” I explained quietly as he laughed a bit

“I guess it’s not always all about me” He joked sliding in on the other side of me now that he knew I wasn’t purposely avoiding him

“Occasionally” I sighed and then groaned as the van hit a pot hole or something and jostled my unsettled stomach

“Here” Aj said lifting up my sweater shield a little to hand me some saltines

“Thanks” I said and began to munch them slowly

“Water is helpful too” He said taking out his water bottle and handing it to my other hand

“It’s like you knew this was going to happen” I joked as he grinned

“Don’t forget how many times I’ve been drunk and then had to go to rehearsal the next day” He said bashfully as I met his eyes

“Don’t be embarrassed. You’re fighting something huge and genetic and you’re kicking its ass. There is nothing to be ashamed of. You can’t help your stuff any more than I can help having mood rings for eyes” I explained and a small smile came to Aj’s lips and bounced onto mine as well

“Sleep sweetheart. I’ll wake you when we get there” He said quietly and I nodded before resting my head on his shoulder and moving the sweater back over my eyes. I woke up to a strange whirring sound and a subtle pulsing that I couldn’t quite identify. I was groggy and unwilling to open my eyes so I took a few minutes in sleepy confusion before I felt something wet on my face and forced myself to lift a sliver of an eyelid

“What?” I asked groggily as more water hit my face

“Sorry if I woke you. It’s hard to carry someone and an umbrella all at once. We’ll be inside soon” Aj said sweetly as my brain began to speed up to the present. I was in Aj’s arms and he was attempting to transport me to the studio. Unfortunately the rain we had encountered in London was nothing short of a torrential downpour in Newcastle

“Why is it so wet?” I asked quietly as Aj smiled

“Why are you so cute?” He joked as I nuzzled into his chest and took a deep breath of his spicy scent. We got inside and Fly ordered us to get stretching without batting an eyelid at my place in Aj’s arms. Aj put me down carefully so I was sitting on the floor and then spread his legs into a straddle without letting his eyes leave me

“I feel awful” I moaned crawling to his exposed lap and draping myself over his legs so he couldn’t possibly stretch

“I’m sorry. Maybe you should stay sober with me from now on” He suggested with a small smile at my need to be somehow wrapped up in his arms at all times

“I think that would be wise” I said through a moan as Aj gathered me into his lap and began rocking me slowly

“Come on that’s adorable” Nick said elbowing Mollee so she would break her death stare on the PDA

“Hardly” She said harshly as he smiled

“Even when you’re unreasonable you’re my favorite person” He said and her expression softened a hair

“Alright everyone let’s go from the top” Fly announced as Aj helped me slowly to my feet and over to our starting position

“Aj I don’t think I’m going to be able to do this” I moaned as my stomach gave an uncomfortable pitch

“I’m right here. Lean on me if you have to” He said anxiously as I stared at the ground and tried to pretend that I wasn’t feeling as nauseous as I was. Aj ran through the opening and then I walked over to him and managed to get through the first half of PDA before I knew my stomach was no longer in my control. I covered my mouth with my hand and bolted right before the dance break for the nearest door (which was unfortunately the one that lead outside into the rain) and had barely made the threshold before my stomach emptied itself on the curb. I immediately felt hands sweeping my hair back from my face as I heaved again and a hand rubbing my back. After a few more minutes of retching I was able to take in my surroundings. Of course the hands on my back and holding my hair were full of rings meaning it could be only one person who had followed me into the rain

“You really don’t have to do that” I said weakly as Aj wiped my mouth tenderly with a tissue and threw it in the trash bin I had missed by a few feet

“Hey I’ve been here remember?” Aj said as I took a wobbly step away from the mess I made on the sidewalk (which was thankfully being washed quite quickly away into a storm drain and out of sight) and sat on the step leading to the studio only vaguely aware of how soaked I was becoming

“Fly must be livid” I groaned

“No I think he was just relieved that you made it outside” Aj giggled and I gave him a weak smile

“I think I can go back in” I said standing up and watching the water slosh around my feet “Oh crap, I’m soaked”

“I am too. This will take some creativity” He said as I contemplated my next move. As if on cue Mollee’s face appeared in the doorway

“Are you done making a fool out of yourself?” She asked, her harsh tone not matching her bemused expression

“Have any extra clothes?” I asked suppressing a shiver. She rolled her eyes and disappeared for a moment. Aj wrapped me in his arms and although he wasn’t much warmer than I was it seemed to help

“I have pants for you and Bri has something for him” Mollee said pointedly as Aj sighed in annoyance “But you better strip out there”

“For someone who hates us together you sure do like to put us in situations where we have to be half naked and in close proximity” Aj joked as I shot him a look and began removing articles of clothing. After I was out of my shirt and pants I stepped gingerly inside and slipped on Mollee’s shorts. Standing there in booty shorts and a drenched (but thankfully navy blue) sports bra left me feeling a little exposed but at least my body was feeling better. It seems the vomiting mixed with the cold rain shower had cured the last of my alcohol sickness and I happily took a few gulps of the water that Nick pushed at me

“Nice” I said with a smirk as Aj walked in with Brian’s jeans that were a bit short on him and no shirt. My eyes lingered over the remaining rain droplets as they ran down his shimmering chest to his 69 belly button tattoo and then I shook myself out of it and kneeled down to roll up the jeans so they looked like they were meant to be three quarter length as opposed to pants that were just too short. Fly spent no time making sure I was feeling better or that Aj could dance in his new ensemble before ordering us to pick it up from the entrance to PDA. The sexual dance was all kinds of charged as Aj and I grinded half naked and damp with each other. I was breathing heavily but definitely not feeling sick anymore by the end of our run and Fly let us go with parting comments of how impressed he was with our work and how he would miss us for the few weeks before he would come and brush up our show again. We said goodbyes and everyone eagerly made their way to their tour buses to shower and enjoy the night off but I hung back

“Going to dance some more?” Brian asked as I stretched a bit

“Yeah I’m still a little restless. Want to join me?” I asked as he shook his head

“I can’t keep up with you. And while Leigh has no problem with us dancing on stage I think she’d object to us getting close in that outfit” He joked as I slapped him lightly in the chest causing him to make a hurt face before running off

“Is it ok if I stay?” I heard from behind me and didn’t need to turn to guess who it was

“I owe you, of course you can stay” I said as Aj grabbed his sweat pants, which had dried since they weren’t as wet as my stuff had been, and offered them to me. I put them on and felt a little more comfortable then I had been parading around in tight dance shorts “Thanks”

“No problem” He said taking my hand and quickly kissing the back of it causing my heart to stutter

“What shall we dance to?” I asked trying to regain some sense of composure

“Let’s just put your ipod on shuffle and see what happens” He said grabbing it from my hand and plugging it in

“This could get embarrassing” I joked as warmth radiated through my body that had nothing to do with Aj’s dry sweat pants. As soon as he pressed play I flushed red as his album, which I had been blasting earlier, came on

“Good taste” Aj joked as the opening riff to Drive by love began to play. I made a face at him but grinned inwardly. I could dance the hell out of this song

“Super fly black hair swinging out everywhere. I touched you and my heart stopped. Now I know I'm totally fucked” Played and Aj ran out to the middle of the room with me. In the opening I let down my damp hair so I could spin and let it fly out playing out the lyrics with my moves. Then Aj came up to me and ran the back of his hand across my bare stomach, hitting a hard position with me on “heart stopped” and then spinning around and pressing me to him on “fucked.” My dancer instinct was zoning in as was my chemistry with Aj which always intensified on the dance floor. We were completely in sync and enjoying it more than perhaps we should

“I'm gunna take you in my car, let you give me a ride. Tell me love, quick or slow, I'll let you decide. And if you get too serious I’ll tell you goodbye. Girl you better realize this ain't nothing but a drive by love” Played and Aj and I went at it. We grinded and explored our mutual bare flesh with each other’s hands. As the chorus picked up I had flashbacks to two nights ago when we had gone at it all night long. A longing deep in the pit of my stomach stirred and when I did a move that had me landing in a full split with my face in a compromising position I swear I heard Aj moan

“We went a little too fast. It threw me back on my ass. I can't believe I did this. Let it happen with just one kiss” Played and I took a few steps back. On “back on my ass” I did a spinning kick and Aj did a very impressive move into a skid across the floor. With the agility of even the best dancers I’d ever met he launched himself back at me so by the time the word “kiss” was played he was inches from my lips

“So tell me what you’d do if it happened to you? Would you wanna give it up or would you follow it through? And I fell in love and now I'm totally screwed. I guess I should've realized this is more than just a drive by love” played and we moved into some complicated footwork with our faces still inches apart. I was the first to break off into a pop and lock section with the chorus repeat and then when the Eastern sounding music came in with the girl voice I teased Aj more than was fair with a seductive belly dance in my sports bra and his sweat pants. He had almost forgotten we were both dancing by the time the chorus came back in again but once the song rolled to its ending section where the music all but cut out we were pressed close enough together that I could feel his heart beat against my chest. We finished the dance breathing heavily and staring intensely into each other's eyes. That familiar and disorienting feeling welcomed me as I lost myself in his eyes and the world slowed around me. I want him. I want him so bad it hurts.

"Kat, there you are!" I heard behind me and I turned quickly rubbing the tears from my eyes before they could properly form

"Josh! Hey!" I said running over to my ipod and switching it off before it could betray me with another song with poignant lyrics "When did you get here?"

"I just walked in. We are about to start loading in and I figured you'd be wrapping up in here so I wanted to try and catch you before I became engrossed in my work for the night. What are you wearing?" He asked without stopping to breathe so it took me a minute to register it all and answer the question

"I partied a little too hard with you last night and ended up in the rain... it's a long story" I said with a small blush at the memory of what a hot mess I had been

"I'll just leave you then" Aj said quietly brushing past me

"You don't have to-" I started

"I really do" He said just quiet enough that only I could hear. The pain in his voice was almost unbearable. Why did I always end up hurting him?

"Oh I'm sorry. You were in the middle of something. I can come back later or see you tomorrow" Josh started

"No man it's cool. Take care of her, ok? She should eat something substantial and have an early night" Aj said with pain still emanating from him in waves. What did I expect? Last night he had watched me kiss this guy and then after all day of taking care of me what did he have to show for it? Me running to Josh the moment he walked in as if Aj didn't exist. I was being horrible. He didn't deserve this. I turned quickly to try to stop Aj but all I saw was the sliver of light slip through the door before it shut loudly against the howling wind outside

"Did I just ruin everything?" Josh asked anxiously as I shook myself

"No it's ok I'm just not being very fair to him. I'm happy to see you though" I said and realized that it was true. That simple happiness that swept over my complicated life when Josh was around had begun to change into something else. I couldn't quite name it but seeing Josh was beginning to feel like coming home

"I'm beyond happy to see you. I'm ecstatic. I'm bouncing with it" Josh said with a huge grin that was contagious

"I'm glad you don't hate me after last night with my drunken hilarity and all" I said bashfully

"Hey you're always full of surprises. I love that about you. Oh and you forgot this" Josh handed me the flask he had bought on our date wrapped with care in a piece of cloth. I let it fall open and smiled at the reflection. It was me and I was glowing.

"Oh I forgot how awesome it was" I said with a grin before launching myself into Josh's arms. He was stunned for a moment and then happily gripped me back. His warmth was wonderful as I started to return to my chilled state and Josh noticed as I sighed in content

"Here" He said simply opening his jacket. I eagerly slid my arms into the holes with his and he zipped it up so we were glued facing each other "Now we should get you back to your bus and me back to work"

"How should we do that?" I asked with a giggle

"We'll figure it out" He said trying to take a step but throwing me off balance so I had to grip him tighter to stay upright

"This is going to be a disaster" I laughed as I tried to take a step and Josh tilted alarmingly to the right

"You say disaster. I say adventure" He said with a gleam in his eye and that lopsided smile I loved

"You're going to be so late-" I started but Josh shushed me

"Hey. Stop reasoning and start solving" He said and I laughed again at his wonderful childish nature. We giggled and tripped our way to the door before realizing all my stuff was across the room in a corner. After turning back we managed to get a rhythm going so that by the time we stepped out into the rain we were actually pretty functional

"We'd be awesome Siamese twins" I said with a laugh as Josh flipped up his hood to protect us both from the downpour

"The best" He agreed. We made our way to the bus and stood in the small shelter the doorway afforded. In order to stay dry I was pushed right up against the door and Josh was still getting dripped on

"Ok you need to let me out before you get soaked" I said, enjoying being sandwiched between a door and Josh's sculpted chest

"I kind of like it like this. No one can hurt you or make you get that tormented look on your face when I have you trapped here with me" He said as I frowned "That's the one!"

"Tormented?" I asked and Josh nodded

"Whenever I first see you it's like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Or like you're looking at a huge Greek exam but you've only studied Italian. It takes a few minutes but I can usually get it to go away. It would be nice to help you get rid of it all together" He explained

"I'm working on it" I said quietly and Josh nudged me with his chin. I giggled a bit and then met his gaze and slowly leaned into his kiss. It was warm and soft and lovely and it was with real reluctance that I pulled back

"Tomorrow after the show we are driving to Manchester. Can we do a movie date for the ride?" Josh asked

"Meet me at my bus. We can have a sleepover" I said eagerly as Josh flashed me an evil smirk that reminded me so much of Aj's that my heart throbbed painfully in my chest

"You want to have a sleepover, huh?" He said as I took a deep breath to steady myself

"You'll be sleeping on the couch. But we can stay up and talk and I know Mollee is dying to find out all about you. It will be fun" I said

"It sounds wonderful. There's only one problem" Josh said seriously as I frowned "It's too far away from now"

"I feel that" I said as Josh kissed me tenderly on the top of my head and then unzipped me into the cold air. He zipped himself back up before giving me a departing glace full of longing. I watched him go from the shelter of the bus steps. Once he was out of sight I turned and thought about going into the bus but then remembered Aj and his pain. I sighed and shivered at the mere thought of going out into the rain again but knowing what I needed to do I plunged back into the downpour and towards Aj’s bus. When I reached his bus I was soaked to the bone including the once dry pants that Aj had given me. I huddled under the lip of the roof of his bus and knocked at the door. It took a few attempts before I figured that he was either not there or ignoring me. I weighed my options. I could leave without seeing him and he could spend the night thinking that I had snubbed him after he had been so kind to me all day but I wouldn’t be tempted into any sexual action or brought to tears by feelings too confusing to face. On the other hand I could just barge in there and risk emotional turmoil but ensure that he at least heard me out and knew how grateful I was for his friendship even if we both knew it was more. There was no contest. I pushed open the door and stood in the entryway dripping onto the carpet that lined the living room area of his bus

“Aj!?” I yelled as a fresh wave of shivers over took me. I heard some shuffling in the direction of his room but no response “You can ignore me if you want but I know you’re in there and I need to talk to you”

“You’re harder to get rid of than a shadow” I heard from the stairs above me which caused me to jump about five feet in the air

“I need you to hear me out. I don’t like leaving things unsaid” I said as Aj descended the stairs with a notebook “Writing something?”

“Yes. Well speak then. I’m listening” He said hugging his notebook to his chest

“I wanted to say thank you for taking care of me today. You didn’t have to do that especially with the way I’ve been treating you” I said looking at my toes for the last part

“What can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment” He muttered as I sighed

“Aj-” I started but he stopped me with an angry look

“You know you should really think about not spending nights with one guy and days with another. People might think you’re playing games” He said harshly. I shivered both from my dampness and the coolness of his tone but he pretended to ignore it

“I deserve that” I said quietly. Silence fell in around us as I tried to organize my thoughts in my head. I think I love Aj. But I think I may be falling in love with Josh. A day without seeing Aj is a day wasted but when Josh isn’t around I’m somehow not completely at rest. Oh what am I doing?

“Can you go please? Unless you’re here to offer to give yourself fully and completely to me, please leave me alone” Aj pleaded and I heard the pain in his voice. I glanced at his eyes and saw the torment Josh had been trying to explain to me earlier

“Aj I don’t want to hurt you but I just love being around you. You’re such a wonderful person and my best friend-”

“Please Kat. Please. I can’t ask you to ignore me completely because my heart couldn’t bear that but please consider my feelings and just leave me alone right now” He pleaded and my heart broke

“I’m so sorry”

“For someone who spends so much of her time apologizing you’d think I could get her to accept an apology herself” Aj said angrily as I swallowed my retort and nodded. He was right. It was time I gave some thought to his feelings. I stripped off the sweatpants he had given me and folded them quietly while he watched and left them on his table before turning and leaving. I shut the door and leaned against it while taking a deep breath and willing myself to let this love go. A mere metal door away Aj was willing himself to do that same thing.
Chapter 16 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 16

The next day was a blur of press and tech runs of the show. I avoided Aj since I was not really sure where we stood at the moment and was a bit relieved when I was able to prepare without running into him or Josh backstage. Everyone else seemed to be giving me some space so I assumed I was giving off some vibes that betrayed how conflicted I felt even though I tried to suppress them and focus on what I needed to do for the day. When we circled up backstage I chanced a look at Aj and saw that he was looking not his usual perky self either. He must have felt my eyes on him because he looked up and met my stare. I gave him a small smile and he returned it before putting his head down and closing his eyes for the prayer. We made our way to our starting positions back stage and I gave him some space, taking as long as I could before I had to move behind him for the opening of the show. He was focused with laser intensity at the screen in front of him as the intro video played and I sighed and fought the urge to put my hand on his shoulder and give him a reassuring squeeze. I wanted to let him know that it would be ok, that we would be ok, but I knew that I had to let him be.

The show went quickly and our onstage chemistry only fueled the confusion as it flared hotter than ever before. It seemed that when we ignored each other our hormones decided they could run rampant. Thankfully I had a sleepover to look forward to so while the guys were escorted quickly to their buses for the drive to Manchester I hung back until I found Josh and we made our way hand in hand to the dancer’s bus. The girls were prepared by the time we got there, already showered and in pajamas with bowls of popcorn and chips and open bottles of wine. I excused myself to shower and left Josh to fend for himself with Mollee hoping that at least Sophie could keep her in check while I wasn’t there to protect him. Even so I showered quickly and changed into some soft pajama pants that looked like they were made from squares of different red themed fabrics and a white tank top. I braided my hair into pig tails and headed out to relieve Josh so he could change.

“Is she being on her best behavior?” I asked Sophie while indicating to Mollee

“You act like I’m going to embarrass you. He’s the one I like, remember?” Mollee said as I rolled my eyes

“Let’s have a no Aj rule tonight. No one mentions him and we just focus on what’s in front of us” I suggested before devouring a few chips. I’d begun to discover that the after show adrenaline made me hungry for food and sex. I was learning that if gave into one then I was less likely to crave the other. That was the theory anyway.

“Good idea” Mollee agreed as we launched into an awkward silence

“I feel like you must have been talking about me if it’s this quiet when I re-enter the room” Josh joked upon his return in grey sweat pants and a black fitted t-shirt. He sat next to me and I leaned into his strong chest

“Don’t be so paranoid. Plus it’s more fun talking to you when you’re here. Can I offer you some wine?” Mollee asked handing Josh a glass of wine before he could answer. She offered some to me but I declined

“I’m taking a break from drinking” I said as Mollee shrugged

“I heard someone cannot hold their liquor well. Is it true you threw up in the middle of rehearsal?” Josh asked with a grin as I flushed red

“This night is supposed to be about getting to know you so let’s skip the stories of me and my drunken escapades” I dodged as Josh chuckled

“Alright fine, what do you want to know?” Josh asked taking a sip from his wine. I paused not knowing where to start but Camie jumped right in

“How about we play truth or dare?” She asked mischievously as Mollee and Sophie eagerly agreed

“Ok it’s worth a shot” I conceded though deep down I felt that this couldn’t possibly end well

“Ok I’ll start. Josh truth or dare?” Mollee asked eagerly as I rolled my eyes

“Didn’t see that one coming” I joked as Josh just chuckled

“Why do I feel I’m trapped no matter what I choose? Ok truth” He said as Mollee grinned

“Have you ever cheated on a girlfriend?” She asked as my cheeks warmed in embarrassment

“Never” He said proudly and I had a hard time hiding my smile

“Ok Kat, truth or dare?” Josh asked

“Dare” I said immediately

“She always goes for the dare” Mollee informed him as I scowled at her

“Ballsy. I’m not surprised” Josh said with a look of affection towards me “I dare you to try my Nutella and spaghetti sandwich”

“Excuse me what?” Sophie asked with the same face I had made when I first came face to face with his creation

“It’s Josh’s lunch of choice. Alright if we have all the ingredients in our kitchen whip one up and I’ll eat it. I never back down on a dare” I said as Josh hopped up followed by Camie and Sophie to make the sandwich

“See? Isn’t he fun?” Mollee asked as I sighed

“Mollee I’m already dating him please stop trying to sell him to me. And I don’t appreciate the cheating question. I’m not stupid. I know you’re trying to point out how he wouldn’t hurt me like Aj did” I said, frustration saturating my tone

“Just making sure we’re on the same page” She said unfazed as always at my discomfort when she believed what she was doing was right.

The sandwich was as odd as I expected. It didn’t taste bad but the foamy bread texture and the squishy spaghetti with the sugary Nutella did not endear me to it. Josh was grinning widely when we were done so I turned back to him

“Josh truth or dare?” I asked as he pouted

“I just went!” He whined

“There is no limit on how many times you can go!” I retorted and the girls backed me up

“Fine dare” He said as I giggled

“Let us give you a makeover” I said and the other girls squealed with delight. About five minutes later Josh’s hair was corn rowed with bows at the end and he had some very bright and offensive makeup on. We were chasing him around trying to get pictures before we overturned a bowl of pretzels and that got everyone to calm down to clean it up and then resume the game. It went on for about another hour with lots of gross food concoctions being eaten and embarrassing questions being asked. Slowly the other girls made their way to bed citing the need for rest for our show tomorrow night. Mollee was the last to go with a departing wink and a reminder to only do things she would do. I made Josh his bed up front on the couch and cuddled next to him under the covers with the lights out

“Mind if we keep playing truth or dare?” He asked nuzzling his face into the crook of my neck

“As long as I don’t have to move from this spot” I said happily and I felt him smile into my shoulder

“Sounds good, truth or dare?” He asked

“Truth”

“I thought you never chose truth!” Josh said excitedly as I laughed

“For you I’ll make an exception. Just don’t tell Mollee” I joked

“Ok deal. Do you have feelings for me?” He asked flirtatiously

“I do. I can’t believe you even have to ask that” I said with a grin

“The question has two parts. Is that ok?” Josh asked

“Sure but you’ll have to answer two questions next” I said as Josh nodded his agreement

“Do you feel the same way for me that you do for him?” He asked shyly as my heart sank. Even without using his name Josh had clearly made his intention known. He wanted to know who I chose. It wouldn’t be such a difficult question if I wasn’t so conflicted on the subject myself

“No” I started and I felt his heart sink so I elaborated “With him everything is complicated and hard. I end up hurt more times then I end up happy. With you things are effortless” I said which seemed to placate him “My turn?”

“Two questions, go for it” He said abandoning the pretense of truth or dare since we both knew we just wanted to find out more about each other in this personal setting

“How many girls have you been with?” I asked

“Serious relationship or hook ups?” Josh asked

“Both. I get a two part question remember?” I asked with a mischievous grin into the darkness

“Good point. Two serious relationships and four others” He said as I smiled. Those were numbers I could deal with. We talked late into the night revealing our relationship pasts and I told him a little bit about the whole Rich ordeal. There were no gory details but he knew it ended badly, so badly that the police had been called and Mollee and I were more or less on the run from him. I fell asleep in Josh’s arms that night feeling content and I actually got a decent night’s sleep, even on a small couch.

The next morning I awoke to a flash of light followed by giggles as the girls managed to get a few cute pictures of me asleep in Josh’s arms but I didn’t mind. I reluctantly let Josh go to find his stuff and his new hotel room for our stay in Manchester. I didn’t envy him having to hop from hotel room to hotel room. It was much more to my liking to have one place to call home even if it was small and had wheels. I fielded questions from the girls before escaping to shower and change. I checked my phone and saw two new voice messages. The first was from Brian wanting to hang out before the show and explore Manchester. The second was a song so it was clear who it was from.

Here we are seven days
And seven nights of empty tries
It's ritual, habitual
But it's never gonna work this time
We're to the point of no return
And along the way the only thing we've learned
Is how to hurt each other

I'm looking back and wondering why
It took so long to realize
That nothing's changed and never will
All these years of standing still
And still we stay in all this pain
And nothing's gonna make it go away

I don't wanna wait another minute
Put me out of my misery
I can read your mind baby you're not in it
And we're not what we used to be
No you wouldn't have to lie to me
If you would only let me go
And I don't wanna wait another minute to hear
Something that I already know
I know, I know, I know

So save your voice
Don't waste your breath
Can't you see we're at the end
And this goodbye is permanent
So wish me well and try to forget
And all the fights
And all the ways
We almost made it
But we never did
And it's finally come to this

We cannot hide what we've become
So sick and tired of being numb
It's done, it's done
It's done


The last words rang through me so hard that I dropped the phone ending the message before the final chorus. Tears stung my eyes. This was no typical song message from Aj. This was a declaration. He was through. I know I wanted him to move on and stop hurting but in this moment it felt like I was losing him all over again. I hated myself for it but even after having spent the night in Josh’s arms I could only think of how much I would miss Aj’s.

“Hey are you ok?” Mollee asked coming up behind me and picking my phone up from where I had dropped it

“Not really” I squeaked trying my hardest to hold back the tears. Mollee wrapped me in her arms and I cried into her shoulder. When I pulled back to wipe my face Mollee checked my message and listened to the lyrics that had upset me.

“Booger this is a good thing. He’s letting you go” Mollee said as I sniffed

“Then why does it feel so awful?” I whispered still trying to catch my breath as the tears ran unchecked down my cheeks

“It’ll get better. It’s still raw. You can’t see it now but this is a good thing, it really is. Think of how nice it’ll be when you’ve both moved on enough that you can be friends” She said as I took in a deep breath and slowly let it out

“I just wasn’t ready to give it all up yet” I said quietly

“But this is better. It’s fairer to you and to Josh and to him. Trust me Booger this is good” Mollee said pulling me into another hug. As I cried some more into her shoulder I couldn’t shake the feeling that this whole thing was a huge mistake. I knew Aj had made his decision and I had to respect it but it took a lot of control not to run to his bus and demand some sort of explanation. “Want me to call Brian back for you? A day out with someone not involved in this whole thing might be good”

“Yeah tell him to meet me here” I said sadly. I took a deep breath and shook my body out a little before showering and changing into a faded pair of jeans and a plaid black and white button up with a collar. I took out my braids from last night that had set into waves and let them fall down to my shoulders before putting on a black cowboy hat and some cowboy boots. I slipped on some sunglasses, in serious need of some privacy from the insinuations from my mood ring eyes, before I heard a knock on the door

“Hey girly let’s get going!” Brian said happily and I gave him a weak smile in return while he took in my outfit “Why you’re a country gal at heart”

“Only when I’m hanging with you” I said trying my hardest to hide my pain. Brian took my arm, looped his through it and pulled me across the lot to a car he had rented “Ouch Bri, in a hurry?”

“Sorry I’m excited! I have an idea of what to do today and it is inspired by you!” He said cheerfully but quickly while pushing me into a black SUV before running around the other side and starting it faster than I thought would be physically possible

“You’re allowed to be excited but damn Bri” I said rubbing my elbow a bit where I had hit it when he had all but thrown me into the car

“Sorry. I need to control my energy. I hear that all the time” He said quickly but relaxing a bit as we left the lot behind us

“So where are we going?” I asked through a yawn. Even though I’d had a good night’s sleep last night with Josh this morning had been eventful to say the least and I was back to feeling exhausted

“Horseback riding” He said happily with a grin

“I love horses” I said smiling with real enthusiasm for the first time since I woke up

“Well good. As long as you’re ready to be schooled by the master” He said playing up his country drawl

“Oh bring it on” I joked back punching him lightly in the arm

“That was my singing arm! I’ll never sing again!” He yelled clutching his arm dramatically while I rolled my eyes. The ride to the barn where they housed the horses was quick and painless. It made me remember why I loved to hang out with Brian so much. He could make you forget all your problems in seconds flat with his antics. I fixed my hair while Brian ran around to open my door for me and help me out

“This place is gorgeous” I said looking around the English country side. The barn was quaint and very English with its thatched roof and stone walls and in every direction all you could see were rolling hills of rich greens with winding brown paths through them. Though it was almost noon there was still a fine mist creating a carpet over the landscape giving everything the feeling that it was somehow ancient and not to be disturbed

“Isn’t it?” Brian replied calmly having clearly been affected by the mood of the view in front of us. He took my hand and we walked silently to the barn where we met a proper British man who outfitted us with some helmets and introduced us to our horses

“Do you have any experience riding?” The man asked Brian who nodded confidently

“Yes sir I grew up in the back woods of Kentucky riding on the family farm” Brian said and I giggled at his country drawl

“Well then Artemis will do nicely. He’s a bit strong willed so we don’t give him to beginners but if he trusts that you know what you are doing than he will take good care of you” The man said pulling out a stunning black stallion with a little white diamond between his eyes. His coat gleamed even without the benefit of the sun and his strong muscles moved flawlessly under his skin

“Nice to meet you sir I’m sure we’ll get along just fine” Brian said taking the reins and petting Artemis on the nose with the same gentle nature that you normally only saw when Brian talked about his son. I was watching this tender moment intensely when I felt a nudge at my shoulder and turned to find a chestnut brown mare with a white belly. There was a bit of apple that had fallen at some point in the morning on the ground by my foot and she clearly wanted help reaching it

“Here you go sweetie” I cooed grabbing the apple and holding out my flat palm to her so she could get at it easier. She took it in one large and slimy chomp and I giggled as I watched her happily devour it

“Well that’s interesting. You seem to have attracted Sadie’s attention” The man said as I turned and saw him and Brian watching my interaction

“She’s beautiful” I said happily as she flung her mane back as if she understood she was being admired

“A bit proud but she’s a good girl. She hasn’t been very social lately so it’s nice to see her taking to you” The man said and I frowned

“Why?” I asked turning back to her as she nudged me again and I rubbed her nose

“We had to sell her mate a few weeks back and she’s been pining. Poor thing we would have kept him if we could have but…” He trailed off with a shrug and quickly checked her hoofs before saddling her

“Well I think she’s just perfect. You don’t need any man to make you special” I said into her eyes and I swear it felt like she smiled

“Interesting sentiment coming from you” Brian said smugly and I stuck my tongue out at him. Behind me Sadie whinnied and I smiled

“I think we’ll get along just fine” The man helped me onto Sadie while Brian expertly swung onto Artemis’s back causing me to whisper “show off” under my breath

“Now all of these paths are fairly circular so if you stray make sure to keep at least one in sight so you can find us again. Have a good time” He said as Brian took the lead and I nudged Sadie along behind him

“Where would you like to ride off to?” Brian asked once we were out of the immediate area of the barn

“What do you think Sadie?” I asked and Sadie nudged her head to a small path to our left “Good choice”

“What are you the horse whisperer?” Brian joked as he brought Artemis up beside Sadie so we could talk

“You’re just jealous you can’t have as many and varied talents as I do” I retorted as Brian laughed. The path we were following was winding and it brought us over the first large hill and down into a valley full of little purple flowers that peaked up over the mist to absorb the small bit of light this overcast day was bringing. Then Sadie took a turn off the path towards one of the tallest hills I could see and Brian got nervous

“Hey why don’t we just follow this path?” He asked as I grinned back at him

“Don’t trust my girl? Typical” I joked and Brian sighed before bringing Artemis up behind us as we began to climb the large hill

“Why would she pick the steepest hill here?” Brian asked as we leaned forward over the horse’s necks to help them propel us up the steep incline

“She must have a reason” I said quietly while giving her a pat on the side of her neck. We struggled up that hill for almost ten minutes and just when I thought she would drop from fatigue Sadie peaked over the crest and stopped to take in the view. My mouth dropped open as I gazed at the picturesque scene in front of me. Hills rolled in every direction as far as the eye could see with nothing disturbing their peace but a small wind that whistled through the one tree in the whole area. That tree was right beside us and its snarled branches gave us the shade from the sun that was now forcing its way through the clouds. It illuminated the different colors hidden in all that misty green as little white and blue and yellow flowers seemed to sprout right in front of our eyes to meet the sun in its arrival

“Well well. Sorry Sadie. I’ll never doubt you again” Brian said as he came even to us and Artemis pushed a big gulp of air out through his snout

“Want to give these guys a break?” I asked and Brian nodded before quickly dismounting and then helping me do the same. Artemis headed a few paces down the hill for some prime grass but Sadie stayed where she was just on the edge of the tree’s shade staring almost sadly down at the view. Her eyes seemed to hold deep sorrow and longing and my heart melted “I know how you feel”

“Talking to horses again?” Brian asked quietly after giving Sadie and I a moment of staring at the scene in silent connection

“We’ve got a lot in common” I said patting her lightly

“You know horses are great listeners but I’m better at conversation because I can talk back” Brian said smartly and I grinned

“Well is there something specific you wanted to say to me?” I asked as Brian took my hand and led me to the tree’s trunk where we could both lean back and look over the valley stretching out in front of us

“I hate to see you like this over some guy” Brian said as I rolled my eyes

“He’s one of your best friends. You know he’s more than just ‘some guy.’ Especially to me” I answered

“Well he doesn’t define you. Just remember that you are a beautiful person with or without him no matter what happens” Brian said and my brow creased in worry. What the heck did that mean?

“Bri-” I started the question not fully formed in my head or on my lips

“Just have faith that you are wonderful person even without a certain Alexander James McLean” Brian said with a definite end to the topic. I frowned as my thoughts reeled. It was like a warning that something bad was going to happen but that I had to be strong. What is Brian hiding? We talked about nothing for about an hour longer and then took the horses a long way back. We said thanks and goodbye to the man at the barn and I had a heartfelt moment with Sadie

“We’ll make it. The two of us are strong” I whispered to her and fed her a carrot. We jumped into the car and drove back as the sun began to set. It was early but fall was the beginning of the loss of hours of daylight so even though we had a show to do in about four hours it felt much later when we pulled up to the lot. We walked towards the arena in the wonderfully crisp fall weather with the sunset to our backs. I held Brian's hand tightly, feeling somehow that if I let go the serene calm that had filled me after our excursion would vanish and I would be tossed back into the reality that was my complex love life. We neared the venue in a happy silence and I stopped Brian before we got too close to the backstage entrance that would signal the time for warm ups and hair and makeup and the guy I was avoiding like the plague

"Brian, thank you so much for today. You're right I really needed to get out-" I started but Brian pulled me quickly away from the backstage entrance and towards the side entrance for employees of the arena

"Hey come see what the fan view looks like" He said quickly

"Do you think we have time? I still need to stretch and get into hair and makeup-" I started but Brian interrupted me and I watched his eyes dart to something behind me and then back to me again nervously

"We have plenty of time. They can’t start the show without us" He said practically pulling my arm out of my socket

"Bri what is the deal? Are you trying to keep me from backstage?" I asked with a sly smile thinking of Josh and his spontaneity. I wonder if he had asked Brian to take me out today to prepare a surprise

"No, why would you think that?" He asked nervously as his eyes flashed over my shoulder again

"Brian you can't even focus on me. Come on. What am I not supposed to see?" I asked trying to duck around him but he sidestepped and blocked my movement

"Kat just don't ok? You've been through a lot and you had such a fun day. Let's just go stretch on stage for a bit and then we can go get ready" He said with worry prominent on his face. My heart sank. So this isn't about Josh.

"Brian what is it?" I asked trying again and failing to get past him

"Please just trust me Kat? Please?" He begged as my stomach tied in knots

"I have a right to know Brian. I'm a big girl" I said angrily as he blocked my attempt to pass him for a third time "Just let me go!"

"Alright, alright" Brian sighed stepping aside quietly. With a smile of victory I took two fast steps towards the door that led backstage and then stopped dead in my tracks. I had half expected to see Aj waiting to intercept me or perhaps apologize for his message. Well I saw Aj and he was leaning against the backstage door but he wasn't alone. There was a girl about my height with long dark hair with him and when I say with him I mean all over him. They were glued together by the lips and he moved his hands over her curves in a very familiar and lusty way. By the look on her face she was enjoying it as much as I once had

"Who is that?" I asked quietly with my heart hammering in my chest as if it were trying to break free

"Missy, one of his ex girls" Brian said slowly approaching me and putting his hands on my shoulders

"What is she doing here?" I asked as anger quickly replaced my pain. Not only was he making out with this girl but he was doing it in front of the only entrance to the backstage area. Was he hoping I'd see?

"We found out that she was going to be in town yesterday and that Bone was planning on seeing her-" He started and suddenly everything clicked into place

"You didn't just randomly decide to take me out today did you?" I asked and felt Brian shake his head slowly

"She's here until we leave for Scotland so we had a plan. I had you today, Howie tomorrow, Nick and Mollee the next day. Aj promised to keep her away from you but apparently that flew out the window..." He trailed off "Hey let's just get on stage. We don't need to watch this"

"Wait" I said quietly. I was transfixed on his hands and the way he moved them through her hair. I know it's a little strange and maybe even a bit perverse to need to watch an ex make out with another girl but I couldn't look away. I felt like I was searching for something. Some sign that he wasn't enjoying it. That maybe he was still thinking of me.

"I don't know why he's doing this" Brian said quietly but I shook my head

"He's pretty mad at me. He had to walk in on me and Josh I'm sure he just wants me to get a taste of my own medicine"

"Well that's pretty shitty" Brian said bluntly and I tore my eyes away from the scene to look at him. He wasn't one to swear

"He's in a lot of pain Bri and it's because of me. Maybe I deserve this a little. Maybe that's why I can't walk away" I said sadly and Brian pulled me into a tight hug

"Nothing you did was malicious Kat. You are a beautiful person and you've tried to spare his feelings at every step of this whole mess. What he's doing is wrong. He’s attacking you like an enemy when you've been trying to be a friend. Now come on. If I have to watch him purposely hurt you for another minute I may do something I'll regret" He said scaring me a little at the end of his speech as his words hit home. It was sweet that Brian saw me as the innocent in this but I knew better. Despite what Brian thought I was no better than Aj. I unwrapped myself from Brian's arms and took his hand and let him walk me to the side stage entrance without a backwards glance.

“Where did you just come from?” Howie asked as Brian helped me up on stage

“The arena entrance” I said shortly before plopping down to stretch

“Why?” He asked and Brian shook his head over my shoulder so Howie let it drop

“Hey girlie how was your day?” Mollee asked bounding over to me and squishing me in a big hug

“Brian and I went horseback riding and that was awesome” I said grumpily which made Mollee frown

“Clearly I’m missing something” She said looking at Howie who just shrugged. Brian motioned to her and she went over to him while I pressed my head between my legs and closed my eyes. I immediately regretted that decision because preserved behind my eyelids in perfect detail was that bitch all over Aj

“What an incredible bastard!” Mollee exclaimed and I cringed

“Leave it Molls” I said seriously not needing to meet her eyes to know that she was fuming

“We had a deal, that fucker” She said and Brian actually laughed a bit. Mollee glared at him and he blushed

“Sorry” He said quickly looking down

“Why does my girlfriend look like she’s about to spit fire?” Nick asked walking in with Sophie. I pulled my purse to me and crammed on my headphones so I wouldn’t have to hear the whole play by play between Brian and everyone else. I could practically see it without looking up. Brian would explain and try to make it seem like less of a big deal and Mollee would correct him so it made it seem like Aj had been naked with this girl on my bed. Then Nick would get mad because he’d believe Mollee’s version and Howie and Sophie would try to figure out the truth and I was just in no mood for the whole thing. In fact I didn’t need to stretch out here anymore. I got up and attempted to walk out but when I stood up I found myself face to face with Aj

“Sorry” I said nervously. He met my eyes dead on, daring me to confront him with what I’d seen and I just stared right back. He’d have to make the first move if he wanted to throw down right now

“Oh shit” Nick whispered and was elbowed by Mollee as everyone watched. Aj just blinked at me and when it became clear that I wasn’t going to confront him he just stepped aside and let me pass. I walked back to hair and makeup and got everything done before anyone else came in before finding a secluded corner to stretch. Then my phone rang.

“Hey” I said with relief at the one voice I really wanted to hear right now

“Hey there bright eyes, what’s shaking?” Josh asked cheerfully, clearly unaware of all the drama, which was how I liked it to be honest

“There’s a whole lot of drama as always. I miss you” I said and meant it. I could almost hear Josh’s smile through the phone

“Want to come watch a movie with me in my hotel room after the show tonight?” He asked

“Nothing would make me happier” I said “But I have to run for huddle up. Meet me backstage after the show?”

“You can count on me” He said sincerely and I smiled wide. I threw my phone with my stuff and ran to make the huddle squishing between Brian and Howie

“You ok?” Howie asked meeting my eyes

“I am” I said confidently which caused Howie to smile. We said the prayer and the cheer and ran to our spots backstage. I dallied a bit on purpose so Aj would get to his spot first and I could just sneak in behind him but he was waiting expectantly when I arrived a minute before the video started. I was in no mood to be hurt in front of him so I quickly decided I was going to pretend I hadn’t seen his public make out session earlier today or gotten a phone message declaring he was over me. The video started and Aj was still staring at me “What?”

“Nothing” He said harshly before turning abruptly back towards the screen. Was he mad at me? What reason did he have to be mad at me? I almost tapped him on the shoulder. I almost grabbed him to make him confront me. I almost screamed at him in front of all the stage hands. Instead I took a deep breath, pulled my hood up and thought of Josh.

The show was one of the oddest I had ever been a part of. When Aj and I were on stage together everything was lust and love and pain. Each song seemed to speak directly to us, each breath was synchronized as our hearts beat as one and each touch sent electricity so intense through our bodies that we were both missing steps left and right. But when we stepped off stage Aj was furious at me. He wouldn’t look at me, wouldn’t talk to me and wouldn’t even say my name. During one quick change I was accidently standing in his way but instead of asking me to move, he stood behind me until my quick changer made a comment. I moved aside but the delay caused him to be late for his next entrance. The show was exhausting as we oscillated between the two extremes so when we were done I all but ran into Josh’s waiting arms and allowed him to pull me excitedly off of the lot completely and into his hotel room. We watched the movie innocently enough as I tried to shut my head off from the psychological warfare that had erupted during the show. When it was time to sleep I cuddled in Josh’s arms and stared into the blackness. Unfortunately the thought that stayed in my head was a nagging curiosity about who Aj was holding in his arms tonight.
Chapter 17 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 17

The next few days went by in a blur. I didn’t see or hear from Aj at all. Howie picked me up the day after the show from Josh’s hotel room with a change of clothes supplied by Mollee and he kept me out all day shopping and eating at all the best restaurants in the area. He deposited me to Mollee who ushered me quickly into her bunk where we talked the night away and she insisted I sleep in her bed with her. I woke up to Nick bright and early ready to take Mollee and me out rock climbing. That night I spent with Josh in his hotel room where we made out hungrily and then he escorted me to the bus where he stayed for our trip to Scotland. We arrived with only a few hours before the show so Josh ran to get to work setting up the equipment and Mollee all but marched me to the stage to stretch and warm up.

“You guys are exhausting” I joked as Mollee brought me on stage and sat across from me after sweeping the area with her eyes as if she thought Aj was going to roll out from under the stage with his girl

“Well good. Exhausted people don’t spend time thinking about things they shouldn’t” Mollee reasoned and I rolled my eyes. While I was flattered that everyone was taking such care to protect my feelings I can’t say that it kept Aj from my thoughts. On the contrary it seemed like the less I saw him the more I thought about him. It was like dieting. The more you deny yourself that chocolate the more you crave it with every fiber of your being. I couldn’t help but feel a little excited at the prospect of seeing him tonight.

“Incoming” I heard from behind me as Camie came in and sat unusually close to me. I followed her stare in the direction she had just come from to see Aj walking very publically with the brunette from before on his arm. They stopped and surveyed the crowd and I couldn’t help but feel that Aj was trying to make sure I was among the people on stage before he opened his mouth

“Everyone I have an announcement” He said cheekily as if he didn’t already have everyone’s attention

“What is she still doing here? I thought she was just visiting in Manchester” Nick whispered angrily as Aj’s smile grew

“In case you don’t know this is Missy and she is joining us on tour. As my girlfriend” Aj emphasized the last word and I waited for pain to come but instead a giggle bubbled out of my lips. I couldn’t help it, it was so ridiculous. Looking at this girl, well, she looked a lot like me if I had breast implants. She smiled vacantly and kissed Aj’s jaw and all I could do was laugh at this transparent attempt to make me angry. Suddenly I was dissolved in giggles, clutching my side and burying my face in Mollee’s lap. She seemed concerned for a second but after a moment it became impossible to mistake my hysterical laughter for anything but what it was and she joined me

“Welcome” I said through giggles as I wiped my eyes from tears of laughter “I hope you enjoy touring” and then I was gone, laughing so hard that I could barely breathe. Mollee joined me before long and soon everyone was laughing, though more at my hysterics than at Aj’s attempt to hurt me, and Aj gave Missy a frustrated look before leaving to deposit her wherever she would be spending the show

“Ok Kat calm down, Jesus” Mollee said through her own laughter as I fought to get myself under control

“I’m sorry but my God how much more transparent do you get?” I asked as there was some general mumbling of agreement

“Finally a response I can get behind” Camie said and since I was still high from my laughter I just turned to her

“What do you mean?”

“Seeing you so love sick over this dude is getting old. I can get behind a girl who can laugh at his pitiful attempts to prove he’s moved on” Camie explained and while I couldn’t agree with the malicious tone in her voice a part of me was proud that even Camie was aware that this was the most ridiculous thing Aj could have done. He just proved how stuck on me he still was. I wasn’t proud of it but that fact had lifted my spirits considerably. In a complete state of double standard I felt that as long as I knew that he still had feelings for me it was ok for me to be with Josh and still have feelings for him

“All right hair and make up for the girls” Sophie exclaimed once everyone had calmed down and the four of us marched to our stations

“Hey Kat” I heard from behind me and turned to see Camie “Sit next to me will you? I want to talk” I nodded raising a questioning eyebrow at Mollee behind her back which Mollee answered with a shrug

“What’s up?” I asked as the hair guy began to work on my hair

“I’m sorry about everything with Aj. It was a night of drunkenness but I was still a bitch for coming between you two. It won’t happen again” She said. I expected to feel the urge to tell her to go fuck herself but instead a little piece of me seemed to loosen up. I hated having enemies and one less was something to celebrate

“Apology accepted. Now is it just me or is that girl an exact replica of yours truly” I whispered wickedly and she grinned

“It’s uncanny” Camie whispered back. We laughed and had a good time while we got ready and I even stood next to her in our prayer circle. Mollee seemed conflicted. She was happy with anything that allowed me to let Aj go but she was still no fan of Camie’s. I cornered Mollee as we went to our places because I knew she was dying to say something to me about it

“Well?” I asked expectantly as Mollee paused

“Just don’t trust her ok?” Mollee said not needing to explain her subject matter

“Only as far as I could throw her” I said with a grin which Mollee returned

“Look at you. You resemble the Kat I know” She said happily with a kiss on my forehead before bouncing off to position behind Nick. I placed myself behind Aj and he turned as soon as he felt my presence

“Is it really so hilarious to you that I could find someone else?” Aj asked clearly hurt by my earlier reaction. I was taken aback by the pain in his eyes that I had vowed I would do anything in my power to rid him of

“Oh Aj I’m sorry. It wasn’t that. I’m just tired and I got the giggles. I’m very happy for you” I said and he glared at me

“I can’t believe I ever thought you were worth my time” He said harshly before turning towards the screen. I tried to catch my breath because his words had knocked the wind out of me. What was I doing that was so wrong? He was the one who had initiated this whole unofficial “we hate each other” agreement. And yet despite what Mollee had said about my returning more to my usual self I couldn’t deny that I felt more like I was walking away from who I was with each step I took away from Aj. I tried to clear my head but as usual once we hit the stage Aj and I were all over each other and the pain I was feeling had time to settle into the depths of my stomach.

The next week flew by as we made the rounds in England and moved onto Ireland. Missy became a figure of the tour bringing out the worst in me every time she was around. Aj and I had settled into the oddest relationship cycle I had ever encountered. When we were on stage we were completely into one another. It was almost as if nothing had happened and we were together and in love. He would thrill me and I would see the sparkle return to his eyes as I’d flash him a smile when we completed a difficult move together to perfection. But as soon as we stepped off stage we were at war. He would flaunt Missy in the most visible places possible and I would make comments that I’d be horrified hearing from my worst enemy’s mouth, let alone my own.

In those moments when I was ugliest it seemed that Camie was always there as my new best friend and confidant in the war against Aj and Missy. While I never completely let her in it helped me feel less horrible about myself when I wasn’t the only one saying nasty things. In a strange cause and effect the more I felt myself becoming this jealous bitch the more time I wanted to spend with Josh who reminded me of who I really was. Of course all Aj saw was me getting closer to Josh and that drove him crazy. Everyone else tried to stay out of our way when Aj and I had to come in contact and it was creating some intensely awkward situations for everyone on tour. So when I woke up on November 21st in Germany I was acutely aware that for some reason I was feeling more solemn and grounded in my own skin than I had been recently and as I struggled to figure out why Mollee climbed into bed next to me and wrapped me in a tight hug.

“It’s been so crazy on the road that I’d almost forgotten” She said quietly as I sighed and it hit me. It was the anniversary of our parent’s deaths.

“Me too” I said as tears sprang into my eyes. I held Mollee tightly and she cried silently into my shoulder. We stayed like that for about a half an hour until we couldn’t produce another tear

“What are we going to do for them today? We’re in Germany so this will be the first time we won’t get to spend this day with them” Mollee said as we lay next to each other staring at the ceiling of my bunk. It was our tradition to spend the day, rain or shine, at our parent’s graves. Usually we’d pack a picnic and bring some books and just talk and spend time. Today it obviously wasn’t possible

“Well we have the day off and it’s not snowing yet. We could still do a picnic somewhere” I offered

“Know anyplace off-hand in Germany?” Mollee asked and I sighed

“Maybe one of the guys could find something. Does Nick know?” I asked turning and playing with her hair

“Not about today, no, but I could call him” She said as I nodded

“You do that and I’m going to take a shower” I said swinging myself slowly out of the bunk and into the bathroom. As I undressed and adjusted the water temperature I tried to remember some of the little details about mom and dad. I remember how terrifying it had been when those details had begun to slip away. The exact color of the highlights in mom’s hair, the way dad smelled when he came in from a cold day at work, the way they would look at each other with such love in their eyes. Then I started to worry that I didn’t remember where I had put the scrapbook we had made with pictures and keepsakes from the two of them. I ran out of the shower, leaving it on and barely covering myself with a towel to find Mollee. She wasn’t in the bunk so I ran to the clothes room and began to tear apart all of our stuff in my search. My panic began to rise as I found other albums but not the one with mom and dad in it. Pretty soon I was crying and soaking wet and it wasn’t until I felt strong arms around me that I was able to take a proper breath

“Shhh beautiful you’ll be ok” Josh said wrapping me in my towel and then in his arms. He rocked me back and forth and I buried my head in his chest trying desperately to rid myself of the feeling that I had somehow lost the few memories of my mom and dad that I had left

“I can’t find it. I can’t find it anywhere” I sobbed and Josh held me closer

“Can’t find what?” He asked quietly as I sniffled

“The pictures of my mom and dad” I cried as Josh rocked me again until I could catch my breath

“Kat what happened?” Mollee asked with Nick not far behind

“I lost them. I lost the pictures. Now we’ll forget everything” I sobbed. Mollee gave me a sad smile and pulled out the album from where it had been by her side. She dropped it where I was sitting and I clutched it like a lifeline

“I’m so sorry Booger I was showing Nick. I didn’t think you’d need it” She said crouching down to my level to wipe my face. Nick disappeared for a second and then I heard the shower shut off. Josh helped me to my feet and I stood there for a moment shivering in my towel but still safe in Josh’s arms

“I’m sorry I freaked out” I said quietly to Josh who shook his head

“You have nothing to be sorry about today” He said sternly before kissing the top of my head

“Nick found a place we can have a picnic and go through the pictures and read some of our favorite books” Mollee said and I nodded with a small smile

“I’ll get dressed and then can we go?” I asked as she hugged me

“We can both get dressed. Boys can we get a little privacy?” Mollee asked as Josh slowly let go of me and Nick kissed Mollee’s forehead before leading him out. We picked out each other’s clothes, purposely finding clothes in colors mom and dad had particularly liked and then bundled up for the coldest picnic ever. I grabbed the big blankets from both Mollee’s bunk and my own and Mollee grabbed some extra sweaters. When I walked out of the bus Nick was holding an already packed picnic basket and Josh pushed hot thermoses of coffee into our hands

“We have the best boys” I said and Mollee agreed as we followed Nick to a rented car. He drove us to a small park that looked out over a beautiful mountain range and we found a perfect spot under a tree to set up our cozy camp. We all bundled under the blankets, Mollee and I in the middle with Nick and Josh as bookends on either side and then Mollee pulled out the scrap book.

“These are baby pictures” Mollee explained opening up to the first page. A little boy with my bright blue eyes stared back at me with a grin that spread from ear to ear. He was wearing an adorable blue pinstriped jumper and holding a red ball

“Your dad has your eyes” Josh commented as I smiled

“And look Mom gave Kat her crazy morning hair” Mollee joked as we laughed at the picture of mom as a toddler with so much cake on her face that her hair stuck straight up with frosting

“Are your grandparents still around?” Nick asked as I shook my head

“Nope us Blackwells die young” I said as Mollee elbowed me

“Well that stops now” Josh said and Mollee nodded in agreement

“Oh look at mom in high school. She was beautiful” I said happily as we turned the page. Mom’s yearbook picture was almost a joke it was so perfect. She had Mollee’s natural perfect curls and those bright green eyes. Her smile lit up the page.

“Dad was such a nerd” Mollee said with a grin as we took in dad’s bad hair and ridiculous mustache

“But he was a foxy nerd” I said with affection looking at his blue eyes and dark chestnut hair. We moved through college pictures with Dad and his football and mom at marches and protests

“Mom spent more time picketing than studying” Mollee explained with pride

“She’s where we get our… tenacity?” I struggled

“Call a spade a spade Booger. She’s where we get our stubbornness” Mollee joked

“She sure does look like a strong woman. She’d be proud of you” Nick said causing me to blush a little. Next we were on to wedding pictures where dad had grown out of his awkward teens and into a dashing man in his late twenties. Mom was stunning as ever and the two of them looked like they had come directly out of a wedding catalogue

“I want to wear that dress” I said running my hands lightly over mom’s wedding dress in the picture

“Not if I get to it first” Mollee said bumping my shoulder. We continued on to pictures of mom holding smiling baby girls and dad teaching them softball and all four of us in family pictures both posed and candid. We reminisced about summers on the beach and winters at ski lodges and of course millions of dance recitals. We reached the end and shut the book about two hours later. The wind was blowing cold but I was cuddled under a multitude of blankets and sharing body heat with Josh and Mollee. We set up for the picnic and ate some sandwiches and fruit and drank hot chocolate. After that we read some of our favorite stories and told even more original ones about mom’s irrational fear of birds and dad’s tendencies to wear extremely outrageous ties. Nick and Josh were wonderful the whole time laughing and listening and sometimes sharing their own families’ stories. It started to get dark early so we packed up and headed back.

“You know we may not have been at mom and dad’s graves but I think this is the best remembrance ever. I just feel like they’re with us now” I said contentedly as Josh wrapped an arm around my shoulder while we cuddled in the back seat of the car

“Of course they are. Look at the way Mollee’s hair bounces in her curls or how your eyes shine when you’re happy. The way you make dumb jokes and your sister stands up for everything she believes in. You are the best memoriam to your parents. You and your sister” Josh said sweetly and a single tear ran down my cheek

“Oh he’s a keeper that one” Mollee said from the front seat where she was holding Nick’s hand and stroking it lightly

“I think so” I said and gave Josh a light peck on the cheek. I took a deep breath and realized that in this moment I was truly me and mom and dad would be proud. We pulled up to the lot and I went to grab some of the blankets but Josh stopped me

“We have one more surprise. Leave everything and come with us” Josh said taking my hand as Nick took Mollee’s

“What more could we ask for? You two have been so wonderful today” Mollee said as Nick smiled and pointed towards our bus. All you could see in the dark were pinpricks of light but as we got closer we saw everyone sitting on the steps with candles. Howie got up and hugged me tightly before handing me a candle and offering me a seat next to him. Josh, Mollee, and Nick all grabbed candles and took seats

“We just wanted to have some way to remember your parents with you tonight” Nick explained as I felt tears prick the corners of my eyes

“We’ve all lost people in our lives. This is as good of a night as any, in memory of your parents, to remember anyone we’ve loved and lost” Howie said squeezing my hand. I looked around at the illuminated faces of my friends. Camie was holding a candle and I was surprised to see she was silently crying. Who had she lost? Brian was on the other side of Mollee with Leighanne and Bailey and they were all holding each other. Howie had Leigh behind him with baby James in her arms. Sophie was on one side of Nick and he was holding Mollee who was letting silent tears fall as well

“You guys this is incredible” I said quietly “I don’t know what to say”

“Tell us a story about your parents. Then we can go around and all say something about someone we have lost. We’ll stay out until the candles burn down” Brian said as I smiled

“That sounds perfect. I have a great story. One Christmas our tree fell down, ornaments and all, and-” I started but was interrupted

“What’s going on here?” A voice that I instantly recognized said from the darkness. Josh instinctively pulled me close and my mood darkened as Aj walked up with Missy by his side

“Nothing dude it’s just something for Kat and Mollee…” Howie said standing up and handing his candle to Leigh “Come on and walk with me and I’ll explain”

“Looks like anyone who is anyone was invited” He said jerkily as anger began to burn like a fire in my chest

“We didn’t mean to exclude you from anything bro. Just come with me and I’ll explain everything” Howie tried again as he picked his way down the stairs of the bus so he could get Aj away and explain

“It looks like a party. Maybe I don’t want to leave” Aj said and I snapped

“This is for friends only. Get the hell out of here before I remove you” I said slowly and clearly but full of anger

“What? I can’t come to a candle party?” He asked and I stood up quickly

“You are an asshole, an incredible asshole. Today is the anniversary of our parent’s deaths. Our FRIENDS put this together to help us celebrate their lives. You are ruining everything. Get the hell out of here” I yelled with tears streaming down my cheeks by the end. Aj looked completely stunned

“Oh. Oh God. Kat, Mollee, I’m so-” Aj started but Missy cut him off

“You can’t talk to him like that! After everything you’ve put him through! Who do you think you are?” Missy yelled and my jaw just dropped in disbelief

“Cut it out Missy” Aj said loudly and she dropped quiet “Kat is hurting. She’s mourning for her parents. When we mourn we don’t always say the nicest things”

“But babe-”

“Enough. Just be quiet. We’ll leave. We’re leaving. I’m sorry guys. Kat, Mollee, I’m so sorry for your loss” He said and for a moment I saw Aj and he saw me and our eyes locked

“It’s ok. I’m sorry I lost my temper. Rough day” I whispered to him and he nodded

“If you need anything….well… you know” He said lamely before turning and walking away. It took a few minutes for the air to settle after that but it finally did and we all shared stories of people we had loved and lost. Bailey told an adorable story about his fish and I tried to get wrapped up in everyone’s memories but all I could think about was Aj. When the candles had burned down everyone said goodnight and I thanked everyone profusely. I gave Nick an extra long hug and a kiss on the cheek

“You are an amazing human being” I said in his ear and he kissed my forehead

“You” He said simply and took a few steps back so I could see Josh

“You are incredible. Absolutely incredible” I said as he smiled

“Seeing you happy and yourself was all the thanks I needed” Josh said sweetly as I smiled

“Can I ask you something?” I asked as Josh grinned

“You just did but I guess you can ask something else” He said goofily

“Will you be my boyfriend?” I blurted out and Josh grinned so wide it looked like his mouth would fall off his face. I heard Mollee gasp happily and I let out a small grin

“Hell yeah” He said happily before pulling me into a hug and twirling me around. He kissed me deeply and I smiled wide when he pulled back

“Now I have to ask something harder” I said as Josh’s smile faded a little

“What?”

“Can I spend our first official night as boyfriend and girlfriend with my sister?” I asked as his grin returned at full power

“Of course but I get you tomorrow night” He said happily

“You can have me all the nights after that if you want. I’m yours” I said and he shook his head

“You’re yours. I just get to share you” He said and gave me one last kiss before heading off for his hotel room

“Well that’s awesome” Mollee said from behind me and I turned to see that Nick had snuck off

“It was time” I said happily as Mollee grinned. She looped her arm in mine and we went back to the bus. Our blankets were on our beds and I cuddled next to Mollee on her bunk

“I think they’d be proud of us” Mollee said once we were settled in bed together

“Me too” I said quietly. I drifted off to a light sleep but was awoken by the vibrating of my phone above me. I reached up to my bunk and squinted at the caller ID in the display. It was Aj. I crept out of bed, careful not to wake Mollee, and snuck upstairs to the reflection room before answering “Hello?”

“Hey” He said quietly and then there was silence

“You ok?” I asked and I heard him sigh

“I feel terrible about tonight. I had no idea. And then what Missy said…” He trailed off and I sighed too

“Today was too good of a day for even you to ruin Aj. Don’t worry about it” I said quietly while absently twirling the fringe on the edge of one of the pillows

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you when you needed me” He said quietly

“I didn’t need you today. I had plenty of people. My sister, my friends and my boyfriend-” I began ticking them off but Aj interrupted me

“Oh so he’s your boyfriend now?” Aj asked as I rolled my eyes

“You can’t say you didn’t see it coming” I said through a yawn “We’ve been dating for a while and have been friends almost as long as I’ve known you”

“That sounds safe as houses. He’ll never hurt you” Aj said but with a tone that made it clear he didn’t think either of those things was particularly admirable

“He is a marvelous person who thinks about people besides himself and he adores me. You’ve got your girlfriend you must know what that’s like” I shot back with more than a hint of sarcasm

“I didn’t call to fight. I just wanted to apologize and see if you needed someone to talk to” Aj said quickly, clearly trying to keep his temper in check. I sighed. Why does he bring out the worst in me lately?

“I’m sorry Aj. I didn’t mean to goad you. Thank you for calling. It was very thoughtful of you but I’m going to go back to bed” I said through another yawn

“Is he waiting for you?” Aj asked quietly

“No, she is. I’m spending the night with Mollee. You know, my sister” I said tiredly as Aj sighed

“I don’t know how we ended up here” He said and I could hear the sadness in his voice

“Aj can we not do this right now?” I asked and I heard him let out a big gust of breath

“Fine but just one more thing” Aj said

“I’m listening”

“Be careful hanging around Camie. I know you two are buddies now or something but you can’t trust her. She’s manipulative” He warned and I was taken aback. Was he really warning me about Camie?

“I can handle myself, thank you” I said a little more harshly than I had meant to

“I know. I miss you Kat” He said

“There are times I miss you too Aj” I said quietly. I held onto the phone and we sat in silence. I knew we were at the end of our little truce. Tomorrow world war three would be back on. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t bring myself to hang up

“I’m sorry I said you weren’t worth my time. It’s not true” Aj said after a minute of silence

“I’m sorry I called you an asshole and laughed at your girlfriend. I really do want you to be happy” I said quietly. Another minute of silence passed

“I love you” He whispered and my heart broke

“Goodnight Aj” I said and hung up the phone. One tear ran down my cheek and I had to take about ten minutes to compose myself before I could climb back into bed with Mollee. That night I had the old falling dream again with Aj and his violent storms on one side and Josh and his calm breezes on the other. The only thing I was sure of when I woke up was that if I kept straddling this line I was the one that would end up crashing down to Earth. And it wouldn’t be pretty.
Chapter 18 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 18

I woke up that morning with a jolt and the feeling that my stomach was literally doing somersaults. It took me about three seconds of being awake to realize that there was going to be a serious issue if I didn’t make it to the bathroom immediately so I launched myself out of the bunk just in time to throw up in the toilet

“You ok?” Mollee asked following me into the bathroom as I retched again

“Not really. I must have eaten something funny yesterday” I said wiping my mouth before beginning to brush my teeth

“I think you ate everything I ate and I’m fine. I hope you’re not getting a stomach bug. You’ll totally give it to me if you do” She said and I rolled my eyes at her. My stomach felt a little better but I was still woozy

“Thanks for your concern” I said sarcastically and Mollee shot me a look before helping me back into my bunk

“Take it easy for today. Want me to call your boyfriend to keep you company? Nick and I have plans or I’d stay. I love that he’s your boyfriend” She said giddily as I gave her a weak smile

“He has to set up the arena for the show tonight. He took yesterday off so he’s got a busy day today” I groaned as Mollee frowned

“Well I can’t just leave you here alone and sick. I’ll call Nick and reschedule” She said starting to walk away but I called to her

“Molls, go have fun. I’m not five anymore I can take it easy by myself” I said as a conflicted look crossed her face

“I don’t know” She worried and I shot her a look

“Go. Go now. Don’t look back” I urged. She sighed and kissed me on the forehead before closing the curtain and heading into the shower. I rolled back over and tried to calm my thoughts as they zoomed around my head. I was still a little woozy so fatigue and illness won out in the end and I did eventually fall back to sleep. When I woke up again the bus was quiet and all I could hear were the distant sounds of everyone who worked on the tour doing their jobs. I sat up slowly anticipating my stomach’s earlier state but I found that I felt 100%. I hopped out of bed and took some time to pamper myself and change into a cute winter ensemble that was complete with fuzzy boots and a hat with ear flaps. I pulled on some fingerless gloves and turned to the door in an attempt to search someone out for entertainment when the door opened right as I reached for the knob.

“Oh hey Kat that’s a cute hat!” Camie said cheerfully as she hurried past me and pulled the door shut behind her. She wasn’t quite dressed for the cold in her low necked short dress and she looked like she was freezing

“Thanks! What are you up to?” I asked happy to have company

“I was going to walk the streets a bit and find out the hot spots for after the show tonight but it’s so damn cold” She complained rubbing her hands together

“Well maybe if you tried some winter gear it might help” I joked as she rolled her eyes

“I’m from Miami. What is this winter you speak of?” She asked as I grinned

“I’m from New Hampshire. Come and let me introduce you to accessorizing and staying warm” I said pulling her into the clothes room. After a few minutes I had her outfitted in a hat, gloves, scarf, and puffy jacket that still managed to show off her killer curves

“This is interesting. I guess you can look cute and bundle up all at once” She said looking herself over in the mirror

“Want to brave the cold and see if we can purchase some warm clothes of your very own? We’re going to be heading into cold weather pretty exclusively for the next month” I said as she grinned

“Shopping? Alright you’ve convinced me” She said looping her arm through mine and giggling as we both tried to fit through the door that way. We made it across the lot and were about to decide which way to go when Aj approached with Missy from the direction we were contemplating

“Where are you two off to?” Aj asked amicably. Well at least he seemed to be trying to keep his attitude from our conversation last night into the new day.

“This girl needs some warmer clothes. Do you know she only packed one long sleeved shirt? Who does that?” I joked and she sent me a fake look of annoyance

“I’m from MIAMI” She said simply as if that explained everything and I laughed

“You two seem to be getting closer. I thought you hated each other” Aj said in what he seemed to think was an offhand tone but the implication was clear. He had warned me about Camie last night and first thing this morning we are off on an adventure together.

“We realized what we were fighting over really wasn’t worth our friendship or anything for that matter. But you know all about that don’t you Missy?” Camie said cruelly as Missy gave us a look of confusion and Aj seethed

“We should be going” I said trying to prevent the inevitable battle “See you later”

“Kat remember what we talked about” Aj said grabbing my shoulder so I couldn’t steer Camie away

“Hey hands off my woman! Your touch may have convinced her to do things in the past but she’s moved on to bigger” Camie gave a suggestive glance to Aj’s crotch “and better things”

“Enough Camie let’s go” I said pulling her successfully away

“How many of the dancers have you slept with?” Missy remarked dimly as we made a hasty retreat so Camie and I could stifle some laughter

“Gosh it’s fun to mess with him” Camie said happily as I hid my discomfort with a smile and changed the subject to a group of shops we were approaching. We spent a good portion of the rest of our free time shopping and Camie had a blast learning the fun of a good set of winter wear. We headed back to the arena in time to stretch with everyone else and we were still gabbing in the makeup chairs when Mollee called my name in wardrobe

“Feeling better?” She asked eyeing my smile

“Yeah it must have just been a weird bug” I said with a shrug

“Are you being careful with her?” Mollee asked with a look towards Camie and I rolled my eyes

“You know she’s not THAT bad. I think she just doesn’t know how to be friends with girls so I’m showing her. She’s so used to fighting everyone that it is her default but when you get to the other side of that she’s actually a blast to hang out with” I explained. Was I really defending Camie?

“I guess. I’m all for second chances but I can’t shake the feeling that she is just no good” Mollee said “But you’ve always been the trusting one”

“True” I said giving her a big hug before taking her hand and leading her to the pre-show huddle. We cheered and did our thing and Camie smacked my ass for good luck before heading to her starting position. I was still laughing at her when I reached Aj

“Interesting company you keep” Aj said quietly as I took a deep breath to calm myself

“Likewise” I answered shortly. Then the music for the video started and we were off and running. The chemistry between us was hot as ever and awkwardly it made me really excited to spend the first night with Josh as official boyfriend and girlfriend. After the show I ran to grab some supplies from my bunk and then met Josh outside the bus

“Are you ready to spend some time in a hotel room with your boyfriend?” He asked seductively causing me to giggle

“Only if you can do me a favor and make yourself scarce for 20 minutes so I can set up a surprise in your room” I said flirtatiously as he grinned

“Absolutely” He said placing his key in my hand before kissing it. I smiled wide at the adorable gesture and then ran up to his room as fast as I could. Once I was there I went to work on mood lighting, music, and of course the brand new lingerie I had bought with Camie today in anticipation of tonight. Josh and I had never really gone very far past making out and heavy petting but I was hoping to change that tonight. I was charged with the energy from the show and ready to have some fun.

Once everything was set up I moved into the bathroom and slipped on my purchase. It was a black laced corset that was very see-through and attached to some barely there black panties. They hooked into black garters and thigh high black lace stockings that matched the pattern of the corset. Then I slipped on some tall black stilettos and went to work on touching up my show hair and makeup which was sexy all by itself. The only thing I changed was the lipstick. Instead of black I went for ruby red to counter the dark smoky eye and to top it all off I slipped on a black pendant necklace that rested right in the ample cleavage provided by the boost from the corset.

Just as I was finishing up I heard a knock at the door and grinned. I shut off all the lights except for a lamp that pointed at an angle so that from the door to the room you could only see my silhouette in the doorframe of the bathroom. I took a deep breath and checked myself over one last time in the mirror

“Come in” I said sexily before hitting play on my ipod speakers. Caramel by Suzanne Vega began to play and I started a teasing dance that projected in shadow on the wall as I heard the door open

It won't do to dream of caramel, to think of cinnamon and long for you


The music played and I swayed slowly while stretching my arms above my head and running my fingers through my hair

It won't do to stir a deep desire, to fan a hidden fire that can never burn true


I slowly pinched the toe of the thigh highs between my fingers and removed them one by one in silhouette before tossing them effortlessly over the door while I danced

I know your name, I know your skin, I know the way these things begin


I turned slightly, wrapped my leg seductively around the door and brushed my hand from the heel of my foot to my inner thigh as I slowly extended my leg. I peeked out from behind the door unable to contain myself any longer and eager to see Josh’s reaction but I didn’t see Josh. Instead my heart froze and my blood ran cold for a second as my eyes met Aj’s. I squealed in surprise and tried to run into the bathroom but I forgot that my leg was wrapped around the door and managed to launch myself backwards through the open frame. As I fell I saw the shower curtain and in a last attempt to break my fall I grabbed for it and it snapped off rung by rung before my head met its final destination on the edge of the bathtub.

“Oh shit, Kat are you ok?” Aj asked flipping on the lights and running over to me as I tried to disentangle myself from the curtain while my head throbbed

“What the fuck are you doing here?!” I asked angrily and right as I managed to free myself from the curtain I saw Aj’s gaze drift to my provocative outfit. I immediately pulled the curtain back around myself

“Sorry, sorry” He mumbled and then his eyes met mine “Oh you’re bleeding”

“What? I am?” I asked anxiously as I tried and failed to get on my feet to look in the mirror while covering myself with the curtain

“Yeah right on your forehead. I think you hit the edge of the plate with the soap on it. It was metal it looks like it cut you” Aj worried as I tried and failed again to get up. He finally noticed and in one swift movement managed to get me on my feet as the shower curtain fell to the ground. We stood there in silence staring at each other with me feeling pissed off and completely vulnerable and him feeling… well…happy. I tried to cover myself up with my arms and Aj scoffed

“Don’t you dare laugh at me” I said as embarrassment began to set in and my cheeks flamed red

“No, it’s not that. It’s just… it’s not like I haven’t seen it before” He said with smirk and I sent him an evil look right as Josh entered the room

“Bright eyes are you in here?” He asked as the red from my cheeks began to travel down my neck and to my shoulders in my deep embarrassment

“Uh” Was all I managed to get out before Josh was in the doorway to the bathroom. He took in my lingerie first and then Aj and then the disaster of the shower curtain and soaps everywhere and finally his eyes rested on my head

“Oh babe you’re bleeding” He said and my heart warmed. Any other guy would freak out about finding his girlfriend with another guy while she’s dressed provocatively but Josh was worried about my head “Please tell me you sustained that in a struggle with him because he was trying to force himself on you?”

“Why would that be what you wanted to hear?” I asked in confusion

“So I’d have an excuse to kick his ass for being in here with you half naked” He whispered to me but so Aj could clearly hear. A small smile crept across his lips and leapt onto mine as I giggled and he swiftly removed his button up so I could cover up a little. He sat me gently on the toilet lid and grabbed a hand towel, ran it under cold water, and began to blot the cut to stem the blood flow “So… who is going to explain?”

“I should go” Aj said but I stopped him

“Not so fast. What the hell were you doing coming into Josh’s room?” I asked angrily

“I wanted to talk to you about Camie. I didn’t mean to ruin anything” He mumbled

“And it didn’t occur to you that things might be happening in a hotel room with two committed people?” I asked harshly

“I was worried. I guess I wasn’t thinking” He said quietly and I sighed

“Josh let me escort Aj out and then I’ll give you the whole humiliating story” I said as Josh nodded, understanding as ever, and began to attempt to re-attach the shower curtain. I grabbed Aj’s arm and pulled him to the door

“I’m sorry, really, you just invited me in and then it was happening and I couldn’t stop watching…” He trailed off and a small smile played on his face

“Well next time identify yourself” I said trying to stay mad but not being very successful at it in the presence of Aj’s open admiration

“He’s a lucky guy. Any guy who has a girl who would give him a welcome like that…” He trailed off again and regret stood prominent on his face

“Ok you need to go” I said unable to handle any more mixed emotions from Aj in my night “We can talk tomorrow but tonight I’m otherwise engaged”

“Have fun” He said sadly as I shut the door and turned back to Josh. He hugged me lightly, pressed a band aid over my cut and sat me on the bed

“Hopefully this was all meant for me?” Josh asked with a smirk and I giggled feeling ridiculous now that I could just be myself. I explained the whole thing and Josh was flattered and disappointed and angry at Aj especially when I removed his shirt and began to model my new lingerie. In the end nothing really happened, I just couldn’t get myself in the mood, and we fell asleep in boring PJs. As Josh snored I stared into the darkness and tried to pretend that I wasn’t more flattered by the one smirk on Aj’s lips as he took in my outfit than by all the following comments by Josh.
Chapter 19 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 19

I woke up the next morning a little sore from the fall but mostly just nauseous. I hurried to the bathroom and emptied my stomach before returning back to bed with a groan. I stretched my arm expecting to bump Josh but it swept over an empty bed instead. I squinted in the morning light from the window and slowly took in the sight of a folded piece of paper where Josh had been last night. I picked it up and read it quietly

“Babe I had to get out and do some work but you were sleeping so peacefully that I decided not to wake you. Meet me for lunch around noon at the arena?” I read though a yawn. I glanced at the clock – 11:00 – and decided I should shower and try to look presentable for lunch after the disaster that was last night. After much primping and fussing I was feeling much better so I made my way down to the lobby in some black sparkling leggings, red pumps, and a plaid button up that hugged my curves in a casual way. My hair was curled and cascading off of my shoulders and my make up was subtle except for some bright red lipstick. I headed for the door of the hotel and saw I had two people waiting for me. On one side of the door was Camie motioning for me to come over and on the other was Aj looking uncomfortable but giving me a look that clearly suggested a need to talk to me. I contemplated both options and then walked to Camie

“Hey! What’s going on?” Camie asked as I approached and I could feel Aj’s disapproval piercing through my back

“Not much, just about to meet Josh for some lunch at the arena. Want to come and meet some techie boys?” I asked knowing boy crazy Camie could never turn down such an offer

“I knew I could count on you for entertainment. Let’s do it” She said with a grin following me to the door

“Kat, can we talk?” Aj yelled to my retreating back

“Nope” Camie answered quickly before I could while pulling me out the door

“Bitch” I said elbowing her playfully as she grinned

“You say that like it’s a bad thing” She said as I rolled my eyes at her and we started making our way towards the arena “So can I talk to you girl to girl?”

“You mean as opposed to talking dog to boy? Sure” I joked as Camie giggled

“So you’ve got this thing you do. Where you wear your heart on your sleeve and that’s great and everything” Camie began

“Thanks?” I joked

“But it makes you a really easy target for say… people like me” She explained

“Ok…”

“I just think if you defaulted less to the weak and sensitive young thing and more to the… well… in your words…bitch… you might be taken more seriously” She said as I pondered

“Camie I can’t change who I am” I started but she interrupted

“I’m not saying you should change who you are. I’m just suggesting a little change of attitude. Just try a little more tough outer shell and a little less crying. I mean when have you ever seen me cry?” I thought back to my parent’s death anniversary and decided not to bring that up

“I guess I haven’t” I lied and she grinned

“So would you rather be hurt and crying all the time or can I give you a few lessons on how to take care of yourself and make sure that you’re the badass in charge?” She asked and I paused. I was sick of being hurt and spending all my time crying and pining over something that was lost. I was definitely sick of being coddled by my sister. Maybe if I could prove that I was a capable person then some of it would sink in and I could get some confidence. Maybe if I worked at it hard enough I could even let go of Aj and really give myself to Josh.

“What harm can it do?” I conceded as Camie grinned

“Perfect. We’re going to a bar after lunch” She said happily

“But we have a show tonight” I said as she rolled her eyes at me

“Kat you’re a phenomenal dancer, you know the moves, you’re young and in shape, and I’ll get us back in time”

“But-”

“Do you want to be the head bitch in charge or not?” She asked turning and taking me by the shoulders. She stared into my eyes with such ferocity and excitement at the prospect of adventure that I had to give in

“Ok, ok. As long as we’re back in time to stretch and re-focus”

“There’s my girl. Now where’s your boy?” She asked as we approached the arena. I looked up knowing Josh would be swinging around the scaffolding somewhere until I located a familiar mop of brown hair

“Where’s my boyfriend!?” I shouted playfully and was answered by a short laugh as Josh started a quick descent

“Right here my girlfriend” He said landing a few feet away

“Camie’s here too. I promised I’d introduce her to some of your guys” I said as Josh nodded

“Of course you can. Come on let’s go to the lunch table and you can meet everyone” Josh said taking my hand and kissing me swiftly on the cheek. I motioned for Camie to follow us and we made our way to the opposite side of the stage where a bunch of the guys I had briefly met through helping Josh with lights were seated. They looked up as we approached clearly not used to girls around the work place.

“Hey everyone I’m Kat and this is Camie. We’re dancers on the tour” I said cheerfully as Camie scanned the boys like a lioness scans gazelle for the young and weak. I stifled a laugh

“Hey boys, can I sit here?” She asked sexily as she slid in between two incredibly hot guys who moved eagerly to accommodate her

“She’s not shy” Josh commented with a smirk

“Nope” I said leading him to the opening at the far end of the table “So how has your day been”

“Good. Better now that you’re here” He said giving my hand a squeeze causing my heart to warm. We had a good time eating and joking with the guys who were pretty smitten with Camie. I didn’t think I’d ever seen her so happy or at ease and that made me smile. Her advice was questionable but watching the ease at which she took the attention of the room was a fairly convincing argument. What harm was there in trying to be more like that?

“Alright boys we have to run. If any of you are done with work and want to join us we’re going to a pub to prepare for the show” Camie announced with a wink to me. A few guys looked around and then stood up to join Camie and I looked to Josh

“How is the lighting grid looking?” I asked Josh as he looked thoughtfully up at the scaffolding

“Not as good as you” He said focusing back on me with a spark of adventure in his eyes “But it’ll do”

“You’re the best” I said kissing him softly on the lips

“Come on love birds we’re going” Camie said from the center of a group of five guys

“We’re coming” I called without looking away from Josh’s eyes that were so full of excitement and light “You’re adorable”

“Just trying to keep up with you bright eyes” Josh said happily as I smiled and allowed him to pull us after the group. We grabbed a cab and Camie gave the driver quick directions to a generic pub. Josh had a beer and I contemplated the drink list

“Kat do some shots with me” Camie called

“Cam we have a show in four hours” I objected

“Ok four shots then. Who else is in?” Camie asked as the group of guys around her cheered and the bartender began pouring the liquor

“That’s not what I meant” I said quietly as Camie pulled me away from Josh’s side and into the chaos. Four shots later Josh was finally able to pull me aside

“We should get going” He said steadying me

“What time is it?” I slurred as he checked his watch

“About an hour before the show” He said and panic began to run slowly through all the alcohol in my system

“Cam, we have to go” I yelled to the red head relaying a story to the bar

“Alright girlie just a few parting shots and we’re out” She said and I shrugged knowing it was impossible to argue with her. I clinked glasses with her and downed something clear before heading out and hailing a cab. The ride went quickly and Josh walked me to the door to back stage

“See you after the show?” He asked sweetly as I bit my lip

“I wish I could just take you back to the hotel right now” I said seductively pressing myself against him

“Me too” He said with a groan. I leaned in and made out passionately with him until I heard my name and pulled back reluctantly

“Jesus we were worried! Have you been out here doing that this whole time?” Mollee asked with a grin

“For a while” I said trying with all my might to enunciate so she wouldn’t know I was drunk

“Well come on Booger let’s get you to hair and makeup. Josh” She said nodding to him

“Sorry Mollee” He said bashfully

“Young love. What can you do?” She said happily taking my hand and leading me into the make-up room “Who would have thought my little sister would be late to a call because she was making out with a boy? My baby girl is growing up!”

“I’m not a baby” I said with Camie’s words in my head “But I’m sorry I’m late”

“No worries” She said

“Why are you so happy?” I asked while being attacked by hair people

“Oh I just like to see you moving on. And Aj might have caught some of the show and the look on his face was priceless” She said as my drunken mind mildly processed a feeling of worry

“I see” I said not trusting myself to say much else lest she find out how drunk I was. When I was done in the chair I changed quickly into my clothes and stretched a bit while gulping down water so I could try to sober up.

By the time we said our prayer and were heading to our starting places I was coherent but still a little tipsy. I stood behind Aj praying he wouldn’t try to talk to me because if anyone would be able to tell the state I was in it would be him but he was focusing pretty hard on the screen in front of him. I wondered briefly about that before he stepped through the curtain and then the music cue for my entrance was being played. I took deep breath and parted the screen discreetly while focusing all my attention on the music. I figured that if I looked down at the dizzying height of the stairs then I’d fall and this time it would be in front of an audience. As I pondered that I felt Mollee poke my back from behind me and I jumped in step with Sophie who had started moving on time and was thus a few steps ahead of me.

“You ok?” Mollee whispered as I nodded yes and we took our places in sexy poses on the stairs. The intro played through and I approached Aj a little off balance so I had to use the first step to brace myself against him and he gave me a weird look. I tried to brush it off and let my dancer’s instinct take over but it was like forcing a stubborn toddler into action. Every time I would get into the grove my foot would wobble or my ankle would twist and I’d end up a step behind and racing to catch up to an ever more concerned Aj. I stumbled a bit in the few moves I had with Brian and he giggled at me which set me a bit more at ease. It’s not like the audience could tell there was anything wrong. Maybe I was just being paranoid and Aj was just being over protective.

“Kat” I heard behind me as I ran off stage left for a costume change

“What?” I answered quickly without turning so I could still get into the next outfit

“What the hell are you doing out there?” Aj was right behind me and I could feel his concern thinly masked by annoyance.

“Dancing, which is more than I can say for you” Ooh harsh. Camie would be proud

“Excuse me? I’m not the one stumbling around the stage like an idiot” He said angrily. I stripped to my underwear as quickly as I could and turned to face him so my quick change stage hand could fix my hair

“Well maybe I would look less like an idiot if I had a capable partner” I shot back. Man that last drink had made me confrontational

“What is wrong with you?” Aj asked quietly trying to look deep into my eyes. I quickly looked away while a dress was pulled over my head and I used that distraction to side step around Aj and out of his accusatory stare

“Leave me alone” I shot over my shoulder as I ran to my next entrance. Over the show I sobered up a bit and was pretty much back to normal by bows. I had a few missed steps but nothing too bad. It seemed the only one to notice anything was off was Aj and of course he was waiting for me outside the arena after I had changed as I attempted to meet Josh

“Kat” He said as I tried to sneak past him.

“What?” I asked innocently. I was in no mood to be lectured. It may not have been the smartest move to drink so much so close to show time but nothing bad had come from it so I wasn’t about to feel bad about having a good time and still managing to do my job

“Are you drunk?” He asked seriously

“Nope” I said truthfully. Not anymore.

“Were you drunk on stage tonight?” He asked as if a family member had died and he was the one who had to deliver the news

“Aj give it a rest. You’re not my mother” I said attempting to walk away from him

“No but she’d be pretty disappointed in you if she had seen you tonight” My blood began to boil but I tried to keep it under control

“Don’t you ever talk about my mother like that ever again” I said calmly but with enough venom that he actually took a step back

“I’m sorry but you won’t listen to me unless we’re fighting so I had to do something. Kat what were you thinking? This is your dream! Do you want to get fired?” Aj asked trying to take my hand and drill a hole through my brand new wall of badass

“This is not worth my time” I said pulling my hand away and walking quickly in the direction of the hotel Josh was staying in. I heard Aj call my name a few times but I ignored it pretty successfully and managed to get into the hotel room and into the shower before I had to register any of my guilt. I heard the door to the hotel room open and shut while I blinked the tears out of my eyes and watched them fall with the water down the drain

“Hey babe” Josh yelled from the door. I shook my head to try and rid it of the pit of guilt that had settled in but it didn’t help. “Can I come in?” I prepared myself for the answer that no just because you’re my boyfriend now doesn’t mean you can take showers with me but I stopped myself short. The only way I could ignore my mounting guilt was to plunge into this new attitude and really commit.

“Only if you take off all your clothes” I said sexily. Oh to hell with it.
Chapter 20 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 20

I woke up the next morning very early and feeling awful. Luckily Josh is a deep sleeper so while I emptied my stomach in the bathroom for an hour he snored on. I didn’t think I was drunk enough to make myself sick but I guess I was wrong. Next time I will stand up to Camie if she tries to make me drink more than I want. Exhausted by the early hour and the fatigue from the nausea I managed to sneak back into bed unnoticed and fall back to sleep. When I woke up again I was completely confused about where I was. I was still in Josh’s arms but we appeared to be moving.

“Wha-?” I started and Josh giggled at me

“You’re adorable when you wake up and have no idea where you are” He nuzzled my cheek and I grinned up at him

“Well boyfriend of mine, enlighten me” I said looking around and trying to get my bearings

“We had to leave early to get to Milan today and after our…um…night” Josh paused with a smirk that I returned. It had been quite a night. I quickly recalled the shower, the desk chair, the floor, and finally the bed. It seemed that as long as I was acting like I was this bitch who didn’t care then the panic attacks stayed completely at bay. Somewhere deep down I had to admit that I wasn’t being fair to Josh by playing a role while we were being intimate but it allowed me to feel like a normal girl with a normal boyfriend who had normal sex and the new me couldn’t view that as a negative. “I thought you could use some rest so I brought you out when Mollee called and put you in your bunk. We’ve probably been driving for about three hours which means we have something like five to go”

“Thank you” I said snuggling into his strong arms “But I do kind of wish we were still in a hotel room”

“Oh yeah, why’s that?” He asked with a grin

“Oh you know, privacy” I said suggestively causing him to groan

“Girl you are crazy and I love it about you” He said kissing my nose as I giggled “By the way your phone has been going crazy since we left. It was driving me nuts and when I went to silence it I saw who all the calls were from. Sorry”

“It’s ok. I know you wouldn’t snoop on my phone on purpose. So who was it?” I asked already half knowing the answer

“Who do you think?” He asked and I sighed

“He’s just upset because I was a little tipsy last night for the beginning of the show and I messed up a few dance moves. He thinks that because he is an alcoholic everyone around him can’t handle their liquor” I said harshly partially to try to bury the guilt that had crept up at the suggestion of his concern

“You messed up? I couldn’t tell” Josh said

“I know! It wasn’t a big deal but he’s making it into one” I complained as Josh hugged me closer

“Hey no tormented looks allowed. Let him think what he wants. You know what you can handle and you had fun yesterday, both on stage and off. He’ll deal” Josh said causing me to smile a little. It was so much easier to do this when I had someone on my side

“Bitch you’re up! Are you naked?” I heard from outside my bunk and I suppressed a laugh

“Nope” I answered as Camie swung the curtain aside

“Damn. I was hoping to see that fine ass that keeps these boys so crazy for you” She joked smacking my thigh and then mussing Josh’s hair.

“You can’t afford me” I said through a yawn which caused Josh to laugh

“So if we stay on schedule for tonight then we will get to Italy with just enough time to do the show. But we’re in MILAN. Please say you’ll go out with me after? I can’t let the city of romance pass me by!” She said dramatically draping herself over my legs

“One, I think the city of romance is usually Paris. Two, you’re not looking for romance. And three, of course I will. I’ve never been to Italy before I’m not going to just drive through it” I said as she smiled

“That’s my girl! Hey Josh bring some hot friends” She said before sliding the curtain shut with a gleeful giggle and prancing up to the game room

“She is ridiculous” Josh said shaking his head

“She sure is. Sorry I didn’t ask you if it was ok… going out tonight and all” I said just realizing it

“Hey you don’t have to ask my permission to do anything. As long as it’s ok if I come along”

“Of course” I said hugging him tightly. The rest of the bus ride was long but I kept myself occupied by either making out with Josh or modeling outfits with Camie for the night. Both things made it really easy to pretend I wasn’t still feeling awful about how I had treated Aj but I couldn’t help it that my thoughts wondered to my phone and its vibrating every few seconds to alert me to another missed call or voicemail. It seemed that when I wanted Aj to talk to me he was nowhere to be found but when I was trying to ignore him he was suddenly everywhere. Luckily we were running late so by the time we got to the arena we had to rush into hair and makeup while the guys did a VIP sound check and I didn’t have to see Aj. I was warming up with the dancers on stage and felt arms around my shoulders and turned to see Brian’s smiling face.

“Hey stranger” He said as I giggled and hugged him awkwardly from his position behind me

“I’m a stranger?” I asked

“I miss seeing you around the lot. We’re only on stage together for a bit and you’re always so focused that it’s hard to really hang. What are you doing tonight?” He asked

“Camie, Josh and a bunch of the techies and I were going to go to a club. Want in?” I asked as Camie nodded enthusiastically

“Can Leigh come? I’ve been trying to take her out more since Bailey is older now so we don’t feel so lame” He explained with a laugh

“Of course you can both come!” I said happily “Meet us at our bus after the show and we’ll go”

“Awesome” He said kissing my cheek and giving a wave to Camie before running off

“That’s the most attention I’ve received from him since the tour started” She commented as I shrugged

“Maybe I’m a good influence on you”

“Yeah right” She scoffed as I giggled and went back to stretching. I could feel eyes on the back of my neck and knew who they belonged to but I did my best to keep that wall up and fortified so I wouldn’t feel bad about ignoring him. I knew he was just worried because he cared and I knew I was being mean to him for no real reason but I also knew that I felt happier than I had in weeks. So I stuck with my plan and stayed close to Camie which served as a pretty good buffer because he tended to try to avoid her and if he tried to approach me when she was there she was ready with a good insult or quip to make him back off before any real confrontation could happen. I was starting to dread the moment after the prayer because I knew that he would be waiting for me with nothing to stop him from giving me a piece of his mind. I dragged my feet but still got there with enough time for him to give me a thorough once over.

“Take a picture it’ll last longer” I snapped after he started a second round of hard stares

“You seem to be sober” he commented “Did you lose your phone at the bar you went to before the show?”

“No” I said pretending to be occupied with my dance shoe so I didn’t have to meet his eyes

“Then you’re clearly trying to ignore me. If nothing is wrong Kat then why are you avoiding me?”

“Maybe I just don’t want to talk to you. Maybe I’m over you and I’m sick of you mooning over me when you have a girlfriend that you are supposedly very happy with. Maybe my life is just simpler without you in it” I said as my anger rose up white hot before I had a chance to stem it

“Man you’ve got this thing down pat” He said as the lights went down and the video began to play

“What?” I asked before I could stop myself

“This whole ‘I don’t care about the world’ thing you’re doing now. Or maybe you’re just trying to be more like Camie although I would think you of all people would know the danger of playing that game” He said quickly fanning my already flaming temper

“You know I used to think that your cheating on me was the worst thing that could have happened to me. Now I see it was a blessing in disguise. No one will ever hurt me like that again because I won’t let them” I said strongly “I’ve found who I am and I am strong and capable and you are the only one who refuses to stop treating me like I’m a helpless child”

“How were you were a helpless child? What was wrong with who you were?” Aj asked

“I was weak. People like you could walk all over me. God I was so pathetic! Crying over you and hyperventilating every time someone touched me. I look back at that and I hate that girl. I haven’t cried since I stopped caring and now I can be touched in all sorts of ways” I let the look that came across his face at that comment egg on my smile “and I do nothing but enjoy it”

“You’ll never stop caring Kat. If you keep on pretending that you’re immune to emotions then you’ll destroy the best part of you. You’ll destroy your heart” Aj pleaded looking nervously around as his cue to jump on stage grew nearer with his words no closer to being heard

“My heart is already destroyed but now I have strength and that’s all I need” I said harshly

“I loved that girl Kat. I loved that girl who loved everyone and everything. Never forget that. You have a new group of people around you who like to have fun with all that strength you’ve found but just remember that you never had to change for me. I love you no matter what” He said passionately

“I can’t wait to tell your girlfriend you said that” I said with a laugh. Aj’s face contorted with the realization that what he just said could really be used against him. His music cue played and I had fun turning him around like a puppet and pushing him on stage. The rest of the night was a blur. Aj and I were the least connected in dance that we had ever been but I didn’t care. I was just trying to get through the night so I could go out and drink away my problems. Finally, after an eternity, we were bowing after the encore and I was dragging Brian and Camie out the door where Leigh, Josh and the techie crew were waiting

“Damn girl what are you excited or something?” Brian asked as I smirked

“I’m happy to spend time with you” I said simply giving him a short hug. We climbed into a few different cars and carpooled to a hot club Camie had found. On the way I stuck close to Brian and ended up sitting in a backseat with him and Leigh.

“You ok?” Brian asked as I grabbed his hand to help steady my bouncing knee

“I’m fine. Why?” I asked quickly checking that no one else in the car was listening

“Well number one you haven’t stopped moving since we sat down. And number two you’ve seemed a bit off these past two shows. I’m just checking on you because I like you” He said with a grin that I returned

“Thanks Bri. I appreciate it but I promise I’m fine. I’m just excited to get to the club and dance! You know me I’m all about the dancing” I said with a flourish which caused him to laugh and then give his attention back to Leigh. We got to the club and I raced in and immediately began tearing up the floor with Camie. We loved being huge flirts and the Italian men were all over us. After a few songs I found that one Italian guy in particular was giving me more attention than I wanted and I started to get a little angry especially with alcohol as my fuel. Josh was at the bar with Brian and they were both watching as I repeatedly side stepped advances from the ever persistent guy.

“Hey do you think we should step in there?” Brian asked Josh as they sipped beers at the bar

“You know I think she can handle herself” Josh said with a shrug. Then a familiar guitar lick started and a grin spread across his face “Just watch” He said as Brian looked in time to see a mirror grin on my lips. I faced the guy dead on and let the lyrics lead my actions.

Check it out, going out on the late night
I’m looking tight, feeling nice, it's a cock fight
I can tell, I just know that it's going down tonight


I started getting really close to the guy and letting him get as frisky as he wanted teasing and leading him on along with the lyrics

At the door we don't wait 'cause we know them
at the bar, six shots, just beginning
that's when dickhead put his hands on me, but you see


In the lick leading up to the chorus I started getting rough, pushing him around a bit and making a scene so everyone on the floor was looking by the time the poignant lyrics of the chorus blasted through the room

I'm not here for your entertainment
You don't really want to mess with me tonight
Just stop and take a second
I was fine before you walked into my life
'Cause you know it's over before it began
Keep your drink just give me the money
It's just you and your hand tonight


There were a lot of cat calls as I danced a clear rejection from this guy while the second verse revved up. By this time Camie had caught the show and she joined me to emphasize the point

Midnight, I'm drunk, I don't give a fuck
Want to dance by myself, guess you're out of luck
Don't touch, back up, I'm not the one, uh bye-bye!
Listen up it's just not happening
you can say what you want to your boyfriends
just let me have my fun tonight, alright?


Camie and I cleared the middle of the floor and showed off shaming the Italian guy at every corner. I could see the embarrassment flooding his cheeks and I had to laugh as we launched into the chorus.

I'm not here for your entertainment
you don't really want to mess with me tonight
just stop and take a second
I was fine before you walked into my life
'Cause you know it's over before it began
Keep your drink just give me the money
It's just you and your hand tonight


Josh turned to Brian who was laughing out loud by this point as Camie and I dragged the guy to the middle of the floor and circled him for the bridge

You're in the corner with your boys, you bet them five bucks
You'd get the girl that just walked in but she thinks you suck
We didn't get all dressed up just for you to see
So quit spilling your drinks on me
You know who you are, high-fiving, talking shit
But you're going home alone, aren't you?


The chorus blasted again as the guy all but fled from the room and Brian controlled his laughter long enough to shrug at Josh

“I guess you’re right. She’s very capable of taking care of herself. It’s hard because sometimes she seems so vulnerable and she just makes you want to protect her but maybe we should all back off a bit” He said as Josh gave him a funny look

“I’ve never really seen her as vulnerable and certainly not recently. She’s a strong girl” He commented as Brian nodded

“Hey I have to make a call. I’ll be back” He said as Josh raised his drink in answer and Brian made his way out onto a slightly less noisy street. He dialed the number that had been calling him incessantly all night and rolled his eyes when there was barely half a ring before an answer

“Is she ok?” Aj asked hurriedly

“She’s fine Bone, really. I’ve been here for about an hour and she’s completely in control. She even seems to be having fun. The way you were talking I was expecting a train wreck but dude she’s actually looking really good. I’ve never seen her so confident” Brian said while leaning against the wall of the club and feeling the bass pounding through the wall

“Bri I talked to her today and she was saying all this nonsense about how she hated herself or who she used to be. Does that sound like a happy girl to you?” Aj asked with annoyance. He didn’t send Brian over as a spy so he could switch sides

“I don’t know bro but I can only speak for what I’m seeing and what I’m seeing is a girl who is finally not defining herself by her nerves and her past. There was this guy who was all over her and I thought I was going to need to step in but Josh made me wait and she took care of it by herself. Maybe we all have been coddling her too much. Maybe she just needed to show that she was fine by herself but we weren’t giving her the chance” Brian explained carefully as Aj’s temper flared

“Brian something is wrong-” He started but Brian had had enough

“Did you ever think that maybe this has to do with you still being in love her and her moving on? Maybe you’re making a problem where there isn’t one. I’m on your side, really I am, but I don’t think Kat is in any immediate danger. Maybe you should take some time and focus on Missy. Maybe that would keep you from obsessing over the state Kat is in” Brian listened to the silence on the other line and sighed “I’m sorry bro. I did what you asked but I’m not going to lie. Kat is fine, maybe even better than fine”

“Whatever” Aj said shortly leaving Brian with the dial tone. Aj counted to ten to get his temper in check and then dialed Nick’s phone

“Hey man” Nick answered after a few rings

“Hey what are you doing?” Aj asked quickly

“Just hanging out with Mollee, we were about to go to sleep. Why? Are you ok?” Nick asked with a compassion that touched Aj’s heart

“I’m fine bro, thanks, and actually it’s good that Mollee is there. Put me on speaker phone” He said as Nick paused

“I don’t know dude she’s not really that excited to talk to you-” But Aj cut off his excuses

“Just tell her it’s about her sister and she doesn’t have to say a word just listen” Aj explained quickly. There was some muffled conversation while Nick reasoned with Mollee and she must have been in a good mood or really tired because it wasn’t long before Aj heard the slight echo that comes from a cell phone on speaker

“Go for it we’re listening” Nick said and Aj took a deep breath

“I’m worried about Kat. I’m really, really worried. I know that you’re thinking I’m just being obsessive but I promise I have real concern. I talked with her tonight and she said some things that…well… she reminded me of me. Back when I wasn’t so good” Aj said in one breath

“What did she say?” Mollee asked sounding like her attention had been grabbed

“A lot of nonsense about how she hated herself and how she was going to show the world that nothing could hurt her anymore because she was going to stop caring” Aj explained as a pain darted through his stomach when he recalled the words

“That doesn’t sound like her” Mollee said quietly

“And she’s been a mess on stage the past few nights. I’m pretty sure she was drunk last night and tonight she just wasn’t there like her heart wasn’t in it. Mollee you know her. She puts all she has into dancing so to have her so flat and void of feeling…”

“It’s a red flag” Mollee said quickly and Aj silently thanked whatever force it was that caused siblings to look out for one another

“And she’s been drinking a lot lately and partying hard with Camie”

“I hate that girl” Mollee said

“You’re not the only one” Aj agreed

“Ok guys hang on” Nick ventured cautiously “I care about Kat as much as the next person but you don’t think that you could be overreacting just a tiny bit? So she overdid it before a show. We’ve all made mistakes. And she seems happy when I talk to her”

“It’s an act bro. I’m telling you I know her and it’s an act. I think she’s really hurting and she’s playing with fire-”

“And you don’t think you’re extra sensitive because it is a fire that has recently…um… burned you?” Nick asked as Aj tried to stay calm

“Mollee” He said after a minute knowing where the weak link was “Please. Just try and get her to take you out with everyone tomorrow night. There’s no show the next day so you can stay with her as long as you want. Just take a look for yourself and make your own judgment”

“You mean you want me to spy on my sister?” Mollee asked with some anxiety

“No! I want you to hang out with her and just see what you think of the new attitude. Just make your own decision” Aj said desperately. He waited as he heard some more muffled conversation as Nick attempted to talk with Mollee with his hand over the phone

“Alright I supposed there is no harm in going out with her. It might be fun” Nick answered for them as Aj sighed in relief

“Thank you-” He started but was cut off by Mollee

“This isn’t for you. Don’t think I’m doing you some big favor and that it’s you and me on a team against Kat. I’m doing this because I miss my sister and I haven’t hung out with her in a while. If I think something is wrong then I’ll deal with it on my own, the way I think it should be dealt with. You’re done here Aj. Focus on your GIRLFRIEND and leave my sister alone” Mollee said harshly hanging up the phone before Aj could respond. He swore silently and then froze and listened. He could hear the shower still running but he knew he was running out of time. He dialed the last number he needed to call that night but was not surprised when it went straight to voicemail. He got out his iPod as the familiar voice message played and left his last message of the night.
Chapter 21 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 21

I woke up in a fog but still managed to make it to the bathroom before vomiting. I really tried to not drink so much but my stupid weak stomach would not give me a moment’s rest! After a few more retches I brushed my teeth and made my way back to my bunk. We were moving on route to Slovakia for the show tonight and it seemed everyone else was still asleep. I buried myself tiredly beneath the covers and took a moment to remember that Josh had insisted on sleeping in a full sized bed for fear that his shoulders would collapse and I needed to be on the bus because we were traveling during the day so we ended up sleeping in separate places. I relished in the empty space and extra covers as my phone vibrated from under my pillow. I pulled it out and quieted the earpiece volume as I checked my messages. Immediately music met my ears.

Made a wrong turn once or twice
Dug my way out, blood and fire
Bad decisions, that's alright
Welcome to my silly life

Mistreated, misplaced, misunderstood
Miss 'No way, it's all good'
It didn't slow me down.
Mistaken, always second guessing
Underestimated, look I'm still around

Pretty, pretty please, don't you ever, ever feel
Like you're less than fucking perfect
Pretty, pretty please, if you ever, ever feel
Like you're nothing, you're fucking perfect to me

You're so mean when you talk
About yourself. You are wrong.
Change the voices in your head
make them like you instead.

So complicated
Look happy, you'll make it!
Filled with so much hatred
Such a tired game
It's enough, I've done all I could think of
Chased down all my demons
Let’s see you do the same

Pretty, pretty please, don't you ever, ever feel
Like you're less than fucking perfect
Pretty, pretty please, if you ever, ever feel
Like you're nothing, you're fucking perfect to me

The whole world's scared, so I swallow the fear
The only thing I should be drinking is an ice cold beer
So cool in line and we try, try, try but we try too hard
And it's a waste of my time.
Done looking for the critics, because they're everywhere
they don't like my jeans, they don't get my hair
Exchange ourselves and we do it all the time
why do we do that? Why do I do that? Why do I do that?


Through the first section of the song I managed to stay strong and scoff. Damn right he had made some mistakes in his life! Then as the lyrics turned to me I started to get angry. Who was he to judge me and try to tell me what to do? But the last chorus tested my resolve and as the notes drifted over the final ‘you’re fucking perfect to me’ I found myself beginning to break down. I quickly deleted the message and took a deep breath to steady myself. I was fine one moment and then all of the guilt and anger and hurt tore out of me in an explosion beyond my control and I threw my phone with all my might against the wall opposite my bunk. Unfortunately opposite my bunk was another bunk so a tired Camie peeked out from behind her curtain where my phone had only narrowly missed hitting her directly in the forehead

“Must you throw things at me? I thought we were over hating each other” She said through a yawn

“What was that?” Mollee asked sticking her head out from her bunk apparently also having been awoken at my phone explosion

“Kat you might need a new phone” Sophie commented from her bunk where the remains of my cell phone lay in their final resting place

“Oh crap” I said as she handed the pieces to Mollee who passed them to me “Sorry guys I didn’t mean to wake everyone my phone must have fallen out of my bunk”

“Fallen is an interesting way to describe it. I’m going back to bed. Please aim any other objects you find offensive in another direction in the future” Camie said tiredly before pulling her curtain shut

“Don’t worry Kat we’ll have time when we get to Slovakia and we’ll find you a new phone” Sophie said with a smile before ducking back into her bunk

“Can I come up there with you?” Mollee asked as I shrugged in response and moved over to make room

“This is a first. Both of us are alone in our bunks” I noted as Mollee sighed

“I know I’ve been spending a lot of time with Nick. His bed is just more comfortable and I sleep better-” Mollee started as I smiled and stopped her with a motion of my hand

“I wasn’t trying to guilt you. I’ve had Josh here almost every night you’ve been with Nick. It’s ok” I said putting my head back on my pillow and trying to get those stupid lyrics out of my head

“So what did he say this time?” Mollee asked as I sighed

“He didn’t say anything. He doesn’t even have the balls to leave me messages anymore so he just plays songs. It’s like a shadow that sings very loudly as it follows you around” I said with a small laugh

“But did the phone have to die?” Mollee asked dramatically with a smirk as I groaned

“No, no it didn’t. I lost control for a second but I’m back. I’m cool” I said putting on a big smile and hoping Mollee would drop it

“Good. So can we hang out today? I miss you” Mollee said. I shrugged

“Sure. I mean there’s not much to do on the bus but we can chill” I said as she turned to play with my hair

“What about after the show? Have plans?” She asked

“I was thinking about going out. There’s nothing going on tomorrow so it’s like having no curfew. You want to come out? You can bring Nick” I offered and Mollee smiled

“Perfect” Mollee said and then laid on her back next to me

“I don’t think I’m going to drink tonight” I said after a few minutes of silence as my stomach did somersaults

“Why not drink?” Mollee asked without breaking the rhythm of her twirling my curls

“This whole week I’ve gone out and felt like I managed my alcohol intake but every morning without fail I’ve woken up and had to puke. It’s obnoxious” I said

“You know I thought I heard something to that effect a few times. I didn’t think it was you though”

“Well it was every time. Ugh my poor tummy” I said rubbing it

“Well I’ll be there tonight to make sure you keep your word. Drinking so much that you puke isn’t good” Mollee said and I rolled my eyes

“I know Molls I don’t need a lecture”

“Ok sorry” She said as I took a deep breath and tried to calm my nerves. Being with Mollee was hard with the new badass plan in effect. It was a constant struggle between staying strong and giving in to that comforting presence that was my sister. With her around the emotions I was trying to desperately to keep off my sleeve were appearing everywhere and along with them came my intense guilt and anxiety over the possible effects of my new attitude on everyone around me, especially Aj.

As the day wore on Mollee slowly lowered my defenses so much that I was snapping at her constantly, using my anger to mask the mess of doubt and regret pooling in my heart. Perhaps that was why she let me off of the bus as soon as we stopped to run to the arena to try and get some dance time in to clear my head. The only thing my brain had to dwell on was my heartsickness and I knew the only way to restore my composure was to dance.

I ran into the arena with my iPod and found a back room that was empty. I grabbed my speakers and took off my socks and shoes. I skipped around my music as I stretched and tried to regain my composure but then a song came on that caught my attention. The first solo notes of a piano played and I stretched up high and took a deep breath. I didn’t know it but Josh had been looking for me and he stopped with the door half open when he realized I was going to dance. He closed it just enough so he could still watch and I elongated my body in preparation for the lyrics.

Picture perfect memories scattered all around the floor
I’m reaching for the phone because I can't fight it anymore
And I wonder if I ever cross your mind
For me it happens all the time


It started out slow and sad and I was so engrossed in my dance that neither Josh nor I noticed a second unwelcome audience member join us behind Josh

It's a quarter after one, I'm all alone and I need you now
Said I wouldn't call but I've lost all control and I need you now
And I don't know how I can do without
I just need you now


I danced my heart and soul letting out all the emotions I had been bottling up all week. It was mentally and physically exhausting as I pushed myself for harder moves to accurately express my pain. Jump combinations spun one after the other followed by slow lyrical extensions that broke a sweat with the sheer focus involved. Then the male voice sang and I let a picture of Aj form in my head. He was wearing that look of concern from the last time we had fought backstage and reaching out to me.

Another shot of whiskey. Can't stop looking at the door
Wishing you'd come sweeping in the way you did before
and I wonder if I ever cross your mind?
For me it happens all the time


I flat out ran into my next combination through the chorus. Images from our relationship flashed in my mind mixed with my imagined pictures of him and Missy doing things we had once done. I was nowhere near ready to deal with all of this and I knew it as I felt my body begin to show signs of breaking down. Part of me hated my weakness and wanted to stop but the part of me that was in control knew this needed to happen here alone in a room so it didn’t happen in public or in front of him.

Guess I'd rather hurt then feel nothing at all


The pause in the music knocked me to the ground. I sat there as the song continued to play and I let out a painful sob. Aj clenched his fists and managed only a sharp intake of breath but it was enough to alert Josh to his presence. They stared at each other for a moment. Aj wore a look of utter shock but was feeling somehow comforted while Josh was left with a burning feeling that he’d been played. There was a tense moment and then Aj turned and walked away. Josh composed himself and then turned to find me still broken on the floor even though the song had ended and something much more cheerful was beginning to play

“You ok babe?” He asked hoping his acting skills were up to par

“Josh! Oh you scared me! I’m sorry I thought I was alone” I said quickly wiping tears as I turned the music off and placed a huge grin on my face “How long have you been there?”

“I just got here. Were you dancing?” Josh lied smoothly

“I was going to but I hadn’t started yet” I lied back. We both shot big smiles at each other. Then Josh’s faltered “Are you ok? Did something happen with load in because I could really use some time in the grid to work out some stress”

“I don’t need help but thanks” Josh interrupted quickly “I just found out that something I thought was in the past is actually still a major issue”

“I’m sure you’ll get through it babe. You’ve got a good crew working for you and you always have me” I said as I turned to grab my music and speakers “But I should go if you don’t need me. I need to buy a new phone before the show. My other one met an untimely death”

“Yeah go ahead” Josh said quietly. I pecked him on the cheek and hurried out

“Remember you’ve always got me!” I threw back over my shoulder

“If only I was so sure” Josh said to an empty room. I ran quickly back to the bus and dropped my stuff before going out to the nearby shopping center to search for a phone. I found the model I originally had and hurried back into the arena by the front entrance to join everyone stretching on stage. I didn’t want anyone to think I’d been here earlier for any reason so I made a big show of my new phone so everyone would know my alibi.

“Hey so don’t hate me” Camie said sliding in next to me

“Oh I love conversations that start that way” I said with a grin

“Aj asked if he and your evil twin could come with tonight and I said yes” Camie said quickly and my eyes just about popped out of my head

“You did WHAT!?” I yelled and got looks from everyone around us

“Ok drama queen calm down” Camie said and then added for the benefit of our captive audience “Move along nothing to see here”

“Why would you think that was a good idea? I’m just starting to get a hold on things” I started in quieter tones while Camie took me by the shoulders

“You can handle this. He is one person, one guy, and nothing more. I think it’ll do you good to go out and have fun and not let him affect you” Camie said as I glared at her

“You are so on my shit list” I said with a sigh and Camie put her arm around me

“You know you love me” She said and I fumed. How could she really think this was no big deal? But at that moment Aj came around the corner and I pushed it to the back of my mind. I didn’t need him having any idea that I was anything but perfectly ok with him joining us tonight. I finished stretching and then raced off to hair and makeup before anyone else so I could try and pull myself together.

I was running from corner to corner trying to avoid people and hoping time would slow down when it was time for the prayer. I wedged myself between Mollee and Nick which earned me a weird look from both of them but I just bowed my head and took deep breaths. Once we finished and before Mollee could inquire about anything I raced to my spot on stage hoping that at least I could run the conversation if I got to our starting position first. I waited for the longest five minutes ever and Aj sauntered up with a look of simple happiness on his face. He smiled a little at me and proceeded to walk around me to get to his place before standing contentedly staring at the screen. He was so normal, so pleasant, that each second that passed between us in silence was torture. Finally I snapped.

“What no speeches tonight? Not going to drill me about where I’ve been or how I’ve been or who I’ve been with?” I asked harshly. Aj turned to look at me with a look filled with such innocent surprise that I could have strangled him

“Nope” He said simply

“Why are you so damn happy?” I muttered but apparently loud enough to hear because Aj broke into a grin

“It’s a good night. I’m excited for the show and to hang out after. It’ll be like we’re friends” He said and my mouth just about hit the floor

“We’ll never be friends” I shot at him hoping to provoke a response I could use to rationalize my anger

“Have faith. Not all is lost” Aj said calmly. The lights went down and the music played as I stared in utter confusion at Aj’s back. He turned to me right before his entrance and whispered “See you out there” Before parting the screen and leaving me with confused thoughts and boiling blood. The dancing was as hot and intense as it had been a week ago. My anger fueled Aj’s joy and we threw our energies at one another with every step. When we were done I escaped to Mollee and Nick counting on a car ride to give me time to calm down but then Camie showed up with Josh, Aj and Missy in tow and informed us we would be walking. We started down the street and Mollee pulled me aside

“What is HE doing here?” She asked grumpily

“I don’t want to talk about it” I answered back in kind. She dropped it once she realized that I had nothing to do with Aj's presence in our night and I sulked in back with Josh acting distant for the whole walk. We got to the club and I almost headed straight for the bar when I remembered that I wasn’t drinking tonight. Frustrated beyond belief I pulled Josh out to the dance floor and held him close to me. He seemed a little rigid in my arms so I pulled back to shoot him a look

“What?” He asked as I searched his face

“You still stressed about that work problem?” I asked and he nodded

“I need a drink” He said which shocked me. He never had more to drink then one beer and he never stated a need for alcohol before “Want one?”

“I’m going to try and stay sober for the night. I haven’t been feeling well” I explained but Josh had his answer and he left me in mid sentence to go to the bar. I stared after him for a second before a guitar riff plucked me out of my stupor. I recognized the song and zeroed in on Aj who was grinning like an idiot. It was his fault things were so messed up right now. Why did he get to be so happy and benevolent while I was being torn to shreds? I took command of the dance floor and looked for Josh at the bar. He wasn’t paying attention so I shrugged and used it.

I guess I just lost my husband I don't know where he went.
So I'm gonna drink my money. I'm not gonna pay his rent.


I had managed to catch the attention of Josh, Aj, Missy, Mollee, Nick and Camie as well as many other people in the club but I sent a smirk specifically to Aj.

I got a brand new attitude and I'm gonna wear it tonight.
I wanna get in trouble. I wanna start a fight


I got up close to Camie and knocked her drink

I wanna start a fight


I bumped Missy out of the way so I could see Aj

I wanna start a fight!


I met his eyes and he gave me a quizzical look that I answered as I danced to the lyrics

So what? I'm still a rock star. I got my rock moves and I don't need you.
And guess what? I'm having more fun and now that we’re done,
I'm gonna show you tonight, I'm alright, I'm just fine, And you're a tool,
So, so what, I am a rock star I got my rock moves,
And I don't want you tonight.


I checked back in with Aj at the end of the chorus and his mouth was hanging open. At least I’d managed to wipe that smirk off his face.

The waiter just took my table and gave it to Jessica Simps
I guess I'll go sit with drum boy at least he'll know how to hit.
What if this song's on the radio? Then somebody's gonna die.
I'm gonna get in trouble. My ex will start a fight


By this time I had the club in the palm of my hand and I motioned to Aj, making sure everyone knew who my ex was and I took a step closer to him

He's gonna start a fight


I took another step closer so I was in his face

We're all gonna get in a fight!


I made a sharp step into him causing him to flinch and I cracked up as the chorus played again and I danced back into the middle of the floor. As the bridge came up I danced a circle around him that effectively put him in the middle of the dance floor and face to face with my wrath

You weren't there. You never were.
You want it all but that's not fair.
I gave my life. I gave my all.
You weren't there. You let me fall.


Aj had an indescribable look on his face when that finished and I launched into a full out production of the chorus as he stood there blankly. Then he turned, grabbed Missy and all but fled the club. I finished out the song and felt like a badass. I turned and saw Camie standing there with a look of pure admiration

“That was PHENOMENAL” She said with a huge grin “I know you hate me right now but it’s so worth it. I couldn’t have planned anything more perfect! I bow down to you queen bitch. I am not worthy”

“You got that right” I said and couldn’t stop my smile from growing. A guy from the bar came up to me and put a drink in my hand

“Compliments of the gentleman in the back corner” He said with an indication towards the direction of a random guy. I raised my glass to him and was about to take a sip when Mollee appeared right in front of me

“What on Earth was that!?” She asked angrily trying to grab my arm but I pulled it away

“Dancing and shaming a boy who hurt me. Two birds, one stone” I said proudly trying to take another drink but she put her hand over the top of my glass

“I thought you weren’t drinking tonight” She said and I rolled my eyes

“I changed my mind. Run along. I can take care of myself” I said with a wave of my hand

“Run along? Katrina Rose, who do you think you are?” Mollee asked as color flooded her face

“Not a child. You could take some time to remember that” I said and with a look directly into her green eyes I downed the drink in one sip. Mollee turned on her heel and stormed out as Camie whistled

“I don’t know what happened to you today but damn you are on a roll! Come on let’s go get those guys to give us some shots” Camie said pulling my arm

“One second” I said as Camie nodded and waited, still in silent awe at my bitchiness. I found Josh and he had an intense look of confusion on his face

“Hey” I said innocently

“Hi. Quite the show you just put on” He said as I shrugged

“He needs to know that I’m not his play thing. I’m yours” I said seductively and Josh smiled a little

“And what was that business with your sister?” He asked

“What can I say? I’m sick of being treated like a little girl” I explained. Josh looked at me cautiously “What are you looking at me like that for?”

“I’m just not sure what to make of you right now” He said as I frowned

“Josh” I said dropping my act a bit “The reason I feel so good about myself and so sure in who I am right now is because some guy once told me that I was capable. Before you I would never have spoken my mind. Now I’m an open book. So why are you trying to read me like you don’t understand the language?”

“I don’t know. I’m over thinking things aren’t I?” He said as I smiled encouragingly at him

“Just a bit but it’s ok. I used to do that sort of thing all the time. You grow out of it” I said with a grin that he returned

“Can I dance with you?” He asked

“I’ve been waiting for you all night” I said taking his hand and leading him to where Camie had scored us some shots

“I thought you weren’t drinking tonight?” He said

“I thought you weren’t listening to me” I said with a smirk

“Of course I was” He said with foe indignation

“Well I changed my mind. It’s a drinking kind of night” I said as I raised a shot “Join me?”

“Absolutely” He said grabbing a shot as well without pause. Meanwhile, outside the club, Nick was trying to calm a distraught Mollee while Aj was pacing with Missy who was trying to get him to go out to a different club to finish their night

“Believe me?” Aj said roughly when Mollee stormed out

“What the hell is wrong with her? It’s Camie I know it is. Oh I want to go in there and wipe that stupid smirk off her lips” She fumed. Nick grabbed her and hugged her tightly leaving her able to do no more than breathe heavily

“If I let you do that then you’ll get kicked off the tour and then I won’t be able to dance with you every night. I’m sorry but that’s not a risk I’m willing to take” He said calmly in her ear. Suddenly Mollee’s anger turned abruptly to anguish as the tears came fast and hard

“Hey” Aj said watching Mollee cry. Suddenly she looked and seemed so much more like the sister of the girl he loved and it hurt his heart “We’ll figure something out. She can’t go on like this much longer and when she slips we’ll be there”

“What do you mean ‘we’?” Mollee asked through her tears “I thought I was clear last night. There is no ‘we’ there is only me and my sister. Do you think any of this would be happening if you hadn’t broken her heart?”

“I know but I just want to help” Aj tried but Mollee shot him down with a look

“You’ve done enough. I will figure this out and you will stay away from her. Got it?” Mollee asked with powerful emotion

“That isn’t fair. You need help and I can help” Aj pleaded

“Do you understand me?” Mollee said quietly but with venom. Aj opened and closed his mouth a few times. Then he looked at Nick who just shrugged clearly not willing to be on the receiving end of Mollee’s anger

“Fine, I’m done with it” Aj said sliding his own walls back into place “Come on Missy let’s find somewhere better to go”

“Finally” She said as he took her arm and led her around the corner

“You ok?” Nick asked after a minute of silence had passed

“No. But I will be. I’ll figure this out but for now I just want to go home” She said returning back to her state of hurt and confusion now that it was only her and Nick outside the club

“Let’s get a cab” He said leading her away. Inside the club everything was wonderful. The rest of the night was a blast. Camie was treating me like I was the best thing that had ever happened, Josh was loosening up and enjoying my strict attention and the club was hopping. We stumbled out as the sun was rising and I all but collapsed in the bed in Josh’s hotel room. I woke up about two hours later to vomit and although I was annoyed I was almost getting used to it. I even managed to fall right back to sleep and didn’t wake up again until close to noon as Josh was stirring.

“Hey” He said sweetly as I cuddled under the covers and tangled my arms and legs in his

“Hi” I said through a yawn

“How are you feeling?” He asked

“Better. Did I wake you earlier?” I asked and he nodded “Sorry. I tried to be quiet”

“Tonight we’ll definitely keep you sober. It’s not good to be getting sick all the time” He said with concern powerful enough to stop my angry retort in my throat

“Yeah I know” I admitted

“Have any plans for today?” Josh asked before planting a kiss on my nose

“You, me, the bed, and not leaving this room” I said as Josh smiled

“How about we order some room service? And maybe some cartoons?” Josh asked as I giggled

“You’re perfect” I replied as he wrapped one arm around me so I couldn’t go anywhere while using the other arm to reach for the phone. We had a wonderful day where we both turned our cell phones off and pretended the outside world didn’t exist. It wasn’t until about 8 that I had to leave him to get on the bus as we were travelling overnight to Croatia. We had a cleanup rehearsal all day before the show and Josh’s crew wouldn’t be leaving until later because they only had their normal load in to do. I gave him a hug goodbye and then took a second to put up my walls before heading into the dancer’s bus. The first person I saw was Camie who looked like she had just woken up. She was on the couch with all the blankets from her bunk wrapped around her watching a movie.

“Well hello queen of the badass. How was your day?” Camie asked as I sat next to her

“Awesome. Hardly left the bed” I said

“Gross” Camie joked as I laughed

“Not like that. Just took it easy. Is anyone else here?” I asked and she nodded

“Your sister is still with Nick but Sophie is around somewhere” She said as I sighed in relief

“Maybe she’ll stay with him tonight. I don’t want to have to deal with the fallout” I said as Camie laid her head on my lap

“Don’t worry I have your back” She said and we both settled in to watch one of the Scream movies. The bus started moving with no sign of Mollee so I changed into PJs and spent the rest of the night on the couch watching scary movies with Camie. How could people think she was so bad?

When we arrived at the arena it was morning and Camie, Sophie and I were slowly getting ready for rehearsal. We headed in together and sat down to stretch. Mollee came in with Nick and didn’t give me so much as a second glance as she sat down as far from me as possible facing the opposite direction. Honestly I was happy she had decided to ignore me rather than yell at me. It was preferable and Camie made a comment to that effect once Mollee was a safe distance away.

Aj walked in and gave a very good impression of Mollee except he did some triangulation and found a corner that was as distant from me as it was from her without looking at either of us. My heart gave a small throb and I berated it in my head. Brian came in and motioned to me so I joined him to stretch in the final remote corner of the room.

“Hey, what’s up?” I asked as he looked me up and down

“I heard you did a good job of pushing away the people who love you the most last night” He said nonchalantly. I looked back at him in surprise. I wasn’t expecting my morning lecture to be from him

“Bri” I started but he put up his hand to stop me

“Just listen for a second. I love you. You’re a wonderful person and that has been clear since the day I first saw you dance. I know you’ve been through a lot on tour and that’s normal. Being on the road fosters drama and we all have our ways of coping. I’m here to tell you that your way of coping is not working”

“Brian” I started again

“I’m not finished. When tour life gets to you, you have to hold those you love even closer. It’ll keep you grounded and connected to who you are. If you push them away you will be unable to recognize yourself. I thought you had everything under control but I was wrong. Right now when I look at you I can’t find the Kat I love.”

“Can I speak?” I asked trying to put on a tough face as the hurt penetrated my heart. How badly had I messed up if Mr. Funny Man Brian Littrell had to read me the riot act?

“Not yet. I’m not trying to judge you. I can’t pretend to know what you’ve been feeling and going through but I have many tours under my belt and I’ve seen people break from this lifestyle. I love you and I don’t want you to be another casualty. I watched Aj go there and I just can’t watch it happen to you” Brian said and then he looked down. The look on his face was haunting. To see Brian without even a hint of a smile was truly terrifying.

“Hey” I said unable to form words in the presence of his stress. He shook his head and I realized he was trying hard not to cry. I slid forward and wrapped my arms around him “I’m still here. It’s me. I love you too”

“Good. Just remember who you are” He said from within my embrace. Before I could answer Fly came in. He looked around the room at our four groups of people in four corners, most in varying states of anguish, and his smile faded a bit.

“Uh, hey guys, ready to work?” He asked and we all got up slowly and went to our places for the top of the show. Aj was ice cold, I could feel it even with his back to me, and no matter what tricks I tried I couldn’t stop the stabbing pain that brought to my heart. We ran through the show and he kept up his distance. We danced together but he might as well have been in another country. When we finished he was out the door before I knew it. I was in a horrible mood when Fly called me over as everyone else left.

“Hey we’ve missed you” I said putting on a smile and giving him a hug

“I’ve missed you guys too. So you know I normally want no part of any drama off of the stage but what gives? You’re all hitting the steps but no one is having any fun. This is not the same group of people I couldn’t get to stop laughing at themselves when we tried to add a bit of acting into the tour” Fly said searching my eyes. This was just too much.

“Oh you know touring is hard and we’re tired. We have another day off tomorrow and I’ll make sure everyone sleeps. That should help” I said trying to stay cheerful. I could tell Fly wasn’t really buying it but he smiled back at me

“Ok good because when you all are on you are amazing. Work it tonight for me. I’ll be out there watching” Fly said before patting me on the back and heading out. I looked around the empty dance studio and contemplated dancing but I knew that I’d end up in tears so instead I made my way to the stage to find Josh. He could tell something was wrong immediately and gave me a big hug

“Rehearsal didn’t go so well, huh?” He asked and I shook my head “Well let’s go get some lunch and you can tell me all about it”

“I’d rather not talk about it if that’s ok. I just want to be with you” I said and he nodded after a second of thought. Lunch was good and Josh slowly improved my mood. I decided to help him in the grid for the afternoon even though he didn’t really need it but he could tell that I did so he didn’t complain. The show was awkward but the fans still loved it and I went back to my bunk alone. For the first time in a while I went directly to sleep.
Chapter 22 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 22

I greeted Germany the next morning by immediately getting sick. I was so frustrated that I started crying. I had gone to bed early, hadn’t had a drop of alcohol, what gives? In a state of distress I made my way back to bed but couldn’t fall asleep again. Angrily I threw on some clothes with the idea of walking around Bamberg to start the long process of holiday shopping. I got out the door and halfway across the lot when a thought hit me like a truck. Every time I had been sick it had been in the morning. Like a morning sickness. I froze in mid-step and starting doing calculations in my head. We started the tour at the beginning of the month so that would have been my week three. So I was late. I was three freaking weeks late. But that sort of thing happens all the time. We've been traveling, a change of diet and exercise level, and I’ve definitely been under a lot of stress... all of those things could lead to being late. I started running to the end of the lot to the first person I saw. It was Q, one of the boys’ security guards

"Hey, do you know if there are any drugstores around?" I asked him quickly throwing on a smile to hide my panic. It must not have been too convincing because he gave me a funny look but nodded all the same

"Right around the corner. I just got these awesome German candies... ok bye!" Q yelled as I started sprinting. I skidded to the left when I crossed the street next to the lot and didn't see anything besides restaurants and bars. I had a minor panic attack before realizing Q had been pointing to the right. I raced across the lot to the right and saw a drug store. I ran in and got a look from the lady at the register but I didn't care. I hurried to the back of the store hoping it was laid out similarly to American drug stores. It was a frantic ten minutes of searching but I finally found what I was looking for. The directions were in German but the signs on the stick were easy to read - a plus or a minus. I could handle that. I grabbed the entire display's worth and threw them at the register. I didn't know what I had in the way of Euros but I grabbed the highest bill I could find and thrust it at the woman before running out with my bag of contraband. I ran into my bus and thanked God that everyone seemed to be out enjoying the day off in Germany before locking myself in the bathroom with my bag. I took a cup from next to the sink and began downing water as fast as I could. One, two, three cups and I sat on the closed toilet lid and waited for it to reach my bladder. Thoughts raced through my mind alternating from 'this can't be happening' to 'of course this is happening' and lastly 'I'm such an idiot' and finally my bladder indicated it was ready to test my fate. I ripped open all of the boxes and flung them around the room. I had ten in all. One by one I set them on the lip of the sink and waited. After ten minutes the first sign appeared.

"Shit" Was all I could manage as I watched the plus appear from the white window. I capped that test and then waited for the next.

"Holy crap" I capped it and waited another three minutes

"Mother fucker" For the third and forth. In near hysterics I capped the rest as they one by one joined the march of positive signs. I'd never be able to do addition calmly after this. I stuffed all the boxes in the trash, tied the bag and threw all the tests in my purse. I ran the bag out to the dumpster and made sure it was good and buried. Then I unearthed my phone from those obnoxiously cheerful little pink plus signs and pressed my speed dial number seven

"Hey bitch" Camie's voice drifted to me and for a minute I couldn't breathe let alone speak "Kat?"

"I need to get out of here. I need to do something stupid" I said and I heard Camie laugh a little

"You called the right girl" She said happily

~*~*~*~*~


Aj groaned and rolled over as his phone lit up and vibrated. Even after a full day off he was exhausted. It must have been the thousands of stores Missy dragged him to all day when all he had wanted to do was lay in bed and sulk.

"Going to pick that up?" Missy asked from her spot next to him

"Nope" He said and rolled back on his side. It vibrated again.

"Please?" Missy whined

"It's late it's not important" Aj yawned cursing whoever was disturbing a night where he could sleep in. Silence and then more vibrations

"Aj-"

"Fine, I got it, what?" Aj asked grumpily picking up the phone without checking the ID

"I hate calling you right now but Nick thought you could help us" Mollee's voice drifted over the line and Aj groaned

"Do you know what time it is? I know I'm the scum of the Earth and everything but don't I deserve some rest?" He said sharply

"Damn it Aj I'm not happy about this but I need you to help me with Kat" Mollee said and Aj woke up a little more

"I thought she made it clear that she doesn't need anything from me anymore and you said something similar if I recall. What was it? That you were going to take care of things and I was no longer needed? You could handle it? Call her boyfriend" Aj spat

"SHUT UP" Mollee yelled and Aj could hear the distress in her voice "I haven't heard from her since rehearsal yesterday, she's not in her bed, all I know is she and Camie went out to this place and Nick won't let me go get her because he says it's not a good side of town for a young American girl at night but she's a young American girl and she's there so please just say you'll help? Nick thinks you might know this place or I wouldn't ask. You know I wouldn't ask unless you were my last hope"

"Where is she?" Aj asked seriously as he stood up and began to get dressed

"I can't even say this word I don't know German-" Mollee worried and Aj interrupted her

"Spell it" He said and as she got through the first few letters Aj's heart sank "It's ok I know where it is. I can't pretend that I'm happy at the idea of her being out there but I'll bring her home"

"Aj please. She's my sister you have to make sure she's safe. The last thing we did was fight. What if I never see her again and she thinks I hate her?" Mollee said and then broke down

"I'm going now. I'll call you when I have her" Aj said as he made his way out the door

"Where are you going?" Missy asked following him to the door of his bus

"Kat's in trouble and I have to go get her" Aj said without turning

"Why do you always go running to that bitch-" Missy started and Aj, more than a little worried, snapped

"Watch your fucking mouth" He growled as Missy took a step back and watched him race out to his rented SUV. Aj berated himself on the drive for remembering the exact location of the building that a little over a year ago had been his haunt if he wanted to score something in Germany. Guilt was an easier feeling to handle than the fear of what Kat and Camie could get themselves into with that crowd. Camie might know what she was doing, Aj had a feeling that she might have a problem with drugs as well as alcohol when he had that encounter with her back in Florida, but Kat for all her bluster about being brave and strong was still so naive. And if she was in trouble she probably wouldn't even fight back. She'd probably have a panic attack. What a guy could do to her in that state... Aj pressed down harder on the gas pedal.

"Kat look at that guy he's gorgeous" Camie whispered in my ear. I followed her gaze to another group of Americans, easily distinguishable by their English conversation, to a dark haired guy with a lip ring

"You know me. I love the bad boys" I giggled. I don't know what I'd been drinking but I felt like I was floating above the world. Everything blurred as I tried to focus on the guy in question and then I got distracted by the light reflecting off his piercing. It was blinding and white hot.

"Hey" He said inches from my face. Had I moved or had he? Camie was nowhere to be found. I wish time would stop moving like an accordion

"Hey" I slurred "You're pretty"

"Not as pretty as you" He said. The next moment I was grinding hard into him on the floor and he was kissing my neck which was the weirdest sensation. It was like I could feel every ball of saliva on his lips as my pores opened up to accept them. I could see my neurons flashing and glinting as they sent the message to my brain to feel good. Wait. How was I watching my neurons?

"What are you doing with my boyfriend, slut?" I heard from far away and then felt a red hot sensation on my cheek before hearing the sound of the slap. Finally my eyes caught up as I watched some chick pull back her hand

"Liz chill out" The guy said slowly and I smiled at him. Next thing I knew my hair was being pulled and I was on the floor. This sensation I didn't like. The room was all backwards from my spot on the floor and it lurched at odd angles

"Camie?" I called out but had some trouble as I tasted blood in my mouth and became fascinated by that instead. It tasted heavy. How did it taste heavy? I glanced up and time rearranged itself in time to see a stiletto collide with my side. I curled up only vaguely aware of the pain as I registered this horrible screaming. I wanted to tell whoever it was to shut up because my head was throbbing but when I pushed the message from my brain to my mouth to speak I found it was already occupied because the scream was coming from me

"KAT?" I heard from far away. I tried to crawl to the voice but it seemed to be coming from all directions as the room taunted me. I found myself in front of a bar stool and used it to stand slowly. When I turned I saw a bottle flying towards me and I closed my eyes, prepared for pain, but it never came. Instead I was looking into shiny black leather and I reached out in awe to touch it gently. The fabric slipped under me and suddenly I was moving without moving. Then I was sitting but still moving. Lights were rushing at my face and past my head and I reached out to touch them but I couldn't move fast enough

"Wait... slow down" I told the lights. If I can reach them then I can feel warm...

"No. We need to get the hell out of here. What were you thinking? What the HELL were you thinking?" Aj said much too quickly for me to sort through it all at once. After a few minutes I heard it all and then registered his presence. When did he get here?

"Aj?" I asked more confused than ever. Another light flew over my head and I missed it. Damn it "Can you help me get the light?"

"What? What light?" Aj asked as I tried and failed to catch other one. Aj turned on the light in the car but it made all the good lights go away and my eyes began to sting

"No no stop make that stop, STOP" I yelled and then the evil light vanished and everything was dull. I caught Aj's eyes in the reflection of the glass and then followed them to their counterparts "You have like six eyes and they are all the most beautiful brown"

"What the hell are you on?" Aj asked more to himself than to me

"The world. It's turning. I'm on it. I'm over it. I AM it" I said happily. But then the world stopped and I jerked forward. I looked around, confused again, and felt the world moving in a new rhythm. Up and down. Up and down. "You did it! You made the world go again"

"Get out of here" I heard above me and was shocked to find that Aj had grown at least six feet. His head was right above mine and we were on his bus

"Is that who I think it is? What the hell are you thinking bringing her here? No, take her to her bus and let’s go back to sleep" Missy whined and I remembered how very much I disliked her voice

"Your voice is like... mosquitoes and mushrooms" I said confidently. There. That'd show her.

"Hush Kat" Aj whispered to me and my eyes widened as his voice absorbed into every part of my being. Cool.

"Do you hear me? Get her out of here!" Missy yelled

"Missy she needs a place to stay with someone who knows how to deal with her. You can sleep in a hotel. I'll pay for it. Take my card" Aj said rummaging through his wallet and throwing a credit card at her. How was he holding me and doing that? He must have like sixteen hands. I tried to envision that and giggled

"If you think for a second that I'm going to leave you with your ex-" Missy started but Aj stopped her with his voice

"You have five seconds to get out before I throw you out" He growled. Missy looked like he had slapped her and she stormed off with his credit card. Suddenly I was on the carpet feeling all one million fibers holding me up

"This carpet is like… strong" I mused as Aj paced in front of me

"I can't believe she just left you in a foreign country and high for the first time. I'm going to murder that bitch. The next time I see her I'm going to fucking kill her" Aj ranted and I watched the trail his body left as he moved around the space and tried to trace it with my finger. Suddenly he was at my side "Kat I need you to focus for a second ok? Just focus on my eyes"

"Beautiful" I whispered as I zeroed in on all the different shades of brown and yellow flecks

"Do you remember what Camie gave you? Did you smoke something? Was it a pill?" Aj asked slowly and I followed the words as they floated up from his mouth

"I had a drink, just one. I'm like you now I don't drink. Well, just one" I reasoned and Aj shook his head

"Could have been anything. That's a fucking felony. I’ll kill her" Aj mumbled as he pressed his hand to my face "Come on let's get you to bed"

"Clouds!" I exclaimed sinking into soft white cotton candy as Aj pulled off my jacket and shoes. I tried to roll over but was lost in these clouds and suddenly they turned black and the world around me shifted "Wait I need to get out! I can't get out!"

"Get out of what?" Aj asked from next to me but he was drifting away because these clouds were a trick! It was quick sand and I was sinking

"Aj! Get me out!" I yelled but then I wasn't sure I had yelled "Did that just happen? Aj! Did that just happen?"

"Honey, take a deep breath" Aj cooed in my ear and I was in his arms and not sinking. Reality was mixing in my head and I didn't feel like me. I couldn't grasp what was actually happening

"Aj make it stop. It's enough. When will it be over?" I asked searching his eyes

"I don't know precious just breathe ok? You'll be fine. Whatever you took is probably messing with your anxiety but just keep breathing. You're not alone" Aj said quietly pushing a cold washcloth on my head. I felt a cool breeze rush over my body and shivered but I was so hot

"You're inside me" I whispered suddenly unsure of the power of my own voice

"You want me inside you?" Aj asked incredulously as I shook my head. This was important. I had to make time behave because this was important

"I don't know if I want it. But it's you. And it's me. Inside" I said seriously

"In your heart?" Aj asked tenderly but I shook my head

"My tummy" I giggled despite myself and rested my hand on my stomach

"You and I are in your tummy?" Aj asked and a small smile crept on his face "Can I hear us? Are we talking?"

"Not yet but soon" I said as Aj giggled at me

"You are crazy" He said "But it's better than you freaking out"

"I was freaking out. It's scary. We're young and not ready" I said and Aj looked puzzled again

"Young for what?" He asked and I tried my hardest to find the words to make him understand but the words kept running out from under me and I couldn't grab hold of them

"My purse!" I said quickly "The plus signs! I need them!"

"I grabbed your purse" Aj said still completely lost

"I need it! I need the plus signs! They’re for you!" I said quickly starting to panic again. If he didn't see that it was real he'd never understand!

"Ok calm down. It’s right here. What do you need?" Aj asked quietly as I took a deep breath and poured out the contents of the purse on the bed. The pregnancy tests, plus signs blinking like they were made from beams of the sun, stared up at the two of us and I heard Aj gasp

"See? It’s you and me!" I said happy that he finally understood. I took his hand and closed my eyes and fell into a deep sleep.

When I woke up again I was feeling really sick. I couldn’t tell if it was from the pregnancy or the drink or the drugs but I felt like death. I opened my eyes and saw Aj’s face. I registered vaguely that my head was resting in his lap and I was curled up in his comforter as I closed my eyes again

“You ok?” Aj asked quietly and I shook my head slowly

“I feel like crap” I mumbled leaning back into Aj’s waiting arms

“Are you with me for real this time?” He asked searching my eyes and I looked up at him in confusion

“What? I’m here with you” I tried to reason and Aj shook his head

“You’ve been kind of in and out for the past few hours sweetie. Sometimes you panic, sometimes you scream, sometimes you say really sweet things. You gave me this last time you woke up” He said showing me a scratch on his cheek

“Oh no, I don’t remember that, what happened?” I asked quietly

“It was my fault. You were flailing and I grabbed you the wrong way and I think you thought I was…him” Aj said and I nodded in understanding

“Well I think I’m awake now and I think I need to vomit” I said quietly and without a word Aj picked me up and brought me to the bathroom. He brushed my hair from my face, moved the comforter to a safer place closer to the door and lightly rubbed my back as my stomach emptied until my whole body was shaking

“I wish I had an idea of what you took so I could be of more help” Aj said as he re-wrapped me in the blanket

“I think this might be caused by the… well… you know” I said shyly. It was so impossible to say out loud. I was pregnant. I was having a baby

“I see. It’s normal to be sick like that?” Aj asked with concern and my heart warmed

“I think so, you know, morning sickness. Though I guess it’s not quite morning yet. For some people it lasts all day. So far I just throw up once or twice when I wake up and then I’m done” I explained as Aj nodded

“Do you think you’re done now?” Aj asked and I nodded so he picked me up carefully and brought me back to the bed. I snuggled into his chest and he took a deep breath

“So that all really happened, huh?” I asked to break the silence. I noticed the contents of my purse were still strewn about and I absently picked up a positive test that was lying close to my foot. I looked at that innocent little plus sign and my heart began to beat faster

“Yup” He answered while giving me a squeeze “I thought I was going to lose you there. Do you remember what happened?”

“All I remember is getting to the club with Camie, her handing me a drink assuring me that it would make me feel better and then you were there” I explained

“Well when I got there you were in the middle of a huge brawl. Apparently you hit on some big wig and his girl was not happy with you. Do you realize that bar is known for the reputations of its patrons? Drug dealers and criminals are about all they serve” Aj said as my stomach dropped

“I had no idea. I just needed to get out. All those tests came back positive and I freaked out and Camie had been talking about a club so I just let her take me there. I’m such an idiot” I said burying my head in my hands. I felt Aj’s fingers carefully pry them from my face before he tenderly kissed my palm

“Don’t beat yourself up about it. You didn’t know and you were scared” Aj said sweetly and a tear rolled down my cheek

“But what was I thinking going out to a place I’d never been in a country I’ve never been in and trusting that girl who is so out of control herself?” I started but Aj tried to stop me

“Stop Kat it’s not worth-”

“No. It was so dumb. I don’t have just me to think about anymore. I can’t run around like a little girl. I’m responsible for another life” I stopped short and those last words echoed in the room. Aj grabbed a tissue and attempted to wipe the tears from my eyes as they poured down my cheeks “Aj what are we going to do?”

“I don’t know precious but what I do know is you are not alone in this. I’m here for you and we will go over every option until we find what is best for us. I’m here Kat. You’re not alone” He said taking my chin in his hands so our eyes met

“You promise? You’ll help?” I asked weakly

“I promise” He said seriously and I took a deep breath

“Thank you” I whispered and rested my head on his chest again “I really don’t feel well”

“Do you need the bathroom?” Aj asked as he attempted to move me

“No. It’s nothing like that. Will you just… will you hold me for a little while?” I asked quietly as Aj gave me a sad smile

“You say the word Kat and I’ll never let you go” And he wrapped me up in a mess of blankets and arms and love and I fell asleep to the rhythm of his heart. When I woke up again it was to Aj’s ringtone. He picked it up quickly to silence it but the damage was already done.

“Who was it?” I asked groggily shifting my position in his arms

“Your sister, she’s been calling non-stop” Aj said before attempting to drop the phone on the floor

“She’s probably worried sick. Have you talked to her since you got me?” I asked

“Back when you fell asleep for the first time I told her you were fine but pretty messed up on something and that you were going to sleep it off here. That didn’t make her too happy”

“I can imagine. So you didn’t tell her about…” I trailed off still unable to come to terms with the words

“Do I look like I have a death wish? No I figure that conversation can happen between you and her when I’m at a safe distance. Like a few million miles away. I hear Jupiter is nice this time of year” He said with a smirk and I gave him a small laugh

“You sure you don’t want to let me hide behind you when I tell her?” I asked

“I’ll pass” He said as his phone began vibrating from the floor “Sorry I thought I shut it off”

“Let me see it” I said as a look of horror came over his face “I’m not going to tell her that but I should let her know that I’m ok”

“Are you up for that? I’m sure she hasn’t slept and it’s still really late and she was pretty worried and angry before…” Aj trailed off as I gulped

“I should do it. We share a few genes maybe that will keep her from ripping my head off?”

“That’s very wishful thinking. Alright it’s your decision. I’ll be right here if you need me” Aj said handing me the phone before wrapping me in his arms and pressing me protectively to his chest

“Hey” I said quietly and closed my eyes to brace myself for the impact

“What the hell is wrong with you?!” Mollee screamed and I held the phone away from my ear a little “Do you know how worried I was? What were you thinking going out with that bitch?! And not telling anyone where you were going? Well? What do you have to say for yourself?!”

“I’m waiting for you to give me a chance to speak” I said calmly and I could hear her fume

“Oh I’ll give you a chance to speak. I’m coming to get you right now” She started but I stopped her

“Mollee I’m staying here. Aj knows how to make me feel better and it’s the safest place for me. I know how you feel about him but you have to admit that it’s the healthiest choice if I’m going to be in working condition for the show” I explained slowly and Aj planted a soft kiss on my head for encouragement. There was a tense silence over the phone and then Mollee sighed

“You have to take better care of yourself” She started

“I know Molls”

“You cannot leave me here alone” She continued

“Molls, I know”

“You’re all I have left” She said quietly and I heard her sniff in an attempt to hold back tears. My heart dropped to the vicinity of my toes and a new wave of guilt washed over me

“I’m sorry Mollee. I really am. It was stupid and I wasn’t thinking. I’ll never do anything like this again. Are you alone?” I asked as Aj wiped a tear that had fallen for my sister’s pain off of my cheek

“No Nick and Josh are both here” She said and my heart throbbed painfully. Somehow in all the commotion I’d forgotten about Josh

“Ok. Good. When I come over to the bus to get my stuff for the show I’ll give you a big hug and you can punch me in the face if it’ll make you feel better” I offered and I heard her let out a small laugh

“Do you promise?” She joked quietly

“As long as we call some paramedics ahead of time” I joked back “So can I talk to Josh?”

“Sure” She said “Kat you know I love you, right?”

“I’m your only sister so you have to love me” I said with a grin

“But more than that. What happened at the club the other night” She started but I stopped her

“I was completely out of line. I should never have treated you like that. You annoy me sometimes but it’s only because you care and I had no right to act like I did. Please forgive me?”

“I forgive you Booger. I love you to the moon and back. I was so scared we’d never find you and the last thing you’d remember was me ignoring you but no matter what you do just know that I love you. Know that ok? No matter what” She said quietly

“Molls, there is nothing in the world that I am more sure of. And I love you just a little bit more because I have to win. Always” I joked

“Ok you jerk. Here’s Josh” She said and I was relieved to hear she seemed a little less tortured

“Kat” Josh said with a heavy sigh and more guilt coursed through my veins

“Josh. I am so sorry” I started

“You scared us” He said quietly clearly a little shy in the presence of Nick and Mollee

“I know babe and I’ll make it up to you I promise” I said

“You can do that by coming home to me. I can take care of you. I mean I don’t have experience with hard drugs or anything but I love you and I can take care of you” He pleaded

“Josh I wish I could, really I do, but I think the best thing is to stay here. Aj’s taking good care of me for you I promise” I said hoping he would drop it

“Who’d have thought that having been a drug addict would make you more attractive to a girl” Josh mumbled in an uncharacteristic show of jealousy

“Josh” I warned as I felt Aj tense under me. I wasn’t on speaker phone but it was quiet in the bus and Aj could clearly hear every word of the conversation

“Whatever. Choose him. I’m just getting a little tired of playing second fiddle to a guy who put you through hell” He said and I was shocked into a moment of silence before I could compose myself enough to figure out what to say

“Josh you’re my boyfriend. I’ve chosen you. You know that Aj means a lot to me and-” I started but Josh interrupted me again

“Yeah I know how much he means to you. I just don’t know how much I mean to you. I’m glad you’re feeling better Kat and I’m not going to put more on you right now than you’re already dealing with but we need to talk about all of this. Soon” He said and I swallowed hard

“Ok. We’ll talk after the show. I’ll come to your hotel room” I said quietly

“Thank you” He said sullenly and we sat in silence for a bit before Mollee picked up the phone

“Kat you need to do something about that. He’s been a wreck” Mollee said and I heard the door to the bus slam in the background

“I will Molls don’t worry. I’ll fix this. I’ll fix all of this” I said and moved my hand subconsciously to my stomach. Aj noticed and placed his hand over mine

“Ok. Love you Booger. Get some rest” She said

“Love you. I’ll see you soon” I said and tossed the phone across the room before burying myself in Aj’s chest again. I breathed in his scent and allowed it to wash my body free of worry

“I’m here for you” He whispered as he rested his chin on the top of my head “Forever and always” And with those words joining the words from the phone conversations I fell asleep again. The next time I woke up the sun was starting to rise. I still felt awful and Aj was in the same position he had been in when I fell asleep staring at the wall

“Hey” I said to alert him to my consciousness. A small jolt went through his body like I had startled him but he smiled when he looked at me

“How are you doing?” He asked through a yawn

“I still don’t feel so hot” I said as Aj frowned

“I don’t want to overload you and I want you to take all the time you need to feel better but there are some things we really need to talk about. We’ve got a lot to figure out” He said and I nodded

“I understand. Let’s just take it one thing at a time. What’s on your mind?” I asked turning slowly so I was facing him but still sitting between his outstretched legs

“First, and I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but are you sure it’s mine?” Aj asked and looked like he was fortifying himself for a blow. I just sighed

“That’s ok. That’s a perfectly acceptable thing to ask. Josh and I had sex for the first time a few days ago. The timing works out to that night around Halloween and I know we didn’t use protection” I said and Aj nodded

“God that sucks to hear you’ve been with another guy” He said quietly and I took his hand

“I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t need to. Plus you and Missy…” I trailed off and shared in his pain at the thought of the person you love being intimate with someone else

“Yeah I know. It’s fine. I’m just so raw and tired that I have no inner monologue” He apologized

“Well it’s about time we started being honest with each other I guess” I said with a shrug as I slowly met his eyes “So it’s my turn to say something”

“Go ahead”

“I’m sorry I’ve been… well… the way I’ve been. I’m just so bad at dealing with things and I made some terrible decisions. At first I tried to spare your feelings but lately I’ve been purposely doing the opposite” I said shaking my head as ran through all of the awful things I had done in the past few weeks “I’m really not sure why I’ve been doing that. It seemed like such a good idea at the time”

“It’s ok. I mean it’s not ok but I understand. It wasn’t so long ago that I was going through some stuff and taking it out on the people closest to me” Aj said meeting my eyes. The unspoken words began flying between us but neither of us were brave enough to voice them. In that silence so filled with noise I focused in on his eyes, those constant lights that always grounded me. There I saw beauty, truth and love. My heart reacted quickly as I took in the fact that Aj and I were alone together and on level ground. We had both done horrible things, mostly to each other, and yet here we were, tied together as always, like opposites forces that couldn’t help but attract. Aj took a deep breath and took both my hands. “I forgive you Kat. For everything”

“Hey Aj” I said cautiously hoping that the next thing I had to say would be the first step in fixing all the problems I’d caused “I forgive you too. I forgive you for everything. What you did with Camie, the things you might have said, any lies you might have told. I forgive you”

We looked at each other in silence for a moment both having been absolved of all our sins and then Aj took a deep breath and burst into tears. My emotions reacted swiftly and soon I was crying too. He put his head in my lap and I wrapped my arms around him and rubbed his back as we cried together. It was the most I’d ever seen him open up and it felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off of my shoulders. He took my face in his hands and we wiped away each other’s tears until no more could fall

We sat there for a minute just basking in a fresh start and a new beginning when we heard the door open to the bus and a pair of high heeled shoes clicking down the hall. I tried to make myself move or hide or do something but Aj held me fast so that when Missy stood in the doorway she found me and Aj holding each other in bed.

“Figures” She said crossing her arms “Well isn’t anyone going to try and deny this?”

“Nothing happened-” I started but Aj cut me off

“We don’t owe you anything. I know you’ve been stealing money from me” Aj said and I looked at him completely shocked

“I don’t know what you’re talking about” Missy said but even I could read her panic

“Just get out. We’re done. You were a good lay but a lousy person and I can’t have you taking up my time anymore” Aj said. A small wave of pain hit me at one part of that declaration but I kept myself together

“Oh please like I was the only one who was bad? You used me to try and get over her so it was only fair that I get something out of it” Missy spat. I just sat completely unable to do anything but watch the drama unfold in front of me

“I tried to give you everything but you were never in it for more than money. You got some money now get out” Aj said and Missy just smiled

“Whatever. You can have him honey he’s all yours” Missy said before grabbing a bag of her stuff and storming out. There was relative silence until finally my brain started working again

“Aj that wasn’t for me, was it?” I asked and Aj laughed a little

“No it needed to be done a while ago and you just gave me the strength. I know you have feelings for Josh and I don’t expect that to change just because we have…well…this” Aj said placing his hand on my stomach. I took a deep breath and registered my exhaustion

“I need to sleep some more” I said quietly. Aj fluffed the blankets and I attempted to curl up away from him so he could move if he needed to but he just smiled and pulled me into his arms and I let him. It was more comfortable there anyway. When I woke up again it was to an amazing smell. I couldn’t quite identify it but when I opened my eyes there were plates of food and take out boxes everywhere

“You’re up!” Aj said coming into the room “I thought you might be hungry but I didn’t know what for so I kind of got everything”

“You really didn’t have to do this” I said and then saw Aj giving his full attention to pouring soup from a plastic container into a bowl and I had to laugh “I mean thank you. I am a little hungry. What’s good?”

“Well I know you love pineapple fried rice so there’s that. Also every vegetarian entrée I could order with my limited knowledge of German” He said anxiously. He was trying so hard to be helpful it was making my heart swell

“The pineapple fried rice sounds amazing. Thank you” I said and was presented with the largest portion imaginable. As soon as I took a bite I realized how hungry I was and began to down it. Aj laughed a little and then tore into his General Tao’s chicken. We had fun eating through the various containers and I almost forgot why we were here playing house in Aj’s bus without the world to bring us down. As we finished up silence settled in around us and Aj put his hand on mine to get my attention

“So what’s the plan?” Aj asked as I twirled a piece of lo mien on my fork

“Well…” I trailed off. I knew what I wanted but I was afraid to hurt Aj’s feelings especially with them as fragile as they were right now

“It’s ok just tell me what you want and then I’ll tell you what I’ve been thinking and we’ll go from there” Aj said and I sighed

“Aj I’m a dancer. When you have a baby your career is basically over. It takes a toll on your muscles, you have to take a lot of time off and then you have a kid. It would be impossible to tour or fulfill my dreams of dancing with a company. I’m also so young and so are you. I don’t have the money or the maturity to be the mom a kid needs. It has nothing to do with you” I said taking in the look on his face “This baby could be Josh’s or Rich’s or the guy around the corner and I’d feel the same way. Ok it’s your turn”

“Ok” He said with a look of concentration “Well I’m a singer and two other members of my band have kids on tour. I’ve seen it done. I’ve seen them fulfill their dreams with kids in tow. We’re young but I have the money. I have the stability. The two of us could do this”

“Aj we have a hard time getting along for more than a few days at a time” I said

“Now, sure, but we could work on it”

“What about Josh?” I asked

“He could help! He’s a good guy I’m sure he would be there for us”

“Aj” I stopped him and he met my eyes “Having this baby will not fix us. If there is one thing I learned from my parents it was that being a mom or dad is a full time job and not a solution to a problem. I have one full time job already that I love. I want a baby, maybe even someday with you, but this is not the time. I can’t do it”

“Ok” He said after some tense minutes “I support whatever decision you make. I just wanted you to hear me out”

“I did. I hear you” I said squeezing his hand as he pulled me into a hug

“So I assume you don’t want to go through the pregnancy at all. I mean you don’t want to gain the weight and have to take the time off. So you’re talking about abortion” Aj said with his arms around me

“Yeah I think so” I said quietly and Aj sighed

“Ok. I’ll do the leg work and find us a place for as soon as possible. You seem tired again” He said

“I am”

“Go to sleep. I’ll be right here with my laptop doing research” A million emotions ran through my body. Relief at having made a decision, gratitude for the man sitting here supporting me, anxiety for the upcoming operation and regret for the baby I wouldn’t have. Aj looked into my eyes and kissed my forehead “We’ll be ok. We’ll get through this”

“Thank you” I said and I fell into a fitful sleep. When I woke up again it was to Aj shaking me.

“Hey precious you need to get up” Aj said softly as I opened my eyes. The light outside was still dim but this time it seemed to be closer to twilight than dawn and I groaned

“Is it really time to go?” I asked groggily as Aj smiled at me

“I got you up a little early so we could talk over some of the information I found. Are you up for that?” Aj asked with concern filled eyes. I nodded and he pulled me into his lap and then put the computer in front of us

“So unfortunately we’re too far along for a non-surgical abortion. That would mean just taking a pill instead of having to go to a clinic and have a procedure. But we are right in the normal timeframe for a safe surgical abortion. The day after tomorrow we have off and if you want we can fly to the US together to a clinic in LA. It’ll be a little crazy trying to get back in time and who knows how you’ll be feeling but I figured you’d want to be where everyone spoke English” Aj said pointing out information on the website in front of me

“Yeah I’d be a wreck if we had to do it in the Czech Republic or something” I said and Aj squeezed me in a hug for support

“So I used a connection to get us into a clinic in LA on short notice. They insist on a counseling session before the procedure but I’m assured that we can expect to be there for no more than three hours. They have to go in and do some STD tests, blood work, and an ultrasound for pregnancy confirmation as well as the counseling before the operation and then you’ll be prepped and the procedure is about 10 minutes long. After that you stay in recovery for about a half an hour maybe longer if you decide you want to be knocked out for the whole thing. I was able to talk them out of the follow up appointment but you have to promise that if anything doesn’t feel right that you will tell me so we can get you to a doctor and make sure there are no complications” Aj said clearly having done his homework. I was so lucky to have him I could never have rationalized all of this on such short notice

“Of course I will. Thank you so much Aj that sounds good” I said letting a little more of my stress melt off of me

“The flight is about 12 hours. We’d have to leave right after the show tomorrow night to catch a 10 o’clock plane to get to LA by 10 am. The return flight is about 11 hours so we’d have to leave pretty soon after the procedure to be back with some recovery time before the show in Finland. It’s a lot to ask of you on the day you have a major procedure done but it was the only way I could figure to get us in the US and not have it be a late term abortion where you’d have to spend more time sick and stressed” Aj worried and I turned in his lap to face him

“You are amazing. It’ll be a rough few days but with you by my side I’ll make it through” I said looking him right in the eyes. He smiled a little and pulled me into a big hug. We stayed like that as neither of us was willing to break this moment where we stood on mutual ground. It was like finally crossing the finish line of a marathon. With the hard work behind you it doesn’t seem that bad and in front of you are only happy faces and endorphins.

“You should go” Aj said after about five minutes of enjoying each other

“I feel like once I step out that door the world is going to be waiting to beat me into a bloody pulp for all the problems I’ve caused” I said still resting my head on Aj’s shoulder

“The world is no match for us. You’ve got some hard conversations to have but I’ll be waiting for you at the end. We’ll get through this. Together” Aj said and I nodded reluctantly. I got up off of the bed and fixed my hair and makeup a bit before putting my jacket and shoes back on. Aj walked me to the door of the bus and I looked at the door handle like it was going to attack me

“This has been the worst and best day of my life. Thank you for everything. I will never be able to express how much all you’ve done means to me especially after all I did-” I started but Aj stopped me by pulling me into another hug

“All is forgiven, remember? Don’t dwell on that. And if you don’t leave soon I’m going to make you stay and your boyfriend will be very upset” Aj said with an attempt at hiding his emotion

“I’m sorry about Missy” I said

“Stop it that wasn’t you. I told you, you gave me the courage to stand up to her. You reminded me that I deserve more than that”

“You won’t say the words then take them back?” I quoted to him and he laughed a bit

“Ok if you’re going to quote lyrics at me then you must get off my bus” Aj joked nudging me towards the door. Every fiber of my being wanted to stay and it was like moving my hand through molasses to get to the door handle. Of course Aj noticed “You are going to be fine. I’ll see you in two hours”

“Two hours” I repeated and then registered the hurt at the memory of when we’d just met and used to measure time by the hours we’d have to spend apart. I used the pain as a motivator and opened the door and stepped out into the cold November air. I made my way to the dancer’s bus and barely reached the door when it was whipped open and Mollee flung herself on me. I immediately starting crying and repeating how sorry I was which got her going and the two of us sat on the stairs sobbing in each other’s arms for quite some time. Aj watched until he felt a hand on his shoulder

“Want some help cleaning up?” Nick asked

“I think I can do it” Aj said automatically, clearly not willing to look away from the scene

“What I mean is do you want some company until you can see her again? Today must have been hard” Nick said finally tearing Aj’s attention from the sisterly love

“Thanks man. Actually it was really easy” Aj said with a note of longing

“She’s still someone else’s” Nick reminded Aj who shook his head

“She was never anyone’s but mine. I just lost her for a bit but I’ll get her back” Aj said with a sad smile as Nick led him into his bus and closed the door. Mollee and I were complete messes for the two hours leading up to the show. We hugged and cried and yelled at each other and told each other how much we loved one another. We made our way to the arena to stretch together and I saw that Aj was there waiting for me. I smiled big and gave him a big hug

“I missed you” I said and Aj’s smile grew

“You’re not the only one” He said before sitting down with me and Mollee to stretch. The difference between stretching today and stretching on our rehearsal day would have been quite comical to anyone who had witnessed both from the outside. Everyone, sensing that some peace had been made, stretched in a big clump in the middle of the floor with the exception of Camie who was nowhere to be found. I wasn’t worried. I had nothing to say to her and if I went the rest of my life without seeing her again it wouldn’t kill me.

Aj and I walked hand in hand to make up and wardrobe and were pretty glued to each other through the prayer too. Any time he had to let go of me for a second my whole world seemed to slant and the vertigo I felt was completely irrational but it stayed as long as he was away. Ultimately his hand would find mine again and everything would right itself. I nearly had a heart attack when he stepped through the curtain for his entrance and left me backstage and alone for the first time since everything had gone down but I kept his face in my mind and made it through.

The show itself was cathartic. I remembered how much I loved to dance and it eased my mind about the decision we had made. But because I was enjoying it the show went too quickly and soon I was confronted with the reality of the conversation Josh and I would have to have. Aj stayed with me backstage until the last possible moment.

“You’ll be ok. And I’ll be waiting for all the gory details when you’re done. I’m a mere text away” Aj said with a reassuring smile. He squeezed my hand and then I took a deep breath and walked out the backstage door where Josh was waiting

“Hey” I said nervously

“Hey” He answered in kind. He took my hand and led me to his hotel room and I let myself acknowledge that his touch did nothing for me in comparison to Aj’s. He sat on the bed and I pulled up a chair so I was facing him and we stared at each other in silence

“Have at it” I said after a few minutes of excruciating quiet

“I don’t know where to begin” He said with a sigh “I’m really happy you’re ok”

“Thanks. I’m sorry for worrying everyone. I made a dumb decision. I got some overwhelming news and I just wanted to do something stupid. Good thing Camie specializes in stupid” I said bitterly

“Do I get to know what happened?” Josh asked a little coldly

“Well I went to a club with Camie and she spiked my drink with an unknown drug. Time went a little haywire after that but I’m told I was in the middle of a big brawl in a dangerous club when Aj found me” I said and saw Josh clench his fist

“I don’t know why your sister thought he was the best person to call” He said with more than trace amounts of anger in his tone

“He knew the club from the days when he was sick. He can handle himself in those crowds” I said trying to keep the admiration out of my voice especially with Josh so on edge

“And no one thought I might be able to handle myself? I’ve never done hard drugs but I run with tough crowds” He said and I had to use every bit of my power to hide my laugh. For all Josh’s bluster you could tell with one look that he was a kind soul. He would have been eaten alive in there

“I don’t know babe I wasn’t there for that” I said and he shook his head

“No but you were there insisting that only Aj could take care of you when I called” He said harshly

“He has experience with those types of drugs” I said angrily and not at all in the mood to have to spend the whole night defending a guy who had just done more for me than anyone else in my life

“But I have experience with making you feel better. Why am I never good enough for you Kat? Why do you constantly choose him over me?” Josh asked with clear frustration

“I don’t know how else to tell you what you already have heard. I choose you. I’m with you right now” I said though my heart told me that the sentiment wasn’t exactly honest

“Only because I demanded you see me. It’s like he gets to do whatever he wants to you and you give him everything and I do nothing but respect and love you and I only get bits and pieces. How is that fair?” He asked getting angrier by the syllable. By the end of the sentence he was standing up and I was becoming more and more nervous

“I don’t know Josh. I feel like I’m giving you all that I can give. I’m sorry if that’s not enough for you” I said calmly trying not to provoke further reaction

“Don’t turn this around on me! Do you want to give me something that really means something? Don’t see him anymore. Show me that I’m your choice and quit spending your time with him” Josh said. My mind reeled and my temper boiled. What was going on?

“You want me to stop seeing one of my best friends because you are insecure about us?” I asked incredulously while rising out of my seat so he couldn’t literally talk down to me anymore

“I may be insecure Kat but you’re being unfair. Why is that such an awful request? Why can’t you just leave him alone? I love you with all my heart. Isn’t that enough?” Josh said breaking down a little. My mind seethed but my heart throbbed. I could almost see red burning at the corners of my vision because I was so angry but a piece of me understood why he was so upset. A piece of me knew his concern was a valid one. Suddenly I was done.

“I’m leaving” I said standing up and grabbing my jacket and bag

“Where are you going?” Josh asked with panic clear on his face

“I don’t know. Anywhere but here” I said trying to make for the door but Josh grabbed my shoulder “You really want to let go of me”

“Are you going to do this for me? I know a part of you understands what this is about. Are you going to stop seeing him so we can fix us?” Josh pleaded but let go of my shoulder all the same. I turned to him

“You know what? Ok. I’ll take your little test. But I think you should know that the last guy that tried to push me away from my friends ended up being a complete monster and I vowed that I would never let anyone control me like that again. This will only push me farther away from you.” I said harshly

“As long as that doesn’t push you closer to him then I’ll take it” Josh said confidently. I gave him a searching look but he just stared back at me with confidence like he had just won a fight. I wanted to smack him. Instead I turned on my heel and slammed the door. I got down to the lobby and out the front doors when I realized that I was in no mood to see my sister or anyone else for that matter. So I did the one thing I knew would make me feel better. I took out my phone and sent a text.

“Ugh” I texted as I paced in front of the hotel

“It went that well, huh?” Aj texted back and I could already feel warmth creeping into my angry heart

“I’ve been forbidden to see you” I texted before deciding that I needed to take a lap around the lot to cool off.

“WHAT?” Came the text back and then one immediately following it “What are you going to do?”

“Do I seem like the kind of person who reacts positively to that kind of demand?” I typed. When I pressed send I looked up and laughed out loud. My feet had subconsciously taken me to the door of Aj’s bus. I knocked

“Well I guess I have my answer” He said with a small smile “Come inside before someone sees you and decides to start world war three”

“It was like something had taken over his body. He was completely out of control! He went on and on about how I had chosen you over and over and how he loved me so much. This past week I’ve done nothing but fight with you. How that could be interpreted as choosing you I’ll never know. I just wish I knew where this was all coming from! It’s so far out of left field” I fumed as I pushed past Aj so I could pace in front of his couch. He shut the door and sat calmly in front of me.

“I might have some insight into that” Aj ventured and I stopped dead in my tracks

“What do you mean?” I asked with blood still boiling

“Well do you remember dancing a few days ago to a song that may have implied that you still needed and missed me?” Aj asked as the color drained from my face

“How did you know about that?” I asked

“I caught the show and so did Josh. You should know by now that you can never get any privacy on tour” Aj said as I sank slowly onto the couch next to him

“Oh shit” I said as Aj wrapped his arm around my shoulder

“It was a phenomenal dance if it makes you feel any better” He said with a laugh

“How can you be so smug?” I asked as a small smile escaped my lips

“Because you’re here with me even though it’s forbidden. We’re finally not fighting anymore” Aj started and I cut him off

“You’re single and I’m fighting with my boyfriend” I said with a nudge

“Hey I didn’t say it” He said and I watched his smirk turn into an adorable smile

“You are trouble mister” I said with a laugh

“I’m not the one breaking the rules right now” He said smugly

“Ugh I should go. I don’t want to fight anymore tonight and with my luck Josh will be standing outside the window having heard everything” I said standing up and stretching

“With how angry you were when you got here I’d be surprised if he had the courage to follow you to the elevator let alone out of the hotel and across the lot. You’re terrifying when you want to be” Aj said getting up too

“That’s me. Terrifying” I said giving him a hug “Thanks”

“Thanks for what?”

“Thanks for being my calm in the storm. You’re pretty extraordinary you know that?” I asked and I could feel him grin from within our embrace

“I’ve always known that. You’re the one who seems to keep forgetting” He joked and I laughed “So what’s the plan for tomorrow with you forbidden to see me and all?”

“I’ll round robin it with him and Mollee” I said simply

“You’ll what?” He asked

“I’ll pull a round robin? What, did you never have any fun in school?” I asked and he shrugged “A round robin is when you call your parents and tell them you’ll be at a friend’s and then they call their parents and tell them they’ll be staying over at your house. This leaves you both free for the night to cause trouble” I said and Aj laughed

“So you’ll tell Mollee you’re with Josh and Josh that you’re with Mollee?” Aj asked

“You have no sense for nuance. I’ll tell Mollee all about the terrible fight Josh and I had and how much I need to spend some time with him without any interruption to fix our relationship. Then I’ll tell Josh how upset Mollee still is at the idea of almost losing her last living relative and how, though I know we need to work on us, I feel that I have a responsibility to my family” I said earnestly for a rehearsal. Aj just blinked at me

“Well I certainly believe it. Damn girl how many lies have you spun that now you’re so good at it?” Aj asked with a laugh

“No lies with you. Not anymore at least. And you should come up with an alibi too” I said seriously

“Why? No one has forbid me to see any of my friends” He said with a smirk

“Because it’ll get very suspicious very quickly if both of us are MIA for our day off” I said pointedly as he sighed

“Ok I’ll spread the word that I’m getting Christmas shopping done or something” He said as I wrinkled my nose “What?”

“You’re going Christmas shopping? How lame is that? You should say that Missy and you broke up so you’re meeting up with a girl you know in Prague” I said as Aj laughed

“Does that really sound more like me?” He asked

“Do you really want me to answer that?” I shot back and we both laughed “Ok I really have to go. I have to make Mollee believe I’m terribly upset”

“Have fun. Text me if you need me, rebel” He said and with a final squeeze I hopped out the door and hard as I tried I couldn’t keep myself from checking around every corner to see if Josh was spying on me. If there’s one thing Josh hadn’t thought through in this whole thing it was the age old knowledge that by making something forbidden you automatically make it more attractive. I stopped for a second to enjoy the image of Aj in his wife beater and shorts and then got to work making myself convincingly angry for the benefit of Mollee and the round robin.
Chapter 23 by Ajsgirl4life
Author's Notes:
Happy Thanksgiving! I'm thankful for all of you lovely people who take the time to read my LONG chapters and leave comments. You all rock my socks!
Chapter 23

The lies were spun and all performances went smoothly. Josh was apologetic at how our conversation had ended (though unwilling to rescind his rule concerning Aj) so he was easy to convince especially having spent the night with Mollee when I was missing. Mollee was a bit harder to fool but by the end of the night as I paced and yelled and huffed and puffed, she finally conceded and told me she thought a little one on one time with no interruptions might be good for Josh and me. It helped that I promised I’d spend the travel day on the bus leading up to the show with her. I could also tell, however, that she saw what I saw. That Josh had begun hammering the final nail into the coffin of our relationship. I woke up sick the next morning but wasn’t nearly so annoyed about it now that we were nearing the day of the procedure. As I walked out of the bathroom I was met face to face with someone I really didn’t want to see

“We need to talk” Camie said blocking the hallway back to the bunks. I gave her a nasty look but she didn’t budge

“You have five minutes of my time which is way more than you deserve” I said and led her to the front of the bus for some privacy

“You need to know that I wasn’t the one who spiked your drink” She started and I blinked at her

“Excuse me? Are you going to deny that you gave me a drink laced with something that you insisted would calm me down and give me a night unlike any I’d ever had before?” I asked replaying her words from the early parts of that day from my memory

“Yes. I didn’t put anything in your drink. I gave you a hit of LSD but that was before the drink. Do you remember putting a piece of paper on your tongue?” Camie asked and I tried to look back into the cloudy events of that night. Well son of a bitch.

“Yes. Yes I do” I said only now just regaining the memory of it

“I’ve been thinking about it and at first I thought you were just tripping really badly and I was drunk. But then when I sobered up a bit I remembered getting our drinks from a guy at the bar and I never saw him pour anything. I think he may have spiked our drinks with some GHB or something” Camie said and I thought on it

“Mixed with the LSD and the alcohol it would explain why I was such a mess” I conceded and she looked relieved

“I still don’t remember much from that night at all” Camie said actually sounding a bit nervous

“You don’t? How did you get home?” I asked and she shrugged

“No clue. I just ended up here. At first I thought it was you but then I heard what happened and what you thought I had to do with it and well… I’m back at square one” Camie said clenching her hands in her lap

“You don’t think something bad happened, do you?” I asked and Camie shrugged again in an attempt to seem like she wasn’t worried. Yet somehow, maybe because I had been brought in to the secrets of her act, I could suddenly see right through her. She was scared.

“Whatever. It doesn’t matter I just didn’t want you to think I was some sort of criminal. I may like to mess with people but I wouldn’t give you anything I didn’t think you could handle” Camie said

“Arguably the acid was something I couldn’t handle” I said and she let out a little laugh

“If all had gone according to plan then I would have been sober enough to babysit you. I’m not a complete asshole. Not to my friends” Camie said and I let out my breath. Could I really be friends with Camie? Even if she hadn’t been solely responsible for my night in Germany she still gave me an illegal drug without giving me any information and had pushed me to be a royal jerk to everyone I loved.

“Well I’m glad that you’re not a complete asshole and I’m sorry for what happened to you” I said feeling a little anxious that maybe there was more to that story than she was letting on “But you need to know that I don’t appreciate you coaching me to be a bitch to everyone. I was in a vulnerable place and you took advantage of me. Just like you took advantage of Aj that night by getting him drunk. I need some time apart”

“Back to being everyone’s punching bag then?” Camie asked somewhat bitterly except I could see it for what it was now. She was terrified of being alone

“No. I am sticking up for myself but I’m also letting people help me. And I’m trying to be patient with everyone’s limitations. Including yours” I said attempting to lessen the blow

“Well when you’re ready to have some fun again you let me know. You know where I’ll be” She said getting up from the couch

“Right in the middle of all the trouble which is where you live” I joked and she laughed a bit before walking back to her bunk. She was almost out of sight when I stopped her

“What?” Camie asked taking a few steps back towards me

“You should know that I once had a guy take advantage of me. It’s never ok. If you want to talk about what you think might have happened to you that night you know where I’LL be” I said and though her words were sarcastic I could tell that I had gotten to her

“It’s no big deal. I’ll survive” She said and launched herself into her bunk closing the curtain behind her. Mollee was up soon after so I didn’t have too much time to dwell on the new information. It was clearly bothering me though and it wasn’t long before Mollee used her sister powers to drag the information out of me. We spent most of the day going over what may or may not have happened to both me and Camie. Mollee spoke aloud the conflict that was raging in my head. Camie might be a victim of a crime but she had still done some pretty awful things to me. We both agreed that it was much easier to pretend she was a horrible person than to think of her as a human being and were upset that we were forced to do the later. The day was also riddled with my trying to explain away my need to check my phone every two seconds as I updated Aj and got his input. He seemed content to vilify Camie which was understandable. She had more directly hurt him and he blamed her for our relationship falling apart to begin with. I had to lie to Mollee and tell her that I was texting with Josh, working out details of the following day because I didn’t think she would be able to handle the friendship between Aj and me after everything else. It was a lot to spring on her all at once.

Before I knew it we were arriving at the arena and heading up to the stage to stretch. Aj made his way to me and I shook my head discreetly as I noticed Josh was still around hanging lights so he made a pretty good show of pretending he had dropped something and sitting with Howie instead. Meanwhile Mollee and I sat with Camie in a show of solidarity and while she wasn’t completely willing to take her walls down I felt that deep down she appreciated it. Before we headed to hair and makeup I tackled Brian and tickled him until I was sitting on top of him and he was begging for mercy

“Ok, ok, I’m sorry for whatever I did!” He yelled through laughs before I finally let up

“You didn’t do anything wrong. I just wanted to say thank you” I said as Brian tried to catch his breath

“What did I do?” He asked breathing hard

“You told me what I needed to hear even if I didn’t want to hear it. I’m taking your advice. Look at me. Do I look like myself?” I asked striking a few poses

“You know you are starting to remind me of a girl I once danced with” Brian said with a smirk. I gave him a big hug

“You’re a true friend” I whispered in his ear and he squeezed me tighter

“Any time” He said and we headed off to wardrobe together. To say that I felt good during the show that night is an understatement. My life was suddenly coming back together. Everyone was messing around on stage and having a blast. Camie was joking with Brian and Mollee, Aj was joking with me, Brian was giving everyone hell and Mollee even managed to smile at Aj when he was clearly flirting with me. It was a fun night and it wasn’t until bows that I remembered what was awaiting me. Aj and I dragged our feet backstage and let everyone leave ahead of us while both spreading our alibis around to anyone who would listen. Once the place had cleared out we grabbed our bags that we had packed earlier and stashed before heading out to an awaiting cab. My hand was in his and we were in high spirits from the show despite our destination when we found that a cab was not the only thing waiting for us

“Well it’s nice to see what your word is worth” I heard before I saw him. My heart sank like a ton of bricks

“Josh” I said quickly letting go of Aj’s hand. My heart raced and Aj immediately became protective while Josh merely stood and eyed us

“I got an interesting call tonight” Josh started in a voice and mood that made him almost completely unrecognizable “From Missy”

“Did you?” I asked nervously trying to figure out how I was going to talk myself out of this one

“She told me that she and Aj had broken up and thought I should know that she found you two together in bed. I was inclined to think that it was exaggeration but now, after you gave your word that you would stay away from him, I find you two here giggling together after everyone else has left for the show. Tell me Kat, what should I think?” He asked. I stuttered a few times before Aj leaned forward and whispered in my ear

“I’m right here. Give the word and I’ll take care of this” He growled clearly on edge at Josh’s tone towards me

“Josh, I was in Aj’s bed and he was making sure I was ok. I was really sick from the drugs and there is only one bed on that bus” I said starting with the truth in hopes it would lead me to something brilliant. Unfortunately I was drawing blanks

“And what is happening right now?” Josh asked with a condescending tone that really pushed my buttons

“Aj is helping me with something. The demand you made on me wasn’t fair and I can’t follow it” I said

“Helping you with what?” Josh asked with anger flashing in his eyes

“Josh I’m sorry but it’s none of your business” I said with more confidence then I actually had

“Of course not” He said with an incredulous laugh. I felt Aj shift behind me and glanced back to see him checking his watch. We were on a tight schedule and we needed to go

“Josh we have to go. I can explain everything to you when we get back but right now we have to go” I said and tried to walk past him but he grabbed my arm roughly and a subconscious whimper snuck out of my mouth before I could control it

“Watch it” Aj said harshly stepping in but I shook my head and nudged him back behind me

“Aj it’s ok. Josh let me go” I said calmly and Josh searched my face

“Kat this is it. I’m not going to ask again. Choose me. Stay here with me. I love you” He pleaded and if I hadn’t been so angry my heart would have swelled

“I can’t Josh I have to go” I said trying to pull my arm away

“Kat please stay with me. Please” He begged and my resolve softened a bit until I felt his grip tighten on my arm and my anxiety level began to rise

“Josh let me go!” I said with more than a little panic which caused Aj to put off some pretty unfriendly vibes. After a tense moment Josh seemed to register the tight grip he had on me and he quickly let me go. I pushed forward towards the cab with Aj flanking me like a body guard

“Kat” Josh yelled. Aj had slid into the cab first and I stopped halfway in to turn back to Josh “If you leave with him now we’re done. I can’t spend every day in a competition where the odds are stacked against me. You choose him now and you lose me forever”

“You’re going to really regret giving me that ultimatum” I said angrily before getting in the cab and slamming the door. I stared straight ahead as the cab pulled away and didn’t bother to try to stop my tears as they flowed down my cheeks

“He has impeccable timing” Aj muttered sarcastically as he tried to comfort me without crowding me. He settled with his hand on my lap as my tears multiplied so quickly that I had to busy myself trying not to let it mess up my heavy show makeup

“Oh god” I squeaked out and Aj grabbed my hands

“You’re ok. I’m here” He intoned as I shook my head

“I know and I’m happy you’re here but right now I just need to be upset” I said through more tears

“He really hurt you, huh?” Aj asked searching my eyes and I shook my head

“My boyfriend just broke up with me and I’m really going to miss him. Don’t take this the wrong way but as my ex, you’re the last person who can make me feel better about this” I said as I tried to wipe my eyes

“Ok, I get it but as your friend I need to hug you right now because you’re breaking my heart” Aj said and I let him pull me into his chest where I continued to cry. We rode to the airport in silence and the both of us ducked our heads as our escort met us at the door so we could get to the plane without too much commotion from fans who may still be hanging around. Once on the plane I felt completely drained and fell almost immediately to sleep on Aj’s shoulder as he ran his hand up and down my arm to comfort me. When I woke up we were landing and I was feeling like crap. Ironically it was the first morning that the crappiness was attributed to my mood rather than my stomach. It was like my body knew what I was going to do and was trying to prove to me that it could behave.

“I feel like this whole week has been one giant nightmare that will not end” I said to Aj once he started to wake up as well

“It’ll be over soon. You’re at a pretty good low right now but there’s only one way to go from here” Aj said comfortingly through a yawn

“Subterranean?” I asked with a small smile and Aj sighed before pulling me into a hug

“Oh how I wish I could take some of this on for you” He said into my hair as I breathed in his scent and let it calm me

“Maybe I’ll come out of this a better person” I offered as Aj laughed a little

“You can bet on that” He said with an adoring smile. Despite myself I gave him one back. My gratitude for this man was leading me down a dangerous road and I did not care one bit. We got in a taxi and drove directly to the clinic since we didn’t have much time to dally. I glanced out the window as we drove and realized how nice it was to be in a place where all the signs were in English so I could understand them. Just then I started seeing some signs I wished I couldn’t understand

“What is going on?” I asked as Aj pulled me to him and met my eyes

“I thought this might happen. Clinics like this almost always come with protesters. They are going to yell some really nasty things but we are just going to walk right on by” He said seriously as I nodded. I pulled up my hood on my sweater and grabbed my darkest sunglasses and Aj did the same. It would be a nightmare if anyone recognized Aj and put two and two together about him and his dancer making their way to this kind of clinic. We raced in and I squeezed Aj’s hand tightly as the taunts reached my ears. I was pretty shaken up by the time we got inside and it didn’t help that the entrance was outfitted like a military base. We were patted down and all of our belongings were scanned while we went through metal detectors. When we finally got to the waiting room I was feeling like I had already been through something difficult not that I was about to

“Katrina Blackwell” I told the receptionist once I found my voice and she nodded. Aj put his hand on my shoulder and it was only then that I realized I was shaking

“Alright Katrina we have everything all set up for you inside. If you follow me we’ll get you right in with Dr. Saber to start your evaluation” The receptionist said with a smile. I just nodded and Aj had to practically steer me into step behind her. The good news was that the room we ended up in was completely ordinary. The thick walls completely drowned out both the clinical sounds from the hallway and the taunts from the street below. Dr. Saber was pretty ordinary as well. She was middle aged with some salt and pepper across her otherwise dark hair. She gave me a warm smile as I entered and motioned to the only chair in front of her desk

“Good morning Katrina. And who is this?” She asked motioning to Aj as I stood awkwardly behind the chair not wanting to sit without a place for Aj next to me

“This is Aj. And Kat is fine” I said nervously

“Ok Kat. We usually do these meetings privately so if Aj would like to wait for you” she started but I cut her off

“No” I said quickly and she looked a little taken aback “I’m sorry it’s just I can’t do this without him. He’s got as much to say in this situation as I do. It’s a 50/50 split genetically, right?”

“I guess that’s true. Alright let me see if I can find you a seat” She said shuffling around past us to find a chair that wasn’t in use. After a bit of furniture moving Aj was seated next to me and I held on to his hand for dear life “Better?”

“Much, thanks” I said shyly and she smiled

“We’re here to make sure that you are as comfortable and safe as possible. Now I have a few things to discuss with you two before we start taking some medical tests” She said and my heart rate sped up. The ‘few things’ were actually a list of hard questions that really made me think over my decision from every angle. Aj helped me out when I needed it but basically I bared my soul to this stranger. After about an hour she gave me the ok to go get the ultrasound and blood work done and Aj got a chance to find out firsthand how much I really hated needles.

“I love you girl but if you squeeze my hand that hard again I’m going to lose permanent feeling in my fingers” Aj said with a small smile once they had finished drawing all the blood they needed for the tests

“Sorry” I said sheepishly while allowing Aj a second to wiggle his fingers to restore feeling to them. To save his hand he pulled me into his chest instead. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes while trying to pretend I was anywhere but in a doctor’s office. Finally after all the test results came back we had to talk about the procedure. It was only going to be about 15 minutes long but since I was so nervous we all decided it would be best to give me some gas to let me enter a twilight sleep during the actual process. The doctor explained everything in excruciating detail including the use of the word ‘vacuum’ which got to me more than I would admit. I was asked if I was sure I wanted to do this about five more times and then I was given the gas. When I woke up again I was sitting in Aj’s arms and he was humming

“Hi” I said groggily

“Hey” He said softly pushing my hair away from my eyes

“Is it all done?” I asked and Aj nodded “Can we go?”

“We just need a doctor to come in and see that you’re awake and tell us we’re good to go. We’re running right on time for our flight though” Aj said as I nodded and rested my head against his chest. My poor brain had spent so much time in a state of confusion as a result of drugs recently that I vowed to stay sober for as long as I could take it. After a few minutes of me groggily nuzzling in Aj’s chest a doctor came in and checked my vitals before telling us we could go. Aj was given a packet of information including things to look out for that would require a follow up visit and we thanked everyone and made our way past the chaos outside of the lobby to our waiting cab

“Are we done now? Can we be normal?” I asked through a yawn as Aj smiled

“We can be normal precious. Why don’t you sleep? When you wake up we can go over this booklet together and then destroy the evidence” Aj said and I nodded and gladly let sleep overtake me. When I woke up again I was in the plane on Aj’s chest and I didn’t even bother to spend the mental energy to figure out how I’d gotten there

“You’re talented at moving me places when I sleep” I said to alert Aj that I was awake

“Hopefully I won’t have to do much more of that. I’d be ok if we managed to have a nice, boring, stress-free life for the next few months. I’d even be ok if that were for the next year” Aj said and I sat up a little and stretched while taking in my surroundings

“Yeah, the nice quiet life is something I’ll be looking forward to” I said through a yawn

“Only about three more weeks and then we get about a month off” Aj said encouragingly but I frowned

“Don’t talk about that. I don’t want to think about the tour ending for the year” I said

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t want to even think about my life without you in it” I said simply and then second guessed the wisdom of blurting that out. Some day I’ll have to learn to think before I speak

“Well we’ll have to figure something out then. New York is a long way from LA” He said as I nodded and settled back down in my seat

“So are you ready to look at this information?” I asked and Aj nodded, clearly a little perplexed by my declaration and then obvious attempt at a change in subject. Good thing we had a lot of information about serious topics to keep us distracted. By the time we landed I was well versed in what was to be expected and what was abnormal so when I stood up with a little bit of abdominal pain I didn’t feel the need to share it with Aj. We made our way back to the arena and I went immediately to Mollee to see if Josh had said anything to her. He hadn’t so I explained to her that we had broken up and she seemed sympathetic

“Are you ok? Do you want a girl’s night? I can get some mint chocolate chip!” Mollee said as I smiled at her and gave her a big hug

“I think I’m ok for now. But keep the ice cream on standby in case I change my mind” I said with a smile that she returned. My cell phone lit up and I checked the text while Mollee busied herself pretending she wasn’t curious as to who was texting me. Of course it was Aj checking for updates so I gave him some and told him I’d see him in an hour at the show and to get some rest. When I sent it Mollee was looking at me expectantly

“I’m sure that wasn’t Josh” She said and I sighed

“Aj” I said simply and she rolled her eyes

“So is that going to happen now because I have something to say” She said and I let out a small laugh

“You might as well say it. Nothing is official but we’re certainly friendlier” I said and she nodded

“I think you should go for it” She said and my jaw just about hit the floor

“What?”

“I know I haven’t been the biggest supporter of Aj but the way he was with you that night when you were at the club and how he stepped up for you even when you had been awful to him” She said and I interrupted her

“Thanks”

“He may have deserved it but you can’t deny that you sucked. Anyway I saw something in him that made me trust him. Maybe it was something you had seen all along. Anyway when you find someone willing to put himself out there for you like that then you have to hold on to them” Mollee said wisely and I beamed at her proudly

“Look at you advocating for love and forgiveness! You’re growing up!” I joked giving her a nudge

“I know firsthand how love feels now so I’m a big supporter. So what are you thinking? Are you going to initialize full force flirting or are we playing hard to get?” Mollee asked with a mischievous grin

“No more games. I’m going to follow my heart. I hear it’s my best feature” I said cryptically which caused Mollee to pout so I added “I promise once I know something I’ll tell you”

“You better” She said and gave me a big hug. I made an excuse about being emotionally exhausted (which wasn’t really a lie) and managed to escape Mollee soon after that. I took a small nap and then made my way to the arena to stretch with everyone. The spirits were pretty high all around and when Aj came in the room my heart began to flutter. He shot me an adorable smile and I almost died of happiness and relief at his presence but then Mollee blocked my view

“Hi Mollee” Aj said cordially after she just stood there searching his eyes for a minute

“I owe you something” Mollee said and I could see Aj bracing himself for the worst. Instead she launched herself onto him in a big hug. At first Aj was really uncomfortable and he gave me a confused look over her shoulder. I shrugged and then he just smiled and hugged her back

“I’m pleasantly surprised by this” Aj said when Mollee pulled back and wiped a tear from her cheek

“Thank you for taking care of my sister. You didn’t have to help us and you did. I’ll never forget that” Mollee said and then took his hand and led him to where I was. With Aj on one side of me and Mollee on the other and no stress between any of us I really couldn’t have been happier. Only the small stabs of pain in my abdomen as I pushed myself to stretch my core reminded me of what had transpired earlier in the day. We got through hair, makeup, wardrobe and the prayer and then Aj grabbed my hand to walk me to our starting position

“Your sister really does resemble you” He said as I smiled

“It takes a while to see it but we’re actually pretty similar” I said and Aj nodded in agreement

“How are you feeling?” He asked

“Ok. Just in a little pain but nothing crazy. All to be expected” I said and Aj pulled me back into a hug

“I wish you never had to feel any pain ever again” He said into my ear as the music started

“I’ll work on it” I said with a grin and he held onto me tightly until the very last moment before he stepped on stage. The opening number went really well and the show was well on its way to being one of our best. The harmony radiating throughout all of us was almost tangible and it was making for an awesome show. That is until after the loop sequence in Shape of my Heart. I ran for it full out and right as I launched into the air an intense stab of pain shot through my body and I landed a lot harder than normal. Camie noticed and she stopped her sequence to mimic me on the ground so it didn’t look like I had messed up while I tried to catch my breath. The feeling was like the worst cramps ever mixed with a shooting pain after every deep breath. Of course my body began to go into panic mode. I really couldn’t move much and I was center stage as the guys sang the ballad. Aj noticed and shot me a worried look. I tried to get him to stop giving me more attention lest it become obvious that something was seriously wrong but it was to no avail as promptly he missed his entrance for the second chorus. Camie inched her way over to me during the bridge

“Can you walk?” She whispered and I shook my head no as tears clouded my vision

“Ok. We’ll get you out of here. Hang on” She said holding my hand “When the song ends there is a blackout and we can take a trap door under the stage so you don’t have to walk. I just need you to move about five more inches towards me”

“I don’t think I can” I whimpered and Camie grabbed my arm and squeezed

“You are strong. Come on” She said looking directly into my eyes. With her pulling and my using the little I had left to push myself towards her we made it safely on the platform just in time for the blackout. It began to sink and I rolled off of it before it could hit the ground

“Oh my God” I moaned curling into the fetal position

“What happened?” Camie asked climbing off the trap door before it rose back into place

“I don’t know I must have pulled a muscle or something” I lied but Camie was too busy trying to get me to allow her to inspect my body that she didn’t notice

“Do you need heat or cold?” She asked all business. If there is one thing dancers know a lot about it is treating injuries

“Heat” I said as I tried to take some deep breaths. She ran to the first aid kit, found a heat pack and I cradled it to my lower stomach

“I have a quick change. Do you want me to get you someone?” Camie asked and I shook my head

“Bye Bye Love is next and I have to be out there. Go get ready and I’ll be up in a minute”

“Kat I don’t think that’s-” Camie started but I interrupted her

“GO!” I yelled and she scampered. I groaned a little as I moved the heat pack. I had about two minutes before I had to be back on stage. The heat was making things a little better but I was still in agony. Slowly with lots of mantra repetitions and help from surrounding furniture I managed to get on my feet. A wave of cramps racked my body and I almost ended up on the floor again but I took a deep breath and forced myself forward. It took about a minute to get back to the side of the stage where I needed to enter from in about 45 seconds and my quick changer was looking at me with panic in her eyes. I tried to keep the grimace from my face as she ripped off my current outfit to exchange it for a new one. I finished in the nick of time and tried to let the crowd and the adrenaline get me through this number. If I just got through Bigger then I had a 20 minute break during video clips and a few ballads. I made my way to Aj and he looked at me with such concern that I just about melted on the spot. We hit our first set of movements and I was whimpering in pain with every step

“Kat what can I do?” Aj asked for a second when his back was turned from the audience

“Just get me through this song” I whimpered in his ear and he immediately took charge. Any time we touched it was like he was lifting me and adding extra support to moves that I normally did by myself. He managed to make it seem like part of the choreography and I was grateful. Camie crossed in front of us with Brian and she shot me concerned look that I dismissed with a pitiful smile

“Almost done” Aj said as we entered the last section. He gave me one last squeeze and all but launched me off stage where I fell in a heap out of sight. I took a deep breath and wiped the tears from my eyes. Camie showed up moments later with a new heat pack

“Want to move?” She asked when she found me

“I just have to be back here for the finale so I’m going to stay. I’m out of the way, right?” I asked and she looked around before nodding

“Unless they were looking for you no one would notice you. Do you need anything?” She asked and I shook my head no “I really don’t want to just leave you here”

“Have you ever gotten hurt and had everyone fussing over you? Does it make you feel better or worse?” I asked her with a hint of an attitude. I was hoping that maybe if I pissed her off she’d leave me so I could try and figure out what was going on

“Ok, ok, I get it. I’m going to be right down there. Yell and I’ll be here” She said with authority. I looked her over and even in my pain I registered how much like a true friend she was acting

“Thank you” I said with feeling and she gave me a half smile before walking away. I sat in my own little corner of hell for what seemed like forever before I heard the opening chords signaling our final entrance. I made it through with Aj’s help but once we bowed he literally had to carry me off stage and he didn’t stop there. He carried me directly out of the arena and towards the lot where the buses were waiting. When he took a turn away from his bus I gave him a look “Where are we going?”

“Hospital” He said seriously and my heart just about stopped beating

“No. No way. Absolutely not” I said through gritted teeth as another wave of pain washed over me

“Are you kidding? You just had a procedure done and now you’re in so much pain that you can’t even talk to me. It’s not normal and we’re getting you checked out” He said. Despite my pain I tried to wiggle free from his arms so he had to stop walking to continue holding me. After some struggle I finally managed to slip out of his grip “Come on Kat!”

“No, YOU come on! The doctors said to anticipate cramping. I don’t think it would be this bad if I had taking the proper time to rest after the surgery but we couldn’t and I didn’t. I just need a bed and some Tylenol” I said angrily from the ground

“Katrina Rose” Aj started but I shook my head and gave him my best evil stare

“Take me to my bunk” I commanded and Aj glanced over his shoulder towards his rental car which was a mere 30 feet away

“Kat I just want to make sure-”

“TAKE ME TO MY BUNK” I said with as much energy as I could muster and Aj rolled his eyes and picked me up. He wasn’t trying to bring me to his car but we weren’t moving in the direction of my bus either “What are you doing?”

“I’m taking you to my bus. The bed is bigger and I can be there for you. No complaining” He added as I tried to object

“Fine” I said clenching my muscles as another cramp rolled over my abdomen. Aj noticed and quickened his pace. When we got to his bus he took me straight to the bathroom and began removing my dance shoes and the accessories from my hair “This is not a bed”

“No but it is a shower. Hot water is supposed to help, remember?” He said with a small worried smirk as I vaguely recalled a section in the packet of information talking about how baths could help soothe cramps

“Ok, ok” I said wearily. All the excitement was catching up to me and now that I wasn’t on stage in the middle of a show or on my way to an embarrassing amount of unnecessary attention at the hospital I began to feel it.

“This is stupid but um… what do you want to wear?” Aj asked in an adorable show of nerves. I almost smiled except that I was so tired and hurting

“I’ll keep the shorts and lose the shirt” I said after some debate. Mainly I didn’t want to be touched anywhere near where the pain was radiating from. Aj slid off my shirt leaving me in a sports bra and my tight dance shorts. Then he took his shirt and pants off in one swift movement leaving him in his boxer briefs as he turned on the shower. He picked me up and eased me in before pointing the shower head at my stomach so the warmth penetrated there first. It was almost immediate relief and he slid in behind me so I could rest my head on his chest

“How does that feel?” Aj asked after a minute of adjusting his position

“So much better” I said happily as I closed my eyes

“I thought we were going to have drama free lives now?” Aj said with a small laugh as he pulled my damp hair off of my neck and twisted it lightly over one shoulder

“I’m trying” I pouted and I heard Aj take a quick breath “What?”

“Oh Kat you’re bleeding” He said tenderly and I opened one eye to see some pink water swirling down the drain

“Don’t worry. Normal. It’s normal, remember?” I said and Aj nodded though he was still clearly uncomfortable

“Maybe I should take you to a doctor” He said and I shook my head

“Stop I’m so comfortable and it feels much better. Just stay. If it lasts much longer then I’ll let you take me I promise” I said and Aj agreed after a few moments of silent inner debate. I closed my eyes again and felt Aj brush his hand across my exposed stomach. It was so tender that I didn’t even tense up. Then I felt his other hand brush across my pelvis and I sighed

“Does that hurt?” Aj asked anxiously. I answered him by simply smiling and settling down farther in his lap. His hands went to work with light strokes and then slightly more aggressive massages. The only sound was the shower pouring liquid pain relief and I could feel my muscles start to relax. It was pure heaven. I sat there floating in relief driven ecstasy when slowly the mood began to change. Even with the dramatics of the last hour fresh in my mind I was becoming more and more aware that Aj and I were half naked in a shower together and he was stroking quite close to my most sensitive area. An intense longing began to build in me, for him to move his hands a little lower, for me to undo my pants and slide them off. Oh crap.

“Aj” I mumbled through my drowsiness

“Yeah” He answered a little gruffly thus making it clear that I wasn’t the only person behind the change in mood

“I need to get back to the dancer’s bus before we start driving to Sweden” I said slowly trying to convince my exhausted body to move

“Why?” He asked calmly but still dragging his fingers lightly around my stomach

“Because I don’t think this is going to go anywhere good” I said sitting up slowly and Aj groaned

“But I like having you here. I like being able to keep an eye on you and I like making you feel good” He whispered sexily

“Ok it’s time to go” I answered and Aj chuckled a little

“Ok hang on. Let me help you” Aj conceded. He turned off the water and grabbed a towel to wrap around me before lifting me out of the tub. It seemed the bleeding had stopped and so had the pain but the arousal… well that that was far from gone. Aj slid on some sweat pants without letting me go and then grabbed my shirt and pulled it back over my head. I snuggled into his chest and he held me closely still wrapped in a towel before walking me back to the bus. Mollee opened the door as soon as we approached it

“What happened?” She asked quickly

“I’m fine. I pulled a muscle in the show so Aj was taking care of me. I’m back now though” I said quickly and Mollee eyed us carefully

“You’re wet” She observed

“And cold” Aj added with a shiver since Mollee was blocking the door to the warm bus

“Sorry” She said eyeing Aj’s bare chest before hurrying out of the way so he could bring me inside

“I took a bath to try and loosen up the muscle” I explained to Mollee

“So why is he wet? And he’s not wearing a shirt” Mollee observed suspiciously

“He helped?” I answered with a shrug and Aj laughed

“I promise it’s not half as mischievous as it sounds. Can I put you to bed? You’ve been through a lot” Aj said tenderly turning his attention to me when Mollee seemed satisfied by our explanation

“Please” I said tiredly. He brought me to my bunk and I wiggled out of my wet pants and underwear when I was safely under the covers. Aj threw them in the hamper and grabbed me my softest pajama pants and a pair of underwear which I slipped on just as secretively. The same fate met my wet bra and shirt and by the time I was dressed and under the covers I was barely conscious

“No more drama and no more pain ok precious?” Aj asked kissing my forehead

“Ok” I mumbled sleepily. I heard Aj laugh a little and then close the curtain for me and I fell into a wonderfully blissful sleep.
Chapter 24 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 24

I woke up the next morning and immediately smiled. My stomach, though a little sore, felt completely normal. I wasn’t ecstatic about the situation that had caused it but I would not spare a second missing any of the nausea. It certainly didn’t make me want to get pregnant any time soon. I rolled over and was face to face with my ballet shoe. It wasn’t my actual ballet shoe but the one Josh had replicated for me in drawing. I sighed as a sliver of sadness crept into my heart when I took in each one of his portraits hanging in my bunk. They were all intricately drawn with the care one puts into something that means the world to them. My phone vibrated and I glanced at it.

“Can you call me when you wake up so I know you’re ok?” Aj’s text message shone brightly and I smiled a little

“I’m up and I’m feeling great. If you want company I’ll come over once we get to Sweden. I just have one thing to do first” I texted back. I put my phone down and contemplated the pictures in front of me. I had really not been fair to Josh. He had made some of his own mistakes but I had driven him to it. The fact that I didn’t do it purposefully didn’t make it any less wrong. I remembered back to my first days after Aj and I had broken up and how lonely I had felt. The only thing that had made me feel better back then had been the knowledge that Aj was thinking about me. I needed to fix this.

I swung carefully down from my bunk and saw that everyone else seemed to be sleeping. I headed to my dresser and pulled out my photo albums. I found one that was only half filled with dance recital pictures and combined it with another half filled one. I grabbed the now empty photo album and my art supplies and made my way back to my bunk.

Carefully, so I wouldn’t tear the edges, I removed the drawings from where they were taped to my bunk and carried the whole pile of stuff up to the reflection room. I cleared out a space in the pillows and got to work.

I ordered the pictures chronologically and framed them with colored construction paper. Then I took some photos I had of Josh and I – many of which showed me asleep in his arms – and scattered them throughout the album as well. Then I began to write captions for each one. I approximated dates the best I could and recalled wonderful memories. I wrote about our first date on Portobello Road, mini golfing on Halloween, working up in the grid, truth or dare with the girls, lazy days in hotel rooms pretending the world didn’t exist and any other memories that brought a smile to my face.

It is true that I may have rushed into things with him before my heart had mended from Aj and it is also true that I never really got over Aj at all but as I looked at all the memories in cheesy glitter pen and construction paper I realized how true it was that I had really loved this guy. By the time I had finished putting the scrap book together we had stopped at the arena in Sweden. I carefully placed the album next to me and grabbed my notebook. A half an hour later I put my pen down and re-read my letter.

Dear Josh,

In this box are some things you left with me. I’m sure you don’t want to see me right now but many things were left unsaid so I’m writing you this letter.

I miss you. I miss your smile and the way you make me feel like I’m wonder woman. I miss the way your hair falls in that crazy halo when you’ve been up in the grid all day. I miss your humor and your perspective. I miss everything about you.

The way we ended was crazy. Now that I think of it the way we started was crazy so I guess it’s all come full circle. When I met you I had no intention of falling in love with you. I wanted something to take my mind off of a crappy situation and you were the perfect distraction. I realize that wasn’t fair. I was hurt when you found me but that doesn’t excuse the fact that for those first few days that I knew you, I was using you.

But then I began to really see you. I saw how big your heart was and how much you just wanted to see me smile. I was wounded and incomplete but you saw me as capable and told me as much. Then miraculously, against all odds, my shattered heart began to beat for you. I fell in love with you Josh. I began to look forward to seeing you more than anyone else and every moment I wasn’t with you was a moment wasted.

And then life got in the way. I made some terrible mistakes that I can’t take back but the worst thing I did was hurting you. I wanted to give you every bit of me but there were parts that weren’t mine to give. I hope you believe me when I say that I never meant for any of this to happen but the past is the past and there’s nothing we can do to change it.

I’m sorry if you’re hurting. I want nothing more than for you to be happy. I hope that someday you can look at this album and smile at all the memories. The end of our relationship shouldn’t taint how wonderful the rest of it was. I also hope that someday soon you’ll be able to forgive me. I lost more than my boyfriend in this. I lost a good friend. I hope in time I can at least get that back. I included all the pictures you drew of me in this box not because I didn’t want to keep them but because they are amazing and I thought you might want them for your portfolio. Anything you don’t use I’d love to have back if you don’t mind.

I’m sorry I lost your love, your friendship and your trust. As soon as you think I deserve it I’d love to have some of that back. I’ll be waiting.

Kat


With a sad smile I sealed the letter and began putting everything I had from Josh in a box. I folded up a few of his sweaters that had ended up on the bus and laid a hat of his gently down over them. I added his razor, brush, toothbrush, deodorant and body wash before I carefully lowered the album down last. Then I sealed the box and taped the envelope with the letter to the top before writing his name on the front.

I headed out into the cold morning air and located the breakfast bar. No one was there so I took the biggest bowl I could find, added the entire yogurt container from the cart and began to arrange fruit pieces into figures of a guy and a girl. I smiled at the goofy mango slice hair of the guy and the strawberry lips of the girl before balancing the bowl carefully on top of the box and going to the check in point where Scott was.

“Need some help?” He asked as I nodded and he took everything out of my hands

“Has Josh come in yet this morning?” I asked and he shook his head

“Not yet but he should be due any minute now if you want to wait for him” He said

“I don’t think he wants to see me” I said quietly and Scott gave a knowing look

“Is there trouble in paradise?” He asked with a smirk

“More like an atom bomb but it’ll be ok eventually. Do you think you could do your part in the reconstruction by making sure he gets all of this?” I asked

“I think I could do that” He said and I smiled “I like you. I always thought Josh wasn’t good enough”

“Unfortunately it seems like I wasn’t good enough for him” I said and turned before he could comment further. I walked to the corner of the arena and hid so I could try and see if Scott stayed true to his word and the box got where it belonged. After about five minutes I recognized a familiar mop of hair and saw Scott deliver the package and the yogurt. Even from far away I could tell Josh was smiling at the breakfast bowl which made me smile too. It had worked for me once when I had my heart broken. Then I saw him begin to read the letter and I decided to leave him to his own emotions.

I began a slow walk back to the bus to get changed before going to see Aj. I felt a little better but was still solemn as a result of the morning’s activities. Once I got out of the shower and dressed I went to text Aj to tell him I was coming and I saw that I had one missed message and it was from Josh.

Thanks

I smiled, grabbed my purse and made my way to Aj’s bus

“Are you ok?” Aj asked after letting me into his bus

“I’m actually great. I tried to fix things with Josh” I said and Aj’s eyes went to the floor

“Oh. So you’re back together?” He asked and I couldn’t stop myself from giggling a bit

“I’m pretty sure that ship has sailed but we might be able to be friends again someday” I said and watched the light return to his eyes

“Friends is good” He said happily and I nudged him

“You’re impossible” I said and he hugged me tightly

“I want you to know that while I understand you might need time I am prepared to fight anyone waiting in line for your heart” He said into my hair and I couldn’t stop my smile

“Enough” I said with a blush

“You really have no idea how cute you are when you blush, do you?” Aj said tenderly brushing my cheek with the back of his hand. His hand lingered a little too long and it was all I could do to keep myself from leaning into his touch and letting it bring me to his lips

“Ok” I said to interrupt my own thoughts “We need supervision”

“What do you mean?” He asked with a pout

“I want to spend my day off with you but I think we could use some company” I said with a small grin as Aj rolled his eyes

“I miss the rebellious you” He joked and I stuck out my tongue at him before sending a mass text to everyone. Soon after my phone began to vibrate like crazy with responses

“Ok, come on” I said after reading and sending text messages for a solid ten minutes

“Where are we going?” He asked taking my hand tentatively

“The dancers are hosting a game day in their bus and everyone is coming” I said happily

“You’re adorable even when you’re driving me crazy” Aj said. I just pulled him out of the bus and towards my own where Mollee was waiting for me with a smile. Before long everyone was lounging on pillows and bean bag chairs on the upper level of our bus. Howie was sitting with a bowl of chips in his lap next to Sophie who was looking at the Wii controller as if it would bite her. On her other side was Camie who was helping Brian team up on Nick to steal all the pillows so he wouldn’t have any. Mollee was at her usual place on Nick’s other side and I was at my usual place next to her. Aj sat so close to me that I could feel his heart beat and I smiled as the beat from my own heart matched his.

“Ok everyone” I said once the drinks and snacks had circulated and everyone was settled with a controller “The first game of the day is Mario Kart. Has everyone played before?”

“I haven’t” Sophie said with concern causing Howie to laugh at her

“I’ll be in charge of helping her figure it out. We speak the same language” He said with a grin which I returned

“Ok so Sophie has a handicap. No red shells or bumping her off the road if you can help it. Do you hear me Mr. Carter?” I said to Nick who had finally won a pillow off of Brian

“You act like I take games too seriously or something” He said with an attempt at innocence. Brian smacked him in the back of the head and we all laughed

“Alright let’s get to it!” I said happily sitting next to Aj and putting an acceptable amount of space between us.

“It’s nice to see you so happy” Aj said in my ear having closed the gap I had left. A small shiver ran through my body as he tucked a piece of hair behind my ear

“My life resembles itself again” I said with a smile as I gazed around the room “No one hates Camie and she is acting like a human being, Nick and my sister are completely in love, Josh and I are going to be able to be friends and we-”

“This is my favorite part” He interrupted and I tried to suppress my laugh

“We aren’t fighting anymore. We are just free to be whatever it is we will be and nothing has to be wrong or scandalous about it” I dropped my voice to a whisper “I’m not carrying your baby, you’re not dating a crazy person-”

“Hey now” Aj interrupted again

“Oh like it’s not true” I joked and he smiled

“Well I’m glad things are turning around. I haven’t seen your eyes this blue in a long time” Aj said meeting my glance. I felt warmth creep into my cheeks again and Aj’s smile widened

“Well you seem pretty happy too, all things considered” I answered after taking a moment to compose myself

“I’m sitting next to my favorite person in the world. What’s not to be happy about?” He asked. I let myself really look into his eyes then, really take them in and drink them deep. The chaos from the room slowly faded to the background and my heart swelled as I entered that world where only he and I exist. Then a pillow hit me in the back of the head.

“Ok who is starting shit already?” I asked with a big smile to cover up the vertigo of being ripped from a private world and put right back into a noisy, public one

“I have no idea” Howie said looking directly at Brian

“Someone’s throwing things” Brian said shaking his head nonchalantly. I pretended to turn back around and then grabbed the pillow and chucked it back at Brian. It hit him directly in the head and I laughed loud. It felt really good

“Watch the hair!” He joked “And can you pick a darn character already so the race can begin?”

“You are asking for it my friend. Watch your back you never know when I’ll get my revenge!” I said dramatically before sitting back down next to Aj and selecting Rosalina and a motorcycle.

The day flew by. Once we had our fill of racing we started a multiplayer game of Mario Galaxy which allowed the less game inclined to relax and watch. We ordered pizza for lunch since no one was willing to leave our little party and then settled in to some choice board games that Sophie had brought along. Catchphrase turned into Monopoly which almost ended in a fist fight so around dinner we ordered Chinese and settled in to watch some movies.

I hadn’t had this much fun in my recent memory. Everyone was getting along and once Aj loosened up he was able to play instead of continuously come on to me. It’s not that I really minded but it hurt my head to think about what I wanted out of him and a relationship. It was much simpler to pretend that my heart rate didn’t accelerate beyond what was healthy every time I caught him looking at me. And I did my best to take deep breaths to stay in control when a game got really heated and Aj and I would end up play fighting and flirting.

But when the lights went down and everyone piled more or less on top of each other to watch the Blair Witch Project my palms got sweaty and I was suddenly aware that the air between Aj and I seemed electrified. It was so palpable I was surprised that no one else could feel it. Against my better judgment I glanced at Aj and he caught my eye and gave me the sexiest smile I think I’d ever seen. As the opening music played, he slowly ran his hand up my arm and to my shoulder where it gently caressed my collar bone and then my jaw until it reached my lips. I sat there, frozen in the moment, as he traced the shape of them and then began to lean into me. Alarms and fireworks went off simultaneously in my head as he tilted his chin at the last moment to whisper in my ear

“You are so beautiful” My heart melted and raced all at once

“Aj, I just, I need some” I stuttered trying to clear my head but he just laughed a little and whispered in my ear again

“I don’t expect anything my love. Don’t worry. I’m just telling you what is on my mind” He said sweetly and my anxiety lessened a bit. He pulled me slowly into his lap and wrapped his arms protectively around me and after a moment of panic I was able to settle into my place in his chest and just enjoy his touch.

After the movie ended it was unanimously decided that we would all have a sleepover so everyone went back to their busses to change and grab blankets and pillows. As I watched Aj leave for his bus my heart ached a bit and I frowned at it. This is no time to be jumping into things. Get some control!

“You look like you could use a sister to talk to” Mollee said from behind me while looping her arm in mine and steering me into the bathroom

“It seems like I don’t have a choice” I joked as she locked the door and faced me head on

“What makes you think you ever have a choice?” She joked back “So there are a lot of confusing feelings going on in your corner of the room tonight”

“I think the problem is how confusing the feelings aren’t” I sighed and Mollee smiled

“Listen. You’ve just been through a breakup” Mollee started

“I know. So it’s so irresponsible of me to even think of anything but healing and moving on right now” I interrupted but she cut in

“Let me finish. You’ve just been through a breakup and normally I would advise you to take it slow” Mollee finished and I rolled my eyes

“Isn’t that what I just said?”

“BUT” She said pointedly “You and Aj don’t play by the rules. You never have. You’re happy with him. He’s good to you. I haven’t seen you this happy for a long time and I think whatever puts you in this mood is something to trust”

“There’s just so much that has happened and I think I just need some time” I worried

“It’s just a break up. One that was kind of a long time coming now that I think about it” Mollee said and I sighed. I so wish that I could tell her everything. I wish I could tell her that I slept with Aj the night before I started going out with Josh and that we made a baby. I wish I could tell her how I laid in Aj’s arms, drugged out of my mind, and didn’t think once about Josh until she reminded me to. I wish I could tell her how my stomach still shot out little waves of pain every now and then to remind me of the decision I made and the consequences I had been dealing with from my rash decisions in the past. I wish I could explain how right Aj feels but how everything is so perfect right now in my little world that I’m terrified that one wrong move could rock it for good

“There’s just… a lot to think about” I said finally and Mollee gave me a big hug

“Someone once told me to follow my heart and it was the best decision I ever made” She said into my hair “I just want you to be happy”

“Me too Molls, me too” I said. We both heard the door open to the front of the bus so I opened the bathroom door and couldn’t stop the smile from leaping to my lips when I saw Aj standing there. Sometimes it still surprised me that he was this attainable now. If I wanted to call him or hug him or kiss him I could just do it. I just didn’t know which of those things I wanted at the moment.

“This is like every guy’s fantasy” Aj said with a smirk as Mollee walked out behind me

“You can barely handle one of the Blackwell girls. Keep your pants on” She said with a grin, pecking him on the cheek and bounding up the stairs to the game room with her bedding

“It’s so weird that she likes me now. My world is upside down” He said in awe “Shall we?”

“We shall” I said taking my bedding and leading the way to the game room. Once everyone got back we put in another movie and settled into corners to watch it. Aj put his blankets closest to the far wall and I put mine next to his. He sat down so he was leaning with his back against the wall and I considered my options. I could sit next to him or I could sit in his lap again. I met Aj’s eyes and he shrugged at me. He would be fine with either option but somehow I felt this decision was important to him, to us and to our future.

“You’re nothing but trouble” Aj joked with relief as I settled in his lap and leaned against his chest

“Hush. I’m watching a movie” I said with a smile. It wasn’t long before my eyes grew heavy and I began to drift to sleep but I perked up a little when I felt someone approach Aj

“Is she asleep?” I heard Mollee ask so I tried to keep my features still and peaceful

“I think so” Aj’s voice rumbled from his chest where my head lay

“What’s going on with you two?” Mollee whispered sitting next to him. He shifted a little so he could talk more privately with her

“I don’t really know yet but it’s good” Aj whispered and warmth began to spread through my body as I felt him begin to absentmindedly stroke my back

“Well she seems really happy” Mollee said with a smile in her voice

“She sure does. I want nothing more than to be hers again and kiss her and show her that I can treat her the way she deserves to be treated” He said with longing in his voice

“I think she wants that too. I just think she’s in a place right now where she’s being extra careful with her heart” Mollee said wisely and I ran it through my head. That sounds about right.

“I’m just trying to find that line between giving her space to heal and letting her think that she should be with anyone but me. I was casual once and I let someone move in. I don’t mind giving her time to heal but I don’t want her to end up with someone else again. My heart couldn’t bear it” He said with a deep pain in his voice that broke my heart

“I really don’t think you have to worry about that. Just give her time and she’ll come to you. Since we met you she’s never been able to even look at anyone else” Mollee assured him and a surge of love went through me. I may not be able to comfort Aj right now but at least my sister was doing an amazing job of it in my absence

“Well she did” Aj said quietly and I could feel his heartache

“Do you really think she ever loved him?” Mollee asked with doubt in her voice

“Honestly I really think she did. She may not anymore but there was a time when I really lost her and I’m never going to let that happen again” Aj said with passion

“Well you’ve got me on your side this time and I always get what I want” Mollee said to match his determination. I could almost feel him smile and I made a mental note to give my sister the biggest hug imaginable when I ‘woke up’

“Thanks Mollee. I’m glad we’re friends” Aj said sincerely

“Me too” Mollee said and I felt her give him a squeeze on the shoulder before leaving to most likely cuddle with Nick

I felt Aj readjust again so that he was lying down with me in his arms facing the wall. The way he held me there it felt like he was trying to make sure I’d be protected from all sides. It made my heart throb. Just when I thought I’d explode with happiness he took a deep breath and quietly sang into my ear

So many times I've been alone I didn't know what to do
I don't know where I'd be if I didn't have you.
You comfort me, make me believe give me the strength I need.
Since you came into my life it's been so heavenly

You're the reason why I found my way
And you're the reason why I feel this way
And you're the reason why I have to say
I had to let you know you're my everything

So many things I wanna say to you
I'd give my heart to you just because
You came around and gave me all your love
I would sacrifice my very life
All you have to do is say the word
And there will never be no other

You're the reason why I found my way
And you're the reason why I feel this way
And you're the reason why I have to say
I had to let you know you're my everything


When I woke up the sun was high in the sky and I was alone in the trashed game room. I sat up groggily and wrapped myself in the blanket closest to me. It didn’t take much to realize that the blanket I was wrapped in was Aj’s and I smiled as his scent met my nose. It put me in my own little world so that I didn’t notice when someone came up the stairs and sat next to me

“What are you doing sitting here smiling so cute?” Aj asked as I met his eyes “Hungry?”

“Very” I said taking the plate of eggs he offered me “Where is everyone else?”

“It’s about noon. I assume they went their separate ways before the show tonight. And wasn’t it nice of them to leave us this mess?” He said with a small grin digging into his plate of eggs and bacon

“I can’t believe I slept through all that movement” I said through bites

“Me either. They aren’t the most subtle group of people” He answered and I leaned into his shoulder

“I’m just so behind on sleep. All this drama has not been kind to my exhaustion” I said through a yawn as if to emphasize my point

“You’ve been through a lot in the past few weeks that’s for sure. But we decided all that stress was behind us, right?” He asked

“It’s the quiet life for me!” I sang enthusiastically to the tune of ‘It’s a pirate’s life for me’

“Yo ho!” Aj agreed with his fork raised like a sword. I thrust mine up to meet his and we went back to eating through giggles

“So what are we going to do today before the show?” I asked after a comfortable minute of eating in silence

“What do you want to do? We’re in Sweden” He said and I shrugged

“You’re the one who has been here before. What’s worth doing?” I asked putting down my plate

“Well there is the Royal National City Park which was the first city park in the world, boat tours of all the islands, the Gamla Stan which is one of the best preserved medieval centers in world”

“That’s the one! I want the medieval one!” I said with a smile that Aj returned

“Alright then get dressed and I’ll clean this up a bit so we can go” He said and I threw my arms around his shoulders

“You’re going to clean up the mess? Oh I love you!” I said happily

“Finally she admits it!” Aj said triumphantly and I smacked him in the chest before descending the stairs and jumping in the shower.

The final week of the tour flew by. Aj and I were pretty inseparable and he had a blast showing me all the wonders of the European cities we’d tour through. After imagining the life of knights and ladies in Stockholm we jogged through the Vigelandsparken Sculpture Park in Oslo and then took a Harry Potter tour in London. We had a day off in Denmark so we were able to make it to Helsingør where the Kronborg Castle gave us an idea of what Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote Hamlet. Then it was off to gaze longingly at the Hermitage treasures in St. Petersburg followed by a sunny morning spent in the Red Square in Moscow.

Throughout all this touring around I began to remember exactly how Aj and I had worked before all of the craziness had crept into our lives. We were both big adventurers and loved learning about European cultures by day and dancing ourselves silly by night. The shows were all phenomenal, certainly the best of the whole tour, as everyone seemed content to stay peaceful and happy.

I was slowly opening up and allowing the idea that I could be happy with this man to enter into my thoughts. It was like we were rediscovering each other and rebuilding the walls of trust that had been torn down by our past indiscretions. It was like falling in love for the first time and reuniting with a long lost friend all at once.

Yet through it all two huge clouds loomed in the distance. The first was the impending two month break. The more comfortable I became with Aj the more clear it became that I couldn’t imagine living 3000 miles from him for two whole months. Mollee was antsy as well because she and Nick hadn’t discussed their plans either though I know her inner debate was similar to mine.

The second cloud lay in the fact that I was falling harder and harder for this man and yet I still had something in me that was terrified at the idea of making anything official. Aj was patient and didn’t push me but each night as he’d bring me to my bus and we’d make plans for the next day’s adventure it became harder and harder to say goodbye. I knew that he would have stayed if I’d asked but the simple truth was that I didn’t trust myself in that intimate setting with him, especially in my post-show highs, and I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted yet.

So we fell into a happy yet cautious pattern of going on adventures each day, dancing like mad each night, saying heartfelt goodbyes and then staying up half the night texting. And so it was in the middle of one of these cycles, strolling down St. Andrew’s Descent (a historical street in Kiev) that Aj decided to take the plunge

“I have to ask you something” He said suddenly jumping in front of me from where he had been at my side

“Ok” I said with a smile as my heart somersaulted at the mischievous glint in his eyes

“Will you go out with me on a date tonight after the show?” He asked so quickly that it took me a few moments to wrap my head around what he had said

“Aj” I started to buy myself some time to think. My pulse raced and my palms started sweating as I tried to figure out what I really wanted

“It will be low key. There won’t be fancy restaurants or roses and candlelight. I was thinking of just going out dancing at a club” He said quickly

“I don’t have the best luck in clubs” I said anxiously. I hadn’t been out dancing in a club since that disaster with Camie in Germany and I was a little squeamish at the idea

“It’s time to break you out of that particular anxiety. It’ll just be you and me and there won’t be any alcohol or drugs involved. We’ll just do the thing you love to do most. Dance” He said convincingly as I chewed on my bottom lip “What are you most nervous about, the club or the date?”

“They are both pretty scary” I admitted and Aj took both of my hands

“You know I’d wait forever for you Kat but I think it’s time you gave us a shot” He said sincerely

“I want to Aj but things have been going so well and we’ve been having so much fun” I started but he interrupted me

“Which is all the more reason to ride this gravy train into the station” He said and I giggled

“There’s a gravy train?”

“Yes. It’s my metaphor and I’m sticking to it” Aj said with a smirk. He put his hand on my cheek and tenderly ran his thumb along my jawbone “Please Kat? If it’s awful and the world ends then we can forget the whole thing. I promise”

“If the world ends then it won’t really matter, will it?” I asked cheekily

“Stop avoiding the question” He said with a smirk that I rolled my eyes at. I sighed and let myself get lost in his eyes for a moment. The answer was all there in the depths of those browns and yellows and the kindness and compassion in that face

“Ok I’ll go on one date. No fancy clothes and no roses” I said and he whooped so loudly that a few people stopped to stare

“Oh you are not going to regret this!” Aj said happily picking me up and spinning me around before putting me on my feet again

“I have to stop letting you get your way. It’s going to make you think you can get whatever you want from me” I said taking his hand and resuming our walk down the cobblestone street

“What’s wrong with acknowledging the truth?” He asked with foe innocence

“Watch it, you” I said giving him a serious look betrayed by the smile I couldn’t wipe from my face. We were going on a date. A real date!
Chapter 25 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 25

“Mollee, how do I look?!” I asked frantically running to the front of the bus where Mollee was sitting with Nick

“Stunning” She said with a smile that I returned quickly. I had taken the quickest shower imaginable after the show because I didn’t want to be sweaty but had reapplied the same style of makeup and hair. I had on a tight black dress made of a material that shimmered in the right light and some tall red pumps.

“I think the word you’re looking for is hot” Nick amended and I smiled at him too

“Thanks guys. Ah I’m so nervous!” I said pacing in front of them

“I don’t know why. It’s not like you two haven’t been dating this whole time” Mollee commented and I shot her a look

“It wasn’t dating before. It was hanging out. This has expectations attached to it. This could be the beginning of everything or the end of the relative peace and quiet my life has finally settled into after weeks of chaos. What am I doing messing with a good thing? I should cancel. I’m going to cancel. Where’s my phone?” I asked as Mollee and Nick laughed

“Stop it. This is a good thing. It’ll be fun” Mollee said as I resumed my pacing

“Ok you need some boy talk” Nick said standing up

“What?” I asked as Nick blocked my pacing route

“I’m going to tell you like it is, man to man” He said grabbing my shoulders

“You’re not giving me confidence that I look good by calling me a man” I said before meeting his stare

“Listen to me” Nick said seriously “You are going to go dancing with a guy who adores you. You are going to get to the club, the music is going to calm you down and you will dance with him. The world will not end. Your life will not fall apart. Nothing bad is going to happen because you have Aj at your side and he would never let anything bad happen to you. Now repeat after me. The world is not going to end”

“Nick” I protested but he wouldn’t let it go

“I can’t hear you” He teased and I rolled my eyes

“The world is not going to end” I repeated begrudgingly

“My life will not fall apart” He continued

“My life will not fall apart” I repeated again trying not to admit that it was making me feel better to affirm this to myself

“Aj and I are going to make sweet love and everything will be back to normal” Nick said with a smirk and I smacked him in the chest just in time to hear a knock on the door

“I’ll get it” Mollee said jumping up from the couch where she had been laughing at me and Nick

“Go get him tiger!” Nick said smacking my ass causing me to giggle

“Kat your date is waiting for you” Mollee said smugly holding the door to the bus open

“Thank you” I said grabbing my clutch and kissing Nick on the cheek

“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do” Mollee whispered in my ear before giving me a hug and all but shoving me out the door “Aj, take care of my girl!”

“Always” Aj replied with a smile “I’ve so been looking forward to hearing that again”

“Strange” I said with a nervous grin as I took in his adorable ensemble. He had on black skinny jeans with his usual checkered converse, a tan shirt and a black suit jacket on top. Wrapped around his neck was a brown scarf and on his head was a fedora with a little red feather on the back.

“You look amazing” He said kissing my hand as he helped me down the stairs

“You too” I said with a smile before squeezing his hand. Then I giggled

“What’s so funny?” He asked as we started to walk across the lot

“I was thinking about how nervous I am and how I wish I had you here to calm me down. But you are here. And you are the thing that is making me nervous! I need my friend Aj to calm me down about dating this guy Aj, who I like” I explained sounding a little crazy

“Ok” Aj said pulling his phone out of his pocket

“What are you doing?” I asked

“Hey, is it cool if I make a phone call? I have this friend who is really needy” He said and I rolled my eyes as my phone rang

“Hello” I said picking it up

“Hey precious, what are you doing?” Aj asked and I giggled a little

“I’m actually on a date right now” I said feeling ridiculous

“Really, how’s it going?” He asked

“Ok. I mean he’s on the phone with this friend right now” I said with a smirk

“Sounds rude” He said

“And I think it’s a girl” I whispered

“Oh girl you have to get out of there fast! He is probably still in love with an ex or something! You don’t want to get tangled up in that mess” He said and I laughed

“Thanks for the advice. I feel better now” I said hanging up the phone

“She hung up on me!” Aj said putting his phone back in his pocket “That bitch”

“We’re here” I said through my giggles as we approached the club

“We are. After you” Aj said leading me up to the front of the line and then letting me go ahead of him into the club. I noticed a few groups of girls who may have come right from the show tonight who started furiously whispering when we passed and I sent a little plea up to the sky that they would give us some privacy. I didn’t need the extra pressure tonight from being watched.

“I think there are some fans here” I said to Aj once we were in the noisy club

“It’s ok. I’m sure they’ll give us our space” Aj said clearly not concerned “Relax precious it’s just me”

“I’m trying to” I said shaking out my hands and taking a deep breath

“Why are you so nervous?” He asked taking me into a quieter corner of the room

“I don’t know something just doesn’t feel right” I said and Aj kissed me lightly on the forehead

“Maybe I pushed this on you too soon. Should we go?” He asked after searching my eyes and clearly not finding anything reassuring there. I thought about it and then I remembered how strong I had felt when I was out with Camie and how nothing could touch me. I wasn’t a broken nervous girl anymore. I’d grown.

“No. I’m ok. Let’s dance” I said summoning that courage from deep within me and pulling Aj to the dance floor. Once I let the music hit me everything else washed away as I let all of my emotions out on the floor. The more we danced the more comfortable I became and the more I gave into the intense dancing chemistry that had always served us so well on stage.

On stage, however, there was the audience as an outlet for some of that chemistry. Here it was just Aj and I sending everything we had at one another, thrilling in every touch, our breaths synching with the music, our pulses pounding in unison with the beat. Every touch carried electricity and I felt like I was on fire. I could feel the trace of every place our bodies met. His hands left heated imprints on my waist as I grinded into him and I was acutely aware of every time his pelvis brushed mine. When I spun to face him he put his hands to my cheeks which effectively blocked out anyone else in the club. The songs bled into each other as I slowly let go of all of my doubt and feelings of forbidding and replaced them with our passion and love. Then the beat changed to a new song and everyone cheered.

I came to dance I hit the floor 'cause that's my plans
I’m wearing all my favorite brands give me some space for both my hands


The energy in the club multiplied and I let it ease the last of the tension and anxiety from my body. I let the lyrics do the talking and relaxed as I acted them out, showing off my dance moves and my clothes when the lyrics called for it.

'Cause it goes on and on and on.......
And it goes on and on and on......


Aj started really getting into it as I let the beat bring us closer and closer together. I could feel every particle of my being as it flowed with his

I throw my hands up in the air sometimes,
Saying AYO! Gotta let go!
I wanna celebrate and live my life,
Saying AYO! Baby, let’s go!


Aj mouthed the words at me and smiled. Come on Kat. Just let go. Celebrate, live and love. I smiled wide and really started showing off with my dancing as the next lyrics fueled the newly freed exhibitionist in me

'Cause we gon’ rock this club, we gon’ go all night,
We gon’ light it up like it’s dynamite!
'Cause I told you once, now I told you twice,
We gon’ light it up like it’s dynamite!


It seemed like we were the only two there dancing in the club. Our energy was enough to set the air cackling with electricity. As the next verse played I began to feel a heat build in me that had nothing to do with the temperature in the building. Aj and I moved as one and each look he threw at me left me breathless.

I’m gonna take it all. I’m gonna be the last one standing.
Higher over all. I’m gonna be the last one landing.


Aj’s eyes met mine and I felt like I could hear his voice saying the words to me independent of the song.

Cause I believe it and I just want it all.....
I just want it all.....


And I did too. In that moment I knew what was right. After everything Aj was still here, still standing tall above anything else in my life. All of the fights and tears and hurtful words were only a veil to hide the fact that the love we had was epic. It was the stuff of fairy tales and it would never crumble and never melt away. No matter what happened in my life there was only one thing I would ever be certain of. And he was standing right in front of me.

I’m gonna put my hands in the air!


I wrapped my arms around his shoulders

Hands, hands in the air!


He pulled my waist to him and I leaned in so I could feel his breath play on my lips

Put your hands in the air!


The electronic voice repeated into a crescendo and my mouth hit his with the force of the blood rushing through my veins. It was like standing on the highest peak of the tallest mountain screaming as loudly as I could that I was in love with this man and would always be and nothing would ever change it. Lighting flashed around me and fireworks rang in my ears as he tangled his hands in my hair and we made out passionately in the middle of the dance floor. After forever and no time at all I pulled back and looked into Aj’s hungry eyes. It was then that I noticed that some of the lighting in my mind was actually flashes from cameras as fans caught our reunion kiss on their smart phones.

“Kat I love you” Aj said gruffly onto my lips which were still mere centimeters away from him

“We’re being watched” I answered without breaking his eye contact

“Shall we go someplace a little more private?” He asked and I nodded and bit my lip a little in embarrassment “You drive me crazy when you do that”

“Do what?” I whispered

“Look at me like I’m the only guy in the world” He answered simply and then broke our gaze to pull me through the crowd and out the door. He dodged the fans and cameras but we were only really certain of our privacy when we made it back to the confines of the lot patrolled by the Backstreet security

“Wait” I said as he attempted to pull me towards his bus

“What’s the matter?” He asked nervously. I just smiled and pulled him into another kiss and he pulled me close to him as he inhaled deeply against my lips. We made out for some time in the parking lot and when we pulled back I felt even less satisfied. Now that I had a piece of him I wanted all of him

“What are we?” He asked quietly into the silent night that wrapped around us

“Human” I echoed to him from a long ago conversation

“Puzzle pieces?” He echoed back to me

“Perfectly matched” I whispered onto his lips before I pressed mine to them in another kiss

“Please be my girlfriend Kat? Please say you’ll be mine” Aj asked desperately pulling back before the kiss could get more intense

“Silly boy don’t you know that I’ve always been yours” I whispered back with sheer bliss pulsing through me. Aj’s smile at that statement warmed me completely and even if a million people had been watching it wouldn’t have stopped me from meeting his lips and making out hungrily in the brisk December air.

“You are amazing” Aj said a short while later when we pulled back again for air. I shivered a little and Aj smirked “Amazing and cold. Come back to my bus with me?”

“Sounds good” I said with a smile as we walked hand in hand across the lot.

“What’s that?” Aj asked as we walked towards his bus and saw a bag sitting on the steps. I approached it and grabbed the note that was resting on top of it

“Don’t you even think about coming home tonight. Here is a change of clothes and everything you need to stay over. I love you” I read out loud

“That sister of yours is something else” Aj said with a smile picking up the bag and opening the door for me so we could get out of the wintry air

“She sure is” I said holding out the condoms that were hiding in the front pocket of the bag with a note saying ‘be safe’

“Do you think she knows?” Aj asked looking at the note

“Do you think she’d be so friendly to you if she did?” I asked and Aj’s smile faded a bit

“We’ll have to tell her eventually” He said with worry on his face

“Stop that. This is not a night for worrying” I said taking the bag from his hands and dropping it on the floor. I locked the door and then pushed him lightly onto his couch

“Then what is this a night for?” Aj asked with a small smile

“This” I said simply and bent to meet his lips. He pulled me onto his lap and we made out hungrily while he ran his hands up and down the curves of my body. His lips left mine to create a trail down my jaw bone and towards my ear. His hands found their way to the zipper at the back of my dress and so discreetly that I didn’t even notice at first, he began to unzip. When I felt his hand on my bare back I pulled back a little and rested my forehead against his, meeting his blazing eyes.

“What are you doing?” I asked flirtatiously

“Feeling you” Aj answered simply, letting my dress fall to my waist. It was not the type of dress you could wear a bra with so I sat in front of him, completely naked from the waste up, feeling a little shy but majorly turned on at the look he was giving me. Slowly he ran his fingers on my stomach, around my belly button, and up to my breasts, cupping them gently before leaning in and kissing me on my most sensitive currently kissable spot, the base of my neck

“Aj” I breathed letting my head fall back. He peeled his jacket and shirt off in one motion and pressing his hands flat against my bare back, brought me to his naked chest and held me close. My heart sped up in response to our bare skin touching and I took some deep breaths to regain my composure. After a few charged minutes of holding each other I bowed my head and rested it on his chest so I could listen to his heartbeat

“You are an amazing woman” Aj whispered to me while stroking my hair

“I’m just trying to keep up with you” I said with a smile “Let me change and I’ll meet you in bed”

“Don’t be long” Aj said seductively “I don’t know how long I’ll be able to resist when I know you are close by and mine.” He ducked quickly into his bedroom and I watched the door close before letting out my breath in a huge huff. Once I had regained a little composure I rummaged through the bag Mollee had left me and found she had packed my most risqué lingerie. I changed quickly while rolling my eyes at my meddling sister and then slowly opened the door to the bedroom. The light shining in behind me was all there was to light the room and I struck a particularly seductive pose against the door frame

“My sister seemed to think this would be appropriate bedroom attire” I said sexily but added with a grin “I think she likes you”

“Finally” Aj joked and opened his arms so I could jump into them. He was in a pair of boxer briefs and a wife beater and I impatiently tore off the shirt so I could press my cheek against his naked chest again. I stopped and closed my eyes, concentrating solely on the beating of his heart, and let out a little sigh

“This is what life is supposed to be” I whispered and I felt Aj’s chuckle echo through his chest before he wrapped his arms around me and slowly lowered the both of us until we were lying on the bed, him balancing on his elbows over me. I was instantly overcome by the desire to be as close to him as possible and I maneuvered him next to me before intertwining my legs in his and squeezing him tightly while burrowing my face into the crook of his neck

“Are you ok?” He asked quietly into the darkness

“I’m amazing” I said happily and I felt him relax a little. Apparently my need to be so close to him had confused him. I suppose I cling to him in a manner similar to this when I panic. The ironic thing was that panic and anxiety were the farthest from my mind that I think it had ever been. It was like a film had been lifted from in front of my eyes and I was only just now seeing the beauty of life around me “I’m thinking ridiculous and romantic things”

“Me too” He confessed holding me still closer to him “You’re mine. You’re here and you’re mine. I’m trying to convince myself this is real and not a dream I’ve had a million times”

“You dreamed of this?” I asked with a smile

“I’ve dreamed of you every night since I lost you” Aj said with a tinge of sadness

“Well you’ve found me. And I’m not going anywhere” I said taking a deep breath of his wonderfully familiar scent

“Do you promise?” He asked with a real vulnerability that made my heart groan

“I promise. This is forever, you and me” I said tenderly. More than anything I wanted to assure him that all the hard things in our life were done. We were together and everything was going to be ok. Somehow I had never been more certain of anything in my life

“This is us” He said with a goofy grin that I could feel through the darkness. I supposed it looked a little like the grin that had been plastered to my face all night. We breathed in unison, our hearts beat as one and the world and everything on it aligned just for us. The sexual tension had suddenly transformed into something much deeper and much lovelier as we snuggled close and took comfort in each other. Slowly we transitioned into a blissful sleep, calmed by the singular fact that we were together and utterly in love.

I awoke with a slight start a little later but as I took in my surroundings I immediately relaxed. Aj was still sleeping with his arms wrapped around me and the morning light was peeking in his window to signal the start of a new day. I wasn’t entirely sure what had roused me from my peaceful slumber until I heard my phone alert that I had a voicemail chiming from the other room.

Knowing I’d never get back to sleep until I knew who had left me a message I crept carefully out of Aj’s embrace and clumsily found my phone from where I had dropped my clutch on the couch. I yawned and groggily typed in the password to my voice mail while stealing glances back towards Aj’s sleeping face. Hs features were completely relaxed, more so then I had recently seen them and a small smile curled at the corners of his lips. I became lost in his serene expression but was abruptly yanked out of it when music blasted from my phone.

Time is ticking almost done
What we hated we've become
About our picking on our thumbs
Something wicked this way comes

I'm coming to get you
I'm coming to get you
I'm coming to get you

I dropped the needle, pick it up
Don't you worry you're old enough
Times are changing, so am I
Time's a wasting, it's time to die

I'm coming to get you


I dropped the phone on the ground and stared at it like it was a venomous snake. I could hear the music continue but couldn’t make out any more of the words. My heart pounded in my throat and my knees started to shake but then I felt strong arms wrap around me and soft lips on my neck

“Aj” I started but he pressed his lips to mine and because his kiss was still so new and beautiful and powerful I abruptly forgot about the message as we kissed tenderly in the early morning light

“I woke up and you weren’t there” Aj said with a pout

“I had a weird voice mail” I started but Aj was back to kissing my collar bone which made it very hard to focus

“What was weird about it?” Aj asked between kisses as he began to explore my silky slip with his hands

“I’m having trouble concentrating on it funnily enough” I said as his hand crept farther and farther up my leg “Hey now”

“Sorry. You have nice legs. I get carried away” He said not sounding sorry at all but lifting me up and tossing me lightly on the bed before climbing over me. We were making out in bed when my phone began vibrating like crazy from the floor

“Aj” I mumbled through a kiss

“Ignore it” He whispered back before kissing me again. It stopped vibrating so I put it to the back of my mind but then it started again a minute later

“It’s not going to go away” I said pulling back from a kiss

“I’m going to hurt whoever it is” Aj said with a groan as I slid out from under him to retrieve my phone. It vibrated again and as I put it to my ear Aj wrapped his arms around me from behind and started placing sweet kisses on my shoulders

“What’s up?” I asked as Aj continued his assault via kisses

“Where have you been?” Mollee asked with stress coloring her tone

“Here at Aj’s. You told me to stay. You packed me a bag” I said unsure of why she sounded so angry

“I know but you weren’t picking up your phone. Have you been awake long?” She asked and Aj moved to kissing my neck

“No I just got up. What’s wrong?” I asked trying to focus but being thoroughly distracted by Aj

“Have you been online?” She asked and Aj moved to the spot right at the nape of my neck which he knows drives me crazy. My knees actually wobbled beneath me and I felt him giggle a little into my neck

“No I haven’t” I said trying to keep my voice in control

“Well you’re all over it” She said and Aj abruptly stopped kissing my neck

“What do you mean?” I asked slowly

“You and Aj are all over the place going all kissy faced at the club. It’s on fan pages and news rags. Entertainment weekly even has a story about it on the front page of their website” She said and Aj groaned a little but this time not in pleasure

“I don’t understand” I said sitting down on the bed and Aj sat next to me

“Well you two couldn’t keep it in your pants while you were in public and you made a stupid decision to go out to a club that was around the corner from the venue we had just finished a show at. There were tons of fans there that all recorded your escapades and posted them online. It’s a firestorm. They figured out that you were his dancer so now your name is everywhere. Way to be discreet you dumbass” Mollee said and I sat still for a minute listening to the silence. And then a giggle bubbled out of me “Are you laughing?”

“No” I said through a laugh “Ok, yes”

“Kat this is not funny! This could make your life hell! Do you want the media making stuff up about you? Do you want them digging around through your past to find skeletons about mom and dad and me?” Mollee asked and I tried to get myself under control as Aj caught my giggles

“Molls, it sucks but I’m not hiding it. Anyone can know that Aj and I are together. Honestly, I’m surprised no one put it together sooner” I said and I could hear Mollee sigh in annoyance

“I thought you hated extra attention. You could have at least TRIED to be careful” She said

“Oh Molls it’s ok. Everything will be fine. It’s big news this morning but then something more interesting will happen and it’ll be over. Maybe I’ll leak you and Nick to distract from me and Aj” I joked

“Ok you jerk” She said but she sounded a little less stressed “Well I just wanted you to know that you were all over the internet so you didn’t have to find out from someone else”

“I appreciate that. Thanks Mollee” I said

“Love you” She said and then added slyly “So how was your night?”

“Goodbye Mollee” I said with a fake note of exasperation at her nosiness before hanging up the phone

“You’re really ok with everyone knowing you’re mine?” Aj asked and I shrugged

“I’m not embarrassed of you. Most of the time” I joked and Aj shoved me playfully “So what are we doing today?”

“A whole lot of being on the bus” Aj said motioning towards the window which showed the European country side we were quickly driving through

“How did I not notice we were moving?” I asked shaking my head at my own distraction “It must be that when I’m with you nothing else really registers much”

“I know the feeling” He said with a dreamy sigh before intertwining his hands in mine

“Do you have any food? I’m hungry” I said and Aj laughed

“I should. Tray usually stocks me up before a long bus ride” He said leading me towards the kitchen unit

“How are you going to live over the break without people taking care of you every minute?” I joked as he opened the fridge to show a variety of pre-prepared foods

“Maybe I’ll have to find someone to take care of me” Aj said with a coy smile “Are you free?”

“Ugh I don’t know. I have to talk to Mollee. I want to be” I added quickly as his smile began to fade

“Well you better talk soon. We have four days until we go back stateside. And we need to be packed before we fly to our last show in Dubai” Aj said grabbing some frozen waffles and struggling to open the bag without letting go of at least one hand that was holding onto me

“It went by so quickly. I didn’t even realize we only had two shows left. Crap, I have so much packing to do!” I groaned as Aj won his battle with the plastic bag and triumphantly stuffed the waffles in the toaster

“Well you’re trapped on the bus with me all day today. We won’t be in Serbia until late tonight” Aj said calmly while rummaging for Belgian waffle toppings

“Are you packed?” I asked as my slight OCD tendencies began to take my good mood and convert it to nervous energy

“Well…” Aj trailed off glancing in the direction of his closet which was completely trashed with clothing

“Looks like I found what we’re doing today” I said following his gaze

“Not exactly what I had in mind for the first day of you and I back as an official couple but I’ll take it” Aj said handing me a plate of perfectly constructed Belgian Waffle glory

“I’m not going to do all the work while you sit and stare at me” I warned before taking my first bite. Oh what delicious artery-clogging bliss!

“I would never!” Aj said pretending to be offended through a huge mouthful. I rolled my eyes and Aj gave me a whipped crème filled smile.

Oddly enough, even though it took our entire day off, packing with Aj was an amazing way to spend our time. It was something normal that we could do together and we were both so happy to just be able to complete this mundane task without any stress that we were giddy with our good moods.

By the time all of Aj’s clothes and games and decorations collected across Europe were neatly packed in boxes that were stacked by the door of the bus we were parked in a lot with the sun low in the sky. Both of us were exhausted but going a little stir crazy from so much time on the bus so before I could collapse onto the little remaining space on the couch, Aj had grabbed a blanket and pulled me outside. It was freezing but before I could complain he brought me around to the back of the bus and hoisted me up on the back bumper. He threw the blanket up onto the roof and then climbed up after it. I stared after him, marveling at his ease in climbing and then his head popped back over the edge of the bus.

“Coming?” He asked with an adorable grin. With a laugh I followed his path up the back of the bus and eagerly cuddled into his chest under the blanket. Once I warmed up we both turned to lay on our backs to watch the sun set over Belgrade.

“This is one of the best days I’ve had in a long time” I said after a moment of silence watching the sky bloom into pinks and purples as our breath made puffs of clouds in the air

“There will be many more like this to come” Aj said happily nuzzling into my shoulder

“Well, definitely one more. I still have to pack all of my stuff” I said with a sigh

“You don’t ever relax, do you?” Aj asked with a smile as he inhaled deeply at my neck

“Not often” I answered slyly

“We’ll have to work on that” Aj said through closed eyes

“Well we’ll have plenty of time. Now that I’ve got you I don’t think I could bear being away from you. Certainly not across the country and certainly not for two months” I said and I watched with amusement as Aj tried to hide his excitement that I had come to a conclusion that he had been pushing for all day. He thought he’d been subtle in his constant hints that being anywhere but with him for the break would be terrible but I wasn’t going to burst his bubble. His happiness was more than enough reason for me to do anything.

“What is Mollee going to say?” Aj asked and I shrugged

“I bet she has been trying for the past few days to break to me that she wants to spend the two months off with Nick. She’ll probably be relieved when I bring up my wanting to stay with you. I mean, it will be the longest we’ve ever gone not under one roof but maybe it’ll be good for us. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?” I asked as a shot of anxiety raced through my body. Ever since our parents had died, well, ever since we could remember really, Mollee and I had been everything to each other. I knew it wasn’t realistic to assume that a girl could spend her whole life down the hall from her sister but the reality was hitting me that the day of our separation was frighteningly close. In fact, it may have already passed.

“Stop worrying” Aj said using his pointer finger to gently smooth the worry lines that creased my brow as I thought everything over “Nick lives about fifteen minutes from me. You won’t be living with Mollee, but you could probably ride a bike to her”

“I’m living with a Backstreet Boy and you think I’m going to ride a bike?” I joked and let out a little bit of my stress. Fifteen minutes was completely manageable.

“What am I supposed to buy you a car, gold digger?” Aj joked back

“Oh sugar daddy, like you don’t have a million cars that I could take out for a spin” I joked in an over the top sexy voice

“You’re not wrong” Aj grinned and I pressed my lips to his

“Sorry, you were adorable and I was overcome” I said when I had pulled back

“Never apologize for kissing” Aj said leaning back in for more. We made out for a while longer while the sun sank lower and lower into the sky, transforming it slowly from a firestorm of color to pinpricks from the lights of the stars thrown against the velvety blackness of the night. We were taking a moment to stare goofily at each other, making faces and giggling like morons, when I heard my name

“Is someone calling me?” I whispered and Aj nodded “Should I pretend I’m not here?”

“I’m ok with that” Aj whispered with an adorable grin

“Kat I know you’re in there and I need you” Mollee yelled from below before banging on the bus door. I rolled my eyes and Aj sighed, knowing I was incapable of disappointing my sister for long

“You’re wrong, I’m not in there” I said loudly causing Aj to giggle

“Where are you?” She yelled. I rolled over a little and stuck my head over the front of the bus

“Look up, nerd” I yelled down to her

“Katrina Rose what on Earth are you doing up there?” Mollee asked with a bemused smile

“We’re watching the sun set. Can I help you?” I joked as Aj ran his hand lazily up and down my back

“I’m coming up” Mollee said disappearing around the back and I snuggled back into Aj’s arms

“You’re a pushover” Aj teased giving me a squeeze

“It’s freezing, move over” Mollee grunted while hoisting herself up onto the roof with us. I moved closer to Aj and she cuddled in next to me with a shiver

“Hi” I said with a goofy grin that Mollee returned

“You’re happy” She observed with delight “You must have figured everything out”

“We did” I said nuzzling Aj’s arm that was wrapped around me

“Well I won’t intrude for long, I promise, I just wanted to talk to you about the tour break” Mollee said nervously and I laughed

“Let me guess. You want to stay with Nick?” I asked and she nodded slowly, bracing herself for a blow “Do you know who lives fifteen minutes from one Nick Carter?”

“David Hasselhoff?” She guessed and my eyes grew wide

“Is that true!?”

“It sure is. How cool is that?” Mollee asked giddily and I squealed with her

“As if catching two of the Backstreet Boys wasn’t enough…” Aj joked and we both turned and shushed him at the same time

“Well Aj does too” I said after we had regained our composure “So we can still see each other all the time”

“Are you sure it’s ok?” Mollee asked and I freed a hand from Aj to take one of hers

“Mollee we’re growing up. You’ll always be my sister, no matter where we live. And Aj insists that we can bike to each other if we want to” I said meeting her eyes

“We can bike? Why date a Backstreet Boy if you’re going to ride a bike?” Mollee asked causing Aj and me to dissolve in giggles “What?”

“It’s nothing, you two are just so alike it’s scary” Aj said with a grin

“Ok. So it’s settled then. I’m going to pack tomorrow before the show and we need to decide who is getting what” Mollee said and I groaned

“That is going to be worse than sorting through possessions in divorce court” I joked

“Well it has to be done. As soon as you wake up head on over. He can come too” Mollee said and I nodded “Alright, I’ll leave you to the gross stuff you were doing”

“Hardy Har” I said to her back as she slid out of the blankets and over the side of the bus. I listened to her laughing to herself all the way across the lot until the sound of the door to Nick’s bus being shut echoed across the quiet night

“See? Easy as pie” Aj said with a grin

“You win” I said happily leaning in for another kiss.
Chapter 26 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 26

The next day was filled with packing and goofing around as Nick and Aj joined Camie, Sophie, Mollee and me in a huge packing party. There was a lot of joking around, some reliving of memories and so much laughter that my sides were hurting by the end of it. There was a huge dolly filled with boxes as the sun started to go down and by the time Aj and Nick left us to get ready for their sound check, we girls were completely packed and the bus was looking pretty clean.

“I can’t believe that there will be two months before I see this cramped bus again” Camie said with a sigh. We were all lying on our backs staring at the ceiling of the clothes room that was now filled with nothing but four empty dressers.

“I’m going to miss you guys!” Sophie said and we all giggled

“We have two more shows to get through. I refuse to say goodbye to anyone until they are over” Mollee said and I nodded in agreement

“Goodbyes suck. Let’s just have a kickass last two shows and part knowing that we have at least seven more months of this, if not more” I said sitting up

“Good plan. Let’s go get stretching” Camie agreed as I helped her up and the four of us made our way across the lot towards the arena. I hadn’t noticed that I’d been feeling off until I saw Aj stretching on stage and something inside me righted itself. The smile that I couldn’t wipe from my face returned in all its glory and I raced to Aj, tackling him from behind. In a tangle of limbs we both busted out into a serious giggle fest which didn’t end until Aj had righted me in his lap and could stare intensely into my eyes. The world blurred and I slowly brought my hand to his cheek bone, grazing it lightly and causing a low but sexy growl to come to Aj’s lips.

“Get a room” Mollee joked as a shoe came whizzing past my ear. I laughed on the outside along with everyone else but inside I was burning slowly, smoldering for the touch of this phenomenal man who was now mine. From the look Aj was giving me, I wasn’t alone.

“I cannot wait until tonight” Aj said softly so only I could hear

“Oh really, why is that?” I teased

“You’ll find out” Aj said nipping my ear playfully. My breath caught in my throat and I tried desperately to push this longing that was growing inside me to a manageable level. Even though we had only been officially together for just about 48 hours the need to have sex and completely reacquaint ourselves with each other’s bodies was fierce. The first night we had spent together had been so filled with relief that all our confusion and fighting was over that sex just didn’t factor in. Last night we had been so exhausted from packing all day that we had fallen asleep on top of the bus.

Tonight, however, it seemed Aj had a plan and while I was still a little weary from the whole abortion business, I was more than ready to give myself to Aj. There was still a little part of me that couldn’t believe this was real but maybe making love with this man would drive it home.

When we were called to hair and makeup I parted from Aj with a groan, needing so much more from him than he could possibly give me with our show schedule for the evening. He held onto my hand until the very last moment and the way he slid his fingers seductively from my grasp was really unfair. He gave me a blazing look and I had to remind myself to breathe.

“Spending the night on his bus?” Mollee asked with a knowing grin as she helped steer me to my place in wardrobe.

“You don’t mind do you?” I asked as my changer went through the motions of preparing my outfit while I stripped

“No, I don’t mind” Mollee said raising her eyebrows “Do you have everything you need?”

“I’ll get my stuff after the show” I said trying to brush off her innuendo. I didn’t need Mollee in my sex life. Gosh. I was about to have a sex life again!

“I mean, did you use everything… special… I left you in your overnight bag from last night? I have more-”

“Ok, that’s enough thank you” I said with color rising in my cheeks

“Kat you don’t have to be embarrassed. You and Aj are like sex craved monkeys. I just want to make sure you don’t complicate a good situation by making a careless decision” Mollee said and my stomach plummeted to my feet. Any good feeling I had suddenly vanished. Did she know? How could she?

“We’re not having sex Mollee” I said carefully, hoping not to betray myself

“What do you mean you’re not having sex?” Mollee asked incredulously

“I…um...” Well, the procedure I went through two weeks ago makes things complicated dear sister. I want him but I’m scared of making another monumental mistake “we’re just taking it slow”

“Well cut it out. You’re much nicer after you’ve gotten laid”

“Mollee!” I hissed looking around

“You’re such a prude. Fine. Do what you want. But across the lot, Nick and I will be-”

“I need to get to hair… like right now” I said quickly to drown Mollee out and then made a B line for hair and makeup. I didn’t think it was a big deal that Aj and I had abstained from much more than heavy petting since we’d gotten together. I mean it had only been two days! Two days after an excruciating three months of he loves me he loves me not… but still two days! It’s fine. Aj and I are fine. But what if we aren’t?

“Hey” Aj whispered in my ear and I jumped about a mile “Sorry, didn’t mean to sneak up on you”

“No, it’s fine, it was me, I’m sorry” I stuttered. Aj raised his eyebrows and gave me a searching look

“What’s wrong?” He asked carefully

“Nothing, I’m just nervous and excited and it’s our second to last show” I babbled but Aj silenced me with a kiss. My insides reacted and I found myself turning Aj’s sweet kiss into a very suggestive passionate kiss that involved the leverage of the makeup chair and more than a little groping. I heard cat calling and Aj reluctantly pulled back

“Damn it’s good to see you two back at it” Nick said with a smile

“Yeah but I’m pretty excited that you all will be in your own house in three days so I don’t have to see any more. I feel like I should call Leigh so she doesn’t think I cheated just by looking” Howie commented with a smirk before sitting in the chair next to mine

“Sorry guys” I said sheepishly hopping off my chair

“Kat, you haven’t had your makeup done” A stagehand said with a quizzical look

“Oh, right, sorry” I stammered getting back into the chair. Pull it together Kat, the world isn’t falling apart. You and Aj are not falling apart. But what if you are?

“Don’t mind her, she’s blinded by love” Brian joked giving me a nudge as he passed my chair to get to his

“Precious” Aj cooed, spinning my chair so I’d have to look at him once everyone had returned to their pre-show prep “What is going on in that beautiful mind of yours?”

“Nothing my love, I promise, it’s nothing” I said more to convince myself than him

“Alright” Aj said slowly, clearly full of doubt “I’ll see you at the prayer”

“Ok” I said with a quick smile. My makeup person moved in and I was a whirl of show preparation so I didn’t have long to contemplate my lack of sex or the doom of my most treasured relationship. The show itself was phenomenal, Aj and I dancing more in step and passionately than ever before and when it was done I hurried to my bus to grab my bag of stuff to last me until we got to the US and dragged it to Aj’s bus. I got there before he did so I sat on the front of his couch to wait. He ran in not two seconds later and I looked up at the out of breath man in front of me

“You didn’t go into the bedroom, did you?” Aj asked breathlessly and I had to smile in spite of my stress

“No why?” I asked and Aj breathed an audible sigh of relief

“Stay here for five more minutes, I’ll come and get you when I’m ready” Aj said before heading back to his bed and closing the door

“When you’re ready for what?” I yelled to his back but there was no answer. Back sitting alone my brain began to spin in circles. Aj and I hadn’t had sex. Did he want it? Was he regretting getting back together with me since I didn’t have sex with him? It’s not that I didn’t want to, it just hadn’t come up. I thought it was fine but what if it isn’t? I can’t lose him again, I just can’t. Just then, my phone rang and I picked it up without looking at the caller ID. Music blared into my ears.

One way or another, I'm gonna find ya'
I'm gonna get ya', get ya', get ya', get ya'
One way or another, I'm gonna win ya'
I'll get ya', I'll get ya'

One way or another, I'm gonna see ya'
I'm gonna meet ya', meet ya', meet ya', meet ya'
One day maybe next week ,I'm gonna meet ya'
I'll meet ya' ah

I'll walk down the mall, stand over by the wall
Where I can see it all, find out who ya' call
Lead you to the supermarket checkout, some specials and rat food
Get lost in the crowd

One way or another I'm gonna get ya' I'll get ya'
I'll get ya', get ya', get ya', get ya'
Where I can see it all, find out who ya' call


“Hello?” I asked but the music clicked off and then the phone line went dead. What?

“Ok, close your eyes” Aj said reappearing “Or, well, you don’t have to because I have a blindfold. So there”

“Aj I-” I started but Aj planted a kiss on my lips and wrapped a blindfold around my eyes

“No peeking. It’s a short walk but I want you to get the full effect” Aj said happily.

“Aj” I tried again but he hushed me

“Just wait, I promise you’ll like the surprise” He walked me through the door to his bedroom and it was pretty dark. I heard him shut off the lights in the entry way and then shut the door behind me. My pulse was racing. I felt like I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown between feeling like our relationship was over and getting weird voice mails.

“Aj” I whispered as I felt my knees go weak

“Ok, here it is” Aj said, clearly oblivious. He lifted the blindfold and what I saw took my breath away. He had moved his bed out of the room and had filled the floor with red and black pillows. The windows were draped in black lace and there were rose petals everywhere. Candles sat in elaborate gothic candelabras all around the room casting a flickering and romantic light over the whole scene and some incense must have been burning somewhere because the comforting aroma of cloves drifted to me. Soft music played and it was all so beautiful and I was so confused that I just burst into tears. “Woah, Kat, what is going on?”

“I’m sorry” I sobbed sinking to the floor. Aj caught me before I hit and pulled me into his chest, cradling me against him. “I don’t want to lose you”

“Lose me? What are you talking about precious? You just got me and I’m not going anywhere, not ever” Aj said clearly at a loss

“But we haven’t had sex yet and I want to but you didn’t know that” I sniffed

“Kat, you’re making no sense sweetheart. I know you want to have sex with me. I want to have sex with you. The timing just hasn’t been right quite yet. Did you feel like I was forcing you?” Aj asked slowly trying to figure out what was going on

“No but you like sex and I didn’t give it to you” I said quietly looking at my feet

“Kat” Aj said putting his finger under my chin and bringing my eyes up to meet his “I don’t know what all of this is about but you are way more important to me than just sex. Even if you said we could never have sex I’d still love you to pieces. Now what is this really all about?”

“I don’t know” I sniffed again and started to feel really stupid as a slow realization dawned on me “We’ve just been through so much. This relationship is the most important thing in my life and every time I get it, it gets messed up. I guess I’m just terrified of losing you again”

“Sweetheart” Aj cooed holding me close “I get scared about that too sometimes. But we’ve been through so much we aren’t going to be torn apart ever again. We have to trust that”

“I do. I trust that and I trust you. I’m sorry I just got crazy for a second. You do that to me, you know” I said drying my eyes

“In a good way I hope” Aj said kissing my forehead “Let’s just lay here tonight. There’s no pressure. There’s just you and me”

“Are you sure that’s ok? This is all so beautiful” I said looking at the room, letting its wonderful romantic atmosphere envelope me

“It’s ok. We’ll have all the time in the world to be adorable and romantic and sexy. Tonight, on our third night sleeping together as a reunited couple, let’s just relax and enjoy one another. We have nothing to prove to anyone. After months of craziness, let’s just be.” Aj said sweetly and I nodded. He laid me down carefully and then got behind me so we were spooning and he held me close against his chest “This is forever”

“It is. Forever”

The next morning we awoke for the last time on a moving bus. As we drove to Dubai Aj and I just cuddled and talked. We turned off our phones and focused on each other. We made plans for my room in his house, deciding on a color theme and some essential pieces of furniture. I tried to tell Aj that sharing his room would be just fine with me but he stubbornly insisted that I have my own space so if we fought I could have somewhere to go that was my own.

He told me all about his gothic inspired house, his neighborhood which was filled with the rich and famous, his favorite places to eat and the private beaches he was looking forward to taking me. It was a really wonderful and blissful day of planning for what we hoped would be two perfect months with just the two of us. We barely noticed when we arrived in Dubai and day had turned to night again. We heated up some microwave pizza for dinner and ate it off of paper towels on the floor in his empty games room on the second floor of his bus.

“This is the last microwave meal we will have for two months” I said and Aj raised his eyebrow at me

“Are you planning on hiring a chef at my house because this is about the food quality I have stocked there” Aj joked

“Well then we’ll add to the plans my teaching you how to cook. No boyfriend of mine will be living off of microwave pizza” I said putting down my slice “That’s about all I can handle”

“I didn’t know you had such disdain towards my food, Miss Blackwell” Aj said putting his food down

“I’m still full of surprises Mr. McLean” I said leaning forward to give him a kiss

“The microwave pizza doesn’t taste too bad like this” Aj said once we parted

“You think microwave pizza tastes good on these lips, wait until you taste homemade chocolate strawberry mousse” I teased

“Hold on” Aj said with a smirk, running down the steps to the kitchen. I cleared away our plates and the rest of the pizza before he returned with a huge smile

“What have you got this time?” I asked with a smirk at his obvious pleasure

“My own very famous McLean chocolate pudding” He said holding out two Jello pudding snack packs with plastic spoons

“You spoil me with such decadence!” I joked as he peeled open the top and sat back beside me

“And I will continue to! Open your mouth!” He commanded and I obeyed. He took a small scoop of pudding on one of the spoons and fed it to me “Good?”

“Super good but I know a way to make it better” I said and I dipped my finger into the pudding, put a dot on his nose, and then made a show of licking it off

“My turn” Aj said mischievously. He got a bit of pudding on his finger and dotted it right at the nape of my neck and before I could say anything he was working his tongue on my sensitive spot “Delicious”

“My turn” I said breathlessly. Two could play at this game. I dipped his whole finger in the pudding and then very slowly and sensually placed his finger between my lips. I took his whole finger in my mouth and swirled my tongue seductively around it getting every last drop of pudding before releasing his finger. He looked at me with pure lust in his eyes and had to clear his throat before he could speak

“You’re trouble” He said huskily and I gave him my best innocent look back. He took my face gently in his hands and kissed me passionately before removing my shirt in one swift movement. Then he dipped his finger in the pudding and dragged it across the top of my ample cleavage, helped along by my red lace bra. He gave me a smoldering look and then laid me carefully down on the floor before straddling me and then bending over to teasingly lick the pudding off. From there he unhooked my bra and made a show out of decorating my chest with pudding before licking it off

“Aj” I breathed as he cupped my breasts to taunt me while he licked the last of the pudding. He slowly trailed kisses up my chest to my color bone and then across my jaw bone to my ear before whispering

“I think my pudding beats yours by a long shot” I groaned and writhed a little in response and he let out a sexy chuckle. Then he poured the last bit of pudding around my belly button. It was cold at first so I squirmed but Aj quickly took both of my hands in his and brought them above my head. Pinned by his straddling my legs and holding my hands above my head I was completely helpless as his tongue danced across my tummy, teasing the line of my pants.

“This is so unfair” I pouted once he had finished his assault. I was completely hot and bothered and Aj was totally dressed and in control

“Who said anything about fair?” Aj asked with a smirk but released my hands all the same. I quickly tore at his shirt until he was half naked as well and then reached for the button to his pants but he caught my hand “Kat, what are you doing?”

“I was thinking about making my boyfriend feel good. Is that ok with you?” I asked with a shy smile

“You don’t have to sweetheart. You’ve been through a lot and we’re so new-” He started but I cut him off

“I want to. Aj I want you” I said sexily and watched as Aj caught his breath in his throat

“Say that again” He said quietly

“I want you” I whispered and he closed his eyes with a sigh

“God I’ve been waiting so long to hear those words” Aj said and I smiled big as he launched himself onto me.

That night was without a doubt the best in my entire life. For the first time Aj and I weren’t just having sex, we were making love. There was no guilt, no drama, nothing to get in the way of our love. The whole thing was such a marathon that we slept late into the morning and only awoke when Nick and Mollee began yelling through our window that they were going to bang down our door if we didn’t show some sign of life. Apparently the guys and dancers were going to a late lunch before the show and everyone had been trying to call us but our phones had been off. Sore, groggy, but very content, we met up with everyone and had a fabulous meal.

When we were done we headed backstage to begin the final prepping process of this leg of the tour. As I was heading to stretch on stage with Aj I finally turned on my phone and scrolled through the many missed texts and calls trying to coordinate the earlier outing. I had two voicemails so I sent Aj in without me so I could check them in the semi calm of the lot outside the arena. As the first message began to play music hit my ears and my blood ran cold.

They'll conquer your country
and make you all slaves,
they'll burn down your houses
and rave at your graves.
you'd better get ready,
you'd better beware.
banging at your windows,
barbarians are here

barbarians are coming,
heading your way.
the evil is rising,
kneel down and pray.
barbarians are coming,
heading your way.
whatever you took from them -
now you will pay


Tears sprung into my eyes as the message ended and the next one began. I thought it might be another threatening song but instead I heard a familiar voice.

“Kat. Hi. It’s Josh. Um. I just wanted to talk. Because you’re leaving tomorrow. And I just wanted to see you. Before you go. Meet me up in the grid while the guys do sound check? Please?” Josh’s awkwardness washed over me and dried my tears. I knew I needed to deal with the threatening messages and tell someone about them but the guys were starting sound check in five minutes and Josh sounded like he needed me. I called Josh back.

“Hi, I’m coming up now, where are you?” I asked quickly before he could be awkward and try to tell me not to come

“Center stage, use the scaffold stage right” He said quietly and something hardened inside me. My friend needed me so everything else would have to wait. I hung up and found the scaffold and began to climb it. I got to the top and found Josh in no time but he looked at me with horror that stopped me in my tracks

“What?” I asked nervously

“You didn’t hook into anything before you climbed up here?” He asked incredulously “What is wrong with you?!”

“Oh. Sorry” I said with a smirk. Josh looked at me and I looked back at him and then suddenly we were both laughing

“Come here, you’re hooking in with me. What were you thinking?” Josh asked through giggles as he looped his carabineer through my belt loop. Yeah, like that would help if I fell.

“You sounded so sad, I was worried. I wasn’t thinking about anything but making sure you were ok” I said giving him a big hug

“That’s sweet” Josh said quietly into my ear from our hug. We stayed like that for a moment and then pulled back

“So what can I do for you? Besides fall to my death?” I asked with a small laugh that Josh returned

“It just hit me that after tomorrow I may never see you again” He said and my heart sank

“But wouldn’t you work with the boys when we come back from the break?” I asked with panic

“I’m applying again but there is no guarantee. Thank you for the book and the letter you wrote. I’ve worn it all through by reading it so many times. It helped me understand” Josh said looking down at his shoes which was so unlike him it made my heart burn

“If you want to work for the guys I’m sure I can make it happen. I do happen to be one of the talent’s girlfriends” I joked and then stopped abruptly “Shit, Josh, I’m so sorry. That was an awful way to tell you. It just happened”

“So. You and Aj, huh? The two love birds are finally back together in the nest. A perfect match? I’m sure everyone was ecstatic.” Josh said bitterly

“Josh I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to tell you like that. But it’s only been about two days” I said and Josh sighed

“No, I’m sorry. I’m happy you’re happy, really I am. That guy just rubs me the wrong way. But I trust that you know what you are doing” He said with a shrug

“Oh Josh” I said going in for another hug that he leaned into but didn’t wrap his arms around me for

“Kat, can we be friends? Whether or not I’m on the tour I miss talking with you. I miss how you make me laugh. Could we find a way to get past all of this mess?” Josh asked and I smiled

“Come hell or high water Josh I will make sure that happens. I miss you too. I miss being up here in the grid. I’ll make sure you’re back on tour with us Josh”

“Even if it means sleeping with the boss?” He interrupted with a wince

“Please don’t do that to yourself” I whispered to him and he nodded

“It’ll take some time but I’ll be ok. Especially if you can find some space in your life for me” Josh said sadly and I took his hands so he’d meet my eyes

“You are already a big part of my life Josh. I don’t have to make any more room. I’ll be in LA for the break, where will you be?” I asked

“Back in Tampa” He said

“I’ll call you tomorrow when I get settled and you can update me on how Tampa has fared without us, ok?” I said giving his hands a squeeze

“That sounds good” He said with a small smile

“Love ya Josh” I said unhooking myself from his harness

“Back at you bright eyes” He said planting a quick kiss on my forehead “And please don’t fall off the scaffold on the way down”

“I promise I won’t” I said with a smile.

The show was beautiful, sad, wonderful and went far too quickly for any of our liking. We performed extra encores and bowed four times in an effort to keep the reality of us having to part at bay. It was to no avail as before we knew it everyone was piled into a van on the way to the airport. Sophie and Camie were on a flight to NYC so their flight left first and we all gave them hugs and wished them a nice relaxing break. Brian and Howie were on a later flight to Atlanta so they were the next to have to say goodbye.

“Howie, we are going to fly out to Florida to see you and Josh sometime after the holidays” I assured him as he gave me a big hug

“Good. I want to show you around and I know Leigh and James would love to see you” He said sweetly

“I can’t wait. I’m going to miss you Sweet D!” I said giving him another huge hug

“I will too but at least I know you and my boy are back in a good place again. It helps me rest easy knowing that all is right in the world and my friends are taken care of by people who love them” Howie said brushing the hair away from my face “Just stay happy and true to each other. And I’m just a phone call away”

“Well you won’t have time to miss me because I’ll be on the phone with you so often!” I said and Howie laughed

“I’ll see you Kat. Take care of Aj for me” Howie said turning to say goodbye to Mollee

“Princess!” Brian said loudly

“Noble steed!” I yelled back getting more than a few weird looks from around us

“I’m going to miss the heck out of you!” Brian said pulling me into a hug

“You will not. You’ve got that sexy wife and beautiful son of yours to keep you busy” I said and Brian smiled wide

“I miss them so much, I’m so happy to get to see them again!” He said hugging me tight “But I wish you were closer”

“We’ll visit, I promise” I said squeezing him back

“You better” He said pulling back and looking me up and down “You know, for a while there I thought the tour life was going to eat you alive. But look at you. You’re this strong, happy, brave woman. I do declare this tour life seems to be good for you”

“Oh Brian, I couldn’t have made it without you” I said fighting back tears

“Don’t you start crying, I’ll be a mess!” Brian said pulling me back in for one last hug. “I’ll see you soon, ok?”

“Ok” I said waving him off.

“And then there were four” Aj said taking my hand

“The hottest of them all” Nick said solemnly causing Mollee and I to crack up

“Come on, let’s find our gate” Mollee said with a big smile, taking Nick’s hand and leading the way.

The flight was overnight so I slept through most of it. By the time I woke up we were beginning our descent back into the United States and I was extremely excited at the prospect. Walking out of the plane into LAX was a surreal experience. It had been so long since I’d been in the states for any amount of time (the abortion whirlwind not withstanding) and it seemed like the air tasted sweeter and little more like home. It didn’t hurt that Aj and I had our plans set, that Mollee would only be fifteen minutes away from us and we were looking at two months to relax and just have time to ourselves. I was so looking forward to that time. More than anything Aj and I could use some time to heal.

“You are so pensive my love” Aj whispered as we led the charge towards our cars hand in hand

“I’m just happy to be here. I’m happy to be with you. Things seem to have worked themselves out. More than anything I’m happy to be able to get some sleep in a bed that doesn’t have wheels rolling under it” I joked

“That’s the number one thing you’re looking forward to involving a bed, huh?” Aj murmured and I blushed

“You have a one track mind” I said rolling my eyes at him to disguise my rush of excitement at the prospect of a bedroom and privacy

“I love you, what can I say?” Aj said with foe innocence

“You’re crazy, I have to pee” I said as he suppressed a small laugh and let go of my hand so he could grab my bag while I made my way to the bathroom. The damn airport was always so crowded that it took me a full five minutes to walk across the busy hall and I glanced back to see Aj leaning by a window, gazing out at the sun. I smiled at the vision of the man that was finally all mine and I was so lost in the view that I didn’t register when the normal shuffling from the people around me turned a little more violent. I felt a hand grab my wrist and before I could do anything I was yanked into a back corner and a cloth was over my mouth. I struggled and gasped for air and then my vision went sideways as the world drifted away from me.

It couldn’t have been too long before I was conscious again. My vision was blurry and I blinked a few times to try to focus. It wasn’t helping much so I tried to lift my hand to rub my eyes free of this cloud but I met with resistance. It seemed that my hands were somehow tied behind my back. A shot of panic streaked through my core and my vision responded by immediately sharpening. I was in a car and it was making good time. I glanced down and noticed with a shock that the handle to my door had been removed.

“You’re awake” I heard and it took everything in me not to scream. I turned my head slowly to the driver and saw my worst nightmare in the flesh. Rich was driving the car.
Chapter 27 by Ajsgirl4life
Author's Notes:
**TRIGGER WARNING** This chapter gets violent. Proceed with caution.
Chapter 27

“Rich?” I asked groggily

“I told you I’d find you. I made you that promise and I am not the kind of guy to break promises. You, however, are pretty good with deceit. It took me a while to track you down Katrina” The voice sent shivers over my body and I felt the beginnings of panic coursing through my veins. My breath began coming in shorter and shorter bursts so I bit down hard on my tongue and used the pain to shock my body into some control. This was not the time to panic. I was still piecing together exactly what was going on but I knew the one thing that would make the situation worse would be if I lost my cool. I took a few minutes to steady myself and then took a deep breath.

“I didn’t know you were looking” I said with as much control as I could muster. What was I going to do? Immediately my brain switched into some sort of survival mode and I began to sort through my options. A quick look out the window showed that we weren’t far from the airport. Signs in the opposite direction for rental car places with shuttles to LAX were still plentiful and I used that good news to further push back my terror. We were in the middle lane of a three lane highway so we were passing cars close by. Maybe I could alert a passing car of my distress! I tried to glance nonchalantly around the car to see if I could find something I could use as a sign to any of the cars passing by that I was in trouble but because of how my hands were tied behind my back I looked pretty normal to the other cars on the highway. My heart sank.

“More lies? We’ll have to nip that new habit in the bud. Does your Backstreet Boy tolerate lies?” He asked viciously and his tone made my temper flare. Good. I was going to need that anger. It further sharpened my senses and I moved on to plan B. I needed more information about Rich’s plans so I could start to work out a way to escape before things got too serious

“Where are we going?” I asked shifting around in my seat to get a better view of the car. It was a station wagon, something Rich must have picked up for very little money since it was all but rusted through and the engine was loudly complaining at the speeds it was being pushed to.

“If I told you that it would ruin the surprise. Are you happy to see me?” He grinned with a sickening smile and my stomach muscles clenched. I was in a car with a person who had made it clear that his sole goal in life was to make me as miserable as possible. I couldn’t signal for help and I saw no way to escape. My breathing began to quicken as the anxiety I was holding back worked its way to the front again. Outside I was desperately trying to look calm but inside I was about to break apart. I felt like I was vibrating and my vision began to blacken around the edges. I shifted in my seat, trying anything to jolt my anxiety and bury it, when I felt a lump in my back pocket. I could have belted out a note that would make Aj proud as I identified the object to be my phone. My mood immediately changed as I focused on that small but wonderful bump. I can’t believe Rich didn’t check for my phone!

“It’s been a while” I said calmly trying to shift my hands so I could get the phone without Rich knowing what I was up to. Aj was speed dial 1 and Mollee was 2 but really if I could get a call out to anyone it would help. I maneuvered my hands to my back pocket and slowly slid the phone out. I managed to cradle it right in the arch of my back before Rich gave me a look to see why I was fidgeting. Time for a distraction “What have you been doing all this time?”

“Just searching for you” He said turning his eyes back to the road. If there was one thing you could count on from Rich it was that he would always take the bait to talk about himself

“And how did that go for you?” I asked orienting the phone behind my back

“It wasn’t easy. I started in New Hampshire” He started and by that time I was able to locate the call button. I realized that the last person I had called was Aj so if I could just press ‘send’ then he would get the call automatically. They must have realized something was wrong by now. I turned the ear piece volume as far down as it would go and pressed it to my back so no noise could get through from Aj’s end. The din from the engine would work in my favor for that part of the plan. I pressed send and felt a tiny vibration through my back as a voice came through from the other end of the line. Rich was finishing up his story by that point

“So how’d you know where to find me, Rich” I asked clearly so that whoever was on the phone might discern what was going on

“Well I was getting pretty discouraged but then, like some miracle, my sister called to say that she thought she saw something of you on a Backstreet Boys fan site. She thought I was trying to find you to apologize and reconcile and to be honest at first I didn’t believe her. That was very clever using the combination of your mom and dad’s last name for your own, by the way. I looked under Black and under Wells but Blackwell was really inspired.

"Anyway, there you were, locking lips with a celebrity. It didn’t take long to find the tour itinerary and the fans are so rabid, I just had to pretend to be in love with Backstreet for a few hours before some little girl provided me with an hourly update and flight number for you all. Really, with all the work I had put in up North it is astounding how easy it was once I found your trail” He was so proud and so smug that I felt it could have filled the entire car.

“Well aren’t you smart” I said to egg him on, hoping that someone was still on the other end of my call “So what now? Are we staying in LA for a reunion or are we driving across country”

“Oh it won’t be far now. We’ve got a flight booked for tonight so I’ve got a little place for us here close to the airport” Rich said

“Oh we’re going to a place close to the airport so it’ll be easy to get on our flight tonight that leaves from LAX?” I repeated loudly for the benefit of the phone call

“Yes” He said slowly. Shit. I’d gone too far. He pulled off to the side of the road and looked me over “What are you up to?”

“Nothing, you’re the one who kidnapped me” I said quickly

“I know you Katrina, I know when you’re trying to hide something” He said and before I could do anything he had roughly pushed me towards the door causing the phone to fly out of my hands and land with a loud thud on the floor of the car

“Is that mine?” I asked pitifully as I watched the all too familiar rage flood Rich’s face

“You fucking bitch! What did you do!?” Rich yelled grabbing the phone

“Nothing, I swear, it must have been in my pocket”

“You’re such a lying whore. You fucking slut” He growled and threw the phone out of the window, smashing it into lots of tiny pieces on the side of the road. With those pieces went my hope and a sob escaped my lips as Rich took his anger out by smashing my head against door. Then the world went dark.

When I woke up again I was in the epitome of a sleazy LA hotel. As my vision came into focus I noticed the ceiling fan was missing half of one of its blades and there was a big stain in the shape of a fish directly above the head of the lumpy and sagging bed. I was in a chair with my hands still tied behind my back but my feet were free so I stood up quickly to get my bearings. My survival mode was in high gear and I began a sweep for escape routes and hiding places

“I feel like you didn’t always pass out this easily” I heard from behind me, causing me to jump about ten feet in the air “What, did they pamper you on tour?”

“I haven’t had any assholes beating me up in a while, maybe I’ve lost the hang of it” I said with venom. My anger was my best weapon in this kind of situation and if I was going to get through this I knew I’d need a lot of it

“You’re such a little firecracker” Rich chuckled. I needed a plan. Rich was in front of the only door and I couldn’t see any windows. The only thing I could hope for was that my call had been enough to direct the police to me. That meant I had to keep Rich talking so I could stay conscious and in control until help arrived. So far I had a pretty good goose egg forming on the left side of my forehead but I was still intact. This could get much worse very quickly if I wasn’t on my game.

“So what was your plan here, Rich? Steal me away from my friends and family against my will and then woo me until I agreed to be your girlfriend again? Surly you can’t be so deranged as to think that might work” I said with a conversational air. Color flowed to his cheeks and I cursed inwardly. Maybe insulting your attacker isn’t the best way to maintain control, smart ass.

“You’ll fight it at first, I’m sure, but once we get on that plane you’ll be so far away from everything you know that you’ll have to rely on me. I’ll be your only connection to normalcy. Eventually you’ll remember the love we had” He said and I searched him for signs that he was joking. Nope. He was completely serious, serious and insane.

Screw this. Anger and resentment boiled in me. He was so smug, so sure that he had finally found a way to best me. There was no remorse for almost killing me a short year ago. Clearly nothing had changed for him over time but that was not true for me. I was a new person, a better person, and I was not going to be manipulated and controlled by this jerk anymore. It might not be the smartest move but I’d spent too long letting Rich dictate the terms of this game. It was time to fight back. Out of nowhere Nick’s words from long ago drifted to the front of my mind and I almost smiled. I’m an Amazon. And no one messes with an Amazon.

“I never loved you” I spat and he casually lifted his hand and back handed me across the face. With my hands behind my back I couldn’t catch myself so I tried to angle my fall to save my head but the result was that my left arm made a horrible cracking noise and pain raced up from my wrist to my shoulder but I bit my lip to stifle the cry. He wouldn’t get the satisfaction of knowing how much he could hurt me.

“Do you want to try that answer again?” Rich asked kneeling down to my level on the floor so we were eye to eye. I blinked away the tears and gritted my teeth against the pain as I looked him square in the eyes

“You don’t know the first thing about love” I whispered and he got up so suddenly that I flinched but no blow came

“Maybe I don’t but I suppose you are the expert now? That boy band jerk and you are really and truly in love? How romantic. Tell me all about it” He said pacing frantically in front of me. I rolled to my side to alleviate some of the pressure on my throbbing arm before I answered him

“What you and I had was sick and wrong you asshole. You took advantage of a girl who had just suffered the loss of her parents and you abused her emotionally and physically. You’re such a big man, are you? So you can kick the shit out of a 110 pound girl. Good for you. You should be proud” I goaded for no other reason then I’d been waiting to say some of these things to Rich for over a year. I may die in this crappy hotel room but it will not be with these words left unsaid.

“Sick?” Rich asked and he pulled back his foot and unleashed a kick into my side. I gasped as intense pain momentarily took my breath away “Wrong?” Rich asked again placing a harder kick to my side which left me coughing “Yeah. I’m proud. Watch how proud I am” He landed a last kick to my side and I felt and heard what must have been a rib snap. Pain like I’d never felt before raced through my body and I retched, coughing up blood.

He picked me up by my neck, stemming my already poor airflow, and I gagged as he lifted me until my feet were off of the floor and my eyes met his. Some mad desperation shone deep behind the anger “I promised that I’d kill you. I didn’t want to but you give me very little choice. Just say you love me Katrina. Say we can be together forever”

“Fuck. You” I gasped. This was the end. It had to be. I watched in slow motion as he pulled back his fist. I wanted to close my eyes but I couldn’t. He could kill me right now but I’d go down staring at him like an equal. Perhaps that was why I didn’t hear or see the commotion until I was falling to floor. I had been a long way up and I landed right on the side that had received the hard kicks and the pain was so great that I was knocked out cold.
Chapter 28 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 28

I woke up to a slow beeping that was racing straight to my temples causing my head to throb. I registered a lot of pain very quickly and tried to open my eyes but all I could see was darkness. Was I alive? I was certainly in pain. This much pain couldn’t happen to dead people, could it?

“You should get some rest” I heard like a badly tuned radio. The voice was familiar but everything was moving in and out of focus as my entire body seemed to rock with waves of pain

“I’ll sleep when I’m ready” Aj. That was Aj’s voice. My heart leapt. I had made it out. He had received my call and saved me. My hero! But he didn’t sound victorious, he sounded so sad and tired that I was immediately overcome with the need to comfort him and show him how he’d saved my life. I tried to move words to my mouth but they wouldn’t come and I still couldn’t see anything. A wave of panic rushed over me.

“You can go rest. I’ll be here and I’ll come to get you if she wakes up” Mollee. Oh Mollee. I tried again to speak or move or anything but I couldn’t get my body to cooperate. Panic turned to terror as I realized I was trapped, unable to reach the people I loved.

“Touch me Carter and you’ll lose that hand” Aj growled from somewhere to my right. Wake up? Was I asleep? Stay calm. You made it through everything with Rich so you can easily do something as simple as waking up.

“Bone” Howie’s voice drifted in from farther away. I focused on his ever calm tone and turned the terror into something more useful. Suddenly I filled with determination.

“Don’t try to reason with me on this. I’m not fucking moving” Aj said with pure anguish in his voice. Aj needed me. The simplest thing to do would probably be opening my eyes. I focused everything I had into the simple process of lifting my eyelids and slowly, through a lot of struggle, white light began to fill the blackness.

“Look!” That was Brian’s voice for sure. I just wanted to be able to see him. The light was blinding and everything in me wanted to close my eyes and get away from it but the anguish around me compelled me to keep my eyelids open. Slowly, in what seemed like the passing of hours, the light dulled and I began to see shadows of figures

“Oh God” Aj crept into my view and my eyes began to focus on his features. A tear ran down his cheek and fell onto mine. I tried to wipe it away but I couldn’t move my arms. I wanted to say something, to let Aj know that I was ok but my throat was so dry and it hurt so much that all I could squeak out was a whimper “My love. I’m so sorry”

“Booger” Mollee crept into my vision next to Aj. She was a mess of crazy hair and runny makeup. I’d never see her look so disheveled. I whimpered again, slowly feeling the return of the frustration as my throat wouldn’t cooperate with my desire to speak. And of course Mollee sensed it right away “Don’t try to talk yet Kat. Your throat is swollen and pretty banged up”

“Here, ice chips” Nick’s voice came from next to Mollee. I tried to turn my head to see him but a shot of intense pain raced through me and a sob worked its way out of my throat

“Hush it is ok” Aj said softly pressing his lips to my forehead. He wiped a tear from my eyes and Mollee slipped an ice chip between my lips. It was cold and wonderful and dulled not only the pain in my throat but some of my internal struggle. If I could make myself open my eyes then I could make myself talk. I just needed to take my time. I wasn’t trapped. I closed my eyes for a moment and tried to envision wide open spaces to calm myself down. The biggest space I could come up with was the graveyard in New Hampshire where my parents were buried. I saw the autumn leaves on the sugar maples in their brightest reds and oranges and let the calm breeze play across my features in my mind.

“Guys, the doctor” I heard Howie from the corner. Mollee and Aj moved aside but I could feel that they were still pretty close and the doctor seemed more than a little annoyed

“Well well, welcome back. You had us all pretty worried there” The doctor said and I gave a small smile “Can you follow this light for me?” She asked passing a light across my eyes and temporarily blinding me again. I flinched and another wave of pain attacked me from my side “Take it easy honey, your body is trying to heal itself and it needs to rest”

“Is she ok?” Mollee asked with authority. I smiled a little more. I loved her mom mode.

“Well it’s a good sign that she’s awake” The doctor said and I blinked back some more tears. I was trying to be strong but I couldn’t hide that I was terrified. What if I could never talk again? Aj’s face swam into my view and he slowly kissed the tears as they slipped out the sides of my eyes and down my cheek

“Relax my love. You’re ok. We’re all here. Deep breaths” He whispered and I gave a small nod followed by a whimper. He looked incredibly tortured and I moved my eyes to where I assumed Mollee was standing with the ice. He followed my gaze and gave a little smile “More ice?” I opened my mouth a little as an indication and he slipped another chunk between my lips. I swallowed and it hurt but at least my mouth didn’t feel so dry. The doctor spoke with Mollee for a bit but for my sanity I tuned it out and focused solely on Aj as he fed me ice chip by chip. My panic slowly subsided as I gazed into Aj’s pain filled eyes. He was stroking my head, brushing my hair away from my face and I followed his motions with all the senses I had under my control. That had almost completely calmed me until I registered some additional stress in Aj’s eyes and realized that I should be paying attention to the doctor and Mollee

“We found some indication of trauma in the vaginal walls but no signs of forced entry. It seems to just be the result of her procedure” The nurse read off

“What procedure?” Mollee asked and I matched Aj’s terrified stare

“Well there’s a pretty clear indication that a surgical abortion was performed, and fairly recently, is that not right?” The doctor floundered, flipping through her clip board of papers

“My sister has never had an abortion” Mollee said angrily

“Actually” Aj cleared his throat tentatively “She has”

“What?” Mollee asked and it was like the whole room was instantly on fire with her wrath

“I’ll be back in a bit to check in” The doctor said excusing herself from what was about to go down. That was wise. I wish I could have joined her

“Did you get my sister pregnant?” Mollee asked slowly with anger rolling off of her like waves

“Well, I mean, it took two of us” He stammered

“And you took her to get an abortion without telling me? When could this have happened, you two have been at each other’s throats and unless it was late term and she knew she was pregnant for a while…” Mollee trailed off

“It wasn’t late term” Aj mumbled

“But that timing doesn’t make sense” Mollee said stubbornly

“Um, Halloween would have been the time of, um, conception” Aj struggled and for the first time since I’d opened my eyes I was thankful that all I could do was stare up at the ceiling

“But she was with Josh then” Mollee argued

“Not technically?” Aj suggested

“I’m going to KILL you!” Mollee yelled and launched herself at Aj. He dodged and moved to the other side of the room as Mollee tried to get through all the other guys while screaming at Aj about how he’d potentially ruined my life. This had to stop. Too much had happened and it was not ok that the two people I loved most were fighting after finally getting along. I focused and used the serenity of my parent’s resting place to propel the words to my mouth, forcing my traumatized vocal chords to vibrate.

“Stop” I whispered my first words since the whole ordeal and of course no one could hear them over my loud and angry sister

“Mollee calm down” Nick cautioned trying to get his arms around her

“Stop!” Now that I had opened the door for speech pure relief became the strength I needed to force more volume from my mouth. Unfortunately all of this effort went unrewarded as my sister was going to be louder than I could ever get in this wounded state. I needed the people I loved most to stop fighting and there was only one thing I could think of that might make that happen. I forced my body to pay attention and began to ever so slowly inch my feet over the side of the bed. Acutely aware of the growing pain radiating from my muscles as I called on them to do the last thing in the world that they wanted to do I maneuvered myself into a leaning position and finally got some reward for all my work.

“Kat what are you doing?” Howie asked in alarm causing everyone to look at me

“Stop fighting. Stop it right now” I squeaked as tears poured out of my eyes from pain both physical and emotional

“Kat baby you have a few broken ribs, you really shouldn’t be moving” Aj cautioned coming back over to me

“I love you both. Please don’t fight” I whimpered before all but collapsing in Aj’s arms. He maneuvered me carefully back into a laying position and then everyone was around me, moving tubes and pillows and blankets to make me comfortable

“I’m sorry. I have just been so worried. I’m sorry” Mollee apologized taking my left hand in hers

“Apologize to him” I whispered and Mollee’s eyes narrowed a bit “Mollee. Please”

“I’m sorry Aj” Mollee said after a moment

“It’s ok, we’re all a little over emotional right now” Aj said tenderly before returning to his place above my head and feeding me another ice chip

“Are you ok?” Mollee asked quietly

“Tired” I said softly and Mollee nodded

“As long as you promise to wake up you can rest as long as you’d like” She said giving my hand a kiss. I gave a little smile and fell almost immediately to sleep.

“You two need to get some control” Brian said after a quiet moment

“Excuse me?” Aj asked with attitude

“What Kat needs most now is all of her friends and family on her side. She could have hurt herself trying to get you two to calm down. So you guys kept a secret. Who cares? With everything that has gone on with Kat do you think you could give her a break and relax?” Brian said hotly causing a raised eyebrow from everyone

“You ok dude?” Howie asked cautiously

“I’m fine. I just want to make sure everyone has everything in perspective” Brian said before sitting angrily in the corner of the room farthest from everyone. It was quiet after that with only a visit from the doctor to check in and the sounds of the machinery beeping and hissing. Everyone settled down a little and Aj had almost drifted to sleep when he heard a groan

“Kat?” Aj asked instantly awake and at attention

“What’s going on?” Howie asked through a yawn

“She’s moving” Aj said cautiously

“She’s dreaming” Mollee said sadly as I tossed and turned

“Stop. Stop. Stop it!” I moaned

“Kat” Aj said sweetly trying to wake me

“Aj careful, these things can be pretty vivid” Mollee warned but too late as I lashed out and landed a pretty good punch from my good hand on Aj’s cheek. He was so shocked that he actually called out which woke me up

“What?” I asked quickly with my heart beating out of my chest

“You’re ok. Everything is ok” Aj said rubbing his cheek

“What happened?” I asked trying to sit up but being thrown back by the stabbing pain in my ribs

“Hey now, relax. You were dreaming love. It’s ok. You just caught me off guard” Aj assured me as I put it all together

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were you. I was dreaming about… well you know” I apologized hoarsely. At least I could talk a bit now

“Stop, you’re fine” Aj said sitting beside me and brushing my hair back from my face “You seem to be feeling a little better”

“I can talk more at least. Can you move my bed so I can sit up?” I asked as Aj nodded and hurried to get the controller for the bed. He began to tilt the headboard up and it moved my ribs so that I yelled out in pain

“Sorry, sorry, are you ok?” Aj asked frantically as I nodded

“I’m fine. Now I can see everyone. It’s worth it” I said with a small smile and then indicated my rib cage “So I assume those are broken, huh?”

“The doctor says that you broke the three middle ribs on your left side. We had a rough night with you because they were worried a bone fragment might puncture your lungs, especially with all your thrashing in your dreams, and then they were debating using a compression wrap to stabilize them even though that can enhance the risk of pneumonia” Mollee started at a race until I put my hand up and interrupted her

“Slow down. How long was I out?” I asked meekly. I really didn’t want to have Mollee read me the laundry list of my injuries but I figured if I could get all the information in one fell swoop then maybe we could forget about it and move on more quickly.

“The police got to you-” Mollee started but I cringed and interrupted her again

“No. Wait. Stop. I don’t want to know about all of that. Just tell me how long I’ve been at the hospital” I said quickly before images could fully form in my mind of the events that had caused my injuries. I saw a worried look pass around the room at my reaction but I couldn’t care. I was not ready to talk about all of that yet

“You got here around noon. You were out all night. It’s about four in the afternoon right now” Mollee said slowly and with a kinder tone

“And I have three broken ribs? What do you do about broken ribs?” I asked her while focusing as much as I could on Aj’s repeated strokes of my hair. I needed to stay calm and I knew I wasn’t going to get much help with that from any of the words coming out of Mollee’s mouth.

“Not much. Lying on your injured side and taking deep breaths to make sure your lung tissue isn’t damaged helps. Basically you just need to take it easy and they will heal on their own over six weeks or so” Mollee said and braced herself for the blow

“I have to be in bed for six weeks?!” I said as loudly as I could “That’s almost the whole break!”

“I know Kat but it’s the only way. And you don’t have to be in bed the whole time. We’ll start in bed and then take it easy until we find out what you can do. You also have a morphine drip here for the pain” Mollee said and I shook my head

“No more pills, drugs or alcohol for me. I’ll just suffer” I said stubbornly causing Mollee to roll her eyes. I looked to Aj for strength and he sighed

“I wish I had good news to tell you precious. I wish I could say that she is exaggerating. They said you were lucky not to have had your whole chest cavity cave in since you broke the three ribs all in a row” Aj said quietly and I pouted

“Get it all done now. What else is wrong with me?” I asked anticipating the worst

“Well you don’t have a fractured larynx” Mollee said in what I bet she thought was a comforting tone “They thought you might at first which would have been bad since it’s really rare and only a few specialists really know how to deal with it but right now it just looks like swelling and bruising on your throat that will go away with time”

“You have his handprint on your neck” Brian said harshly from the corner he was in

“Brian!” Aj scolded with his own special kind of wrath and my eyes got big

“I do? Aj, is it bad?” I asked and my voice, already so fragile, cracked

“It’s not so bad. I mean, if you know what you are looking for then it kind of looks like a hand but mainly it’s just black and blue” Aj said softly to me before sending a death glare to Brian

“She should know” Brian said unapologetically. He got up abruptly and began pacing on his side of the room.

“Well there’s just some cosmetic bruising on your face but that’s not life threatening. And then there’s your arm” Mollee said to distract from Brian’s outburst. I moved my head slowly to look at my left arm and then carefully lifted it up a little and saw a pretty elaborate cast system keeping my fingers, wrist and elbow in a locked position. I wanted to get upset. I could feel the emotion welling inside of me. My arm was completely unusable in the state it was in and would probably be for a while. But then I saw Brian pacing and Mollee and Aj both with worry lines and deep circles under their eyes. This could have been worse.

“This will give me something to decorate” I said with a small smile, hoping to bring a little comfort to everyone. I glanced around the room and the mood remained unchanged

“There are a lot of broken bones and they had to re-set a lot of things. I believe it’s almost half metal now too” Mollee said sadly

“This’ll be fun to get through airport security” I tried to joke again but I got nothing, tough crowd.

“Kat what if it’s never the same?” Mollee asked seriously “What if you can’t dance?”

“I can dance right now. Watch” I said doing a pathetic vogue pose with my one hand. I looked around at all the serious faces and sighed “Guys, I’m ok”

“No you’re not” came from the corner of the room. I looked over and saw Brian in pure anguish

“Bri” I started but he stopped abruptly and his voice took on a sharp tone that made it almost unrecognizable

“I can’t believe this happened. What is the world coming to that something like this can happen to good people?” He asked angrily

“Brian” Howie said trying to get to Brian and break his rage “Relax buddy”

“Don’t tell me to relax!” Brian yelled and before anyone could do anything he had punched the door so hard that a crack splintered from the point of impact all the way to the floor. We all looked at it and then at Brian who seemed completely shocked

“Brian get over here” I said seriously and Brian, still a little confused, walked directly over to me. I grabbed his hand and looked it over. No real harm done. Then I put my good hand on his cheek and brought his eyes to my level “I love you Bri but I need you to keep it together, ok?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what got into me” Brian said as a tear trickled from the corner of his eye and down his cheek

“It’s ok. Just stay strong. We can do it. I need you to be strong for me” I said wiping his tear away

“It’s almost like someone said something similar to us not too long ago” Aj mumbled quietly

“We almost lost you” Brian whispered to me

“But you didn’t. I’m here” I said with strength “Look at me. I’m here”

“You’re broken” He whimpered and my heart just about broke

“But I’ll heal” I said sternly and after some hesitation Brian nodded

“I’m ok” Brian said and then straightened up and squeezed my hand “I’m ok”

“Is there anything else I need to know?” I asked once Brian was seated in a chair close to me so I could keep my good hand in his

“I don’t think so” Mollee said slowly. Almost as if on cue the doctor came in

“Look at you sitting up and awake. How’s the pain?” She asked pressing lightly on my side. I managed just a quick intake of breath when she approached the middle ribs and she made a sad noise

“Fine” I lied poorly

“She refuses to use the morphine” Mollee said and I narrowed my eyes at her

“It will help” The doctor said trying to appeal to me

“I can take it” I said with determination

“Well I know that you’re strong. Going through what you went through and coming out of the other side with nothing but a few cracked bones and some bruising? I wish I was half as strong as you” She said without compassion. It was kind of nice. It wasn’t that she felt bad for me but she seemed to actually believe what she was saying. Like it was medical fact that I was built of tough stuff

“I do the best I can” I said modestly. She looked in my throat, felt around my ribs and checked that all was stable on my arm before dropping her clipboard on the table and wheeling a stool over to the side of the bed. She had to squeeze between Brian and Aj and since neither would move it made for a funny scene.

“So if you’re up for it the police are here and waiting for your testimony” She said seriously and my heart rate picked up. The worst part about that was that my heartbeat was audible through the beeping monitor in the room so everyone was very aware of how much the idea of talking to the police bothered me

“Can’t they do it another time?” I asked with a slight blush

“The sooner they get it the sooner this can all be out of your hands. This was assault and the police will prosecute but because of the nature of the crime we all want to keep him locked up and away from you. The only way to do that is to talk to them now so they can get to their paperwork” She explained and I looked away. After all that talk of strength I didn’t want to seem weak to her but I couldn’t even begin to imagine talking to someone I didn’t know about what had happened. Aj quickly picked up on my anguish

“Can we all have just a few minutes to talk this through? Surely a few minutes won’t hold up the police too much?” He pleaded for me

“I can give you five minutes but you need to do this Katrina. You really need to do this for you. Get him out of your life and out of everyone else’s” She said with finality before grabbing her clipboard and heading out the door. I let out a huge sigh and felt my ribs groan in protest. I moaned a little in response and saw everyone around me tense up. There was a moment of silence before I could come up with words

“Someone tell me what I am supposed to do. I don’t have the brain space for this” I confessed

“You have been through hell. The police can wait. I don’t care what anyone says, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to after what you’ve been through” Mollee said quickly with venom

“Well we have the over protective sister’s point of view. Who has a more rational approach to things?” I asked using a bit of humor to distract me from the doom building in the pit of my stomach

“If you get this over with now then you won’t have to think about it ever again. It will be completely done. No one will be able to haul you into court or try to change the facts. We’ll all be here as witnesses and you can put it away forever” Howie offered after some careful consideration. The doom feeling in my stomach grew as my brain reluctantly found the truth in Howie’s words

“I have to stick with Mollee on this one” Aj said with a small squeeze to my good hand “You have been exceptional. You don’t need to distract yourself with anything other than healing”

“Brian?” I asked with a glance towards the foot of my bed. He looked up at me with a pained expression that, had I been standing, would have brought me to my knees

“I have never felt such hate for anyone in my life” Brian said slowly shaking his head as if to try to clear it “And the only thing that seems to make sense to me is to try for some justice. He needs to answer for what he’s done. And if the law can’t do it, so help me, I feel like I just might”

“Brian” Howie warned but I lifted my hand to stop him

“He’s right. What if something happens and he hurts someone else? I’d never be able to live with myself. Howie, please, can you tell the police to send someone in? Let’s get this over with” I said and Howie nodded and left the room. I reached for the button for my bed and carefully inched it up so I was sitting almost completely upright. Suddenly Nick was in front of me

“You’re an Amazon, remember?” He whispered in my ear and I couldn’t stop the small smile that came to my lips. He noticed and I watched the corners of his mouth twitch upwards as well

“Stay close, everyone. Please” I said and watched as my family moved in close to me. It was like preparing for battle and I was overcome with gratitude for my wonderful friends

“Do you still want to do this?” Howie asked sticking his head in through the door. I nodded slowly and watched Howie escort a large man in a blue uniform into the room. I took in his hair color first and everyone heard my heart begin to race as I noted its similarity to Rich’s.

“Settle down precious, settle down” Aj said quietly and I took a deep breath

“Thank you so much for doing this Katrina” The police officer began as he sat on the vacant stool left by the doctor and placed his hand comfortingly on my arm. What happened next was a complete blur as much as it happened in pain staking detail. One minute I was in a hospital room surrounded by my loved ones and the next I was back in the hotel with Rich advancing on me. His touch burned on my arm as he grabbed me and threw me across the floor. I screamed and thrashed, trying to get away from him, but some force was acting against me and I couldn’t move. I screamed louder, using my last weapon, my voice, to keep Rich away from me
Chapter 29 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 29

“Leave, get out, NOW!” Mollee yelled and the officer took three quick steps away as everyone used all of their strength to keep me from moving my injured arm and ribs

“She’s going to puncture a lung” Brian said loudly over my screaming

“We have to do something!” Howie shouted above the chaos

“Brian. Sing. This is us. GO” Aj yelled and Brian, with the training that comes with having to sing a song every night in front of a live audience for months at a time, began perfectly in key and time

Got a million reasons to run and hide
I don’t blame you for being scared
About a novel long, all the pain that he’s caused you
I’m fully aware


In my world it was as if a car had driven by the window playing a familiar tune. It was enough to distract me for a second and my screaming died down but I was still staring at a rage filled Rich. Howie, seeing the improvement, jumped right in

If I could change the story’s ending to me and you
Don’t know the meaning of pretending what to do


My vision was swaying between my memory and the hospital room in front of me. My breathing was still out of control and every time my memory won out over reality, another shot of panic raced through me. The guys looked at each other and Mollee nodded vigorously to keep going as she rubbed a soothing rhythm into my shoulders

I could be the one, give you all my love
Forget what he has done to you I’m here now
Open up to me. Love will set you free
If ever you believe it please believe in me


My memory was losing the battle. Rich was fading away and as Aj took a deep breath by my head my vision suddenly became crystal clear as I met his eyes

I know everything isn’t meant to last, box up all those photographs
You’re moving on
Wish I could flip back over that hour glass and refill the better half


My breathing was slowing and Aj mouthed along with the words as Nick sang

And it’s a miracle how broken hearts can mend
Won’t you dry up all those tear drops and start again


As the guys broke into the chorus again I slowly focused on their beautiful voices and pulled myself completely out of my flashback. I blinked and took a big gulp of air, like I’d been holding my breath swimming under water, and the guys stopped singing to assess my condition

“Holy shit” I gasped and because it had been so tense in the room everyone immediately burst into laughter

“I’ve heard of the power of music to heal but that was extraordinary. I got paged to a 911 call and ended up going to a concert instead. How are we doing?” The doctor asked from the door

“Are you back?” Aj asked me still holding my gaze

“I think so. Thanks guys” I said a little breathlessly

“If I could just get in there to make sure no damage was done?” The doctor asked unable to find a way through my protective wall of people. No one moved at first, unwilling to break the amazing bond that was flowing between all of us after they had come to my rescue…again.

“Guys, I’m ok” I assured them after a moment and Howie, being the first to snap out of it, stepped cautiously aside

“Thank you” The doctor said stiffly. She checked out my ribs and arm and throat as usual and then sat in the little vacant space next to my bed “So you seem to be ok but we need to try and keep the movement down to a minimum. For the next week or so it is going to be critical that we keep you as immobile as possible to give your ribs time to heal and keep the danger of a punctured lung as far away as possible”

“I’m sorry. The officer triggered a flash back. I get them sometimes and now I have lots of fuel for it so I guess I’m more sensitive” I started but Mollee interrupted me

“You have nothing to apologize for. It was a stupid idea to get you talking about what happened so quickly” Mollee said and I shook my head

“No, that’s not the problem. I want to talk to the police” I said and immediately met with protests around the room “Guys! I can do this. I just…is there a female officer I could talk to?”

“I’m sure we could get one if it meant getting your statement sooner. I’ll go check” The doctor said quickly turning for the door. It seemed she was constantly trying to get out of the room as fast as possible. I had to smile a little. How many patients of hers have an entourage like I do?

“Kat what are you doing?” Aj asked softly with more sadness in his voice than I liked

“Healing” I said simply and was met with multiple looks of pity

“Kat, this is Officer Vega” The doctor said briskly escorting a young woman with beautiful brown doe eyes into the room

“Maria” The officer said giving me a small smile. Already I felt better as she pulled a chair to my bedside but left enough space between us so that we couldn’t have touched even if we’d wanted to “I’m sorry about my partner. This is his first case of this nature”

“It’s ok. I’m sorry if I scared him. It’s really nothing against him-” I started but was stopped by Maria shaking her head

“It was my fault. I didn’t get the message that they were sending him in and I didn’t have time to prepare him for the state you would probably be in. Let’s just get this done then. I’m putting this tape recorder here so you’ll never have to repeat this ever again. We have enough people here that should anyone question the validity of your statement you would never have to be called in personally. If you could start off saying your name, the date and reading this prepared introduction?” As she talked Maria set out a tape recorder, put in a fresh tape and handed me a piece of paper that I read quietly. Aj’s hand on my shoulder tightened in support and I gave him a grateful look as I finished and handed the paper back to Maria “Alright, let’s start with the airport. I’m told the accused approached you in line for the bathroom?”

“Well it started a bit before then. R-rich” I stumbled over his name but rebuked myself silently. I was strong enough to say the bastard’s name “had been leaving me voice messages for the past week”

“What?” Was the simultaneous reply from everyone in the room except Maria who glared at everyone for their interruption

“Please, it is essential that we get all the way through this with as little distraction as possible, both for the law and for Kat herself” Maria scolded

“I didn’t know it was him at first” I confessed to my shocked friends “But I had received weird messages for the past week that only played songs and all of them were pretty threatening. I still have the last one saved on my phone, I think. The gist of them was that I was going to pay for something I’d done and it wasn’t going to be pretty”

“And you say you had no idea who these messages were from?” Maria prompted

“Not at first, no. I just thought someone had found my number and was harassing me for my newly public relationship with Aj. Which I guess was true in the end, but I never imagined that person was Rich” I explained shyly. It really seemed like I was impossibly stupid now that I was saying it out loud. Why had I never spoken up about those messages? My frustration with myself only continued as I explained how I had gone to the bathroom alone, been knocked out from some sort of sleeping agent, and awoke in the car.

As I went through the event I actually began to feel stronger. I was talking about this and I wasn’t falling apart. In my own way, I was fighting Rich without lifting a finger. As I described my secret phone call and how Aj had received it, I was interrupted for a second time

“It wasn’t me” Aj said and received a look of death from Maria “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt but I want the record to be completely accurate and the truth is that I didn’t receive your call”

“What? Then how did you find me? I remember just pressing send so the call should have gone to the last person I spoke with” I reasoned

“That wasn’t me” Aj said with a bit of emotion crossing his face that I couldn’t identify “It was Josh”

“What!?” Now it was my turn to be completely surprised

“Josh was the one who got your call sweetheart. He must have been the last person you called. He called the police who put the tracker on your phone before Rich destroyed it. He was the one who called all of us who were frantically searching the airport for you after discovering you weren’t in the bathroom after twenty minutes” Mollee explained brushing some hair off of my forehead

“If it weren’t for him we may not have gotten to you in time” Aj said gruffly and I immediately realized what emotion I had seen from him. It was regret. Regret and guilt.

“Where is he?” I asked with tears in my eyes “Where’s Josh now?”

“The lobby” Nick said simply

“What? Why isn’t he in here?” I asked incredulously as Maria, no longer in control, seemed to shrink away from the bed

“There weren’t a lot of friendly vibes around here for him” Howie explained with a sideways look at Aj. I looked at him too and he gave me a pleading glance

“Once I finish up here will you get him for me Howie?” I asked quickly. I was annoyed that my hero had been exiled to the lobby by my jealous boyfriend but I couldn’t bring myself to really be angry about it

“Kat I appreciate what he did for you, for all of us, and how he was able to save you when we couldn’t but he still loves you and I couldn’t handle him in here looking at you like that, like he was going to lose the love of his life” Aj rambled but I met his eyes and quieted him with a look

“Alexander” I said tenderly “No one here is asking you to defend your actions when you were in such pain, especially not me. I just want to be able to thank him in person. Do you think you can handle that?”

“I just… I didn’t know why you chose to call him over me. I thought that maybe when you were faced with life or death that you had realized who you really loved… that you chose him over me” Aj said quietly

“It was nothing like that-” I started

“I know that now. I do. I understand. I’m sorry I was a jerk to him. I’ll apologize when he gets here too. He saved my life too you know. If you hadn’t pulled through, it would have been the end of me” Aj choked out behind tears

“Hush my love its ok, I’m not angry. And I am ok. I’m going to be just fine” I assured him wiping away his tears with my good hand

“If we could just finish up here…” Maria said tentatively after a few minutes of silence

“This is what it’s always like with the two of them. You can’t get a word in edgewise once they start talking about how much they love each other” Nick joked breaking the tension

“Ok jerk” I said with a laugh. Slowly, this time without interruption, I managed to relive the whole ordeal for Maria. She offered to fill in details I didn’t know, like what exactly happened after I blacked out that final time but I declined. I was here, I was safe, and that asshole was in custody. That’s all that mattered to me.

“Katrina, thank you so much for your time today. I promise that by being so strong now you will likely not have to deal with this personally in the future. I’ll leave you to your friends, you seem to be in very good hands” She said with a small smile for the five people in the room that seemed to be much worse off now that they had heard the full story with details. Maria left the room and the silence lingered for a moment until Howie broke it

“I’m going to find Josh for you” he said quietly backing out of the door. His composure seemed a little less intact than was usual and I suspected what he really needed was a moment to himself. Brian was mumbling a bit under his breath and it took me a moment to realize he was praying. Mollee was holding onto Nick and Nick was holding onto Mollee with equal force. They seemed to be literally holding each other up.

“Aj?” I asked quietly. He hadn’t moved since I stopped talking and he seemed to be frozen in some state of extreme discomfort “Aj, it is over. It’s done. Look at me”

“I…” he attempted but nothing followed. His eyes met mine and I reached up my good hand to caress his cheek. He leaned into it and then broke down “I’m so sorry”

“Stop, there was nothing you could have done. It’s over. It’s all over now” I repeated stroking Aj’s hair as he cried into my shoulder. Aj’s sobbing seemed to snap everyone else out of their dazes and soon everyone was there around Aj and I, hugging and crying.

“It’s going to be ok” Aj said after a few minutes when he had cried himself out “I just needed to get it out”

“I know my love. I know” I said kissing his hand. The door opened and everyone jumped

“Sorry, it’s me, I have Josh” Howie said quietly before stepping aside and letting in that wonderfully floppy head of brown hair.

“Hey stranger” I said holding out my good hand to him “Or I guess I should say hero”

“None of that” Josh said with a half smile as he took in my injuries and then sent a worried glance to where Aj was standing

“Josh” Aj started taking a deep breath “I was a complete douche”

“Sure were” Josh said simply and everyone, being so tense to begin with, started to laugh. Soon we were all laughing, laughing so hard we were crying, tears of happiness mixing with the tears of anguish on our faces.

“Seriously, I’m sorry for how I acted. Thank you so much for what you did for Kat. You saved her and for that we will be forever grateful” Aj said once we had all calmed down a bit. He held out his hand to Josh who took it and then pulled him into a hug

“Alright, my turn” I said urging Josh towards me so I could hug him too. When he was close I tilted my head to his ear and whispered to him “You saved my life. You are incredible”

“I just answered the phone” He said softly but I could tell something had eased his anxiety a bit “I’m just glad you’re awake and ok”

“I am both of those things. Ok. Time to get down to business” I said once Josh had stood up. I kept a hold of his hand though, not willing to let my hero leave me just yet

“My sister, ever the task master” Mollee joked and I narrowed my eyes at her

“I don’t know how you all managed to get back to the west coast” I started indicating Josh, Brian and Howie “But it’s time for you to go home”

“I can stay” Howie started “Leigh understands”

“Me too. My Leigh too” Brian jumped in

“Your wives and children have been without you for weeks. You’ve been across the world and on top of everything they will want you close when you update them on what happened with me. Tragedy does that to people so not a word from any of you. Get over here and give me a hug and then out you go. Get a flight and get some sleep” I said with authority

“I love you” Howie said being the first to follow orders and give me as a big of a hug as he could with my ribs “I am bringing James and Leigh to LA as soon as I can to check on you. And I’m calling you when I land. Be good and listen to the doctors”

“You are a jerk for making me leave” Brian started “But I really do want to take Leighanne and Bailey and hold them tight”

“That is precisely what you should do then” I said giving him a big hug before turning to Josh “As for you, you have done enough for me. You need to go home. Make sure Tampa is the same”

“Do I have to?” He asked quietly

“Yes” I answered strongly and he let out a small laugh that didn’t reach his eyes. His eyes shifted to the floor so I pulled him close to me “Are you going to be ok?”

“Yeah, I just… the last thing I heard was you scream. I’ve never heard anything like that in my life” He whispered shaking his head

“Oh Josh” I said as a swell of pity rose like a wave in my chest. My hero had not been given a medal for his actions. Instead he now had something terrible he would never be able to let go. I wrapped my good arm around him and he hugged me carefully, letting small sobs escape into my shoulder

“Josh” Mollee said with her maternal instinct on high as she came forward and eased her way into our hug “You are going to be ok. We are all going to be ok”

“I’m sorry. I just never want to hear anyone in that much pain. Especially not someone I love” He said straightening up and wiping his eyes. I felt Aj bristle a little next to me at the declaration of love but he shook himself and came forward, placing his hand on Josh’s back

“I’m so glad you got that call. Kat is so lucky to have someone in her life that cares about her so much and can keep his head in a stressful situation. We are all so lucky to have you as a friend” Aj said and I watched as a smile spread across Josh’s face. It bounced from his lips to mine as my heart warmed watching two men I loved showing respect for one another. Pride rolled through me as I watched Aj let his jealousy go in favor of friendship.

“I’m going to be ok Josh. But you should go. Go home and hug your parents and friends. Aj and Mollee and I will make sure you stay updated on everything” I said squeezing Josh’s hand tightly

“Yeah, I guess I should get home. It will feel good to hug my mom” Josh admitted

“Good. Watch out for each other you three. We’ll keep you updated on things here” I said as the three of them slowly walked to the door with many backwards glances. When the door shut I turned my attention to Nick and Mollee.

“I think we’re in trouble” Nick mumbled with a smirk

“You” I started pointing to Nick “Need to take her to your place and get her to sleep”

“If you think for one second that I’m going to leave you here alone” Mollee started

“You see, it won’t be an easy job” I said to Nick who laughed and took her by the hand

“She won’t be alone. She’ll be with Aj. Give them some time” Nick attempted

“She is my sister. I almost lost her” She said with new tears streaming down her cheeks. Nick looked helplessly at me

“Mollee come here” I said pulling her to my side and looking into her eyes “I’m here. I’m ok. The thing that will make me feel the best is knowing that you’ve had a chance to sleep. And eat. And shower”

“I don’t want to leave you” She said tearfully

“I know, but you smell” I joked and she let out a little laugh “It’ll only be for a few hours. Just take a second and refuel yourself. I promise as soon as you wake up and you’ve been fed and bathed Nick will happily bring you back. I’ll be here. I’m hooked up to machines. I literally cannot leave”

“Will you text me if the doctors say anything?” Mollee asked Aj

“Of course, we’re a team in this” Aj assured her. Mollee took a deep breath and then let go of my shoulder that she had been holding onto for dear life

“I love you” She said quietly as Nick steered her towards the door

“I love you more. You too Nick” I said and Nick nodded before getting Mollee out and shutting the door. A moment of silence graced the room and I turned to Aj

“Good luck trying to get me to leave” He said with a small smile

“Good luck trying to get out of here without me. I need you here. I’m trying to figure out how to get you in this bed with me so we can both get some rest” I said grabbing his hand and squeezing

“I think we can figure something out” Aj said through a yawn. After some careful shifting he managed to squeeze next to me and drape his arm lightly across my chest where it wouldn’t harm my arm cast or my ribs. I looked at him, suddenly aware that we were finally alone, and moved in close so that my nose was touching his as I gazed into his eyes

“Are you going to be ok?” I whispered

“I will if you will” He whispered back

“Good” I said confidently and with that we both drifted to sleep.
Chapter 30 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 30

The doctors managed to keep me in the hospital under observation for four more days before I threatened to break out. Every day I got calls from Howie, Josh and Brian checking in while Mollee, Aj and Nick rotated shifts to give each other time to sleep or walk around since no one wanted to leave me alone. I couldn’t say that I was upset by that as the flashbacks and nightmares made their presence known any time I would try to sleep or if a male doctor or nurse got too close.

It was embarrassing and I tried to make sure that no one was offended but anyone with a y chromosome that was outside of my close friends seemed to morph into Rich when they approached me. The orderly had Rich’s eyes while the hand specialist walked like him. I talked with the hospital psychiatrist about it all but she seemed to think that these things wouldn’t change until I had put the incident behind me and that I should allow myself some time for that to happen. Aj tried to keep me positive about the whole thing, saying we had kicked my old panic attacks together and we would tackle these too when the time was right.

Overall I was so excited when the bright blue wheelchair Aj and Mollee had purchased for me arrived at my room with huge balloons and streamers all over it. I had changed into an actual outfit from my wardrobe and was more than ready to get the heck out of the hospital.

“Alright Katrina, all your papers are in order. Now you are due back here every week until I say otherwise to check on the status of all your injuries. At some point we’ll start physical therapy but until then it’s bed rest and the wheelchair only. Do you hear me?” My main doctor, Dr. Lisa, said

“I hear you. You act like I’m a delinquent patient” I said with a knowing smirk. There was no secret that I was dying to get up and moving again. This independent lady was none too happy about having everything done for her.

“Just get better” Dr. Lisa said patting me on the shoulder. She turned to give some paperwork and medication to Mollee while I turned to Aj

“Can we go? Please?” I begged. The sunshine was calling me and one minute more in this room was likely to make my head explode

“I think we’ve got everything. Ok. Roll over here” Aj said with a smile at my eagerness before carefully picking me up and moving me to the wheelchair. I settled in and gave a big smile to him.

“Forward!” I shouted like an empress causing Mollee and Nick, who were bringing up the rear with my belongings and paperwork, to laugh. We raced out of the hospital and Aj moved me carefully into the passenger seat of his car. Over all my ribs felt less sore every day but just this amount of movement had them throbbing.

“Are you ok?” Mollee whispered in my ear from her seat behind me, noticing my discomfort

“I’ll be fine. It’s just the most movement I’ve had in a few days and my body is getting used to it” I explained. Mollee pulled out one of my medications and shook it

“These babies will make it better” She attempted but I shook my head. I’d made it this far without pain medication so I could certainly do the whole thing this way. We were in high spirits as we drove through downtown LA and then up into the hills where Aj lived. We passed through three security checkpoints before finally approaching a huge wrought iron gate. It couldn’t have been less than twenty feet tall and when Aj rolled down his window to punch in the door code it squeaked and whined as its full weight was forced to swing open

“Welcome home” Aj said happily as he eased the car forward up the driveway. The driveway wound up a large hill and it took a good minute before I could see the silhouette of a house at the very top. I opened my window and stuck my head out as far as my ribs would let me to take a deep breath of fresh California air. I breathed in the trees and flowers and hint of sea salt before opening my eyes to get a good view of the house we were fast approaching.

What I saw was nothing short of a palace. The place managed to feel both medieval and very California at the same time with towering walls of orange stucco dotted with long windows topped with red clay shingles. Mollee helped me down into the wheelchair once we had parked and we just sat there for a moment taking in the entrance which towered above us with a set of winding stairs leading to a tall, ornately decorated iron door.

“How many of our New York apartments could we fit in there?” I whispered to her

“How many of our full New Hampshire house could we fit? I bet at least three” She whispered back

“It’s even more impressive on the inside” Aj joked with a satisfied smile. You could tell he was very excited to have had his house make such a strong impression. Mollee turned back to the car to get her purse and Nick took control of the wheelchair

“These are all new ramps just for you!” Nick said rolling me up a ramp that sat directly in between the two staircases

“When did you have that done?” I asked putting my hand out and resting it on Aj’s thigh which was about the only thing I could reach from the chair

“One of my guys took care of it over the last few days. Wait until you see how you get to go up the main staircase” He said pecking me on the cheek before opening the door. Nick wheeled me in and I was immediately greeted by a huge entryway that stretched up two floors. An elaborately welded medieval chandelier hung down in front of the double staircase that lead to the second floor and it burned with actual flickering candles. “Want the full tour?”

“Yes please!” I said with a grin. Aj could have brought me to a shack in the middle of the desert and I would have been pleased by virtue of it not being the hospital room. The fact that he was welcoming me to the biggest house I’d ever seen was enough to make me forget my considerable problems at the moment. And that’s saying something.

“Alright come on through here to the dining room” Aj started. A large table that could have easily sat twenty was the focal point of the room, carefully engraved with skulls of all sorts and surrounded by tall backed matching chairs of dark wood. More chandeliers hung over the table that Aj brushed aside as something he “didn’t use much”

“Not with your microwave pizza addiction” I joked as he wheeled me through to the next room. We toured the kitchen which was huge and had a large island bar in the middle and then around to the living room which was filled with more couches than made any sense.

“Aj, why on Earth do you need a room filled with couches?” Mollee asked with a laugh

“It’s my collection. You can’t knock it until you’ve had the pleasure of choosing a different couch to play Xbox on for two entire weeks” He said defensively as Mollee and I rolled our eyes at each other. We moved on to the back patio which opened out to a huge backyard surrounded by trees with a pool in the middle. Of course this was no ordinary pool. This pool was made to resemble a pond and within it were hidden intricate carvings of mermaids and beautiful fountains with multiple levels dribbling gently into the main body of water.

“What are the doctor’s orders on swimming?” I asked admiring the pool

“I’m not sure, we’ll have to check” Mollee said as she took charge and led me back to the main staircase.

“Are you ready for something so super exciting?” Aj asked giddily. Overall he was the happiest I’d seen him since everything had happened

“Definitely!” I said with a grin, catching his contagious enthusiasm. Aj wheeled me backwards towards the stairway and when I got close enough I heard a click

“Hold on tight and push this button” Aj said wrapping a remote around to me from its spot hidden in the wall. Slowly my chair began to move on a track up the stairs and my smile grew

“It’s like a theme park every day!” I squealed and Aj laughed while Nick raised his eyebrow “Oh stop, you’re just jealous”

“Ok, a little” He admitted before bounding up the stairs after me. When we got to the second floor it was time for a tour of the entertainment center with its movie theater seating and large projection screen as well as a reflection and hookah room filled with purple, red and yellow pillows around an ornate marble table that held a very impressive hookah. Then it was off to see a slew of guest rooms before we pulled up short in front of one room in particular.

“Are you ready for another surprise?” Aj asked and I nodded. He opened up a door on the long hallway and I gasped

“Mollee, why is all of your stuff here!?” The room was a dark purple and it already had pieces of flair from my sister in every corner. A picture board of us and our parents which never left her side was propped in a far corner and the walk in closet was overflowing with her clothes

“I figured Aj could use some help for a few days and he offered me a room that could be mine while I was here” Mollee said happily “That is, if you want me”

“You are the best” I said giving her a big hug. I caught Aj’s eye over her shoulder and mouthed “thank you”

“Come see my room” He said with an accompanying nod as an answer before pushing me down the hall a little farther. He swung open another door and I was met with a room that screamed Aj. You could tell it was his pride and joy in its decoration and it made me feel at home just to look at it. High ceilings topped black walls with all manner of silver, bronze and gold pieces mounted to them. Actual tiny torches burned in ornate holders to throw shadows over the dark wooden floor covered in the center of the room by a white shag rug. A monstrous bed with a huge carved wooden foot and headboard dominated the space and was dressed with black sheets with white and red accents in the pillows and blankets.

“Aj this is incredible” I said wheeling myself in

“You haven’t even seen the best part” He said quietly, taking control of my chair and wheeling me towards the curtains at the far end of the room. With a dramatic gesture he threw open the curtains to reveal that the entire wall was actually a window facing the beach. Sun poured in over the white sand and crashing waves and I closed my eyes to feel it on my skin

“Damn” Nick commented “I’ve never seen this before”

“It’s fairly new” Aj said sheepishly “I thought Kat might like it”

“You had this done this past week?” I asked incredulously

“Of course not, I had it done back when we first started touring. You were all about the beach calming you and I figured that if I ever brought you back here that you’d like a view of it” Aj answered acting like it was no big deal

“Alexander James” I teased “You planned to live with me only weeks after we had met?”

“Ok, that’s enough. I want to show you your room” Aj said taking advantage of my inability to move myself to wheel me away from the large display of affection which was one entire wall of his bedroom

“Why not just share this one?” Mollee asked following behind

“Aj thinks I’ll need somewhere to call my own” I explained with an eye roll

“So my room is the only one with the view to the beach” Aj interrupted outside the door next to his “but this room has the next best thing, a view of the mountains. I know they are nothing to New Hampshire but I thought it might remind you of home”

“That’s so sweet Aj” I said putting my hand on his and giving it a small squeeze. Aj opened up the door and what I saw took my breath away. A large room with light hardwood floors and bright green walls met my eyes. Everything in it was forest themed. The bed was made with green sheets covered by a fluffy brown comforter with a leopard print blanket folded at the end of the bed to match the animal print pillows. The furniture included a bedside table, dresser and entertainment unit with shelves all made of some dark wood that had been left unpolished so it resembled the bark from trees. The shelves were filled with my pictures and scrap books that Mollee must have unpacked for me while I was in the hospital and a giant branch seemed to grow right out of the ceiling to extend halfway across the room.

“This is my favorite part” Mollee said shutting off the lights and hitting a small switch next to the bed. Tiny white lights came to life on the branch as if tiny stars had been caught where leaves had once been.

“Aj” I said at a loss for words

“And this is your view” he said wheeling me to a large picture window with a window seat. He drew back the sheer brown curtains and showed me the rolling hills of LA and the surrounding area. Green played against the bright blue sky until in the distance it gave way to the burnt orange of the desert

“This is breathtaking” I said quietly. A tear rolled down my cheek and I wiped it away quickly, but not fast enough to escape my sister

“Are you ok?” She asked quickly kneeling in front of me

“It’s just so nice. I’m going to be so at home here” I said and her worried look gave way to a smile. After touring my walk-in closet and large bathroom with heated stone floors and an organically flowing glass shower and tub I settled into my chair and tried to hide a big yawn

“Tired?” Mollee asked and I nodded

“I can last though, is there anything else I should see?” I asked with a small smile. Aj glanced at Mollee who shook her head and then looked at Nick who shrugged “Ok, what am I missing”

“There is one other thing I had installed here. It was before everything happened though” Aj said tentatively as Mollee fumed

“You can see it once we know you’re all settled up here” She said sternly pointing to my head “No need to over excite you on your first day out of the hospital”

“I can handle it” I said pulling away from her condescending touch and tone

“You had to bring it up” Mollee said angrily to Aj

“I think she can handle it too. It’s for her she should know that it’s there. When she’s ready” Aj said defensively

“Ok, she is sitting right here” I said with annoyance as I tried to discreetly stretch out my now aching side. Sitting up in the chair was a lot harder on my ribs than lying down. Not that I’d ever let any of them know that. “Come on. Bring me where I’m not supposed to go”

“Someday you’ll listen to me” Mollee mumbled as she took hold of my chair and wheeled me out of my room. Aj rolled his eyes and followed as she clipped me back into the stairs and then led me carefully down a second ramp to a basement level. It was clear work had been done here as the hallway was unfinished and the door I was presented with was thoroughly unremarkable

“This is for you” Aj said reaching forward to open the door and turn on the lights. Slowly the room came to light before my eyes and I gasped. A huge space with floor to ceiling mirrors on one side and a bar on the other presented itself. The smell of brand new Marley met my nose with a nostalgic twinge and I couldn’t stop myself from slipping off my sandal so I could feel it beneath my feet. Aj had made me a dance studio. My very own dance studio

“Help me” I said quietly holding out my arms once I had moved my feet from their place on the foot rest of my chair to the floor

“Kat, what are you doing?” Mollee asked quickly

“I’m not going to dance I just want to walk in the room. I can’t wheel the chair in because it’ll mess up the floor” I explained to silent, stunned faces “You can either help me get up or I’ll do it myself”

“Ok, ok” She said with a sigh and a glare at Aj who looked like he was second guessing his own wisdom of showing me my very own dance space. They each took a side while Nick held the chair steady and I stretched slowly to my feet. Once there I shook them away so I could take some careful steps by myself to the center of the room. The walls were painted a lovely deep blue and there were all the hookups for a surround sound music system in place. It felt so perfect and so right that I didn’t think twice about turning towards the large mirror in front of me.

“Oh God” I got out once I caught my own reflection and I staggered back a few steps. Aj was there in a heartbeat to make sure I didn’t fall but that was the least of my worries. I had yet to see myself in a mirror since I had been admitted to the hospital. People had explained my injuries to me but I had not seen them for myself.

Wordlessly I brought my hand up to my head where the first of many bruises stemmed. A huge swollen egg protruded from my right temple, probably the remnants of the impact it had made with the car window that had knocked me out. What had once been black and blue was healing into a cornucopia of colors and the swelling was still so intense that it made it impossible to open my left eye all the way. The right side of my jaw was swollen as well and my lip had been split in addition to the lovely bruise that blossomed underneath the wound. That must have been from one of the times Rich had slapped me.

I ran my hands down my neck and traced the bruises and tenderness there. Brian was right, there was a very clear handprint with a deeper bruise by the heel of the hand and lighter spokes that shot off from there for the fingers reaching towards my left ear. Completely in a trance I moved to lift up my shirt and was met with a stomach that could have been a yin yang. My right side was pale, my normal skin tone, but the left side was a dark reddish black that extended angrily up my entire side and around to my back. As I attempted to turn to see my back my vision became clouded with what I realized were my own tears

“Hey. Hey precious it’s ok” Aj said taking me in his arms and sweeping me off my feet so he could rock me close to his chest. The tears came faster and faster as what happened to me finally hit home and hit hard. Sobs erupted from the tears and I buried my face into Aj’s dampening shirt

“Kat you’re ok. You’re going to be ok” Mollee’s voice crooned to me from my left and I felt her hand rubbing circles into my back. I just couldn’t shake the image of that girl staring back at me. That wasn’t someone strong. That was a victim. Rich had turned me into that. Anger and devastation poured out of me so violently that I thought it might never end. Like so many things, however, with enough time I began to regain control. Slowly the sobs turned back into tears that became fewer and fewer until I had regained some of my breath. I cleared my throat a few times before I could make myself speak

“No one told me how bad it looked” I croaked, still half choking on tears

“It’s much better than it was” Mollee said and then panic rushed over her face “I mean you’re healing. It’s good because the swelling and colors mean you’re healing”

“I’m tired” I said after a moment of silence “Thank you so much for the studio Aj. Knowing it is here is more encouragement to stay strong and fight hard to get better so I can use it”

“I’m sorry I didn’t think of the mirrors” He said sadly

“Stop. It is perfect. This would have happened sooner or later. At least it’s done with now. I know what I’m dealing with” I said quietly. Aj kissed my forehead and began to carry me toward the door, bypassing the chair all together so he could keep me close

“I wish I could take your pain. More than anything I wish I could just feel this for you” Aj said quietly as he made his way up the main stairs to the bedrooms

“I wouldn’t want that. It would be impossible watching you suffer something like this…” I trailed off, envisioning it. For a moment I saw how hard this had to be for the people around me. The people I loved, watching me suffer, helpless, while they just moved around trying not to make it worse.

“Do you want to be in my room or yours?” Aj asked tenderly once we were outside the bedroom doors

“Yours” I said softly “Mollee, Nick thank you for being here for me. Get some rest ok?”

“Are you sure you’re going to be ok sleeping right now?” Mollee asked

“I’m fine Molls. I love you. Nick, make sure she sleeps” I directed to Nick who nodded before taking Mollee’s hand so he could lead her to their room. Aj dropped me carefully on his bed and then hit a switch that closed his window wall and dimmed the firelight. He made sure I was settled first with blankets and pillows in all the right places before climbing in next to me. He cuddled in close and then propped his head up on his one hand, using the other to gently stroke my hair away from my face

“How is my girl?” He whispered into the dim light as it played across my face

“Exhausted” I answered with my eyes fluttering closed even as I longed for the strength to keep them open and study the features of the face I loved most

“So sleep. You are so strong and I am so proud of you. I will be right here to keep you safe my love. You are my world” He whispered in my ear. A small smile crossed my lips before my exhaustion won out and took me away from Aj and towards the dream world that was now occupied by Rich. Aj, however, stayed up watching my eyes flicker beneath my eyelids, ready to jump into action should a flashback begin. It was unclear how long he stayed like that, trying to interpret dreams he couldn’t see for himself when he heard a soft knock on the door. A small line of light pooled on the floor as the door creaked open and Aj raised his head a bit to see who was there

“Is she asleep?” Mollee’s voice drifted from the doorway

“Yes” Aj whispered, unwilling to move or really take his attention from his watch

“I need to talk to you, come here” Mollee said through the crack in the door

“I don’t want to leave her alone. I said I’d stay” Aj whispered back

“We’ll leave the door open so you won’t miss anything. Please. It’s important” Mollee pled. Aj sighed and quietly slipped out of bed. He turned to glance back at the figure under the covers and relaxed when he saw signs of even and calm breathing. He snuck out into the hallway but left the door cracked

“What is it?” Aj asked through a yawn before sliding down the wall and positioning himself so he could still hear and see into the room through the crack in the door

“I’m sorry I got mad about the dance studio. You were right, she deserved to see it and I think it will help her knowing it’s there” Mollee said sitting against the wall opposite him

“I don’t hold that against you. As far as I’m concerned everything you and I say or do in the next few weeks can’t be held against us. We’re under a lot of stress” Aj explained

“Good” Mollee said before taking a deep breath and slowly letting it out

“Was that all that was so important?” Aj asked with a small smile. It might be annoying but the love between these sisters made him happy. It made him wish he had siblings of his own

“No. I just… I don’t know how to start” Mollee said twirling her fingers

“Relax, it’s just me. We both love that girl sleeping in there so we’re both on the same side. What’s going on?” Aj asked, a protective love like he hadn’t really felt before swelling in his chest.

“Well, that’s just it. We both love Kat so much so we’re the only two who are really in this same position and… I just… could use a friend?” Mollee said tentatively as tears began forming at the corner of her eyes

“Come here” Aj said pulling her towards him and hugging her close “I am here for you too. I love you Mollee. You’re like a sister to me”

“I love you too Aj” Mollee said through some tears “I’m just so worried about her, you know?”

“I know. There are times that I look at her and it seems like we’ll all make it through this. It seems like the girl I love is in there ready to come out. And then there are times I look at her and see what she saw today in the mirror, someone broken. What if she’s so broken that she can never be fixed?” Aj asked releasing Mollee from the hug but staying close so he could whisper as quietly as possible. It wasn’t every day that he opened up about these kinds of feelings but already talking to Mollee was making him feel better

“I just keep comparing this to last time. She bounced back from that ok but how much can a person take? What if some things are lost that can’t be recovered?” Mollee mused

“Well last time she really only had you looking out for her, right?” Aj asked and Mollee nodded

“So what we’ve got this time is each other. We will both be here, ready for whatever comes. I mean it when I say that you can stay here for as long as you want”

“Thanks Aj. I really appreciate that. We’ll be there for each other too, ok? This way we can say the stuff we need to say that we could never say to her” Mollee explained

“You know what I just realized” Aj said after a moment of silence “It’s only three days until Christmas”

“That is crazy” Mollee said shaking her head “After we lost mom and dad Christmas became a really hard time. That’s just what Kat needs, right, more hard times?”

“Well Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. You, Nick and I will have to start new traditions this year. We’ll decorate the house and use it to take our minds off of everything and keep Kat healing” Aj said with determination. Suddenly there was a small cry from the room and Aj stood up straight and fast

“Do you need help?” Mollee asked

“I got it. Get some rest. And make some plans with Nick about Christmas. His family was always really into it, he’ll be a good help” Aj said quickly before running into the room

“Stop, no” I mumbled, stuck in a nightmare that I couldn’t escape

“It’s me precious. Come back to me. You’re safe” Aj said crawling into bed and putting a light pressure on my body so I couldn’t squirm too much and hurt my ribs

“Aj?” I called out, still half asleep

“Right here” He answered quickly “open your eyes, I’m right here”

“Make it go away” I moaned slowly adjusting my vision so I could see his face “I’m so tired, I just want to sleep”

“Take some sleeping pills my love. Please? It doesn’t make you weak to get some help from the meds” Aj insisted

“I want to stay sober with you” I said quietly looking into his eyes

“Sweetheart this is so different. This is an extenuating circumstance. Please, for me, take the sleeping pills” Aj said with so much emotion that my breath caught in my throat

“I really don’t want to see his face again” I whispered, allowing a little of the fear I felt to crawl its way out of my belly and into Aj’s ear

“So take this and you won’t have to” Aj said before kissing me lightly on the lips “Stop torturing yourself. Please. It’s killing me to watch you like this”

“Ok” I said softly, unwilling to hear more pain from Aj “Where are they?”

“I’ll be right back” Aj said hopping off the bed and sprinting to his bathroom for water and the right pills. He was back before I could register that he was gone and I swallowed the pills in one big gulp “Thank you precious. Thank you for doing this for me”

“I’d do anything for you” I said drowsily, already feeling the effects of the pills. These suckers must be strong

“Your love as far as I can see is all I’m ever gonna need” Aj's voice drifted quietly to my foggy head “There’s one thing for sure I know is true. Baby I’d do anything for you”
Chapter 31 by Ajsgirl4life
Chapter 31

I woke up completely bewildered about how much time had passed and exactly where I was. My eyes slowly adjusted to being open and I looked around for Aj. He wasn’t in bed anymore but with a little effort I managed to locate him. He had opened the window wall the slightest crack and was standing there, looking out over the beach. As my sight cleared I saw tears on his cheeks and my heart broke. How could I possibly make things better for him?

“Hey, you’re awake” Aj said snapping out of whatever reality he had been swimming in. He wiped his eyes discreetly on his sweater and I looked away, pretending not to see

“How long was I out for?” I asked through a yawn as Aj rushed over to help me sit up a little

“You slept a solid twelve hours or so. Did you have any dreams?” Aj asked sweeping my hair from my face

“No, I didn’t actually. Thank you for encouraging me to take those pills. I think my body really needed that rest” I said stretching a little and wincing as my sore ribs complained

“Thank you for taking them. I know you didn’t really want to” Aj said kissing me softly on the forehead “It’s about noon, are you hungry?”

“A little” I admitted

“I’m all over it” I heard from the door and Mollee came marching in with a platter of eggs, toast, fruit and nuts followed by Nick who was holding orange, cranberry and grape juices

“This is a lot of food” I acknowledged as Mollee set up a tray around me so I could eat

“I wasn’t sure what you wanted so I made everything I could find. You really need to go food shopping” Mollee said shooting the last bit towards Aj who shrugged

“I haven’t had the time yet” He answered. I looked at Aj who looked so sad and weary and then to Mollee who was putting on the act of her life pretending she wasn’t devastated as she nervously presented me with enough food to feed a small army.

“Hey Nick” I said taking a bite of my bread “Have you seen Mollee cry today?”

“Just now” Nick answered honestly and Mollee shot him a look

“It was nothing, I just got overwhelmed for a second but I’m fine” She exclaimed ringing her hands

“Hey Nick” I started again “Guess who else was upset this morning?”

“Aj?” Nick offered with a tiny smirk that I returned

“Why shouldn’t I be?” Aj asked defensively

“Hey now, I’m not criticizing anyone, I’m just observing. Nick, did you have any plans to cheer up my sister?” I asked and Nick sighed before sitting on the end of my bed

“I was going to take her out shopping for Christmas decorations. This house is cool and all but it’s more suited to Halloween than Christmas” Nick explained “How are you feeling by the way. You seem happier. You still look like crap though”

“Thanks, jerk” I said throwing a pillow at him which he caught with a small laugh “Your plan is good but can I suggest a counter offer?”

“Go for it” Nick said with a glance at Mollee and Aj who seemed completely at a loss

“How about you make a list and give it to Mollee, and then Aj will take her out to get everything so you can stay here with me?” I said and was met with immediate debate

“I really don’t want to leave you alone” Aj started

“I wouldn’t be alone, Nick would be here” I answered calmly

“Kat, I’m fine, I really don’t need to get Christmas decorations. We were just trying to think of something to do for the holidays but it’s more important that I be here for you to help you feel better” Mollee said in one breath while wringing her hands. Her being so nervous and, in all honesty, acting a lot like me, was raising alarms in my head. Something had to be done

“Molls what makes me feel better than to see the people I love feeling good? You and Aj have been stuck jumping at my every beck and call since everything went down almost a week ago. You deserve a break, even if it’s just a break from looking at all this” I said motioning to my face

“It’s not that bad” Mollee scolded

“Nick?” I asked simply

“It’s kind of like a Monet. If he had been really drunk and only allowed to use crayons” Nick joked and Mollee shot him a death stare “What, it’s true!”

“She doesn’t need to hear jokes like that” Mollee defended

“On the contrary, that’s exactly what I need to hear. I need to get back to my life and if that means sarcasm from one Nick Carter then I will happily listen to his shit all day. And in fact that is the plan” I said chewing on a piece of toast

“What if something happens and you get hurt?” Aj asked quickly, looking to poke holes in a plan that was fast becoming something I would stubbornly insist upon

“Nick, can you dial 911?” I asked pointedly

“I think so” He joked

“What if you need medicine?” Mollee asked desperately

“Nick, can you locate medication?” I asked again, enjoying the joke more than I had enjoyed most things in the past five days

“Found some!” Nick said picking up the sleeping pills on Aj’s night stand. Aj and Mollee exchanged helpless looks and I dropped the attitude for a moment to reason with them

“Guys, we all need some time to just breathe. I love you both and the thing that would make me most happy is to kn