Lasting Impressions by Kyrie
Summary:

This is the sequel to "First Impressions." It's been a year and a half since Kat and AJ have seen each other. Can life bring them back together or is there just too much water under their bridge?


Categories: Fanfiction > Backstreet Boys Characters: AJ, Group
Genres: Drama, Romance
Warnings: Death
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 59 Completed: Yes Word count: 48614 Read: 62458 Published: 06/13/13 Updated: 09/24/13

1. The Birthday by Kyrie

2. The Exit by Kyrie

3. Help by Kyrie

4. The Call by Kyrie

5. Too Late? by Kyrie

6. Look Who's Back by Kyrie

7. The Truth by Kyrie

8. Starting Over by Kyrie

9. Double Take by Kyrie

10. Surprise! by Kyrie

11. Daddy by Kyrie

12. Whatever It Takes by Kyrie

13. Bedtime by Kyrie

14. Playtime by Kyrie

15. Family Time by Kyrie

16. Another Birthday by Kyrie

17. The Hard Truth by Kyrie

18. A Mother's Advice by Kyrie

19. I'm Not Here by Kyrie

20. A Plan by Kyrie

21. Nowhere to Hide by Kyrie

22. Brian's Advice by Kyrie

23. Baby Steps by Kyrie

24. The Appointment by Kyrie

25. Popping the Question by Kyrie

26. The Compromise by Kyrie

27. Good Morning by Kyrie

28. The Talk by Kyrie

29. Finally? by Kyrie

30. Decision Time by Kyrie

31. A Mother's Sins by Kyrie

32. Blended Family by Kyrie

33. A New Normal by Kyrie

34. Packing by Kyrie

35. Overprotective by Kyrie

36. Brotherly Advice by Kyrie

37. Honesty by Kyrie

38. Too Many Toys? by Kyrie

39. Fear by Kyrie

40. She Likes It, She Likes It Not? by Kyrie

41. Family Trip by Kyrie

42. The Set Up by Kyrie

43. Three, Two, One! by Kyrie

44. The Big Reveal by Kyrie

45. Christmas Gifts by Kyrie

46. Who Is That? by Kyrie

47. Surprise Visitors by Kyrie

48. Christmas Eve by Kyrie

49. Santa's Surprise by Kyrie

50. Second Chances by Kyrie

51. Alone TIme by Kyrie

52. New Year's Eve by Kyrie

53. The Painful Truth by Kyrie

54. The Options by Kyrie

55. The Hardest Decision Ever by Kyrie

56. Grief by Kyrie

57. Don't Lie by Kyrie

58. Sleeping Beauty by Kyrie

59. The Rest Of Our Lives by Kyrie

The Birthday by Kyrie
Author's Notes:

Thank you to everyone who reviewed "First Impressions". I promise to answer all your questions and hope you guys keep reading, and enjoying, this one!

“C’mon buddy, you’ve gotta stop fidgeting.” AJ said, pleading with his son as he tried to change his diaper. “Everybody’s downstairs waiting to celebrate with you.”

His son stared up at him with a grin and continued to wiggle around.

 “I guess you’re going to be like your dad, fashionably late.”

 He smiled down at Ryan who kept yelling “dada, dada”. He loved his son so much and wouldn’t trade the time he got to spend with him but dealing with Michelle was tough. Watching his son play with the chain around his neck, his heart ached a little. He had pictured having these moments with Kat but she had decided to leave instead of trying to work it out. It was a struggle to deal with that on a daily basis and the only thing that got him through it was Ryan.

 ----------------

 “Isn’t that like the 15th drink she’s had tonight?” Leighanne whispered to Kristen.

 Both women watched as Michelle staggered around playing with her phone and ignoring everyone around her. The only time she had taken an interest in anyone was when Nick showed up. She crawled all over him before Howie was able to save him and get him outside.

 “I think it’s more like the 20th!” Leigh said joining the two women. “I cannot stand her. I don’t even like being in the same room as that woman!”

 No one in that house liked Michelle any more than Leigh did. The guys were uncomfortable around her, she rubbed the women the wrong way and they all hated watching AJ walk around on eggshells trying to please her.

 “I know AJ loves Ryan but what the hell made him decide to take them as a package deal?” Nick interjected, creeping back in behind the couch. “I feel like I have to be a freaking ninja around here!”

 Leighanne laughed. “I feel for you honey. If only you weren’t so tall.”

 “It’s not about me being tall; it’s about her being fucking crazy!”

 “Where is AJ?” Brian whispered quietly as he, Howie and Kevin joined everyone else. The only person missing was Denise and she should be there at any moment.

 “He’s trying to get Ryan cleaned up. Apparently, Michelle, being the mother of the year, left him by himself in the living room with a sippy cup full of juice. She hadn’t bothered to notice that the cover wasn’t on and it went all over Ryan and the sofa. AJ found him sitting in the juice when he got home.”

 “It’s fucking sad when you can’t leave a baby with his mother!” Nick said. “AJ doesn’t just have one baby, he has two!”

 “At least we love the little one!” Denise added. She overhead the conversation as she was coming in. “Does she even know that we’re all here?”

 “She knows that Nick is.” Kristen replied. “Other than that, I don’t think she gives a damn. She hasn’t put her phone or drink down once tonight. We’re taking bets on how many she’s had already. Care to make a wager?”

 Denise just shook her head. She was thrilled to have a grandson and to see her son happy about being a father but she was not crazy about Michelle. Respecting that she was her grandson’s mother often meant that Denise had to bite her tongue.

 “Finally.” Howie said with a sigh of relief as he watched AJ come down the stairs. “Now we can get this party moving along.”

 “I’m telling you Howie, no matter how much you love J, if she’s starts, I’m leaving.” Leigh made her point crystal clear and everyone could understand how she felt.

 “Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that she can behave for a little while.” Brian added.

 “Bri, you know I love you right?” Nick asked and Brian shook his head. “But all this looking for the good in people is wasted on her. There is nothing good in or about her.”

 “Hi everybody.” AJ said making his rounds to say hello. Ryan bounced along on his dad’s hip shouting “HI!HI!HI!HI!HI!”

 Denise was reaching for her grandson when she heard Michelle yell. “Make him be quiet! He’s too loud! I can’t hear!”

 “He’s a baby Michelle. They’re loud.” Leighanne hissed.

 “Nobody asked you blondie!” Michelle shouted sticking her finger in Leighanne’s face. “I’m his mother, I decide if he’s too loud.”

 As composed as Leighanne could be, Kristen had to grab her arm before she hauled off and decked Michelle.

 “You don’t have to be rude Michelle.” AJ said. “Let’s just try to get along for one freaking day for Ryan’s sake.”

 “Oh my god!” Michelle screamed. “It’s always about him! Ryan this, ryan that!” She walked outside still screaming about the baby.

 After seeing tears form in her grandson’s eyes, Denise took him back upstairs and was going to put him down for bed.

 “I fucking hate her AJ!” Kristen yelled. “I don’t know what fucking rock she crawled out from underneath but none of us can deal with her anymore!”

 “Calm down Kristen.” Kevin said quietly, trying to settle everyone down.

 “I’m not going to calm down! She’s a bitch!”

Howie was about to say something when Michelle came storming back in.

 “I’m leaving!” she yelled, stumbling around waving her phone. “Get Ryan up. We’re leaving.”

 “You can’t leave Michelle, you can barely stand.” AJ said trying to reason with her.

 “Yeah well Claudia will be here in a minute and she’ll take us. Go get Ryan!”

 “No. You can do whatever the hell you want but you’re not going anywhere with my son.”

 Michelle turned to face him with an evil look on her face. “He’s not yours!”

 

The Exit by Kyrie

“Excuse me?” AJ asked, not sure if he had heard her correctly.

 “You heard me, I didn’t stutter.”

 “You bitch!” Leigh yelled.

 Michelle turned to face her. “I feel the same way about you.” Turning back to AJ, she poked her finger into his chest.

 “I hate you, I hate your fucking friends and my son is not yours.” She started laughing insanely. “In fact, I don’t know who the hell the father is!”

 “But we slept together! He’s mine!” AJ insisted.

 “No we didn’t you idiot! You passed out two minutes after I put you on the couch. I just hung around until Nicky here showed up so I could make my point. The truth is I wouldn’t have even wasted any more time on you if it wasn’t for that kid.”

 Everyone was stunned. They knew Michelle was a complete loser but no one thought that she would sink that low.

 The doorbell rang breaking the silence.

 “And now I won’t have to waste one more second.” Michelle said, staggering to the door. “Pack my son up now!”

 AJ stood rooted in his spot on the floor. His heart was breaking into a million pieces and he couldn’t even move. This little boy that he had loved for more than a year wasn’t his. It was like some cruel joke was being played on him and he could only hope Michelle was coming back down the hall to tell him that she was just playing some sick joke.

 “Get my son now!” Michelle yelled, coming back down. Claudia was following behind her and not looking up to meet any of their faces.

 “Please don’t do this Michelle.” Denise pleaded as she came downstairs. She had heard the whole conversation from Ryan’s room. “Please don’t take Ryan.”

 Michelle turned to face her. “Ya know what? I’m not gonna miss you either. Saint Denise who thinks she’s such a good parent. I can’t stand being around you. Go get my son!”

 “Let him stay Michelle.” Howie implored, trying to reason with her. “Why don’t you go with Claudia and come back tomorrow? We can figure this out then.”

 “No fucking way! He’s my kid and he’s coming with me!”

 Michelle dragged Claudia passed Denise and upstairs. They came back down a few minutes later with a bag and the baby.

 “Please don’t do this Michelle. I’m begging you. Whatever you want, I’ll do it.” AJ said practically down on his knees. At that moment, he would go to hell and back and promise whatever he needed to in order to keep his son.

 “No. Get out of my way.”

 “No, he’s my son and I’m not letting you leave.” AJ yelled starting to get angry.

 “Yes, I am and you can’t do anything about it. He’s not your son and if you don’t get out of my way, I’ll call the cops.”

 “You’re drunk off your ass!” Nick yelled. “You think they’re going to let you leave with a kid?”

 “Claudia is leaving with us and she’s perfectly sober.” Michelle replied. She put her finger to her mouth and tapped her nail against her lip. “In fact, that cute one that works this neighborhood could actually be one of the candidates for dad!”

 Everyone in the room was ready to kill Michelle. She was pure evil. Anyone who could put someone through this amount of pain and then take pleasure from it was just sick.

 “So call the cops AJ. Your name’s not even on the birth certificate. How’re you going to prove that Ryan’s yours?”

 AJ stood there still not comprehending what was going on. He wanted to refuse to let her leave but what was he going to do when she called the police. Claudia was the one leaving with Ryan and he didn’t have a leg to stand on if Michelle told them he wasn’t the father.

 “Let’s go.” Michelle said pulling Claudia towards the door.

 AJ wanted to reach out and grab her but she pulled out her phone and started dialing 911. “Don’t even think about it AJ!”

 They all watched as Michelle and Claudia left with Ryan. No one knew what to do. They started arguing about whether or not to call the police themselves or to have someone follow them back to Claudia’s. Nick finally turned to AJ to ask him what he wanted when he noticed that AJ was no longer there.

“Where the hell did he go?” Howie asked. A door suddenly slamming from downstairs answered his question.

Help by Kyrie

Kat woke up early that morning and went downstairs to make a pot of coffee. She was getting settled into Brenda’s house again after moving back to Boston four months ago. Being away from everyone’s support was tough and she finally had to admit she needed help. She had just sat down with her first cup when Brenda burst into the kitchen and thumped a magazine down in front of her.

 “I was at the grocery store and I saw this. You have to read it!”

Kat turned it over and saw that it was one of those stupid celebrity gossip magazines.  “Seriously Brenda?” she groaned. “I thought you didn’t read these.”

 “I don’t but I saw a woman reading this in one of the aisles. She started yelling to her friend about it and I grabbed a copy. Turn to page 9.”

 “What happened? Did 98° break up again?” Kat said teasing her friend.

 “I’m not kidding, read it!” Brenda said sharply.

 “Ok, ok.” Kat opened the magazine to the page Brenda had marked. Her eyes got wide and she didn’t breathe for a few seconds.

 “The baby wasn’t even his!” Brenda shouted.

 Kat finished scanning the short article and thought carefully about what she read. Finally, she closed the magazine and pushed it back towards Brenda.

 “This probably isn’t even true. They probably had a fight or something and the press is making a big deal about it.”

 “But what if it is?”

 “What do you mean but? There is no but. It really doesn’t matter if it’s true or not.”

 “Yes it does matter! You should call him.”

 “Are you out of your freaking mind?” Kat yelled. “What the hell would I say? “I’m sorry for breaking your heart AJ and that your heart is getting ripped out again. Maybe I can help. Can we be friends?”

 “I don’t know what to say Kat but say something!”

 Kat stood up, pushing her chair backwards. “You’re my best friend but you’ve lost your mind. I am not going to call him and bring him more pain. I made my choice, I walked away and I have to live with that every day. I’m not going to hurt him anymore!”

 Kat stormed out of the kitchen and up the stairs to the guest room.

-------------------

 It was Howie’s turn to check on AJ and when he arrived that morning, he found his best friend lying face down on the couch and saw all the beer bottles lying around. The guys were at their wit’s end. None of them could fathom the pain he was in right now but he was throwing his sobriety out the window and they all remembered what it was like the last time he did it.

 “Get up AJ.” Howie said shaking his friend. “Time to get up.”

 “Leave me alone!” AJ mumbled, his face buried in the cushions.

 “Can’t do that man; you need to get up.”

 “I don’t need to do shit.”

 “Yes you do. Now get up!” Howie said losing his patience with his brother. This had been going on for a couple of days now and it was getting more and more difficult as time passed.

 AJ finally turned over and glared at his friend. His eyes were bloodshot and he reeked of booze.

 “See, I’m still alive. You did your good deed for the day. Get lost!”

 He tried to turn back over but Howie grabbed his arm.

 “We’re not doing this again J. None of us can stand seeing you like this. We want to help…”

 “Help?” AJ yelled sitting up. “How the fuck are you going to help? I have no one, not one single person who understands me!”

 “We all understand…”

 “Don’t you dare fucking say it! None of you understand how I feel. You all have someone to share your life with and you, Brian and Kevin have your perfect children! I have no one!”

 “That’s it!” Howie said, slamming his fist against the couch. “We want to help you but you’re treating us like shit. We didn’t do this to you and we want to help.”

 “Well I don’t want your help. Consider yourself off the hook!” AJ slumped back onto the sofa and covered his eyes with his hands. “Close the door on your way out!”

  

 

The Call by Kyrie

Kevin called a family meeting at his house that night. The guys, their wives, Denise, Marcus and Ray all showed up prepared to do whatever it took to help AJ.

 “I can’t take this anymore.” Howie said explaining to the group what had happened earlier. “He’s going right back into that same place that he was before. He’s complaining that none of us understands him and what he’s going through.”

 “I’m not going to say this to him but we kind of don’t understand.” Nick responded. “None of us have ever had this problem.”

 “As much as it sucks,” Kristen said, “I agree with Nick. We don’t understand.”

 Leigh was shaking her head. “It doesn’t matter if we understand or not, we have to do something. We all know how bad this has gotten in the past and I don’t think anyone wants a repeat performance.”

“What do you think Denise?” Brian turned to face AJ’s mother.

 There were tears forming in her eyes. “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.”

 “We have to figure something out.” Leighanne joined the conversation. We need to find someone who can get through to him. There has to be someone.”

 Ray nudged Marcus and asked him to follow him outside.

 “I know you’re going to say I’m crazy but…..”

 “I was thinking the same thing Ray. We have to call her.”

Ray was shocked to hear his partner say that. He knew how angry Marcus was when he found out that Kat had left AJ. He wished he would have told him the truth but it wasn’t his place and he’d made a promise to Kat.

 “But you said you would never speak to her again.”

 “That’s why you’re going to call her. I’m still pissed at her but I really don’t think anyone else is going to be able to get through to him. We need to do something now before things get any worse.”

 Ray nodded and started to dial a familiar number.

 --------------

 Brenda heard her cell ring and recognized Ray’s number. He had called her to check about Kat every few months and she thought he was doing it again.

 “Hi Ray.”

 “Hi Brenda.” He paused for a moment before the words came rushing out. “I have a favor to ask, I need you to find Kat and have her come out here.”

 “Slow down Ray.”

 Brenda wasn’t sure what she should say. Her friend had made it clear that this was not something she was going to get involved with but Brenda thought Kat was crazy not to try. Screw it she thought to herself. Kat was too stubborn for her own good and if she wouldn’t do something then Brenda would do it for her.

 “I already found her. She’s been staying with me for the last few months.”

 “What?!?” Ray asked. “You never told me.”

 “I know. She’d kill me if she found out I was telling you now. Why do you need her?”

 “She needs to talk some sense into J. He’s started drinking again and he’s basically killing himself slowly. None of us can get through to him and I think Kat can.”

 “I don’t know if I can convince her of that.  A lot has happened in the last year and a half and things have definitely changed.”

 “AJ’s feelings for her haven’t changed. He may have been with Michelle for Ryan’s sake but he never stopped loving Kat.”

 “I don’t think telling her that is going to help us persuade her.”

“Please let me talk to her. She may say no but I need to try.”

 Brenda agreed and went to find Kat resting on the couch. She handed her the phone and walked away without saying a word.

 “Hello?” Kat said.

 “Hi Kat. It’s Ray.”

 She pulled the phone away from her ear and was starting to disconnect the call when Ray yelled into the phone.

 “Please don’t hang up Kat. I need to talk to you. Give me five minutes please.”

 “Fine.” Kat said and listened as Ray explained the situation.

 ---------------

 Brenda saw her friend come into the kitchen and she tried to pretend she was busy making dinner. She saw the look on Kat’s face though and realized it was serious.

 “I’m sorry I told him you were here. I just couldn’t lie anymore. AJ’s in a bad place.”

 “I know.” Kat said quietly.

 “Are you going to help them?”

 Kat shook her head. “How can I help? All I’m going to do is make things worse.”

 “According to Ray, there’s nothing worse to be done. AJ is drowning himself with alcohol and if they don’t do something soon, it may kill him this time Kat.”

 Kat started to cry. “I don’t want that.”

 Brenda reached over and pulled her friend into a hug. “I know you don’t. That’s why you’re going to help right?”

 Kat sobbed for a few minutes and then nodded her head yes.

 “Thank god.” Brenda said quietly. “When are you leaving?”

 “Tomorrow if I can get a flight. I need you to……”

 “I know exactly what I need to do. You never have to ask me. I’ll take care of everyone, I promise.”

 

Too Late? by Kyrie
Author's Notes:

Thank you to BeastieBarb, Sapphire, Jordanslady and Kristylee for all the reviews. Glad you are liking the sequel and keep the comments coming!

Ray met Kat’s flight the next morning and was stunned to see that Brenda was right. A lot of things had changed in the last year and a half. Kat was much thinner now and she seemed tired. He hoped that calling her out here wasn’t going to be the wrong thing.

 “Hi Ray.” Kat said reaching up to hug him.

 “Hi Kat.” he said happy to see her there. “I was worried you might have changed your mind.”

 “I wouldn’t do that. I thought about it but I wouldn’t do it.”

 “Good to know honey. Let’s get your bags and I’ll take you over to your hotel.”

 Kat stopped him. “I don’t want to go to the hotel yet. If it’s as bad as you said, I just want to go straight there.”

 “I’m so happy to hear you say that. Let’s go.”

 Twenty minutes later, they both stepped out of Ray’s truck and headed towards the house. Right before they opened the door, Ray tugged on Kat’s arm.

 “Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

 Kat shook her head no. “I’m not but no matter how much I prepare myself, I might not ever be.”

 Ray jut nodded and unlocked the door. He made his way down to the living room to see if AJ was still on the couch. When he didn’t see him, he motioned to the stairs and Kat followed him up to AJ’s bedroom. The door was closed and locked but Ray was able to pop the lock and get it open.

 Kat was shocked at the state of his bedroom. The blinds were taped shut and there were bottles of everything lying all over the floor. It smelled horrible and she could only imagine what the bathroom looked like. She noticed a large pile of clothes on the bed next to another large pile.

 Ray walked over to the bed and started digging through the mess. He found AJ buried under his covers barely conscious. He turned to look at Kat and saw her dialing her phone.

 “Who are you calling?”

 “911.”

 “What are you calling them for?”

 “Look at him Ray!” she yelled pointing at AJ’s limp frame. “He drank or took something and we need to get his stomach pumped before it gets worse.”

 She started giving the operator AJ’s information and the address. She motioned for Ray to head downstairs to let the EMTs in. After relaying the necessary information, she hung up and sat down on the bed next to AJ. She reached out and grabbed ahold of his hand.

 “I’m so sorry for all of this AJ. You’re going to hate me for doing this and for being out here but I don’t care. Please hang in there. Nobody wants to lose you.”

 She sat with him for another few minutes before the EMTs got there and loaded him up for the ride to the emergency room. Ray suggested that Kat ride in the ambulance and that he would meet her at the hospital once he had the house locked up. Kat agreed and climbed into the back praying the whole time that they weren’t too late.

 -----------------

 Ray called Marcus on the drive over to the hospital and told him what had happened.

 “Do you want me to call the boys?” he asked.

 “I don’t know. I think he’ll be fine once they pump his stomach.”

 “Well we should at least call Denise.”

 “I agree. The only problem is Kat.”

 “Huh?”

 “Do you want to explain why Kat is back here and why she’s at the hospital or do we let Denise just show up and find her there?”

“I didn’t think of that.”

 Marcus thought for a minute and told Ray that he would wait to call Denise until he had more information from the hospital.

 “You’ll call me as soon as you know something right?”

 Ray promised Marcus he would and then drove over to meet Kat.

 ----------------------

 It took about an hour before a doctor came out to the waiting room and talked to Kat and Ray.

 “He’s lucky to be alive. Ingesting the amount of alcohol that he had in his system is almost always deadly. He should be grateful to the both of you.”

 “When can we see him?” Ray asked.

 “Soon. We need to get everything out of his system and do a few more tests. I’ll have a nurse come out when he’s ready.”

 Ray called Marcus right away and then turned around. He shocked Kat by pulling her into a bear hug once the doctor left.

 “Thank you for coming out here Kat. You’re the reason he’s alive.”

 Kat shook her head and collapsed on the chair. “No, I’m not. I’m not the solution, I’m part of the problem.”

 “No you’re not Kat! If you hadn’t come today….”

 “Someone else would have come. There’s nothing special about me being here.”

 “Please don’t say that Kat.”

 Kat stood up and headed for the door.

 “Where are you going?” Ray called out and Kat stopped in the doorway.

 “Home. What good am I here?”

 Ray darted over to her. “Don’t leave until you talk to him. Please just give it twenty more minutes.”

 “He’s not going to want to see me Ray. I……”

 A nurse appeared in the waiting room and asked them to follow her to AJ’s room.

 “Now you have to go Kat.” Ray pushed her in front of him and followed the nurse down to the exam room where AJ was waiting.

 The nurse pulled the white curtain aside and they found AJ lying there looking awful with an oxygen tube near his nose and hooked to various machines and IVs. His face looked sunken and his eyes had massive darks circles around them.  Tears formed in Kat’s eyes and she was about to turn around when she saw AJ’s eyes open. Their eyes met and Kat was frozen to the ground where she stood.

 

Look Who's Back by Kyrie

AJ was pretty sure he had died. He was surrounded by white walls and in a bed with tubes. Standing across from the bed was Kat with tears in her eyes. He tried to move but he felt weak and the machines he was attached to didn’t make it easy to move.

 “Hey man. You gave us quite a scare.” Ray said trying to break the tension in the room.

 “Where am I?” AJ said quietly. His throat was killing him and he was finding it hard to talk.

 “You’re in the hospital.” Ray answered not knowing how much he should tell him.

 “Why?”

 Kat had so many emotions coursing through her body and she just couldn’t take it anymore. “Because you were killing yourself! You drank everything under the sun and then climbed into bed. We had to move things to find you. What were you thinking?”

 AJ narrowed his eyes at her. “Why do you care? I didn’t matter to you then, why would I matter to you now?”

 Tears welled up in Kat’s eyes and they threatened to come pouring out.

 “She came out here to help you J. If we hadn’t gone to your house, you might have died.”

 “I don’t care! You should never have brought her here.” he yelled pointing at Kat. “And you should just stay gone!”

 Kat’s heart felt it was being shattered. “I’m sorry I came.” She bolted out of the room before Ray could stop her.

 -----------------

 Kat was rushing so fast out of the emergency room that she bumped into someone almost knocking them to the ground.

 “I’m so sorry……” Kat stiffened.

 The woman didn’t notice it was Kat until she stood up after gathering her purse.

 “Kat?” Denise asked, shocked to see her there.

 “I’m sorry Denise, I really am sorry.” Kat was so overwhelmed by everything going on that she just bolted for the exit and hailed a cab to take her to the hotel. She would get her things from Ray after he left the hospital.

 Denise stared at her retreating form, completely dumbfounded. What was she doing here?

 -------------------

 Ray met Denise coming through the doors to the ER. From the look on her face, she had already figured out that Kat was back.

 “What was she doing here Ray?”

 Ray sighed and decided to come clean. “I called her.”

 Denise’s mouth dropped open.

 “I did it because no one was going to be able to get through to him Denise. He was killing himself. We found him beyond wasted hidden underneath a pile of clothes. If I hadn’t brought her over when I did, he may not have made it.”

 “You could have gone by yourself.”

 “I know but I wanted her out here to try and talk to him. I didn’t know what shape he was in.”

 Denise looked unconvinced but didn’t have time to say anything else before the guys showed up.

 “Where is he?” Howie asked in a frightened voice.

 “In the ER waiting for a room.”

 “Can we see him?”

 “Two people at a time.” Ray said.

 “Denise and Nick should go.” Brian offered.

 Without waiting, they both rushed through the doors and disappeared.

 “What happened Ray?”

 “I don’t really know. We found him under a pile of clothes completely passed out. He was barely breathing.”

 “Did you say we?” Kevin asked.

 “Sorry, I meant me. I mean I.”

 None of them believed him but they didn’t have a chance to say anything before Nick came flying through the doors.

 “Kat was here?” he yelled.

 Everyone turned to look at Ray. His shoulders slumped down and he couldn’t look at anyone.

 “I think it’s time for another family meeting.”

The Truth by Kyrie
Author's Notes:

Thank you everyone for the reviews. I'm glad you're enjoying the story and I hope I continue to write a good one!

Marcus and the girls showed up as they were moving AJ to a private room.

 “How is he?” Leigh asked her husband.

 “In rough shape. We decided to have another family meeting.”

 “I hope it’s about rehab.”

 Once AJ was settled, everyone piled in so that they could talk to him.

 “We love you AJ but this is the last straw. You need to go back to rehab.” Kevin demanded. “Seeing you like this is killing all of us.”

 “Really? I thought it was just killing me!”

 “Please AJ.” Leighanne pleaded. “You have to do something. You have to listen to someone.”

 “Yeah and not Kat.” Nick added.

 “Excuse me?” Kristen asked.

 “Kat’s back.” Nick responded.

 “What the hell is she doing here?” Leigh asked loudly.

 “He called her.” AJ yelled pointing his finger at Ray. Everyone turned to look at him and he held up his hands.

 “Why on earth would you do that!? Hasn’t she hurt him enough?” Kristen yelled.

 Denise begged everyone to calm down. Nothing was going to get resolved until this whole mess was straightened out.

 Ray sighed and sat down. He thought about what he was going to say and he decided that it was time to break his promise.

“You guys don’t understand what’s really going on and I think it’s time I told the truth.”

------------

 Kat checked into her room and collapsed onto the bed. She dialed Brenda’s number with shaky hands.

 “Hey, how’s it going out there?”

 Kat burst into tears and told Brenda the entire story. When she was done, there was complete silence on the other line.

 “I shouldn’t have come out here.”

 Brenda felt awful that she had pushed her too but she really thought it would help.

 “Are you at least going to stay the weekend and try to talk to him?”

 “No.” Kat said firmly. “I’m checking into flights and I’m on the first one out in the morning.”

 Brenda knew there was no changing her mind this time.

 -----------------

 “The truth?” Denise asked.

 “The truth.” Ray replied. He looked at AJ and just started talking. “Kat didn’t leave you for the reasons she wrote in the letter.”

 “Oh great, she had better ones!” AJ said harshly.

 “She thought they were AJ. She didn’t want any of you getting hurt.”

 “What reasons?” Kevin asked.

 “The night AJ and Nick left she got a visitor.”

“Who?”

 “Michelle.”

 “What?” Nick yelled. “What did she want?”

 “She told Kat that she had one week to decide if she was going to continue to see you or not.”

 “So she decided to just walk away because Michelle asked her to?” AJ asked stunned.

 “She didn’t really ask. She told her.”

 “What could she have said that would make Kat think that is was the best idea?” asked Leigh.

 “She was trying to avoid all of you getting hurt.”

 “All of us?” said Brian.

 “Yeah. Michelle showed Kat some pictures of her all beat up.”

 “Kat was beat up?” AJ screamed.

 “No.” Ray said shaking his head. “It was pictures of Michelle with bruises and a black eye. She told Kat that if she didn’t break up with you that she would release the pictures to the media and claim that you beat her while she was pregnant.”

 Everyone was stunned.

 “That’s not the worst.”

 “There’s more?” Denise asked with tears in her eyes.

 “She also told her that if she told AJ or any of you about this, she would release some digital recordings.”

 “Of what?”

 “She played Kat some remixed conversations between all of you that would have sounded, to the public any way, like you all knew about the alleged abuse and that you didn’t care enough to stop it. In fact, it made it seem like you guys were saying it was her fault.” Ray paused for a minute to let it sink in. “I wanted her to tell someone but she was petrified that Michelle meant what she said. Kat didn’t want anything lies coming out in the press that could not only hurt all of you but would cause huge legal problems for AJ.”

 “She should have told us!” Nick said.

 “She wasn’t going to take the chance the Michelle was sick enough to do it. And honestly, from her behavior the other night, I wouldn’t put it past her.”

 Ray stared AJ in the eyes. “She truly loves you J. She was trying to protect you, protect all of you. Hurting you was not what she wanted to do but she couldn’t bear the pain you all could have been caused.”

 “What about all the pain she did cause?” AJ asked quietly. “She should have told us and let us deal with it.”

 “She knew how much it would hurt you but she thought that you would move on with Michelle and Ryan and forget her. She said that the pain of losing her would subside but all the pain that could have been caused could have ripped everyone apart and she couldn’t bring herself to do it.”

 Denise knew what Ray was saying was the truth. When AJ showed her the note Kat had written, it didn’t make any sense to her. Kat had spent most of her relationship with AJ trying to convince her that she wouldn’t hurt her son. They had many conversations about it and it seemed wrong that all of a sudden, Kat’s feelings had changed and she was willing to break AJ’s heart.

 Everyone looked at AJ who seemed to have sunken farther into the bed.  Everything that had happened over the last year and half was drowning him and he knew, at that moment, if he didn’t do something soon, he wasn’t going to be alive to do anything.

 “I’ll go to rehab.” he said quietly. “I’ll go tomorrow.”

 

Starting Over by Kyrie

3 months later:

 “How are you man?” Nick asked, pulling his brother into a bear hug.

 “I’m good.”

 Nick had volunteered to pick AJ up from the rehab center.  He had agreed to do a 90-day stint to work on all the issues and to help him with his drinking.

 “You look good!”

 AJ had gained some weight and he looked less worn down. He actually had a smile on his face and had a little bit of a gleam back in his eyes.

 “Thanks. I guess stopping all the alcohol and starting eating and sleeping again helped.”

 He had to admit that the therapy he went through during rehab had helped him start to deal with losing Kat and losing Ryan. It was extremely painful at first but once he started talking about it, some of the weight seemed to lift off his shoulders.

 “Everything go ok in there?”

 “Yeah, the therapy helped and I think being back among the living will make it easier!” AJ said with a smile. “I missed you guys.”

 Nick really wanted to ask if AJ had missed anyone else while he was gone but he didn’t want to bring up Kat. Everyone had felt badly after hearing what Ray told them and they were kind of hoping that once AJ got back on his feet again, there might be a chance for him and Kat.

 “Brian was wondering if you wanted to come over for dinner. We’ll all be there and maybe it can be like a welcome home party.”

 AJ laughed. “Sounds good. Can you drop me off at my house and then I’ll head over in a little while.” Seeing Nick’s face, he sighed. “I promise not to drink anything but water ok?”

Nick blushed. “Sorry J, we’re just worried.”

 “I know Nicky.” He had put them all through hell and he knew they had a right to be skeptical. “I’m going to work on this and really try to find a better way of dealing with things. I can’t be perfect but I promise I’ll try to be better.”

 “Ok. Let’s get out of here so you can relax.”

 ----------

 “Hey man! It’s nice to see you!” Marcus said when AJ arrived at Brian’s house. Everyone was there waiting for him to show up.

 “Nice to be back.” AJ said with a smile. “Thanks for keeping everyone in one piece!”

 He milled around saying hello to everyone and thanking them for sticking by him. He had crossed the lawn before he saw Ray sitting by himself on one of the lawn benches. As he headed towards him, Ray stood up.

 “Hi AJ.” Ray whispered.

 “Hey Ray.”

 Ray waited for a minute before he spoke. “If me being here is uncomfortable for you then I can leave.”

 “Why would you think that?”

 “Because I called her, brought her out here and lied to you about what happened.”

 “All that’s true.” AJ replied with a laugh. “But you’re still my friend. I don’t agree with what you did but I’m starting to understand why you did it. Therapy’s good for that.”

 Ray smiled. “It’s nice to hear you laugh J.”

 “Thanks.” AJ paused. “Just do me one favor.”

 “Anything.”

 “Don’t lie to me anymore even if someone asks you too. Tell me what’s going on and I’ll figure out how to deal with it.”

 “I can do that.”

 “Good.” He started to drag Ray back to the group. “Let’s get food before Nick eats it all!”

 ------------------

 Denise was happy to see her son out and around everyone again. He was smiling, laughing and fooling around like old times. The only downside was that since she was his mother, she knew that part of AJ was still hurting although he was doing his best to hide it.

“Hey Ma.” AJ said kissing her on the cheek. “Thanks for the party.”

 “I had nothing to do with it. It was all Brian and Leighanne. Everyone wanted to welcome you home.”

 “I definitely feel welcome so I’d say they succeeded.”

 “How are you feeling sweetheart?”

 “Good.”

 “You can keep up that premise with everyone else but I’m your mother. Really how are you?”

 AJ’s smiled dimmed a little. “Tired. It’s been draining to dig through all my feelings and emotions about everything that’s happened. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to handle it.”

 “I’m glad you did.”

 “Me too but I’m not done yet. I made an appointment with some therapist at the hospital for tomorrow. My counselor thought it was a good idea for me to keep seeing someone outside of rehab.”

 “I’d say your counselor’s a smart man.”

 “He is. I looked up some AA meetings and I’ll be going back to them and hopefully this will be the last time in for me. I’m tired of screwing it up.”

 “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’ve been through a lot.”

 “I know but I have to find better ways of coping before I completely destroy myself.”

 “I agree.”

 AJ yawned and stretched his arms. “Sorry Ma but I’m beat. I’m gonna say my goodbyes and head home.”

 “Is it ok to be there?”

 AJ thought about it for a minute. There were tons of memories in that house of Kat and of Ryan. He was going to have to find some way of dealing with that because he couldn’t just pick up and move the next day.

 “It’s gonna have to be for a while. I don’t want to be making tons of changes until I’m 100% back on my feet again.”

 “You can always stay with me for a while.”

 “Thanks Ma, but I need to deal with this at some point. Might as well be now.” He kissed his mother on the cheek. “Love you Ma. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

 “Ok sweetie. Love you too. Be safe.”

 Denise watched as AJ made his rounds to say goodbye to everyone. She hoped that he was right and that this time would be different. There was a nagging feeling though that everything wasn’t quite out in the open yet. She could only hope that when everything was said and done, everyone was still standing.

 

Double Take by Kyrie

“Thank you Dr. Miller.” AJ said shaking hands with the older gentlemen that his counselor had set him up with.

 “You’re welcome AJ. Why don’t you call my receptionist in the morning and set up another appointment. I know you have a busy schedule so let us know what works for you.”

 “I will and thank you again.”

 AJ pulled the door closed behind him and headed out to the parking lot to get his truck. He stopped to tie his sneaker and when he looked up, he did a double take. The woman who was exiting one of the offices down the hallway looked exactly like Kat.

 Not knowing whether to scream her name or run the other way, he followed her to the parking lot and watched as she got into her truck. Thankfully he didn’t have to go far for his truck and as soon as he got in, he called Nick.

 “You’re not going to believe this but I think I just saw Kat.”

 “Aw J, there’s no way you saw her there. She left for Boston the morning you went to rehab. I went to the hotel personally to see if she was there. Why would she be back out here?”

 AJ thumped his head against the seat. He knew Nick was right. He had spent the last hour talking about her and his eyes were just thinking they saw something.

 “J? Are you still there?”

 “Yeah, I’m in my truck.”

“Where’s the woman?”

“I don’t know, I think she pulled out.” AJ chuckled. “It’s probably good that I didn’t follow to her car.”

 “Definitely good. Being a stalker is bad! I thought we had dealt with enough of those for you to know that by now!”

 AJ laughed at the thought. “Thanks Nicky. I’m gonna head home but come by later if you want to watch a game.”

 “Sounds good. I’ll head over after I leave the studio.”

 AJ hung up and stopped at the grocery store before heading home. He needed to restock his cabinets before Nick came over and cleaned them out.

 ---------------

 Brenda was folding a load of laundry when she heard Kat come in.

 “How’d the appointment go?”

 “I don’t know. I have to make another one in a couple of weeks.”

 “How come?”

 “There are some more tests they want to run and they want to double check the ones they have.” Kat said and collapsed onto the sofa. “How is he?”

 “Finally sleeping. I was hoping to get some more clothes folded while I have the time.”

“Want some help?”

 “No, I want you to just sit there and rest. You can keep me company.”

 Kat curled up on the sofa and pulled a blanket down to cover herself.

“Are you cold? I can turn down the AC.”

 “I’m good. Just got the chills. How was work?”

 “Good. If you ever want to talk to them, I can set up an interview.”

 “I appreciate it but I think for right now, I’ll stay with the office work.”

 “I just figured I’d ask. I can see it in your eyes sometimes.”

 “What do you see?”

 “I see how much you miss teaching and the kids. You loved it.”

 “I still do love it. But you know the rules. I can’t right now.”

 “Damn rules.” Brenda said flopping down on the couch next to her. “I miss working with you ya know.”

 Kat laughed. “But we live together. Do you really want to put up with me here and at work?”

 “Uh, let me think about that for a second. No.” Brenda replied with a chuckle. “This arrangement’s good for now.”

 Kat heard the sound of laughter and stood up from the couch. “I think you know who is awake.”

“Sit down. I’ll be back in a couple of minutes. Think about what you want for dinner.”

 Brenda left the room and went upstairs. Kat sat back down and pulled the blanket over her thinking that she was a little more tired than she thought. A few minutes later, Brenda returned to find her sound asleep on the couch. Shaking her head, Brenda returned to folding laundry and contemplated about what to do for dinner.

Surprise! by Kyrie

AJ attended AA meetings a couple of times over the next two weeks and he made an appointment to see Dr. Miller again. Nick offered to drive him because he was having problems with his truck.

 “Dude, you don’t have to hang out here. I’ll call you when I’m done.”

 “I don’t mind AJ. How long are you going to be?”

 “I dunno know, maybe an hour?”

 “That’s easy. I can get in a nap!” Nick winked and followed AJ into the office. He settled himself into one of the chairs and watched as AJ went in to meet with the doctor.

 True to his word, Nick was sound asleep when AJ came out of the office to make another appointment. He planned a time with the receptionist and then kicked Nick shoe with his foot.

 “Hey, Sleeping Beauty! I’m all done. Do you want to finish your nap or drive me home?”

 “Funny.” Nick said stretching. “I guess I can take you home instead of making you walk.”

 “You’re real cute blondie.”

 “Yeah I know. At least that’s what the girls say!” Nick nudged past AJ and out into the hallway. He was waiting for him when he saw a woman come out of one of the other offices. She had her back turned to him but he could have sworn it was Kat.

 “AJ!” he hissed. “Get out here now!”

 “What?” AJ asked getting pulled into the hallway.

 “I saw this woman.”

 “Seriously Nick? You dragged me out here cuz you saw a cute girl. Really?”

 “No! I think I just saw Kat.”

 “Yeah sure. Thanks for making fun of me.”

 “I’m not freaking kidding. She came out of an office a few doors down.” Nick pointed to one of the other suites and AJ’s mouth dropped open. It was the same one that he thought he saw Kat at.

 “Where’d she go?”

 “Out to the parking garage.”

 Both men sprinted down the hallway and just caught a glimpse of the woman heading towards her truck.

 “It’s the same truck as I saw before.”

 Nick told AJ to watch for where she went while he grabbed the truck. He barely made it to pick AJ up before the woman headed out of the garage.

 Nick threw the truck into drive and the force pushed AJ against the seat.

 “What are you doing?”

 “I’m following her. What does it look like I’m doing?”

 “Oh really. Are you becoming a stalker?”

 “Look J. We’ve both seen the woman now and she definitely looks like Kat. Don’t you want to find out if it really is her?”

 AJ had to admit that it had been bothering him since he saw this woman two weeks ago. He wanted to at least know if he was right or not.

 “What are we going to do when we find out?”

 “I don’t know. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

 They didn’t have to wait long. After about ten minutes the woman’s truck pulled into the driveway of a small two story house. Thankfully it’s wasn’t set back far from the road so they could watch her get out.

Nick shifted in his seat.

 “What if someone sees us and calls the cops?” AJ asked quietly. “What do we say?”

 “I don’t know….Wait she’s getting out.”

 Both men watched the woman exit the truck and walk down the driveway to the mailbox. They slouched down so they couldn’t be seen.

 “That is definitely Kat dude!”

 AJ was too stunned to speak. Here was the woman he had loved with all of his heart, standing just a stone’s throw away. She turned and walked into the house closing the door behind her.

 “What do you want to do J?” Nick asked turning towards AJ.

“What’d you mean what do I want to do? What the hell can we do?”

 “Um, I don’t know. How about get our asses out of this truck and go knock on the door.”

 “Seriously!?!?! What ifs it’s not her?”

 “Then we tell her she was randomly selected for a surprise visit from two of the Backstreet Boys.”

 AJ burst out laughing so hard that he actually started crying.

 “That’s a horrible idea!”

 “Well, do you have a better one?”

 AJ tried to stop laughing and think about what he could do. After a while he just shook his head. He had no idea what they should do.

 “That’s it. We’re going up there.” Nick opened his door, stepped out and started to cross the street. AJ’s feet were moving forward while his brain was telling him to stop. A few minutes later, the two of them found themselves standing on the woman’s porch.

 “Are you gonna ring the doorbell or am I?” Nick asked.

 “I don’t know. Maybe we should go…”

 Before AJ could finish his sentence, Nick rang the doorbell and stepped out of the way. AJ knew it was Kat before she opened the door because he recognized the sound of her voice saying that she would get it. He was still standing frozen in his spot seconds later when Kat opened the door.

 “Hello……..” Kat’s jaw dropped. She and AJ stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. Finally AJ cleared his throat and was about to say hello when he noticed some movement down by Kat’s legs.

“Momma, momma!”

 Kat knelt down and this little boy came around to grab her arms. When the boy turned around and looked up at him, AJ lost all ability to speak. He was staring into his own eyes.

 

Daddy by Kyrie

“Hey Jake! Come back here!” Brenda called as she neared the door. “Momma needs to….”

 She stopped short when Kat pulled the door back and revealed a shocked AJ and Nick on the front porch.

 “Oh my.” Brenda said quietly.

 “You can say that again.” Nick mumbled.

 AJ finally looked up from Jake and was glaring at Kat. She could feel his eyes boring into her and she asked Brenda to take the baby upstairs and get him cleaned up.

 “Sure, no problem.” Brenda said grateful to get out of the line of fire. She grabbed Jake and headed upstairs.

 Kat opened the door wider and invited the two men inside. They followed her down to the living room and sat down in the chairs across from the sofa that Kat had settled on.

 “I think we need to talk.” said Kat softly.

 “No shit! Ya think?” AJ yelled.

 Nick reached out and put his hand on his friend’s arm. “Calm down man. There’s a baby here.”

 “Yeah, my baby! The one she didn’t feel the need to tell me about!” AJ said still shouting.

 Kat didn’t blame AJ for feeling the way he did. She turned to Nick and asked him if he would mind giving them a few minutes alone.

 “Absolutely not!” Nick said jumping out of the chair. “I’ll be out back.”

 Once Nick left, Kat turned around to face AJ. “I know you’re mad…”

 “Mad is a fucking understatement! I’m beyond mad! What the hell is wrong with you?” AJ yelled shooting out of his chair. He was so angry that he started pacing around the room. “I would never have thought you do something so sneaky!”

 “AJ, I…”

 “You’re no better than Michelle!”

 Kat reeled back like she’d been slapped in the face. “I’m not Michelle.”

 “You’re just like her. Instead of having someone else’s kid and saying he’s mine, you had my baby and never told me!” The wheels were turning in his head. “Did you know about him when…”

 “No.” Kat said firmly. “I found out I was pregnant a month after you left.”

 “You left! You left me! I did not leave you! Let’s get that straight right now!”

 Kat nodded. “I found out about Jake a month after I left.” She took a deep breath and continued. “I didn’t even tell Brenda or my family. No one knew I’d had a baby until after he was born.”

 She waited for AJ to say something but he just stared at her. “I got pregnant when you came to stay during Christmas. He was born October 22nd.”

 “That’s in two weeks!” AJ shouted.

“I know. He’ll be a year old.” She paused. “No one knew about him until I moved back in with Brenda in March.”

 AJ glowered at her.

 “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”

 “You should be!”

 “I’m sorry for a lot of things. I made a lot of stupid choices and decisions. I have to live with that. But you need to know that I wasn’t doing this to hurt you.”

 “What did you think it would do?”

 “Honestly, I don’t know. I was scared AJ. You were gone, I had moved 100 miles away, I was pregnant and alone. It was just Jake and I for 6 months. I don’t know if the choices I made were right or not but I made them. I can’t undo them.”

 “No kidding.”

 “I didn’t even know where you were AJ. As far as I was concerned, you had moved on with Michelle and I wasn’t about to come back into your life and mess you up again.”

 “You should have tried!”

 “I know that now. I’m sorry, I really am.”

 “Are you going to leave again now?”

 “No.” Kat said shaking her head. “I have to be here. Now that you know about Jake, I want you to be able to see him.”

 “Wow, that’s so nice of you!”

 Kat put her head in her hands. She was tired and didn’t want to fight anymore. She looked up at AJ but found he was staring at the living room door. She turned and saw Jake standing there with a picture frame in his hand.

 He toddled over to his mother and reached up for her. She picked him up and settled him on her lap. He pointed at the picture frame and then pointed to AJ. Kat nodded her head and Jake turned to face AJ.

 “Dada!”

Whatever It Takes by Kyrie

“What did he just say?” AJ asked.

 “He said Dada.”

AJ felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room. He sank back down into the chair and looked at the little boy sitting in Kat’s lap.

 “Why did he call me that?”

 “Because you’re his father.” Kat said with a small smile.

 “How does he know that?”

 Kat took the frame away from Jake and turned it around for AJ to see. There was a picture of Kat and AJ from when they were first together. The bottom of the frame said “Momma and Dada”.

 The picture floored AJ. It brought back so many emotions that he had buried and pretended to work through.

 “Did you teach him that?”

 Kat nodded. “You may not have known that he was yours but he knew who you were. I never kept that from him. I’ve had pictures of you all around his room since he was born so that he would know exactly who is father was.”

 “His father is. Who his father is.”

 “Who his father is.”

 AJ thought about his next question carefully. “Can I hold him?”

 “Of course.” Kat stood Jake back on the floor and told AJ to hold his arms out. He did as she told him and his son started to walk towards him. When he finally got close, AJ picked him up and held him close. The little boy smiled at him.

 “Dada.”

 AJ’s eyes filled with tears. “Yup, I’m your dada.”

 -----------------

 “Hey.” Brenda said quietly when she found Nick sitting outside.

 “Hey yourself.”

 “Can I sit?”

“You can do whatever you want, it’s your house.”

Brenda sat down in one of the two chairs. Neither one talked to the other for a little while. Nick finally broke the silence because he couldn’t stand the tension.

“Did you know that Jake was AJ’s?”

“I found out in March. Kat left after Michelle came to visit and only called every couple of months. I didn’t even know she had a baby until she showed up on my doorstep.”

 “Wow. I thought you guys were close.”

 “We are!” Brenda snapped. “She only left because she thought one of you was going to come looking for her.”

 “Sorry.” Nick said. “I don’t want to pick a fight.”

 “I don’t want to fight either.” Brenda sighed. “In fact, I’m glad you guys found us. We’ve been here for two months and I was getting sick and tired of trying to hide out.”

 “Why did you move out here knowing that we were all living around here?”

 Brenda hesitated. “Kat had her reasons. I came out to help her with Jake. She had struggled so long by herself and I didn’t want her to come out here with no support.”

 “Ok.” Nick held up his hands. “Are you guys going to stay out here?”

 “Yes. At least for a while I think.”

 Nick motioned towards the house with his head. “Any chance those two will even be able to be in the same room?”

 “Kat will do whatever it takes to make sure that Jake sees AJ, even if the two of them can’t work their issues out. She loves her son and she wants him to know his dad.”

 “I guess that’s all we can hope for then.”

 

Bedtime by Kyrie

Brenda and Nick gave AJ and Kat a little longer and then decided it was time to join them. They walked in to find AJ sitting on the living room floor with Jake playing with some blocks and Kat was lying on the couch watching them. Brenda was stunned to see a smile on both AJ and Kat’s faces.

 “Are you ready for dinner Kat?” Brenda asked and then turned to face Nick. “Are you guys gonna stay?”

 Nick just shrugged his shoulders and pointed at AJ. “It’s up to him.”

 Brenda laughed and gave Nick a playful shove. “Of course it is. You’d never pass up a free meal.”  She turned back to face AJ. “What about you?”

 “I don’t know. I didn’t really think…..” AJ just stopped talking. He didn’t know what to say. It was unnerving to be around Kat but he wanted to spend more time with Jake.

 “It’s ok.” Kat said. “As long as you don’t mind hot dogs. It’s Jake’s favorite food at the moment.”

 AJ looked up and nodded. “I can handle hot dogs.

 -----------------

 Dinner went by without too many moments of silence and AJ loved the fact that he got to see more of his son. He was so overwhelmed watching all of his mannerisms and things that he laughed at. There was so much to learn and he didn’t want to waste a second.

 “Time for nighty nights little man.” Kat said lifting her son out of his highchair as Brenda and Nick cleared the dishes. She turned to AJ. “Do you want to put him to bed?”

 AJ was startled by the question. “Can I?”

 “Sure. Follow me.”

 Kat led AJ upstairs and down the hall to the nursery. When she pushed open the door, AJ saw that she had been telling the truth. There were pictures of them on the wall and on the bureau where his changing table was.

 “It’s beautiful.”

 The nursery itself was painted a light blue and had all light wood furniture. He had a crib, a rocker, a bureau and a changing table. There was a beautiful mobile above the crib with little stars that changed colors as they rotated.

 “What do you usually do to put him to bed?”

 “How about I just tell you want to do and you try?”

 “What if I screw it up?”

 Kat laughed and AJ smiled. “You can’t screw it up. It’s just bedtime.”

 “For some kids that’s a major event. Baylee and James have taught me that.”

 “Well you don’t have to worry. Jake is easy.”

 They got him changed for bed and then Kat told AJ that she liked to rock him to sleep.

 “It’s seems to calm him.”

 AJ laughed. “I’ve spent a few hours with him now and I can tell you, he’s pretty calm in general.”

 “Thanks.” Kat said. “Why don’t you rock him tonight?”

 “Do you mind?”

“Of course not. In fact, I’ll give you some time with him by yourself.” Kat said and started towards the door.

 “Wait!” AJ said. “What if he doesn’t like me?”

 “There’s no one who wouldn’t like you AJ.” Kat closed the door and headed downstairs.

 AJ settled into the rocker, sang a few songs and watched as Jake fell asleep. He kissed him on the forehead and tucked him into the crib.  He quietly opened and closed the door again and joined Nick by the front door.

 “When can I come back and see him?” AJ asked.

 “Anytime you want.” Kat responded.

 “When do you get home from work?”

 Kat and Brenda exchanged a quick glance. “I actually work from home so I’m pretty much here all the time. You can come over whenever you want to.”

 AJ was too busy thinking about what he could do with Jake to notice the look that was passed between the two women.

 “Is tomorrow too soon?”

 “Tomorrow’s fine.” Kat said laughing.

 She walked them to the door and asked AJ to call her when he was ready to come. They said their goodbyes and the guys left.

 “Are you sure you want to be alone with him?” Brenda asked.

 “It’s fine Brenda. We were ok tonight. I think whatever we had is past. He obviously doesn’t feel the same and he’s really angry about me holding back about Jake. I think it’s best if I try to make sure they have as much time together is possible.”

 

Kat yawned and hugged her friend. “Time for bed. See you in the am.” She walked up the stairs slowly and closed the door to her bedroom.

 

I hope time hasn’t erased everything, Brenda thought to herself.

 

Playtime by Kyrie

True to his word, AJ called the next morning. Kat told him to come over and got Jake changed and dressed. They had just gotten downstairs when the doorbell rang.

 “Hey.” Kat said letting him in. “I was just about to give him breakfast. You wanna join us?”

 “Uh ok. What are we having?”

 “Pakes!” Jake said with a smile.

 “Pakes?” AJ asked.

 Kat laughed. “Pancakes.”

 “Ok.” AJ said with a smile. “It’s been awhile since I had to decipher little one speak.”

 Kat saw the sadness behind his eyes and knew he was missing Ryan. She felt even worse for not telling him about Jake. He had lost one son and she was hoping to give him back another.

 “I’m sure it’s like riding a bike. You’ll remember.”

 Kat put Jake into his bouncer and started cooking breakfast.

 “They smell really good.” AJ said. “I miss your cook……….” He trailed off not wanting to finish the sentence.

 Kat ignored the statement not wanting to make anything more uncomfortable. “They’re blueberry. I hope you don’t mind.”

 AJ was grateful for the save and turned his attention back to Jake. “Let me guess. They’re your favorite.”

 Jake nodded and continued to play with the spinning blocks.

 “Can I help you with anything?”

 “No, these are almost done.” Kat thought for a minute. “Actually could you grab some dishes and clean Jake’s hands? There are some baby wipes in the bathroom.”

 “Sure.” AJ pulled out some plates and went down to the bathroom to grab the wipes. He returned a minute later and found that Kat had settled him into his highchair. AJ cleaned his hands and they settled down to breakfast.

 “Ummy!” Jake said laughing.

 AJ had to smile as he watched his son eat. “Is he always like this?”

 Kat nodded. “I..we got lucky. He’s a really happy baby.” She had to remind herself that he wasn’t just her son anymore.

 “It seems like it.”

 They finished eating without talking too much more. AJ cut up Jake’s pancakes and watched as his son giggled and interacted with them. He had never gotten to do this with Michelle and Ryan. She never made breakfast and it was usually just him and Ryan for all the meals.

“I wanted to take Jake to the park today.” Kat said breaking through AJ’s thoughts. “Maybe you could take him?”

 “By myself?”

 “Yeah by yourself.”

 “I don’t think that’s a good idea. He may know me by my picture but he’s never been alone with me.”

 “You’re his dad AJ. He’ll get used to it.”

 “I know but I’m not ready to do it by myself yet. Can you come with us?”

 “Sure.” Kat said and started cleaning up the kitchen.  “Can you put a sweater on him? I know we’re in California but its October so it might be chilly.”

 AJ got a jacket on Jake and Kat told him where the diaper bag and the stroller were. He dug everything out and by the time Kat was done, he had everything ready and Jake was in the stroller waiting to leave.

 “Wow. I think that’s a record.” Kat chuckled.

 “This is one thing I can do well.” AJ said quietly.

 Kat surprised AJ by putting her hand on his arm. “You can do a lot of things well AJ.”

 Well keeping you around is not one of them, he thought to himself. “Thanks.”

 They spent the next few hours at the park playing in the sandbox. AJ watched as Jake laughed when he was swinging in the baby swings and Kat took a picture of them coming down the slide together. AJ finally convinced her to get on the seesaw and she took another picture of them when their side was up in the air. It was a terrific day and AJ even stayed for dinner again that night.

 “Are you coming by tomorrow?” Kat asked when she walked him to the door. They had put Jake to bed and she was getting tired.

 “I don’t want to be here all the time.” AJ said not admitting that he didn’t want to invade her space.

 “How about I bring him to your house in the afternoon? I have to get a few things done for work and run a couple of errands.”

 “Sounds good.” AJ said with a grin. “Night Kat.”

 “Night AJ.”

 AJ got in his truck to leave and was hit by the thought that his house wasn’t set up for a baby anymore. All of Ryan’s things were gone and there weren’t many things that were baby compatible. He called Nick and asked him to come over in the morning. Nick agreed and AJ starting making a mental list of things he had to do.

Family Time by Kyrie

Kat called AJ just as he was finishing the last few touches on his surprise.

 “Is now a good time to come over?” she asked.

 “Sure.”

 “Do you need me to bring anything?”

 “Nah, I think I’m good.”

 “Ok.” Kat was about to hang up when AJ asked her if she could bring a bathing suit with her. “I can do that. We’ll see you soon.”

 ------------

 Kat pulled into AJ’s driveway thirty minutes later and grabbed what she needed out of the backseat. She undid Jake’s car seat and was just lifting him up when AJ opened the front door.

 “Let me help.” AJ said jogging over to grab Jake and the bag.

 “I can carry something.” Kat said with a smile.

 “I got it. No big deal.”

 Kat followed AJ into the house and was shocked by the first glance. “Holy crap AJ! Does Toys R Us have anything left on their shelves?”

 The whole downstairs had been completely baby proofed and there were clothes, toys and other baby needs all over the place.

 AJ laughed. “They do for right now. Nick helped me this morning before you guys got here. His bedroom’s all set too except for the crib. That’s coming tomorrow.”

 “His bedroom?” Kat asked with surprise.

AJ looked nervous. “I just thought maybe some night I could have him…”

 “You can have him whenever you want AJ. I’m just surprised you managed to get all of this plus a room together in one morning.”

 “I’m fast like that.” he said relaxing.

 “You definitely are.”

 AJ finished giving Kat the tour and showed her the guestroom where he’d started working on the furniture for Jake’s table and rocker. AJ saw her glance over at the other bedroom down the hall.

 “That was Ryan’s room. All of his stuff is gone but I can’t handle putting anything in there.”

“I’m sorry AJ.”

 “It’s not your fault. I’m dealing with it.”

 “I….”

 “What would you like for lunch?” AJ asked changing the subject.

 “Whatever you have is fine.”

 “Hot dogs for him, hamburgers for us?”

 “Sounds good.”

 Kat helped AJ set up for lunch and it was such a nice day that they decided to eat on the patio overlooking the pool and the ocean.

 “Wata!” Jake yelled looking at the pool. “Fwim?”

“Does he mean swim?” AJ asked chuckling.

 “Yeah, he loves the water.”

 “You brought a suit right?”

 Kat dug though the bag and found a pair of swimmers and swimming trunks. “Right here.”

 “That fits you?”

 Kat’s jaw dropped. “Huh?”

 AJ burst out laughing. “I like the color but I didn’t realize you went without a top.”

 Kat finally understood the joke and hit him with the trunks. “Funny McLean!”

 AJ was finally able to control his laughter. “I thought you’d bring a suit for yourself too.”

 “I didn’t think you meant for me to bring one.”

 “Well you know for next time then.”

 They got lunch cleared up and Jake dressed for the pool. AJ took him over to the pool and his eyes got big. There was a huge selection of pool toys lying on the lawn.

 “Did you happen to buy every floating tube too?”

 "Nah, just most of them.”

 Kat laughed and sat down next to the pool. She stuck her legs over the side and watched as AJ took Jake into the shallow end. She got some pictures of them playing around and helped AJ clean him up when he started to get sleepy.

 “I think he’s hit his limit of fun for the day huh?” AJ asked.

 “Yeah, you wore him out. I should probably get him home and to bed.” She paused for a minute. “His 1st birthday is coming up next week. Brenda and I were just going to do dinner and a cake. Do you want to come?”

 AJ hesitated for a minute.

 “Forget I asked. You probably want to do something just you guys.”

 “Can Nick come?”

 Kat was surprised by the question. “Sure, if you want.”

 AJ nodded. “Sounds good then.”

 “Ok.” Kat said smiling. “Give me a call whenever you want to see him this week.”

 “I will. Be careful going home.”

 “I will. Night AJ.”

 “Night Kat.” He started to turn around but stopped. “Mind doing me a favor?”

 “Not at all. What?”

 “Text me when you get home so that I know you guys are safe?”

 “I will. Night.”

 AJ watched as Kat got in and pulled out of the driveway. Today had gone much better than he’d thought.

Another Birthday by Kyrie

Kat was just completing the last decoration on Jake’s cake when she heard the doorbell ring. She put the cake back in the fridge and went to grab the door.

 “Hi Kat.” AJ said walking in, followed by Nick.

 “Hi guys. Jake’s down in the living room playing with Brenda.”

 She brought them down and then headed back out to the kitchen.  AJ surprised her by sticking his head around the corner.

“Need any help?”

 “No, but thank you.” Kat smiled. “I’m just finishing dinner.”

 “Smells good.” He grinned and went back out to the living room.

 Kat leaned up against the counter and took a deep breath. She waited a few seconds to pass and then set the table. 

 "Dinner’s ready!” she yelled and moved out of the way. Nick came flying around the corner a minute later barely missing Kat.

 “Sorry.” he said with a sheepish grin.

 “No problem.” Kat said with a chuckle.” That’s why I moved.”

 “Dude, be careful!’ AJ said smacking him in the arm.  “You have eaten before! You almost ran into my…..Kat.” AJ caught himself before he finished his sentence. “You almost ran into Kat.”

 Kat turned around to get the lasagna out of the oven and to hide her blushing face. She had missed being called AJ’s anything and it hurt her that he couldn’t bear to mention her even as a friend.

 Dinner went by with Brenda and Nick trying to carry the conversation. Everyone was grateful when it came time to do the cake. AJ got Jake settled into his high chair and Kat brought out the ice cream cake that she had put little balloons and presents on.

 “Cake looks good Kat.” AJ said quietly.

 “Thanks but I just decorated it.”

 She set in down in front of Jake just out of his reach. They all sang Happy Birthday and then AJ cut a small piece of cake and put it on Jake’s tray.

 “How do you like the cake?” AJ said leaning in to see Jake’s face. His son caught him off guard and smashed a fistful of ice cream all of AJ’s face. Jake started cracking up and Nick, Brenda, and Kat followed suit.

 “Think it’s funny Carter?” AJ asked grabbing a handful of cake. He grabbed a hold of Nick’s shirt to keep him from running and planted it right in his face. All you could see was blonde hair and white icing.

 Brenda was doubled over in laughter and didn’t see Nick coming with a piece for her. Before she could stop him, he covered her face with ice cream and jimmies.

 AJ was looking around and spotted Kat sitting at the kitchen table. She was laughing at all of them and had tears come out of her eyes.

 “What are you laughing at?” he asked Kat with a grin. Her smile faded, she jumped up and tried to run to the hallway. AJ was too fast for her and caught her by the arm. He spun her into him and used his finger to run icing around her cheek. Stopping at her lips, he looked into her eyes and felt all the old feelings come flooding back to him. Startled by AJ leaning in towards her, she backed up and whacked her arm into the doorjamb.

 “Owww!” she cried and grabbed her funny bone.

 “Bet ya that’s not funny!” Nick said laughing.

 “Idiot.” AJ said mumbling under his breath. He steered Kat over to the kitchen table and sat her down. “Where’s your ice pack?”

 “In the bathroom closet.”

 “I’ll be right back.”

 AJ went into the bathroom and cleaned his face. Once he had all the ice cream off, he turned and opened the closet. He was rummaging around looking for the ice pack when he noticed several prescription bottles labeled with Kat’s name. He pulled the nearest bottle out and turned it over in his hand.

 Digoxin

 Why does that name sounds familiar? He racked his brain trying to figure out where he’d heard that name before. He found the ice pack he was looking for and grabbed the prescription bottle.

 He stopped in the doorway of the kitchen and watched as everyone else cleaned up their faces. Kat was sitting at the table, keeping an eye on Jake as he ate his cake. She looked up when she noticed AJ enter the room and was surprised to see the look on his face.

 “What’s the matter J?” Nick asked seeing his facial expression.

 AJ ignored his question and held up the prescription bottle. Brenda gasped when she saw what he was holding.

 "What’s this?” he asked Kat with an angry look on his face.

 Kat’s face paled and she waited a minute before answering. “My last secret.”

 

The Hard Truth by Kyrie

“Seriously Kat? I thought we were done with all the fucking secrets!” AJ yelled.

 Brenda and Nick had taken Jake upstairs to clean him up and out him to bed. They figured giving Kat and AJ some time by themselves would be best.

 “This one doesn’t have anything to do with you or Jake.”

 “That’s crap! Since it affects you, then it affects Jake and me.”

“You don’t need to worry about it AJ. I can handle it on my own.”

 “Jesus Kat! Can’t you tell me what it is? I recognize the name on that bottle.”

 Tears started to well up in Kat’s eyes. “I have a VSD.”

 “What the hell is that?”

 “A ventricular septal defect.”

 “English Kat.”

 “A hole in my heart.”

 It finally clicked. He recognized the name from when Brian had his heart surgery.

 “Not a big deal? That’s a fucking huge deal! Brian almost died Kat! This is not something to fool around with!”

 “I know that!” Kat screamed at AJ.

 He was taken aback by the fact that Kat had raised her voice. She had never yelled at him and all of a sudden she was furious.

 “I get that it’s serious AJ! I’m not stupid.” Kat yelled again, storming upstairs and slamming her door.

 “What did you say to her?” Brenda asked angrily coming down from Jake’s room.

 “Calm down Brenda.” Nick said putting his hand on her arm.

 “I asked her why she was taking this seriously!” AJ snapped back.

 Brenda was pissed. “You have no fucking idea what she’s been through AJ. You think that she doesn’t get it? She almost died three times! She gets it!”

 AJ sank down into the couch. “She almost died?”

 Brenda took a deep breath. “Yes, once when she was little, another time when she was older and the last time was when she gave birth to Jake.”

 AJ’s mouth fell open.

 “I don’t understand what’s going on.” Nick said quietly.

 “Kat has a ventricular septal defect. It’s a hole in wall of her heart. She was born with it.”

 “That’s like what Brian had!” Nick exclaimed.

 “Except for Kat being diagnosed when she was born. She was so sick that she almost died.”

 “How did she know she was getting sick again?”

 “Kat’s been having symptoms of heart failure for a while. That’s why she’s been so tired and short of breath.”

 “What’s the medication for?”

 “It helps increases the strength of the heart muscle which makes it easier to deal with the greater blood volume being pumped through her heart.”

 “Exactly how sick is she?” Nick asked quietly.

 “Sick.” Brenda responded. “That’s why she came home after she had Jake. Her heart stopped during childbirth and it scared the hell out of her. She moved home so that if something happened, there would be someone around.”

 “So if something had happened, then I wouldn’t have even known about Jake, would I?” AJ asked.

 “That wouldn’t have happened.”

 “How do you know that?”

 “Kat made a will. She put in it that if something were to happen, I would bring Jake out here and explain everything to you.”

 The fact that Kat was so sick that she had to make a will made AJ sick to his stomach.

 “Why did she tell J herself then?” Nick asked quietly.

 “What she saw in July. She was petrified that something was going to happen to AJ and he would never get a chance to know Jake. She asked her doctors if she could move out here to be closer to you.”

 “Why didn’t she tell me right when she came out here?”

 “She was meeting with the doctors to figure out what could be done.”

 AJ’s head jerked up. “What can be done?”

 “She could have surgery. That’s about all that can be done right now.”

 “Why hasn’t she already done it?”

 “She wanted to make sure Jake was settled with you first.” Brenda paused. “You know, just in case.”

 AJ was starting to feel overwhelmed. Everything was coming at him all at once and he was struggling to deal with it.

 “What can we do?” Nick asked.

 “Just be there for her.” Brenda looked at AJ. “And not yell at her anymore.”

 “I won’t I promise.” AJ said. “Do you think I can go up and talk to her?”

 “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.” Brenda said. “Maybe you should give her some time.”

 AJ nodded. “Alright.” He got up and followed Nick to the door. “Can you tell her I said I was sorry?”

 “I will.”

 AJ and Nick drove home in silence. Nick asked if he wanted company but all AJ wanted was some time to think about what he was going to do next.

A Mother's Advice by Kyrie
Author's Notes:

Thank you Sapphire, backstreet_lady, JordansLady, Hazel and BeastieBarb for all the reviews. I'm glad you guys are liking the story and I'm always looking for feedback. Thank you!

AJ hadn’t been able to sleep at all that night. He got up and called the only person he knew who would be up.

 “Hi sweetheart.” Denise answered on the second ring. “What are you doing up so early?”

 “I need to talk to you. Can you come over?”

 Denise started to worry. “Is everything ok? You haven’t been….”

 “No, I haven’t had anything to drink. It’s not about that. Can you come over?”

 “Of course. I’ll be right there.”

 Denise must have broken the speed limit because twenty minutes later she rang AJ’s doorbell. She saw the stress and worry that was all over her face and she was getting really concerned.

 “Please tell me what this is all about AJ.” she said settling herself down on the sofa.

 AJ sighed and started to explain Kat being there and Jake being his son. He was talking so much that he started to ramble on about her being sick and not knowing what he was going to do. He finally finished and watched his mother for her reaction.

 Denise was trying to absorb everything he had told her and really wasn’t sure what she should say.

 “What do you think Ma?”

 “About which part honey? There’s a lot to go through.”

 “Let’s start with you having another grandson.”

 “I think that’s absolutely wonderful.”

 “Do you want me to ask Kat for a paternity test?”

 “No, why would I?”

 “You asked when Michelle told us she was pregnant and I didn’t get one.”

 Denise sighed. “Kat is not Michelle sweetheart. I believe Kat when she says he’s your son. I cannot imagine that she would make up something like that.”

 “Really?”

 “Yes really. When am I going to meet him?”

 “Whenever you want. Kat was supposed to bring him by today but I haven’t called her to see if she’s still coming.”

 “Ah the fight.”

 “She hid more stuff from me!”

 “You’re right, she did. But this is something that’s a huge issue AJ. I can’t imagine it being easy to talk about. You have to remember everything Brian went through. She’s out here with her friend and a baby. You two are just starting to get along and spend time together for Jake’s sake. Maybe she was waiting.”

 “Waiting for what? To get even sicker?”

 “Be fair AJ. I’m sure this isn’t enjoyable for her and it’s probably very scary. She left her family across the country so that she could bring Jake out here to you. You might want to cut her some slack.”

 “I don’t like that she’s hiding stuff.”

 “And you’re not?”

 AJ looked at his mother with surprise. “What am I hiding?”

 “Try the fact that you still love her.”

 “I don’t…”

 “Hold it right there. I raised you AJ and I know when you’re lying. Did you really think that you fooled anyone into believing that you stopped loving her when she left? Now she’s back here with your son and you’re spending more time with her.”

 AJ knew it was pointless to argue with his mother. He did still love her but so many things had changed. 

 “Are you mad?”

“Mad that you still love her? Why would I be?”

 “Because of everything we went through.”

 “I understand more now than I did before Ray told us what happened. Kat may have made some bad decisions and choices, but I really believe she’s a good person. I mean how long did she put up with me giving her a hard time about dating you. Most women would have run for the door!”

 AJ laughed. “Good point.”

 “So are you going to tell her?”

 “I don’t think so, at least not right now. I feel like I really need to understand everything before I can decide anything.”

 “Can I make two suggestions?”

 “Sure Ma.”

 “Number one is I think you should talk to Brian about what he went through so you can understand how Kat feels.”

 AJ nodded. “What’s the second one?”

 “Be her friend. She needs people right now AJ and even if you guys don’t work out romantically, at least you two could be friends and have a good relationship for Jake.”

 “Can I ask you something about that?”

 “Sure.”

 “What if I decide I want more?”

 “Then you guys will have to talk. Take this slow AJ. For both of your sakes.”

 He reached over and hugged his mother. “Thank you.”

 “You’re welcome.”

 ----------------

 AJ called Kat’s house and was surprised when Brenda answered Kat’s cell.

 “Hey Brenda. Everything ok?”

 “Yeah it’s fine, why?”

 “You’re answering Kat’s cell.”

“She’s sleeping but she knew you wanted to see Jake today so she asked me to bring him over if you want.”

 “Ok. Do you mind bringing him? My mother’s here and she’d like to meet him.”

 “No problem. I have to pack up some stuff and then I’ll come by.”

 “Thanks Brenda.”

 “Welcome.”

 -------------

 Brenda hung up and turned to Kat.

 “Am I gonna have answer the phone every time he calls? Am I also going to be the taxi? Kind of like Driving Miss Daisy?”

 “I’m sorry Brenda. I just don’t know what to say to him. He was angry last night and I took his head off.”

 “You two are going to have to talk at some point. You’re both Jake’s parents.”

 “I know but I think it’s best if we just stay that way, his parents and nothing else.”

 Brenda sighed. She knew Kat loved AJ but she was a stubborn woman and once she decided on something, it was damn near impossible to change her mind.

 -------------------

 AJ and Denise spent the day with Jake taking him to the park and out to get ice cream. Brenda offered to come get him but AJ said he would drop him off. He wanted to see Kat and try to apologize for the night before.

 “Hi AJ.” Brenda said opening the door. “How’d today go?”

 “Great. Kat’s right, he really is a happy baby.”

 “How was your mom?”

 “Terrific. She already loves him and she kept going on and on about how much he looks like me as a baby and how we have the same quirky looks.”

 Brenda laughed. “I’m glad you guys had fun. It’s time for a bath and bedtime I think.”

 AJ handed Jake to Brenda. “Is Kat around?”

 “Um, she’s in bed I think.”

 “Is she ok? When I called earlier she was sleeping.”

 “Just wiped out from everything. She’ll be around tomorrow so give her a call if you want to come over.”

 “I actually have to do some work tomorrow but can I come by on Saturday?”

 “Yeah no problem. I’ll let her know you’re coming.”

 “Thanks Brenda. Night.”

 “Night AJ.”

 Kat watched from the upstairs window as AJ pulled away. This was going to be harder than she thought.

  

I'm Not Here by Kyrie

AJ invited everyone over on Saturday to have them meet Jake. He called Kat to see if he could pick him up, but Brenda answered her cell.

 “Hey AJ.”

 “Hey Brenda. Is that Kat around?”

 “Actually she’s running some errands.”

 “She didn’t take her phone? What if something happens?” he asked with worry creeping into his voice.

 “Don’t worry AJ. She’ll be fine. She didn’t go far.”

 “Still she should take her phone.”

 “I’ll tell her you said that. You know how well she listens!” Brenda said with a laugh. “Did you want me to bring Jake by?”

 “Would you mind?” he asked disappointed that he wasn’t going to get to talk to Kat.

 “Not at all. What time?”

 “Whenever’s good for you.”

 “I’ll be over in an hour ok?”

 “Sounds good. See you guys then.”

 “K.”

 --------------------

 Brenda kicked Kat’s foot after she hung up.

 “I am not joking chica. I am tired of doing this. I’m not your answering service nor am I a taxi.”

 “I know but…”

 “No more buts!” Brenda said louder than she meant to. “You are going to have to deal with him. You two have a kid.”

 “I know, I’m just not ready right now.”

 “You're so goddamn stubborn! You’re never going to be ready. There’s always going to be a reason. I love you but enough is enough. You have to talk to him.”

 “I know I do but this isn’t something you rush into.”

 “You’ve already rushed things sweetie. You two have a son together. I think that means you’re already on the fast track.”

 “Look Brenda. He’s concerned because I’m Jake’s mother. I appreciate that but I don’t need him to focus on me. It makes it harder for me. He needs to just be concerned about Jake.”

 “But I think…”

 “Don’t even tell me that you think he still loves me! I left him, lied to him about why, showed up with his son and now didn’t tell him I have a medical condition. I’m sure whatever love he had for me went out the door a while ago.”

 “Dammit Kat. You don’t get to wallow. You need to talk to him!”

 “Fine, I’ll try. Just not today.”

 Brenda shook her head and went to get Jake ready for AJ’s.

 

A Plan by Kyrie

Everyone had already arrived by the time Brenda got there. They knew about Jake before they came but they were all waiting when she arrived.

 “Well this I uncomfortable.” Brenda mumbled under her breath as she got Jake out. Everybody was watching her and she didn’t exactly know what to say. She hadn’t seen anyone, except for Nick, since last Thanksgiving.

 “Hi Bren.” Nick said hugging her. “Where’s Kat?”

 Brenda was sure that you could hear a pin drop as everyone waited for her answer.

 “Um, she’s sleeping.”

 AJ looked at her strangely. “I thought you said she was out running errands?”

 “Yeah she was. She pulled in as I was leaving and asked if I would still take Jake so she could take a nap.”

 Brenda could only hope that sounded convincing. This lying thing was getting harder and harder.

 “Liar.” Nick said quietly with a smile.

 “Shut up.” Brenda mouthed.

 “Do you want to stay Brenda?” Denise asked.

 “Um…I should probably go home….”

 “You should stay. Come and hang out for a bit.” Nick added.

 “I want to make sure Kat’s not by herself for too long.”

 “I understand Brenda.” AJ said. “But I was hoping you could stay for a few minutes. I wanted to talk to you and Brian together.”

 Brenda really hated her friend at the moment. Not only was she uncomfortable being there but now AJ wanted to talk to her.

 “I guess as long as I don’t stay too long it’s ok.”

 Brenda handed Jake to Denise and followed AJ and Brian into the den.

 “What’s up?” Brenda asked quietly.

 “I wanted you to answer some questions for Brian. He had a similar hole and had his repaired a while ago. He understands the situation better than I do and I was hoping we could come up with some kind of plan.”

 “Plan?”

 “A plan for convincing Kat to do something.”

 Brenda burst out laughing. “A plan for Kat to do something? I love you AJ but seriously? Do you not remember how stubborn she is?”

 “I know, but I’m worried.”

 Brenda stopped laughing when she saw the look in his eyes. He truly seemed nervous about what was going on and it was definitely bothering him.

 “I’m sorry I laughed AJ.”

 “I understand why you did but this is important to me. She’s Jake’s mom and everyone wants her around for a long time.”

 Brenda noticed how he referred to her as Jake’s mother and how he said everyone wanted her around. Maybe Kat was right and AJ was just concerned for Jake’s sake.

 “I want her around too but I don’t know how to make her do anything.” She turned to Brian. “What made you do it?”

 “Leighanne.” he answered. “She threatened to leave me if I didn’t slow down and take care of myself. I was scared of the surgery but the thought of losing Leighanne petrified me. I called my doctor and figured out what I needed to do.”

 “What did you need to do?” Brenda asked hesitantly.

 “Kat never talked to you about it?”

 “No.” Brenda said shaking her head. “She won’t even let me go to the doctor’s with her.”

 “Well, it’s open heart surgery. They had to make incisions and place a patch over the hole to prevent any more blood coming through.”

 Brenda shuddered. “How dangerous is it?”

 “As dangerous as anything else. Surgeons are much more skilled at it now than they used to be and most of the time there aren’t any problems.”

 Brenda looked over at AJ. “Did you know all of this?”

 “Not until the other day. My mother suggested I call Brian and ask him to explain it to me and to help me see what she’s going through.”

 “I’d really like to talk to her but I don’t want to overstep by bounds.” Brian added.

 “I have no idea how I can convince her to talk to you. She won’t even talk to him.” Brenda said, nodding her head in AJ’s direction.

 “She won’t talk to me?”

 “No.”

 “But you said….”

 “I know what I said. I lied. She won’t listen to me when I tell her she should talk to you.”

 “So she’s been there when I’ve called and come by?”

 Brenda nodded. “I’m sorry AJ but she’s my best friend.”

 AJ let out a long deep breath. “I know but this has to stop.”

 “Yeah, well when you figure out how to get through to her, let me know.”

 ------------------------

 Brenda stayed for a few more hours before taking Jake home. Everyone loved him and had agreed that he was just like his dad. It was sad to know that Kat wasn’t going to be coming and spending time with everybody. They had all missed her and really wanted to make peace after they found out what happened with Michelle. No one wanted to push her further away than she already was.

 “It sucks that Kat didn’t come.” Nick said to AJ quietly.

 “I know. I can’t believe she’s been refusing to talk to me.”

 “Well you guys kind of went at it the other night.”

 “I know but I had my reasons!” AJ said raising his voice.

 “And they would be?”

 “She’s the mother of my child Nick!”

 “And that’s it. She’s just the mother of your child. Nothing else?”

 “Damn Nick! You already know I love her. It’s not like I stopped when she left. Why do you keep at it?”

 “Uh maybe because I’m not the one you need to be telling over and over again. I’m not going to love you.”

 “Thanks Nick.”

 “You know what I mean J. You’re in love with her and everyone around here knows it. The problem is the person you’re in love with doesn’t know it.”

 “Well how am I supposed to tell her? She won’t even answer the damn phone!”

 “I think you may need to get creative.” Nick paused. “J this isn’t going to get any easier or any better unless someone goes out on a limb and says something.”

 “What if I go out on that limb and it gets chopped off?” AJ asked quietly.

 “Then it gets cut AJ. Are you going to keep walking around in denial and just letting her not have anything to do with you? That’s not the AJ I know. If it was anyone else, you’d be out there every second making them see your point.”

 “But she’s different.”

 “I know she is and that’s the problem. You’re going to have to try something to get her to talk to you.”

 “I know. I just don’t know……..” AJ trailed off. “Think it’s too late to call Brenda?”

 “No why?”

 “Good.” AJ grabbed Nick’s phone and dialed Brenda’s number. “I think I have an idea but I need some information first.”

Nowhere to Hide by Kyrie

“Make sure you make an appointment for two weeks and that you schedule another echo.”

 “I will Dr. Anderson.”

 “I really think we should be considering all the options at this point Kat.”

 “But you said the medication was working?”

 “No, what I said was that it wasn’t getting any worse.”

 “Then that’s fine. I’ll make an appointment on the way out.” Kat said and hurried out of the exam room. She paid her copay and headed out to the hallway. She was so preoccupied with everything that she didn’t seem him leaning against the opposite wall.

 “Hey.”

Kat looked up startled. “What are you doing here?”

 “I came to talk to you.” AJ answered.

 “Why?”

 “Um because you’re doing everything in your power to avoid me.”

 “Well obviously not since you’re here.” Kat paused. “How did you know where I would be?”

 “Brenda. I think she’s getting tired of playing the intermediary for you.”

 Kat was going to strangle her when she got home.

 “How’d your doctor’s appointment go?”

 “It was fine. You really don’t need to be here. There’s nothing to be worried about.”

 That was the last straw. AJ grabbed Kat by the hand and dragged her out to the parking garage. He took her keys from her, deposited her in the passenger seat and then climbed into the driver’s side.

 “What the hell AJ?”

 “Don’t give me what the hell. Now you have to listen to me. You and I need to talk.”

 “There’s nothing to talk about AJ. Everything is…”

 “Jesus Christ Kat! Why the hell do you have to be so fucking pigheaded?” AJ yelled slamming his hand on the steering wheel.

 Kat pulled back towards the door. It was a rare occasion that she saw AJ like this and she knew he was not going to back down this time.

 “I’m sorry Kat.” AJ said calming down. “But you’re refusing to talk to me about anything even Jake. We can’t keep doing this and I’m sorry if you don’t like it but we need to be completely honest with each other. You need to know what’s going on with me and I need the same.”

 “What you need to know is whatever affects Jake. This affects me and I can deal with it just fine on my own. I have for years.”

 “I can see that. The only problem is that now there are people like Jake who depend on you. You’re his mother Kat. What if something happens to you? Don’t you think that would affect everyone?”

 “Nothing is going to happen AJ and I’m getting tired of defending myself to you. You don’t need to be so concerned; I can take care of this.”

 “Are you not listening to anything I said? I am concerned, I’m not going to stop being concerned and nothing you do can make me. You want to play stubborn? Well so can I.”

 “AJ..”

 “No. I will literally follow you around everywhere you go and whatever you do. I don’t care if I have to sleep on your porch. You are not going to keep pushing me away and pretending like this is no big deal.”

 Tears welled up in Kat’s eyes. “You don’t get it AJ, you won’t understand.”

 Seeing her cry broke his heart. “I know honey but I’m trying.”

 Kat was so upset that she didn’t even hear him call her that. “No one gets it.”

 “Someone does.”

 “Yeah who?”

 “Brian.”

 Kat stayed quiet.

 “Do me one favor and then I’ll ease up a little.”

 “You’ll back off?”

 “No, I said I’d ease up.”

 “What?”

 “Talk to Brian. If you won’t talk to anyone else, talk to him. He understands and I’ve already asked him if he would get together with you. Will you try and talk to him?”

 Kat went quiet again.

 “Please Kat, I’m begging you. Just talk to him and let him help you.”

 All AJ wanted was to help Kat and it bugged him that he couldn’t. He needed to let someone else in to help her and he was defensive about that. The problem was that there was no other way around it. She needed someone’s help.

 “Please Kat?”

 Kat wiped her eyes and nodded her head. “Fine.”

 “Hallelujah!” AJ murmured.

 “Can I have my keys back?”

 “Nope. I’m driving you home.”

 “But I agreed to talk to Brian and your car is here.”

 “And you’re still upset and I don’t want you driving. Nick can bring me back later. Put on your seatbelt.”

 AJ waited for her to get settled and then pulled out of the lot.

 

Brian's Advice by Kyrie

It had been two weeks since AJ had convinced Kat to talk to Brian and she knew she was going to have to face the music eventually. AJ was coming by every day to see if she had spoken to him and she had been putting it off as long as she could.

 AJ was on his way to pick Jake up and take him to the park so Kat started steeling herself for the question of the day. She heard the doorbell ring and when she opened the door she was surprised to see two visitors instead of one.

 “Hi AJ. Hi Brian.”

 “Hi Kat.” Brian answered for both of them. He and AJ followed Kat down the hallway to the kitchen.

 “I’m gonna put it out on the table Kat. You’ve been putting off going to Brian to talk so I brought him to you instead.”

 AJ could tell that Kat was aggravated with him but he didn’t really care. She had agreed to talk to Brian and was just stalling.

 “Sorry for the ambush.” Brian added. “I tried to talk him into telling you.”

 “Why should I?” AJ asked. “She’d just avoid it again.”

 “Hey AJ, that she is me and I’m right here. I can hear you.”

 “Good!” AJ started to head for the stairs. “I’ll grab Jake and see myself out. You two talk!”

 Kat sighed knowing there was no way she was getting out of this. She invited Brian into the living room and sat down on the couch. Once she heard the front door open and shut, she knew it was ok to talk.

 “I’m sorry Brian. I know I was supposed to come and talk to you and I’ve been putting it off.”

 “I’d say no problem but I know you have a problem. I’m not here to tell you what to do. I just want to be a sounding board for you and help you if I can and if you want me to. I promise not to tell J anything you don’t want me to.”

 “Won’t that make him mad, everyone keeping secrets again?”

 “Let me deal with him. This is important.”

 “I don’t even know where to start.”

 “How about the basics? How long have you had it?”

 “Since I was a baby. I went into congestive heart failure a few months after I was born and I spent a lot of my first few years growing up at Children’s Hospital.”

 “How come they never fixed it?”

 “It stopped growing when I was five and they told my parents to keep an eye on it. Everything was going fine until a couple of years ago. I started feeling tired and sometimes short of breath. My cardiologist did an echo and the pressures had gone up.”

 “Have you started to shunt?”

 “I think it’s headed in that direction.”

 “You know once that blood flow reverses direction, your blood will bypass your lungs and won’t be oxygenated right?”

 Kat nodded and her eyes filled with tears.

 Brian left out a soft sigh. “I know I said I wouldn’t say anything but you really need to consider the surgery Kat. It sounds more like a when thing than an if thing.”

 “I know.” Kat replied starting to cry. “It’s just so scary.”

 Brian got up and got her a box of tissues. He sat opposite her and reached out for her hand.

 “I know it’s scary, it’s probably one of the most terrifying things to deal with. But you need to understand that we’re all here for you. We just want you to get better.”

“I want that too. I’m just so overwhelmed. I have a son to think about and it petrifies me to think of what could happen.”

 “I know you’re anxious about the surgery but it sounds like you really need it. You just said it scares you to think of what could happen with the surgery. Try to imagine what it’ll be like if you don’t have it and something happens.” Brian paused for a minute. “Can I be blunt?”

 “Yes.”

 “You have a son who needs you, friends who love you and a whole life in front of you. If you take the risk of not having the surgery and something happens, you’re going to hurt an awful lot of people. Jake needs you to be his mom, we need you to be our friend and AJ needs…”

 “Stop. AJ doesn’t need anything from me.”

 “Is that really what you think?”

 “Yes it is.”

 “Kat, he loves you. Whether he’ll admit it or not, he’s still in love with you. Why do you think he’s so persistent about this?”

 “I assumed it was because of Jake.” Kat said with surprise.

 “Yeah it has to do with Jake but AJ needs you. Everyone woman that J has ever loved has pretty much cut and run on him.”

 “I did.” Kat said quietly.

 “Yes, but you did it for a different reason. AJ has you back and now he has Jake. He needs to have that relationship in his life. I’m not saying that you guys have to get back together right now but you need to understand that he truly does love and care about you. I honestly don’t want to be anywhere near J if something happens to you.”

There were so many emotions flooding through Kat that she didn’t even know where to start. She knew she needed the surgery and she knew what was at stake as far as Jake was concerned. This one a big choice and she had to make it in the best interest of everyone.

 “I’ll call the doctor tomorrow but I don’t want to do it until after Christmas. I want to enjoy the holidays with everyone just in case.”

 The statement coming out of Kat’s mouth made her cry again. Brian put his arm around her.

 “It’s ok Kat. Nothing is going to happen. We’re all going to enjoy the holidays together, you’ll have your surgery and then we’re going to sit back and enjoy life.” Brian said with a smile. “I truly believe that.”

 Kat looked over at Brian with a sad smile. “I’m going to hold you to that.”

 

Baby Steps by Kyrie
Author's Notes:

Thank you to everyone for reviewing! I love the comments and I appreciate the time it takes for you guys to read the story and leave me feeback. Thank you!

Brian was gone by the time AJ brought Jake back to the house. Kat was in the kitchen with Brenda who had just gotten home.

 “Hey AJ.” Brenda said giving him a hug. “I heard you dropped another surprise on Kat today.”

 “Who me?” AJ said feigning a look of shock. “I never surprise people.”

 “Oh yeah. You’re so against surprises.” Kat said sarcastically.

 Brenda watched as the two of them traded jabs. She could see how much they cared for each other and was as frustrated as everyone else that the two of them couldn’t get out of their own way long enough to tell the other one.

 “Hey Jake! Why don’t we go upstairs and cleanup for dinner? We’ll let Momma and Dada talk.”

 Brenda swept the little boy up in her arms and everyone laughed as he squealed. AJ sat down at the table while Kat finished making dinner.

 “Do you want to stay tonight?”

 “Huh?” AJ asked.

 “Do you want to stay for dinner tonight?”

 “Ah sure.” AJ answered. When he heard her the first time, he had been hoping she meant something else but apparently not. “How did it go with Bri?”

 “Ok. We talked for an hour or so. I told him to wait till you got back but he said he would catch up with you later.”

 “Yeah, we’re gonna to do some work on the new album next week.”

 “A new one? When is it going to be out?”

 “Not for a while so don’t get your hopes up about getting ready of me!” AJ said with a smile.

 “I’m not trying to get rid of you!” Kat protested, throwing a towel at him.

 “Yeah sure. I can take it, I’m a big boy.”

 “Whatever McLean. Why don’t you go wash your hands before we eat?”

 “Ok Mom.” AJ said flicking her with the towel and he left to wash up.

 Kat put her hands on the counter and took a deep breath. She wanted to tell him about what she and Brian had discussed but she couldn’t bring herself to open up that much. It had been hard enough with Bri, a man who she had never had a relationship with. Explaining all of that to AJ would be so much harder and he wouldn’t have been as easygoing as his brother.

 “You ok?” AJ asked, startling her by putting his hand on her shoulder.

 “Jesus AJ! Try not to scare the crap out of the person with the heart problem!” Kat said with a nervous chuckle.

 “That’s not funny Kat.”

 “Sorry.” she replied quietly.

 AJ turned her around so she was facing him and he put his hands on the counter trapping her into the spot.

 “No more joking about that. It upsets me. I care about you and I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

 Kat stared into his eyes and saw the sincerity in them. She was so transfixed by his gaze that she didn’t see the fire on the stove until the alarm went off.

 “Shit!”

 AJ grabbed the pan on the stove and threw it into the sink. He ran over to the smoke detector and started waving his arms around like a madman. It brought back memories of the first time he had tried to cook for Kat and she burst into laughter.

 AJ turned around and watched as Kat sank to the floor in tears. He dove to catch her as she continued to cry. At some point, the tears had turned from laughter to grief and Kat started to sob in his arms. He held her tightly and rocked her until she was quiet.

 “I’m sorry.” she whispered. “I’m so sorry for everything.”

 “It’s ok baby. You don’t have to be sorry.” AJ said holding her tightly. He pushed the hair out of her face and kissed her on the forehead. “I just want to be here for you. Please let me.”

Kat nodded and wrapped her arms around AJ’s waist. She curled her head into his neck and just sat there listening to his heartbeat.

 “Someone is ready for din……” Brenda stopped in the doorway. “What’s going on?”

 “Nothing.” AJ said quietly. “We were just talking.”

 “Usually people don’t do that on the floor.” Brenda said with a raised eyebrow. “Want me to take Jake back upstairs?”

 “No.” Kat said shaking her head. AJ stood up and helped her to her feet. “I think I burned dinner.”

 “I think I helped.” AJ added with a smile.

 “Ok then, takeout it is.” Brenda said reaching for the phonebook. “You two are paying!”

 

The Appointment by Kyrie

“Thank you for letting me come with you.” AJ said as he pulled his truck into the parking garage.

 The two of them had agreed at dinner the night before that AJ should come with her to the doctor’s appointment and be able to ask any questions he had instead of hearing things secondhand.

 “It’s probably easier for the doctor to explain than me and you can tell him about your concerns.”

 “Well I still appreciate it. I know it’s a big deal for you to let me come. All I want to do is be there for you and this might help.”

 I hope so, Kat thought to herself. I hope it doesn’t make it worse.

 The doctor had scheduled an echocardiogram for her before the appointment and Kat got up enough courage to ask AJ if he wanted to sit in for it. He surprised her by saying yes and the technician let him in as soon as everything was set up and the leads were attached to her.

 Kat and the tech pointed out where the hole was and he could see her heart beat.

 “Want to hear it?” Kat asked.

 “It makes a noise?” he asked quietly.

 “Yes it does.” The tech turned up the volume on the machine and all AJ could hear was what sounded like a plunger.

 “That’s your heart making that noise?” he yelped.

 Kat laughed and nodded. “It freaks people out the first time they hear it.”

 “I can see why!”

The tech finished the test and asked AJ to wait outside while they took everything off Kat and let her get settled again. He joined her and Dr. Anderson in his office a few minutes later.

 “Nice to meet you AJ.” he said extending his hand. “Kat’s told me about you.”

 “Well, depending on the day that could go either way.” AJ responded with a nervous laugh.

 “It was all good. She told me that she was bringing you because you had some questions for me.”

 “I do and I’m not used to this so there might be a lot of them.”

 “That’s fine. I’ll do my best to answer them.”

 “Ok. My first is that I need you to explain exactly what this is.”

 “That one is easy. It’s a hole located between the two ventricles in the heart. Usually the blood from the body passes through the right ventricle and then leaves to be oxygenated by the lungs and returns to the left ventricle. However, Kat has an opening allowing blood to flow from one ventricle directly into the other.”

 “Um, I think I need it in English.”

 Dr. Anderson chuckled. “The two sides of her heart are not supposed to be mixing blood but they are because of a hole. One side is leaking into the other. It also means that her heart has to work harder to provide enough oxygen for her body’s tissues.”

 “That I understand better. I have another question. Why is her heart acting up now? I mean she’s had this hole since she was a baby.”

 “You can never guarantee these things. Her heart has just decided that it can’t handle all the strain and unfortunately, it doesn’t have a nice way of saying it.”

 “What does that mean? What could happen?”

 “Her blood could shunt.”

 AJ looked confused.

 “The blood flow through the hole could start reversing direction.”

 “What happens then?”

 Dr. Anderson sighed. “Several things. Her blood could not get enough oxygen, her lungs could overfill with blood and/or the blood pressure in her lungs will increase. Basically, she will go into cardiac heart failure.”

AJ’s mouth dropped open. He turned to look at Kat who was practically crawling over the other side of the chair. He turned back to the doctor and asked his next question.

“So basically without this surgery, she could eventually die. Is that right?”

 Dr. Anderson nodded. “Yes, she needs the surgery. We’ve tried the medication but it doesn’t seem to be controlling the symptoms well enough.”

 “What does the surgery entail?”

 “We’ll have to make an incision in her heart and cover the hole with a patch. This should take care of the problem but we can’t guarantee anything until we actually see it. That’s why I told her to think about having the surgery…”

 “Oh she’s having the surgery! Sooner rather than later. When can you do it?”

 Kat sat there in shock. They hadn’t discussed anything and AJ was practically digging the doctor’s appointment book out for him.

 “AJ.” she said putting her hand on his arm.

 He jerked his arm back and turned to her. “You’re doing this. There is no more discussion. I’m dead serious Kat. We are scheduling it right here, right now. Do you understand me?”

 Kat just nodded. She had never seen that look in AJ’s eyes. There was such intensity and it was mixed with something else.

 “I think that we should plan it for the second week in January. This was she can enjoy the holidays with all of you instead of being cooped up in the hospital. This type of surgery requires a large amount of recovery time.”

 “Let’s do it.” AJ replied quickly.

 They set up a few more appointments and scheduled the surgery. After thanking the doctor, he walked out of the office and into the hallway. Kat stood up and shook her doctor’s hand.

 “Thank you Dr. Anderson.”

 “You’re welcome, although I don’t imagine this made things any easier for you.”

 “No they didn’t but it had to be done.”

 Kat walked out of the office to find AJ pacing back and forth in front of the door. He took off to the parking garage as soon as she came out and waited for her to climb in before starting it up.

 “AJ…”

 “I don’t want to talk right now Kat. Let me just think for a while.”

 They drove home in silence and AJ didn’t even come in when they got back. He watched to make sure she got in and then she heard his truck roar out of the driveway.

“I take it the doctor’s appointment went well.” Brenda said when she saw Kat’s face.

 “No it went awful.” Kat said sinking onto the sofa. “I should have told him earlier.”

 She started to cry softly. Brenda slid over and put her arm around Kat’s shoulders.

 “It’s going to be ok.”

 “Not this time Brenda. He’s really mad.”

 “And he’ll get over it. This whole thing is a lot for anyone to absorb Kat and you just need to give him some time. Everything will work itself out.”

 “I hope so.”

Popping the Question by Kyrie
Author's Notes:

A huge thank you to Sapphire, JordansLady, backstreet_lady, Hazel_85, Rosalie and BeastieBarb for all the reviews. Let me know how you like the next one!

“Are you sure you don’t want to come with us?” Brenda asked.

 “No, but thank you.”

 “Come on, you need to get out.”

 Nick was taking Brenda out to celebrate her new job as assistant principal at the school they were opening. It had been a few days since AJ had come by and she didn’t want Kat to spend any more time by herself.

 “No, you enjoy it. You’re around kids all day and then you come home and help me with Jake. Enjoy a kid free night for a change!” Kat said with a laugh.

 “Jake’s a sweetheart and you know I don’t mind.”

 “I know, but you and Nick need some alone time and some adult time.”

 Brenda blushed.

 “Why don’t you really plan some adult time and stay at his house?” Kat asked wiggling her eyebrows.

 “Funny Brady! Maybe I will!”

 “Maybe you should!”

 “She should what?” Nick asked coming down the hallway. “Sorry, I rang the bell but no one answered. You shouldn’t leave that door unlocked.”

 “I usually don’t but I was just heading out to wait for you.” Brenda said.

 “Well I’m here so let’s go.”

“You two have fun!” Kat yelled watching them leave. “Oh and don’t come home tonight!”

 She heard Brenda and Nick laughing as they left. After feeding Jake, she gave him a bath and put him down for the night. She had just crawled under her covers to watch a movie when she heard the doorbell ring downstairs. When she reached the door, she was amazed to see AJ through the peephole.

“Hi.” she said opening the door.

 “Hey.” AJ answered. “Think I could come in for a few minutes?”

 Kat pulled the door open and waved her arm. She locked the door and followed him down to the living room. He had already taken a seat on the sofa so she sat in the chair opposite it.

 “I’m sorry.”

 “Excuse me?” Kat asked.

 “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have behaved the way I did the other day. I was angry and scared and I didn’t know how to deal with everything that I heard.”

 “You were scared?”

 AJ nodded and for the first time, Kat noticed the red rings around his eyes. She got up, handed him a box of tissue and sat down next to him on the sofa.

 “I’m scared. It was a lot to take in and I couldn’t figure out why you couldn’t tell me what the doctor did.

 Kat’s eyes welled up. “I’m sorry I didn’t AJ, but you’re not the only one who’s scared.”

 “Then talk to me. Please don’t keep shutting me out.”

 “I don’t know how to tell you what I’m feeling AJ. It’s something I deal with myself.”

 “But it’s not just you anymore. Jake is here and so am I. Please be honest with me and help me understand.” He paused. “Did you tell Brian how you feel?”

 Kat nodded.

 “Then why can’t you tell me?” AJ said loudly making a fist. “I’m the one you were supposed to spend the rest of your life with and you won’t even talk to me anymore.”

 “It’s been a long time AJ and we’ve been through a lot.”

 “I don’t care. I told you a long time ago that I would be here for you through anything. I made that promise to you.”

 “But you don’t owe me that promise anymore.”

 “I want to keep that promise. If that’s one thing I do, I want to keep that.” AJ turned to face her and grabbed her hands. “Please Kat, I’m begging you. Talk to me.”

 Seeing AJ that upset finally broke down the last bit of the wall she was trying to hold up.

 “I’m scared AJ. I’m scared that if I don’t do the surgery, I’ll die and leave Jake behind. I’m scared that if I have the surgery, there could be a complication and I would still die.” Kat paused and wiped the tears from her eyes. “I’m afraid to die.”

 “You’re not going to die.”

 “You can’t say that AJ. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”

 “Yes I do and you’re not going to leave us.”

 “Even with the best doctors…”

 “You’ll have the best doctors. I don’t care how much it costs for that to happen but you will have everything you need.”

 “Thank you for promising that but it’s not your issue to worry about.”

 “You are my issue Kat. You are my reason to worry. You and I have a son and I don’t want to lose you. I can’t raise Jake by myself and I don’t want to.”

 Kat wiped the tears from her eyes and laughed softly. “You don’t give up do you?”

 “No I don’t and you should know that by now.” AJ said, smiling for the first time that night.

 “I agreed to do the surgery AJ and I’m sorry for not telling you about everything sooner. I’m not sure what else I can do.”

 “You could do one more thing.”

 “What?”

 “Move in with me.”

The Compromise by Kyrie

“What?” Kat asked, leaping off the sofa.

 “Move in with me.”

 Kat stood in front of him and just stared. She had no idea what brought this on and what to say to him.

 AJ stared back. “Say something Kat.”

 “No.”

 “Not that.” AJ said shaking his head. “Will you please sit down and hear me out?”

 Kat slowly sank back onto the sofa but continued to stare at him with surprise.

 “I want you and Jake to move in with me. You told me the other day that Brenda got a new job and it’s going to keep her busy. Nick occupies a lot of her time too and that means she’s here less and less with you. If you come and live with me, I’m around all the time. I can work from home and I can help you with Jake.”

 “We don’t need to move in with you. We’re just fine right here.”

 “No you’re not.”

 “Yes I am AJ. I don’t need a constant babysitter.”

 AJ raised his hands. “I’m not saying you do. But you need some help. Brenda and Nick are doing their thing and you’re here by yourself. If anything happened, you’d alone.”

 “If anything happens, I can call someone.”

 “You can call me! But you wouldn’t have to if you would just live with me.”

 Kat took in a deep breath and let out a long sigh.

 “Are you ok?” AJ asked concerned.

 Kat smacked herself in the forehead with her hand. “This is why I can’t live with you. I take a deep breath to give myself time to think and you automatically go to something being wrong.”

 “I’m sorry Kat, I just thought…”

 “I know what you thought and I appreciate the concern but I can’t move in with you. It would be like this 24/7 and neither one of us would be able to take it. You’d get tired of walking around on eggshells AJ. You had to do enough of that with Michelle and you don’t need to do it anymore.”

 “It’s not the same thing Kat.” AJ responded.

 “I know it’s not quite the same thing but you’d go right back into the role of taking care of a baby and a woman again. I can take care of myself AJ.” She paused for a minute. “Plus, we tried this before and it didn’t work.”

 “No we didn’t.” AJ said, shaking his head. “You never came out here because of Michelle. We’ve never lived together.”

 Kat thought about it for a minute. “I’m sorry, maybe I shouldn’t have put it like that.”

 AJ slid over on the couch so he was sitting side by side with her. “Give it a chance.”

 “It’s not a good idea AJ. Something will happen and it will be like last time.”

 “No it won’t. We’re better than last time. We know everything.”

 “But we’re not together AJ and it’s different with a child.”

 “But we could make it work. If you won’t say yes, will you please tell me that you’ll think about it? Please?”

 Kat rubbed her eyes with her hand. “I don’t know AJ.”

 “Just think about it.”

 “If I say I’ll think about it, will you leave it alone?”

 “Maybe.” AJ said with a chuckle.

 “Really? Maybe?”

 “I’m persistent Kat.”

 “Yah think?”

 AJ slid his arm around Kat’s shoulder. “Yes I do. Just think about it.”

 “Fine. I’ll think about it.” she said, leaning her head against his shoulder.

 “Good.” He pulled the blanket off the back of the couch and wrapped it around her. “Feel like watching a movie since I’m already here?”

 “Seriously McLean? It’s like 10.”

“Just one and then I’ll head out. It’ll be like old times except you can’t kick me out.”

 “I can kick you out buddy!” Kat said elbowing him in the side. “You could be out on the doorstep in a heartbeat.”

 “Yeah but you won’t.” he replied smiling.

 Kat laughed. “One movie and then you’re out.”

 -----------------

 Brenda and Nick pulled in about midnight and they went in to check on Kat and Jake. She wanted to stay at Nick’s but she was concerned about leaving Kat by herself just in case something happened. Heading upstairs to check the bedroom, she felt Nick’s hand tug on her arm.

 “What?” she whispered.

 “I don’t think you need to check upstairs.”

 “Why?”

 Nick dragged her over to the doorway of the living room and what she saw brought a smile to her face. Kat was sound asleep on the couch, curled into AJ’s side. He had his arm wrapped around her and was snoring so they knew he was asleep too.

 “Think they finally worked it out?” Nick asked.

 “Oh God I hope so.” Brenda said with a grin. “Let’s get out of here!”

 

Good Morning by Kyrie

Kat woke up the next morning and it took her a few moments to realize that she had fallen asleep on the living room sofa. She started to get nervous when she looked down and saw an arm draped over her. Wiggling under it and turning around slowly, she came face to face with AJ. She smiled as she recalled the mornings she had awoken to him sleeping on the other side of the bed. However, the smile slowly faded as regret moved in. If she hadn’t listened to Michelle, this could have been her life every day.

 AJ must have sensed her staring at him because his eyelids started to flutter. When he finally opened his eyes all the way, his jaw dropped open. He found Kat lying there with a smile and he thought he must be dreaming. He started to sit up and wound up falling off the side of the couch because he didn’t have enough room.

 Kat leaned over the side and burst out laughing as she watched AJ rubbing his back. She was so distracted by the look on his face that she didn’t see him reach his arm up. He pulled her off the couch and she landed on the floor next to him.

 “Think it’s that funny huh?”

 AJ started to tickle her and watched as tears streamed down her face. It reminded him of all the fun they had together. She was so beautiful and he couldn’t help himself. He leaned in to kiss her and was only inches away when he heard giggling over the baby monitor.

 “Apparently someone else would like to join the party.” Kat said as she tried to control her laughter.

 AJ smiled. “I’ll go get him.”

 Kat watched as AJ got up and headed to the stairs. She lay there for a few minutes and then brushed herself off and headed to the kitchen to make pancakes.

 ------------

 Jake enjoyed his pancakes as usual and AJ got a chance to talk to Kat about something else that he had been thinking of.

 “You know how I asked you to move in with me last night?”

 “What, you changed your mind already?” Kat asked with a chuckle.

 “Hell no! I just had another question I wanted to ask.”

 “What?”

 AJ thought for a minute about how to put it. “We would all like you, Jake and Brenda to have Thanksgiving with us this year.”

 Kat looked at him with wide eyes. "After everything I did, I'm not sure everyone would be excited to see me."

"Yes they would be and if you mean my mom, she understands what you did now. She wasn't happy that it played out the way it did but it's over and done with. She wants me to be happy."

 "Well Jake definitely makes you happy."

 "Jake's not the only one who makes me happy."

 Kat blushed. "I make you happy because of Jake."

 "No, it's more than that. I want you at Thanksgiving, not just Jake. Both of you. We're a family Kat and families spend holidays together."

 "I don't want to cause any issues."

 "No one is going to have an issue with you and if they do, they can take it up with me. It's my house, my rules, my way."

 "Ok Mr. Bossy." she said with a grin. "I guess since you put it that way then I have to go."

 "Wow, no argument at all? Am I starting to get through to you?"

 "Don't get a big head. You're lucky I caved in buddy."

 "Ok, ok. I'm going to have it catered so no one has to cook and we can just enjoy the day."

 "Are you sure I can't do anything?"

 "I'm positive. Just bring you and the little monkey and the day will be perfect."

 "I guess I can handle that."

"Good." AJ looked at his phone. "I hate to eat and run but we have a meeting in an hour and I need to pick up some stuff."

 Kat turned to unhook Jake from the chair and AJ leaned down to kiss her on the cheek. Kat surprised him by turning back around and instead of getting her cheek, he got her lips. He waited for her to pull back and was thrilled when she didn't. He didn't want to push so he lightly kissed her again and ran his hand through her hair.

 "I'll see you."

 Kat nodded and smiled. "See you soon."

The Talk by Kyrie

The week before Thanksgiving flew by. AJ hadn't been able to make it over because of their meetings and studio time but he called every night. Kat was nervous about having to face everyone and decided to back out.

 "No fucking way lady!" Brenda yelled. "AJ's expecting all of us and all of us will be there! And in case you missed it, you’re included in the all of us!"

 "I can't do this. Everyone is probably still upset and they have a right to be."

 "No one is upset with you. You've seen Nick and Brian and they're not mad. No one else will be either. You'll see. They want you back in their lives."

 "What about Denise? I hurt her son and broke my promise to her."

 "Maybe she’s mad or maybe she isn't. She knows what happened and she also knows about Jake. She's so excited to be around him. Try talking to her tonight, she might surprise you."

 After a little more prodding, Kat finally agreed to go and let Brenda drive them over.

 ------------

 Howie opened the door when they got there and pulled Kat into a hug.

 "It's good to see you lady. We missed you."

 Kat smiled and began to relax a little. "I'm happy to see you too. I'm really sorry for everything Howie."

 "It's water under the bridge. It's done and it's time to move on." He took her hand and led the way down into the living room. "Look who I found!"

 Everyone greeted Kat with hugs and welcome homes. They all noticed that AJ looked especially happy to see her.

 "I think AJ was a little nervous you'd make a run for it!" Nick exclaimed. Leighanne punched him in the shoulder.

 "You're something else Carter." Kevin said shaking his head. He walked over and pulled Kat into a bear hug. "Good to see you again."

 "Thanks Kev."

 Kat looked around and saw Denise standing over by the doorway. She felt that she should get the hardest part over with and talk to AJ's mother before dinner. Walking over to her, she asked if she could speak to her privately and both women headed out to the patio to talk.

 "You think that's a good idea man?" Nick asked putting his hand on his brother's shoulder.

 "I think the sooner they get it over with, the better."

 ------------------

 "Thank you for letting me talk to you." Kat said to Denise who simply nodded. She didn’t really know where to start or what to say first and decided not to wait too long before she lost her nerve.

 “I need to apologize to you. You made it clear to me from the start that you were concerned about AJ and I being together and I swore up and down that you had no reason to worry. I even promised you that I would never hurt him and that’s exactly what I did. I ran out on him and broke his heart. To top it off, I didn’t tell him he had a son until we were out here. You have no idea how much I wish I could go back in time and change the past. I would give anything in my power to take back all the pain and damage I’ve caused all of you, especially AJ. I completely understand if you don’t trust me or want to have anything to do with me. I just want AJ to be happy and for the both of you to be part of Jake’s life.”

 Kat finally took a deep breath and waited for Denise to speak. She wasn’t sure what to expect from his mother and it surprised her when, instead of saying anything, Denise pulled her into a hug. Kat felt her body start to relax and she actually started to cry.

 “Oh sweetheart.” Denise said, rubbing her back. “There’s no need for you to cry.”

 Denise gave her a minute to calm down and then asked her to sit. She reached out for the younger woman’s hand and patted it.

 “I don’t want any tension between us Kat. I don’t like how things went down and I am upset for the amount of pain my son was in but the fault doesn’t lie solely in you. I know what you did and why you did it. I respect the fact that you were trying to keep anything from happening to anyone here.”

 “I really am sorry.” Kat said.

 “I know. I don’t want to drag this out and I would prefer to just put it all behind us. I will ask you two things though.”

 “Anything.”

 “One, please don’t make any more drastic life changes without including AJ and two, please don’t take that little boy away from him. Michelle did that with Ryan and it almost killed him.”

 “I promise you that I would never take Jake away from any of you. AJ adores him and vice versa. He’s a terrific dad and Jake is lucky to have him in his life.”

 “Ok then.” Denise said, standing up. “We’re going back in there and we’re going to enjoy Thanksgiving as a family.”

 “That sounds wonderful.” Kat replied with a smile.

 

Finally? by Kyrie

Everyone was already starting to sit down for dinner when Kat and Denise came back inside. AJ saw the tears on her face and motioned to the chair next to him.

 “Are you ok?” AJ whispered, leaning in towards her.

 “I’m fine.” Kat said. “Your mom doesn’t hate me.”

 AJ smiled. “I already knew that and I tried to tell you the other day, but you’re just too stubborn.”

 “Like you should talk McLean. You’re just as stubborn.”

 “I know and I’m going to be even more stubborn until you tell me you’ll move in here.”

 Kat groaned. “I thought you were going to give me time to think about it.”

 “I will but it doesn’t mean I can’t pester you about it.”

 “Hey AJ!” Nick called from down the table. “Think you two lovebirds could chat later so that the rest of us could eat?”

 Kat turned beet red and AJ looked like her could slug him. Brenda elbowed him in the stomach and Brian smacked him on the back of the head.

 “Hey, I’m just asking!” Nick yelped.

“Honey, why don’t you do a toast?” Denise asked her son, ignoring Nick.

 AJ stood up not knowing exactly what to say. It was like déjà vu from a few years ago and it made him nervous. He didn’t want to say the wrong thing and have it backfire.

 “I want to thank you guys for coming and I’m sure we’re all going to enjoy this year’s holiday more than last year. The last few years have been rough for everyone and I want to thank you guys for bearing with me. Mom, I appreciate all your love and support. You’ve given me some great advice and have been there for me even when I didn’t take it. I love you.”

 “Love you too honey. Even when you don’t take my advice!”

 Everyone laughed and AJ turned towards the guys and their wives. “Thank you guys, and girls, for being along for the roller coaster ride that we’ve been on. I couldn’t do it without your love and support and I hope you know how much you all mean to me.”

 AJ turned towards Brenda. “Thank you for getting Nick under control and making sure he behaves himself.”

 “It’s a tough job but someone has to do it!” Brenda replied.

 “You do a terrific job.” Brian added.

 AJ turned to Kat and saw the nervousness on her face. He wanted to tell her how much he loved her but he didn’t know if this was the time or place.

 “We’ve been through an awful lot, good and bad, but I think we’ve finally hit a good place. You’ve given me the best gift I could ever get. Jake is a wonderful little boy and he makes me want to be the best dad I can be. I want you to know that you’re a terrific mother and you are incredibly important to me. Thank you for everything.”

 Kat nodded with tears in her eyes. She remembered how she felt two years ago when AJ was telling everyone how much he loved her. It made things a little harder but at least they had worked through most of it.

 “That’s enough of the emotional stuff. Let’s eat before Nick starves to death!” AJ said and sat back down. He reached out for Kat’s hand and she gave it to him.

 -------------------

 Everyone helped clean after dinner and decided to wait for dessert. They decided to take all the kids outside and let them run around to burn off some energy.

 “Mind taking Jake outside? I need to talk to Kat for a few minutes.” AJ asked Brenda.

 “Absolutely.” she replied. She herded Jake and Nick outside with Denise’s help and left AJ and Kat alone in the living room.

 “Can we talk for a few minutes?” AJ said to Kat.

 “Um, ok.” she responded and took a seat on the couch. AJ sat on the sofa next to her and turned to face her.

 “I need to say something to you but I didn’t think it was the best idea to do it at dinner.”

 “AJ, you don’t need to…”

 “Please, let me get this out before I lost my nerve.”

 “Ok.”

 “I love you Kat.”

 Kat’s jaw dropped open and she stared at him.

 “And I don’t mean as a friend. I love you and I’m in love with you. I feel like we’ve been through hell and back and my feelings for you have never changed. I don’t want to waste any more time in telling you how I feel.”

 “AJ, I…”

 “I mean it Kat. I have never felt for anyone what I feel for you and I want us back.”

 “AJ…

 “Please don’t give me all the reasons why this won’t…..”

 “Are you going to ever be quiet McLean?”

 Now it was AJ’s turn to be surprised. Kat leaned in and kissed him. “I love you too.”

 “You do?”

 Kat nodded and leaned in to kiss him again. He pulled her into his lap and wrapped his arms around her tightly. The kiss started off gently but the intensity increased as all the feelings they both had came flooding back in. Kat wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back hard.

 When they were finally able to pull themselves apart, Kat was shocked to see tears in AJ’s eyes.

 “I thought you wanted this.”

 AJ smiled and wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. He pulled her into a tight hug and she rested her head on his shoulder.

 “I do want this Kat. I just didn’t realize how good it was gonna feel.”

 “It does feel good.” Kat said with a smile. She was about to say something else when Jake came tearing into the room with Nick at his heels.

 “Sorry guys, he’s a fast one!”

 Nick picked Jake up and noticed that Kat was sitting in AJ’s lap. “Please tell me you two finally stopped being idiots.”

 “Thanks Nick.” Kat said. “We love you too.”

Nick deposited Jake into Kat and AJ’s laps and ran over to the door.  “Hey everybody, guess who stopped being so stubborn!”

 Brian, Howie and Kevin were the first ones through the door.

 “Finally!” Kevin said pulling Kat up into a hug.

 “Glad you finally told her.” Howie said, smacking AJ on the shoulder.

 Brenda, Denise and the wives were thrilled. Everyone saw what the two of them couldn’t and they were glad to see them back together. While everyone was still talking, AJ pulled Kat aside and wrapped his arm around her waist.

 “I am incredibly happy and I hope you know that.”

 “I’m sorry it took us so long to figure this out.”

 “Doesn’t matter now. We’re a family.”

 “Yup. And I think one with a very sleepy baby.”

 AJ looked over and saw Jake sitting on the couch rubbing his eyes. He yawned and scooted over to a pillow.

 “I think I had better take him up and get him to bed.” Kat said and kissed AJ.

 “Can I come with you? It’d be nice to put him down as a family.”

 “Of course.”

 Kat scooped Jake up and followed AJ to the stairs. They were about halfway up when the doorbell rang.

 “Go get it.” Kat said. “I’ll meet you up there.”

 AJ nodded and watched them head upstairs. He headed down the hallway and pulled the door open.

 “You’ve got to be kidding me! What the hell are you doing here?”

Decision Time by Kyrie
Author's Notes:

Sorry this one is so short!

The guys heard AJ yelling from the living room and came tearing down the hallway. The person that met them at the door was not who they were expecting.

 “I repeat, what are you doing here?” AJ asked Claudia.

 “Can I come in?”

 “Hell no!” Nick yelled. “After everything you and the bitch did, you can say whatever you need to from that front step!”

 By this time, Denise and Leigh had joined the guys. Kristen and Leighanne had taken the kids back outside so that wouldn’t be near the argument.

 “It’s about Michelle.”

 “Who gives a shit?” Nick yelled again.

 “Calm down Nick.” Kevin said.

 “Why should he?” AJ demanded. “Get off my front porch and tell your friend to stay out of my life.”

 AJ started to shut the front door, when Claudia stuck her foot in it.

 “You are going to want to hear this.”

 “I don’t really want to hear anything you have to say but if I do, will you go away?” AJ said snidely.

 “Yes.”

 “Fine, spit it out.”

 “Michelle is dead.” Claudia stated with no emotion. “She got hammered the other night and totaled her car. She didn’t make it.”

 “Was Ryan in it?” AJ asked, starting to panic.

 “No but he’s the reason I came. You need to take him.”

 “Excuse me?”

 “He and Michelle have been living with me and I can’t deal anymore. He’s not my kid so you need to take him.”

 “I’m not his father Claudia, Michelle made that quite clear.”

 “I know but you need to take him.”

 “The courts aren’t just going to let him have Ryan.” Brian said quietly. “He’s not the dad.”

 “Well Ryan’s birth certificate says otherwise.”

 “She said she left his name off!” Kevin yelled. “When she took Ryan, she told AJ he had no rights because his name wasn’t on the birth certificate.”

 “She lied. She was good at that.”

“But I’m not the father.” AJ whispered.

 “No you’re not but you need to take him. Technically I can give him to you. If you don’t, I’ll take him down to Child Services tomorrow.”

 “You can’t do that!” Howie said angrily. “He’s a child, not some article of clothing.”

 “I really don’t care. I’m not being saddled with this kid.” Claudia turned to face AJ. “Are you taking him or not?”

 “Yes, we’re taking him.”

 Everyone turned around to find Kat standing behind them.

 

A Mother's Sins by Kyrie

She walked towards Claudia and repeated herself.

 “We’re going to take him. Can you bring him here tomorrow morning?”

 “Kat.” AJ said tugging on her arm.

 “The sooner the better.” Claudia said and returned to her car.

 Everyone watched her leave and then turned to face Kat.

 “What the hell?” Nick and Kevin asked at the same time. AJ just turned around and headed down to the living room. He was sitting on the sofa with his head in his hands when the rest of them got down the hallway. Kat sat down next to him and pulled his hands away.

 “Why did you say we’d take him?” AJ asked quietly.

 “You and everyone else might not see it this way, but Ryan is your son AJ. Michelle never helped you raise him and you really are the only true parent he knows. Yes, he may not be yours biologically and yes, he is that crazy woman’s son, but he was your son for a long time. You’ve told me at least a dozen times that you can’t bear to do anything with his room. Why do you think that is?”

 Kat waited for him to respond but he didn’t say anything.

 “You miss him and you love him AJ. You can’t deny that.”

 AJ thought about it for a minute before he spoke. “What if this whole thing starts again?”

 “What’s going to start again? I’m sorry for saying it but Michelle is not in the picture anymore.”

 Everyone agreed with Kat although none of them would voice it.

 “Michelle is gone and that little boy needs a parent and a home. Your name is on the birth certificate which legally makes him your son.”

 “Unless someone challenges it.” he whispered.

 “Who’s going to challenge it?” Kat asked quietly. “We all know what Michelle was like. She was probably telling the truth when she had no idea who the father was. Who’s going to come and say Ryan is theirs?”

 “I went through enough with this whole thing already. I don’t think I can do it again.”

 “You love Ryan and you’re his dad. Would you rather see him wind up in foster care? That woman is just like Michelle and I have no doubt that she would leave him on the front steps of whatever building she found first. Kids get bounced around from home to home AJ. Brenda and I have seen it happen.”

 Brenda nodded her head. “It isn’t pretty AJ.”

 “I know you AJ and I know how much you love that little boy. It’s time to bring him home where he belongs.” Kat said.

 “I agree with Kat.”

 It was everyone’s turn to stare at Denise now and Kat looked at her with grateful eyes.

 “Michelle was horrible to you but you adored that little boy. You’re my son and a wonderful man sweetie. I know there is no way you would let Ryan suffer just because of what Michelle did. You can provide him a loving, stable home with people he already knows.”

 “Maybe he forgot everyone.”

 “No.” Denise said, shaking her head. “He’ll remember. He knows all of us and we all love him.”

 Everybody knew that was true. No one had stopped loving him and if they had known about the birth certificate, they would have helped AJ fight for him.

 “I know you’re mad at me for saying you’d take him,” Kat whispered quietly, “but you love him and I know you wished things didn’t happen the way they did. You couldn’t fight for him before but you can now.”

 AJ looked at her with tears in his eyes. “You and I just got us back and now I’m going to take Ryan back?”

 Kat grinned. “It’s you and I AJ. Who ever said we did anything the easy way?”

 Brian and Howie laughed in spite of the situation. “She’s got your there J. It wouldn’t be you if you guys didn’t do things the hard way.”

 “You won’t leave?” AJ asked her.

 “Absolutely not.” Kat replied. “No more running, no more leaving. You and I are going to be in for the long haul.”

 She reached out and took his hand. “You can’t get rid of me now.”

 AJ smiled for the first time since Claudia had arrived. “Does that mean you’ll move in with me?”

 “I guess you can twist my arm.” Kat said with a smile. “Someone’s going to have to help you.”

 AJ leaned in and kissed her gently. “Do you know how much I love you?”

 “You can show me later.” she whispered in his ear.

 “Gladly.”

Blended Family by Kyrie

Claudia showed up the next morning with Ryan and AJ was shocked to see how much he had changed. The little boy that left with Michelle had gotten bigger and his smile wasn’t as bright as it had been. Every single emotion that AJ had had since he was born came flooding back and he started to cry. Ryan looked at him for a few moments and then toddled over.

 “Dada?” Ryan asked and held his arms up.

 AJ picked him up and hugged him tightly. Kat started to tear up as she watched AJ reconnect with his other child. She knew this meant the world to him and she hated herself for thinking it, but she was glad Michelle was gone for good this time. All she had done was cause damage and used her own child to do it.

 The lawyer that Kevin had called filled out paperwork for the court system to gain permanent custody of Ryan.  He told them that unless someone came forward to contest it, AJ should be granted custody by the end of the week.

 “I hate using the fact that I’m a celebrity to get stuff.” AJ said to Kat after the lawyer left.

 “AJ, you’re not using it to get out of a speeding ticket or to stay out of jail. Ryan’s custody papers can be expedited. What’s wrong with that?”

 “Nothing I guess.”

 AJ picked up Ryan and took him outside to play in the backyard. Kat sighed and started packing Jake’s overnight bag. She was going to take him over to Brenda’s and spend the night so that AJ could work on reestablishing his relationship with Ryan. Packing the last thing, she slipped out the door and headed over to Brenda’s.

 --------------

 “How’s he doing with Ryan?”

 “Ok.” Kat replied. “It’s a big adjustment for everyone.”

 “I hate asking this but are you really ok with it? It’s not like you got that much time to think about it.”

 “I’m ok with it. It makes AJ happy and Ryan gets to be raised by a parent who loves him and will always do what’s best for him. That’s really the most important part.”

 “I know it is. I just want to make sure you’re ok with it.”

 “I’m fine. Honestly.” Kat followed Brenda out to the patio. “I’ve made some bad decisions and I’ve hurt him. All I want right now is to make him happy and if that means moving in with him and helping him raise Ryan, then that’s what I’ll do.”

 “Well you can always stay here if you need to.”

 “I appreciate that. I have no idea how I’m gonna get all my stuff packed and moved over to his house.”

 “I know one way you’re not. You are forbidden to carry anything other than Jake and your purse. I already talked to Nick and the guys are willing to come over and move everything once it’s all packed up.”

 “I can help Bren….”

 “Absolutely not! You just need to pack stuff and we’ll take care of the rest.”

 Kat shook her head. “I’m not an invalid and I haven’t had the surgery yet.”

 “Yeah I know and I’d like to keep it where you don’t need it any sooner than already planned.”

 Kat was cut off by her cell phone ringing. She dug it out and saw AJ’s face flashing.

 “Hey.”

 “Hey. Did you forget something?”

 Kat ran through a mental list of stuff she had brought. “No. I don’t think so.”

 “Um, how about a goodbye and a kiss?”

 “Sorry.” Kat said with a laugh. “You were out back with Ryan and I didn’t want to disturb you. I’ll make up for it when I see you tomorrow.”

 “Funny you should mention tomorrow. I was kind of hoping you could come back tonight.”

 “But you need time with Ryan.”

 “I need time with you and Jake too. I love you and I want to do this with you. I know we talked but I’d really like you to come home tonight.”

 Kat had missed hearing him call his house their home. “I will if you’re sure about it.”

 “I’m positive. We’ve spent way too much time apart and I don’t really want to spend anymore. It’s probably best for Jake and Ryan too. They’re still little and can bond faster if they’re around each other.”

 “Ok. I’ll head home when Jake wakes up.”

 “I love you Kat.”

 “Love you too AJ. I’ll see you soon.”

 -----------

 Kat headed to AJ’s about an hour later with a very bouncy little boy. Jake had woken up and been in instant “play with me” mode. She called out for AJ when she entered the house but she didn’t get a response. Venturing a little further, she found AJ and Ryan curled up on a blanket in the backyard reading a book.

 “Mind some company?” Kat asked.

 “As long as the company is beautiful.” AJ said with a smile.

 “Well he is.” Kat said pointing at Jake and laughing. “Me, I’m dusty and dirty.”

 “You’re beautiful no matter what Kat.” 

 He held out his arm and she settled down next to him. Jake and Ryan seemed to be instantly interested in each other and spent a long time just staring at each other.

 “Wow, I didn’t think babies could have staring contests.”

 AJ laughed. “I guess they can.”

 They watched the two boys stare at each other a little longer and then Ryan reached out and handed Jake one of the toys he had found in the house. Now both little boys had a truck and they started pushing them around the yard, laughing and chasing each other.

 “I think we got lucky.” Kat murmured.

 “How’s that?”

 “We got two little boys who seem to be pretty happy babies and they’re getting along great.”

 “For now.” AJ said with a grin. “This could change overnight or change when they both fall for the same girl!”

 Kat slapped him on the shoulder. “Can we not think about them dating? That’s way too much to handle.”

 “I guess so.” AJ kissed Kat’s cheek and sneezed. “You really are dusty!”

 “I warned you!”

 “What were you doing, rolling around in an attic?”

 “Kind of.”

 “What do you mean kind of?”

 “I was digging some boxes out of Brenda’s attic…..”

 “Are you crazy?” AJ yelped. Both boys turned towards him. “You’re not supposed to be doing that.”

 “It’s not a big deal AJ. I haven’t had surgery yet. I can pull a few…”

 “You’re not pulling anything else. The guys and I will take care of everything. I don’t want you to move anything else without us around.”

 Kat saw the seriousness in his face and agreed quickly. She stood up and tried to change the subject. “Why don’t I go take a shower before I give you an allergy attack?”

 “Ok but I’m serious. I will take care of it Kat. I’ll take care of you.”

 “I know.” She smiled and leaned in to kiss him. “You always do.”

 AJ smiled and kissed her back. “And I will for a very long time.”

 “I get it.” She headed towards the house but turned around a few feet away. “It’s a shame you have the boys. Guess I’ll have to shower by myself.”

 “That’s so wrong!” AJ said with a groan. “Just wait till they go to bed. I’m gonna get payback!”

 “I hope so!”

A New Normal by Kyrie
Author's Notes:

Thank you to everyone who has been reviewing and I apologize for the huge wait time for this next chapter. Hope it's ok!

The boys finally tuckered themselves out about an hour later and were ready to eat. Kat was in the kitchen making dinner so AJ got them cleaned up and settled into their highchairs.

 “Something smells good.” Wrapping his arms around Kat’s waist, he leaned in and brushed his lips against the back of her neck making her shiver.

 “That’s for taking a shower without me.” he said with a grin and walked back towards the table.

“That’s so wrong.” Kat said with a chuckle.

 “Hey, you deserved some payback.”

 Kat smiled as she took the macaroni over to the table. She sat down next to AJ and watched as he blew on the food before he gave it to the boys. It was amazing how good he was with both of them and how much they adored him. Guilt washed over her and she felt awful for keeping his son a secret from him.

 “What’s with the frown?” AJ asked putting his hand on top of hers. “Are you feeling ok?”

 “I’m fine. Just thinking.”

 “About what because that’s not a happy face.” He paused. “Please tell me you’re not thinking about changing your mind about moving in.”

 Kat shook her head vigorously. “No, not at all. I was just watching you with the boys and I realized how unfair I was to you and to Jake by not telling you about him sooner.”

 AJ stood up pulling Kat with him. He wrapped his arms around her and drew her close to him. Kissing her gently, he touched his forehead to hers.

 “I don’t want to think about that anymore. What’s done is done. You’ve given me Jake and now you’ve made it easier for me to have Ryan. The past is in the past and that’s exactly where I want it to stay. All I want to focus on is getting you moved into this house and being a family. That’s all I care about.”

 “Ok.”

 “And speaking of that, when are we going to get all your stuff from Brenda’s and get you settled back in here?”

 “I can finish packing and move…”

 AJ put his finger over her mouth. “You are not moving anything. Have Brenda help you get the boxes settled and the guys will help me move whatever you need. I do not want you to do anything but the basics.”

 “I’m not an invalid, I can help you….”

 AJ gave her a look that told her he meant business.

 “Fine, no moving anything.”

 “Thank you.”

 AJ sat down at the table and drew Kat into his lap. They spent the next half hour watching the boys eat and keeping them entertained. Once they were done, the two of them brought them upstairs to change them and put them to sleep for the night. When they were sound asleep, AJ and Kat crept out and headed to their bedroom to watch a movie.

“What do you want to watch?”

 “How about a horror movie?”

 “How did I know you were going to want to watch one?” AJ said with a laugh.

 “Well, we could watch Finding Nemo for the millionth time.”

 “Not a chance! I can’t believe the amount of times Jake wants to watch that movie.”

 “He’s obsessed with Dory.”

 “Who isn’t? Ellen DeGeneres is hysterical!”

 Kat dropped onto the bed and grabbed for the remote at the same time as AJ made a leap for it. He landed on his face and Kat started cracking up.

 AJ mumbled something into the comforter.

 “I’m sorry. Was that even in English?” Kat asked, laughing harder.

 AJ lifted his face up and repeated himself. “You think that’s funny huh?”

 “Absolutely!”

 AJ caught her off guard by pouncing on her and pinning her to the bed. He leaned down and kissed her gently. 

 “Is this funny?” he whispered.

 “No.” she answered quietly. “This is perfect.”

Packing by Kyrie

Kat and Brenda spent the next few days boxing up her things while Nick and AJ looked after the boys. She had been given strict instructions that she could only pick up light things and clothes and pack them into boxes.

 “This is ridiculous!” Brenda said loudly, motioning to the every growing collection of boxes. “I hope there are no emergencies because you and I are going to be trapped here if these guys don’t move some stuff soon.”

 “I think we should carry some of the smaller ones downstairs.” Kat replied.

 “Are you nuts?” Brenda exclaimed. “AJ would kick my ass if he found out I let you move anything more than a hanger.”

 “It’s not like he’s going to know.”

“Seriously? He probably put cameras all over the place just to make sure you don’t pick up anything!”

 “Then let’s give him something to watch.” Kat said with a chuckle. “In all seriousness though, this stuff really needs to be moved. I can’t even pack anything else because there’s no more room.”

 “Ok but you’re dealing with his wrath if he catches us.”

 “He won’t. He and Nick took the boys to the park and then to get some ice cream.”

 “Are you sure because it looks like rain?” Brenda asked pointing out the window.

 “Yeah, it’ll be fine. Let’s just get some of the little ones down there and we can take a break.”

 They each picked up some of the lighter boxes and headed downstairs. Kat had just stepped off the last step when the door flew open. It was pouring out and she saw the boys run in followed by Nick and AJ. She saw the look on AJ’s face and knew she’d been caught.

 AJ’s jaw dropped. “What are you doing?”

 “Um, this one was in the way so I…”

 “She wouldn’t listen to me AJ. She insisted on bringing them down.” Brenda pleaded.

 “Thanks a lot.” Kat mumbled.

 AJ and Nick took the boxes away from Kat since Brenda had already put hers down.

 “You totally are the most pigheaded woman I know.” AJ said. “Do we need to tie you down to a chair?”

 “That’s a little kinky don’t you think?” Nick said with a laugh.

 “Get your mind out of the gutter Carter!”

 “Sorry J but you opened yourself up for that.”

 “Well do you think you could stop being a jackass for a minute and help me talk some sense into this one?”

 Nick turned to Kat and shook his finger at her. “Bad girl. Bad, bad girl.”

 Kat burst out laughing and AJ smacked Nick in the back of the head.

 “You’re a big frigging help!”

 “What? She loves you and if you can’t convince her, what am I supposed to do?”

 AJ shook his head and dragged Kat down the hall into the living room. Both boys were playing on the floor and he plunked her down on the couch.

 “Brenda can show us what needs to be moved and we’ll load some stuff into Nick’s truck and bring it over after the rain stops.”

 “But you need…”

 “You need to park your butt on this couch and don’t move. Play with Jake and Ryan or just sit and watch them. Do not let me catch you up at all!”

 “Ok, ok.”

 “Good. Let’s go.”

 Nick and Brenda followed AJ upstairs and Kat could hear them bringing things down from her room and the nursery. At least she could use this as an excuse to rest a little while.

 

Overprotective by Kyrie

AJ and Nick moved almost all the boxes either into his truck or into the garage so that Kat and Brenda would have more space to pack the rest of the things. Once the guys finished, they ordered pizza and decided to spend some time at Brenda’s.

 “I miss the four of us hanging out like this.” Nick told everyone, his mouth half full.

 “Damn Nick, close your mouth! I don’t want to see everything you eat!” AJ replied.

 “It’s the six of us now Nicky.” Kat said ignoring AJ’s comment and finished cutting the pizza into pieces for the boys.

 “That still feels weird.”

 “It feels right.” AJ added with a smile.

 Kat grinned and AJ reached out for her hand.

 “Oh gross. I’m trying to eat. You think you guys can hold off on the touchy-feely stuff till after dinner?”

 Brenda rolled her eyes and whacked Nick on the shoulder.

“Ouch!” he cried rubbing his arm. “Why do I always get hit?”

 “Cuz you’re the baby.” AJ said with a chuckle.

 “Not anymore!” he said with a glance at Ryan and Jake.

 “They’re too little and they’re much cuter than you!”

 “I’m cute!” Nick yelped.

“Yes dear. You’re adorable.” Brenda said.

 Nick stuck his tongue out at her and continued eating. Kat got up to clear her plate and walked off towards Brenda’s bathroom.

 “Is she ok?” AJ asked with a frown.

 “Easy AJ. She probably just had to go to the bathroom.”

 “I know but she was moving boxes and packing. Maybe it was too much for her.”

 “Want me to go check?” Brenda asked.

 AJ nodded and watched Brenda head down the hall.

 “You gotta ease up J. You freak out every time she disappears or looks the least little bit tired.”

 “I’m worried.” AJ snapped.

 “I know. We all worry about her. She’s family.”  Nick said quietly. “But you heard the doctor. As long as she doesn’t run any marathons, she’ll be fine until the do the surgery. You can’t keep treating her like an invalid.”

 “And maybe you should butt out.”

 Nick sighed. “I’m just looking out for you. You guys have been through so much and she’s back and you have two little kids. Don’t push her away by jumping all over her all the time. She’s gonna get sick of it after a while.”

 AJ was about to respond when Brenda and Kat came back.

 “Did you really send Brenda to look for me?” Kat asked with an irritated look.

 “Told you.” Nick mumbled under his breath.

 “I didn’t really send her. She offered.” AJ replied with a sheepish look. “I was worried.”

 “I had a headache. All I wanted was some Tylenol. Is that a crime?”

 “No. I’m sorry. I know I overreact but it’s just because I love you.”

 Kat put her hand on his cheek. “I know and I love you too. You just can’t hover every five seconds or get nervous every time I do something. I’m ok and I promised you that I would tell you if I didn’t feel good. Ok?”

 “Ok.” AJ responded and wrapped his arm around her waist. He kissed her gently and pulled her closer to him.

 “Oh great. Now I’m gonna be the one who gets sick.” Nick said shaking his head.

 “Why don’t we head back to the house with the boys? It’s been a long day and I want to spend some time with you.” AJ whispered into Kat’s ear.

 “Sounds good to me.”

 Brenda and Nick helped Kat and AJ get the boys settled and Nick offered to bring the stuff from his truck over the next day. 

 “Thanks Nicky.”

 “No problem. See you guys tomorrow.”

 Nick and Brenda watched as they drove away.

 “Ok Blondie, time to do the dishes.”

 “Can’t we get some time alone?”

 “Sure. You, me, soap, water and dish towels.” Brenda replied with a laugh. “Let’s see how that goes first.”

Brotherly Advice by Kyrie

Kat got all of her thing packed over the next few days and the guys pitched in and moved everything into AJ’s house. She figured it would be safe with AJ distracted to bring in a few things by herself so they wouldn’t have as much to do but Kevin caught her off guard, physically picked her up and carried her into the house.

 “J’s right, you’re really stubborn.” he joked as he deposited Kat into one of the kitchen chairs.

 “Did you pick up another box?” Nick asked, carrying a load in.

 “Yes but Kevin caught me.”

 Nick laughed. “I can see that. You know that it’s not just J who will be watching out for you right? You have him and now you get four brothers too. We’re a package deal.”

 “Who’s a package?” Howie asked coming through the door with another set of boxes.

 “We are.” Nick answered. “I was just explaining to Kat here that we’re all going to be around now, not just J.”

 “That’s true.” Brian added. “You’ve got 5 sets of eyes on you and if you’re not careful, we’ll tell our wives and that’ll be 3 more. And look out, they’ll be worse!”

 “Yup.” Howie said wiping his hands. “If you think J’s bad, wait till I sic Leigh on you. You won’t get away with anything.”

 “You don’t.” Nick said with a chuckle.

 “I heard that!” Leigh yelled coming down the hallway. Kristin and Leighanne followed behind her carrying pizza boxes and salads.

 “Thought you guys might be ready for some dinner.” Leighanne smiled and put the boxes down on the counter.

 “I’m always ready for food!”

 “No way! Nick Carter hungry? Never!” Brenda shouted coming through the patio doors. “Thank you guys for bringing the food. I was afraid Nick was going to waste away since he hasn’t eaten in a few hours.”

 “Wow, he made it that long huh?” Kristen teased.

 “I’m getting tired of everyone picking on me!” Nick said loudly.

 “Poor Nicky.” Kat said with a smile and a hug.

 Nick put on a pouty face and headed towards the pizza boxes.

 “Have you seen AJ?” Kat asked Howie quietly.

 “I think he’s outside talking to Kev. Want me to go get him?”

 “No. Just checking. Let’s eat.”

 -----------------

 “How are things going with you guys?” Kevin asked.

 “Good. We’ve talked about a lot and we’re working through everything.”

 “It must be hard to adjust to life with two kids. It’s like you guys just got back together and more has been added.”

 “It’s a challenge but I wouldn’t change any of it. I’m back with the woman I love, I have a new son and now I have Ryan back. It’s been a tough road but I feel like we’re finally back where we belong.”

 “How’s her health?”

 AJ sighed. “It seems to be ok but I worry about it all the time. Nick says that if I’m not careful, I’m going to push her away by being too overprotective.”

 “He’s right. I don’t think Brian would have liked it if everyone hovered around him like he was an invalid.”

 “But I want her to know I care.”

 “She’s does J. She knows you love her. You don’t need to hover so much for her to realize that.”

 “I’m going to try and get better about that. I heard you carry her back in the house and I had to hold myself back from running in the house and lecturing her.”

 “I’m glad you managed to do that. It’s bad enough to hover when it’s just you two but with all of us around, she might feel like you’re treating her like a child.”

 AJ nodded. “I’m trying Kev, I really am.”

 “I know.” Kevin said with a smile. “Why don’t we go get something to eat?”

 “Sounds good.”

 

Honesty by Kyrie
Author's Notes:

Thank you to everyone who has been reading and reviewing! I know it takes time for everyone to read the chapters and I appreciate the time you take to do it. Keep the reviews coming!

AJ found Kat in the bedroom unpacking some of her things after he put the boys to bed. Everyone had left a few hours ago and they were finally getting things put away. He snuck up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist.

 “Boo!”

 “Jesus AJ!” Kat yelped. “You scared the crap out of me.”

 “Sorry.” he said with a laugh.

 Kat turned around and kissed him lightly. “Sorry my butt.”

 “Ok, I’m not really sorry.”

 “I didn’t think you were.” Kat said turning back around. “Did the boys fall asleep?”

 “Yeah, I think their four uncles tuckered them out, especially Brian.”

 “I know.” Kat said with a chuckle. “I never realized how energetic he was.”

 “He’s like the Energizer bunny on crack! He’s always been like that and can outlast all of us. I don’t know how Baylee keeps up with him.”

 “Neither do I. Leighanne has her hands full.”

 “So do we. Those two boys are gonna wear us out.” AJ said as he flopped down on the bed. Stretching out, he patted the spot beside him and Kat crawled over and put her head on his chest.

“You have no idea how much I’ve missed this.”

 Kat giggled. “I’ve spent the last few nights here. How can you miss it?”

 “It’s different now. We’re living together as a family. There’s no walking out.”

 Kat sat up and turned to face him. “What do you mean?”

 “I mean we’re together now.” AJ said, sitting up straighter. “I mean that the last few nights were good but this is better. I’m not afraid anymore.”

 “Afraid? I don’t understand AJ. What were you afraid of?”

 “Honestly?”

 “Yes. We agreed that we have to be completely honest if this is going to work.”

 “I was afraid you’d change your mind.”

 “Change my mind about what?”

 “Moving in here, being with me, living together as a family.”

 “Why would I change my mind about that?”

 “I don’t know. I was just scared that I could be this happy and then it could all change.”

 Kat sat there for a minute and let it all sink in. She knew she had hurt him when she left before but she never realized exactly how bad it was.

 “I’m sorry AJ. I really am. I promise you that I am not going anywhere. No matter how hard it gets or what happens, I am not going to leave again. You’re gonna have to kick me out.”

 AJ leaned over and pressed his lips to hers. “That is NEVER, EVER going to happen. Not in this lifetime.”

 

Too Many Toys? by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
I'm sorry for the long delay in updating and answering the reviews. Thank you for the patience!
Two weeks later

“Are you sure about this?”

Kat laughed and grinned at AJ. “I think Nick and Brenda can handle the boys for one night. We’re just going Christmas shopping.”

AJ sighed. “I know but Nick is like a big kid himself. Brenda’s gonna be watching three boys, not two.”

“She can take it. You do remember that we both worked with teenagers right? I think three boys will be just fine.” She paused for a minute. “In fact, I think I have to worry more about you then her.”
AJ’s mouth dropped open. “Me? Why do you have to worry about me?”

“Do you remember the first day I brought Jake over to your house?” she asked with a grin.

“Yeah but what does that have to do with anything?” AJ answered, wracking his brain to figure out what she was talking about.

“Really? You don’t remember?” Kat asked. When he shrugged his shoulders, she let out a sigh. “Let me help you. It looked like Toys R Us was having a warehouse sale in your living room. There were so many toys that the three of us could barely move. I almost left you at home tonight because I thought you might buy out the store again and we’d have to build an addition to your house just for the boys’ things!”

“Our house.” AJ corrected her with a chuckle. “And I promise not to do that again.”

“Let me hear you say that again without you crossing your fingers behind your back!” Kat said giggling. “I can’t trust you can I?”

AJ stopped walking and pulled Kat into a hug. He leaned down, kissing her gently. Pulling back, he leaned his forehead against hers.

“You can always trust me for the important things.”

“I know.” she replied and kissed him again.

AJ smiled and let her go. “Let’s get this over with so we can get home.”

“Sounds good.”

---------------------

Kat had kept a tight hold on AJ while finishing their shopping and only let him buy a small mountain of things for the boys. She wanted the kids to have what they needed but she didn’t want them to get spoiled.

“We could have gotten more. It would fit in the back.” AJ said to her on the drive home.

“I know but they don’t need anything else. Toys are great but I really want them to have family not stuff. That’s the most important thing.”

“I know and they will. Both of us, our families and friends. Everyone’s going to look out for these two and love them insanely.” AJ said as he pulled into the driveway.

“Good because that’s what I want for them.”

AJ looked over and noticed the sadness that was creeping over Kat.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, putting the truck into park.
“Nothing. Just tired.” Kat responded and got out. She grabbed some packages and quickly walked into the house.

AJ jumped out and followed her. He was so distracted that he almost barreled into Nick who was coming out to help him with the bags.

“Whoa! Easy there J!”

“Sorry Nick.” he said to his brother and pushed past him.

“What’s up wi…..” Brenda started to ask as AJ walked past her quickly. “What the hell?”

Nick shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. I saw Kat bringing in bags and thought I’d help. AJ damn near ran me over to get to her.”

Nick and Brenda watched as AJ sped up and caught up to her on the back deck.

“Let’s just get this stuff in.” Nick suggested.

“Sure.” Brenda asked. She thought she knew what this was about and she hoped AJ could help.
Fear by Kyrie
AJ finally caught up to her as she was sitting down in one of the deck chairs. He dragged another one over and sat in front of her so he could see her face.

“You know you don’t just get to give me some bullshit answer and walk away right? I’m not going to let this slide.” AJ asked trying not to lose his patience.

“I told you I was tired.” Kat snapped.

“That’s crap. You may be tired Kat, but something else is bothering you and I want to know what. You promised to be honest with me and I want the truth. We were having a good time and then you started to pull away.”

Kat’s eyes filled with tears and she looked away. AJ reached his hand over and wiped her tears away. Placing his hand under her jaw, he turned her face so that she was looking at him again.

“Please tell me what’s wrong. I’ll do anything I can to help but you need to tell me what’s going on.”

Kat wiped her eyes again and curled into the chair tighter. “You meant what you said about everyone loving them right?”

“Of course I did. You’ve seen everyone with them; they’re crazy about Jake and Ryan. What does that have to do…….”

AJ sat back in the chair and went silent. After a few minutes, he leaned forward again, reached forward and took her hand in his. “Is that what this is all about?”
Kat nodded.

“Nothing is going to happen to you. You don’t need to worry about other people loving the kids as much as you do because you’re not going anywhere.”

“You don’t know that AJ. Anything could happen during the surgery. There are no guarantees.”

“I’m guaranteeing it Kat. Nothing is going to happen. We’ve got the surgery planned and your symptoms haven’t worsened. We’re going to enjoy the holidays together, as a family, and nothing is going to happen.”

“What if this is my last family holiday?”

The thought of that made AJ shudder. “It’s not going to be. We’re going to have tons of family holidays and celebrations.”

“AJ…”

“No, I know you’re scared but I am not going to let you just check out and withdraw from everyone, including me.”

“A….”

“Nope, no more. Let’s go.” AJ stood and pulled her out of the chair. “We’re going inside and put away all the tons of stuff we bought and then we’re going to enjoy the night together since the kids are already in bed.”

“But….”

AJ pulled her into him and kissed her gently. When she slipped her arms around him, he deepened his kiss.

“I love you Kat.”

“I love you too AJ.”

“Good to know.” he said with a chuckle. “Now let’s go relieve our two friends and I can show you exactly how much I love you.”
She Likes It, She Likes It Not? by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
Thank you to everyone who has been reading and reviewing. A special thank you to BeastieBarb for sending me some suggestions - I'm stealing one!
AJ woke up early the next morning and crept downstairs so he wouldn’t wake anyone. He started a pot of coffee and reached for his cell phone. It took five rings before Nick picked up.

“Damn J, it’s six o’clock in the morning. I hope for your sake California is sinking into the ocean and that’s why you’re calling me.”

“Nope, it’s still where it’s supposed to be.” AJ said with a chuckle. “I need a favor.”
“Seriously? You’re calling me at the butt crack of dawn to ask me for a favor?”

“Yes. This is a big one and we’re really need it to turn out perfectly.”

“You can’t call me back at eleven and we can work it out then?”

“No, it needs to be now. I’ll be at your house in twenty minutes so be ready.”

“I hate you J.”

“Love you too Nicky. See you in a few.”

AJ hung up the phone, filled his travel mug with coffee and went upstairs to check on Kat. He didn’t want to disturb her so he left a note next to the bed letting her know he had to go out for a while. He kissed her on the cheek and headed out to Nick’s.

-------------

“Nick’s in the shower.” Brenda said as she opened the door.

“Wow!”

Brenda smiled. “I have magic powers.”

“I don’t even want to know.” AJ said with a laugh. “I actually have a favor to ask you too.”

“What’s that?”

“Can you go over and hang out with Kat while we’re gone? She’s having a tough time and I think she could use some company.”

“No problem.” Brenda said. “I’ll jump in the shower when Nick’s done and….”

“I’m done.” Nick said, rubbing a towel over his head. “I’m telling you J, this had better be VERY important.”

“I promise it is.”

“Can you tell me?” Brenda asked.

“No. This one needs to be a complete surprise.”

“But Nick’s gonna know about it.”

“I know but that’s only because I need his help.”

“Thanks J.” Nick said sarcastically. “I’m not in on it because I’m your friend just because you need my help.”
“Sorry Nick but this is really important to me and it would mean a lot to Kat. She needs something like this.”

“If it’s for Kat then I’ll let it slide.”

“Thanks.” AJ said, grabbing his arm. “Now let’s go.”

“Have fun boys!” Brenda called out to them as they climbed in the truck. “Try to behave!”

She smiled as she walked back in to take a shower. Kat definitely needed something to get her out of this funk and she hoped whatever surprise AJ was planning would do it.

---------------

Brenda arrived to find Kat playing with the boys on the living room floor.

“Hey chica.” she said bending down to hug her. “Whatcha doin?”

“Just hanging out with the boys. I woke up and AJ was gone.”

“Did he say where he was going?”

“No just that he needed to take care of something and he’d be home in a while.”

“I’m sure he will be then.”

“It’s just weird that he didn’t mention anything last night. Did Nick talk to him this morning?”

“No, Nick’s still in bed.” Brenda said, playing dumb. “I figured I’d come hang out with you. I miss it just being us two girls.”

“Well, it’s really us two girls and these two little ones.”

“I know but they’re less trouble than our other boys most of the time and they definitely eat less!”

“That’s the truth.” Kat said with a chuckle. “Speaking of these two guys, I was thinking about taking them down to the park if you’re up for a stroll.”

“Sure. You’re ok to be going out so much right?”

“I’m fine. The doctor says nothing has changed.”

“But you’ve been tired.”

“He said it’s fine as long as it’s not more often than usual. And, before you ask, it’s not. I’m fine.”

“Ok. Let’s get the boys changed and get going.”

--------------------

“Holy shit J!” Nick yelled. “Where the hell are you going to put this?”

“In the backyard. Think she’ll like it?”

“Hell yes! I think it’s perfect.”

“Good.” AJ said with a smile. He hoped and prayed that this was going to bring Kat’s smile back.
Family Trip by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
Thank you to everyone for reading and reviewing and I hope you like the next few chapters!
AJ dropped Nick off several hours later and headed back to his house. He noticed Brenda’s car in the driveway and he hoped that she didn’t mention anything to Kat about the surprise.

“Anyone home?” he called as he closed the front door. When there was no reply, he headed down to the living room and found everyone watching a video. Kat motioned to him to be quiet and he noticed that both boys had curled up with Kat and were now pinning her to the chair.

“Can you breathe?” he whispered as he leaned in to kiss her.

“Barely.” She smiled and kissed him back. “They were so tired and they didn’t get through ten minutes before they were sound asleep.”

“Want me to take them up to bed? Or at least put them on the couch?”

Kat shook her head no. “They’re comfortable.”

AJ nodded and took a seat next to Brenda. “What did you two do today?”

“We took the boys to the park. I figured since Nick was still sleeping I could come over bad spend some time with my BFF.” Brenda replied.

AJ smiled. He was grateful for Brenda being able to lie so well.

“Where did you go?” Kat asked. “You took off pretty early.”

“I had to get some stuff squared away with one of the producers on the new album. He was here for a little while so it had to be this morning.”

“You didn’t mention anything about it last night.”

“He called early this morning.”

Kat could tell AJ was lying. She never heard the phone ring this morning and she knew the guys had already met with the producer to discuss new material.

“I think I’ve changed my mind. Can you take them upstairs and put them down for their nap?” she asked AJ.

“Sure. I’ll be back down in a few minutes.”

He carefully picked up the two boys and carried them towards the stairs. Kat waited till she heard AJ on the stairs before she turned to Brenda.

“He’s lying.”

“Huh?”

“He’s lying, he didn’t go to meet with any of the producers.”

“How do you know that?”

“I didn’t hear the phone ring this morning.”

“Sweetie, I love you but you snore like crazy and you can sleep in a wind tunnel. You’ve been really tired and you probably just slept through it.”

“No, he’s not telling me the truth.”

“AJ’s not going to lie to you Kat.” Brenda felt a little bad for going along with this secret but she knew it meant a lot for AJ to keep it a surprise. She only hoped it was worth it. “He’s never done anything behind your back and I truly don’t think he’s going to start now.”

“I hope not.”

“Stop being so worried about it. He had a meeting and didn’t want to wake you. You’re lucky he’s not like Nick. That boy can’t get up early without waking the whole neighborhood with all the noise he makes.”

“You really don’t think anything’s going on?”

“No, I don’t.” Brenda lied. “I’m going to head home to Sleeping Beauty and let you and J have some alone time.”

“I’ll walk you out.”

“I know where the door is.” Brenda laughed and gave her friend a hug. “You rest and I’ll text you later, k?”

“Ok. Be careful going home.”

“Will do. Love you!”

“Love you too Bren.”
Kat curled up tighter in the chair and tried to keep herself awake but AJ came down a few minutes later and found her sound asleep in the chair. He pulled a quilt off the couch and tucked it in around her. Taking off his shoes, he stretched out on the couch and fell asleep a few minutes later.

--------------------

When AJ awoke an hour later, he noticed that the chair was empty and he heard the back door slider open and close. He got up and found Kat sitting out in one of the chairs with the quilt draped over her. There was that look of sadness again and he sat down across from her. This surprise could not come fast enough he thought to himself.

“You ok babe?”

“I’m alright. Just tired.”

“And worried.”

Kat smiled faintly. “A little. I’m sorry I’ve been in a funk lately. I don’t want to ruin the holidays.”

“You have every right to feel the way you do and you are not ruining the holidays.”

“Well I promise to try and snap out of it.”

“Good.” AJ paused for a minute. “You know I was thinking that maybe me, you and the boys could head up to this tree farm I heard about and pick out a Christmas tree.”

“They have those out here?” Kat asked with surprise.

“Yes.” he said with a laugh. “It’s a couple of hours away but they say you can find the best trees there. I would really like us to do it as a family.”

“I think that’s a great idea as long as you don’t mind going in a couple of days. I have an appointment tomorrow and I already told Brenda I would help her with some stuff the next day.”

“Nope, that’s fine. I just want us to go together and pick out something that’ll bring more Christmas spirit. We might have to stop and pick up some ornaments and stuff because I don’t have anything. I haven’t really spent many Christmases here.”

“I think it’s going to be fun.” Kat replied.

“Me too. Why don’t you sit out here for a little while and I’ll get dinner started before the little monkeys get up.”

Kat nodded and AJ leaned down to kiss her as he stood up. She watched him head into the house and thought that maybe this whole tree trip would be just what she needed to snap her out of this.
The Set Up by Kyrie
AJ finished strapping the boys into the car and pulled out his cell phone. Even though it was early in the morning again, Nick answered quickly.

“Hey J.”

“Hey. We’re leaving in a few minutes and I need you and Brenda to be here within the hour so you can take care of what needs to be done.”

“Ok, you guys are gone for a few hours right? This thing’s going to take a while.”

“Yup. You called the other guys right?”

“Last night. They’re going to help us with everything. I can’t wait to spring this surprise on all of them!”

AJ laughed. “You might the most excited.”

“I am!”

AJ noticed Kat locking the door and hung up with Nick.

“Ready to go?”

“All set.” she replied.

“Alright, let’s get going.”

-------------------------

Nick and Brenda arrived shortly after they left and the other guys met them there.

“So what’s the surprise?” Howie asked.

“You’ll see.” Nick responded with a smile.

“C’mon Nick!” Brian said getting antsy. “I really wanna know what we’re doing!”

Kevin was about to agree with Brian when he noticed a huge truck backing into J’s driveway. Several gentlemen got out and opened the back to reveal the surprise.

“Holy shit!” Brian, Howie, Kevin and Brenda said in unison.

“Yup!” Nick said grinning from ear to ear. “I can’t wait till they get home!”

-------------------------

“I figured we’d stop for the ornaments on the way to the farm so we don’t leave the tree sitting on top of the truck too long.” AJ said as he pulled into the parking lot of the Christmas specialty store.

“Sounds good.”

Kat helped AJ unbuckle the boys and get them into a cart. They spent the next half hour picking out tinsel, garland and wreaths. They had just moved onto the ornaments when Kat finally had to say something.

“AJ, you know the signs they have all over the place?”

“What signs?” he asked, completely absorbed in the group that he was looking through.

Kat chuckled. “The ones that say please don’t touch the ornaments on the tree.”

“What does that….” AJ stopped when he realized that he had probably touched every ornament on the tree. “Sorry.”

“I was worried about it being too much for the boys but I think it’s too much for you!”

AJ watched as Kat laughed and the boys lit up. He had missed her smile and wanted to keep it on her face for as long as he could.

“Ok.” AJ said with a laugh. “I promise not to touch anymore.”

“I’m gonna hold you to that!” Kat said and moved onto the next group of ornaments.

Twenty minutes later, they were finally at the last display and AJ grabbed at one of the ornaments.

“We HAVE to get this one!” he exclaimed.

“No way.” Kat said taking the ornament out of his hand and put it back on the shelf. “Not going to happen.”

“Why? It’s perfect.”

“Perfect for you maybe. But I’m not going to freak the boys out by putting a skull with a Santa hat on the Christmas tree not matter how much you want it!”

“Please?”

“Not a freaking chance. Let’s go.”

She pulled AJ by the arm and got in line to purchase the things they’d picked out. It took about ten minutes to get through the line, back to the car and on their way to the farm.

-------------------

Nick and the guys were working painstakingly to get the surprise finished for Kat when they got back.

“I would pay anything to see her face!” Howie said.

“You guys can’t be here when they get back.” Nick replied. “AJ just wants her and the kids here when he springs it on her. He said that he’ll call us when they get back and everyone can come over around 5.”

“We have to wait that long?” Brian asked.

“Yes.” Brenda answered. “Let’s get the last few things done and then we need to get out of here.”
Three, Two, One! by Kyrie
Kat watched as AJ chased the boys between the trees at the farm. She loved this time of the year when she was growing up. The smells, the decorations, the tree, the family being all together; this is what she loved about Christmas. Having a child of her own now, and Ryan joining the family, made it even more special. She made sure to take lots of pictures as AJ raced around and held the boys up so they could touch the top of the trees.

She smiled as AJ finally gave in and collapsed on the ground. The boys piled on top of him and Kat snapped one more photo before she joined them.

“Have you guys picked the perfect one yet?” she asked plopping down the ground next to them.

“I saw a couple towards the back that just might be candidates.”

“Well then get up off your lazy butt and let’s go.”

Kat tried to jump up before he could grab her but she didn’t quite make it. AJ pinned her to the ground and the boys tumbled over laughing. Leaning down, he kissed her gently.

“Get up off my lazy butt huh?”

Kat grinned and kissed him back. “Yup.”

AJ pulled them into a sitting position and then helped her to her feet. “Let’s go pick a winner.”

An hour later, they had the tree strapped to the roof of the truck and were heading on their way home.

------------------

AJ let out a sigh of relief when he pulled into the driveway and found it clear of everything. All he could do was cross his fingers that everything had been taken care of and that there were no issues.

“What was the sigh for?” Kat asked.

“Nothing. I’m just glad we’re home, it’s been a long day.”

Kat smiled. “We have to get the little monkeys to wake up.”

AJ looked in the rearview mirror and noticed that the boys were just starting to stir. He was excited that he would be able to spring the surprise on everyone at the same time.

“Let’s get them inside and we can worry about the tree later. I’ll call Nick and ask him to come over and help.”

“You think he’d mind? I mean I could help you…”

“Absolutely not! You are not helping me lift a tree off the truck and carry it inside. And besides, that’s what I keep Nick around for!”

“I’m sure he’d love hearing you say that.”

“I’m just kidding. He’s my baby brother and if I can’t tease him, who can I tease?”

“Just don’t say that to him!”

“Alright, alright!” AJ said with a chuckle. “I think you might be becoming his big sister!”

“Maybe. I never had a brother so it’s kind of nice to have all four of yours!”

“I’ll make sure I tell them that.”

Kat helped AJ unbuckle the boys and get them into the house. She decided to settle the boys down with a video but as she was sitting down with them, she noticed that the slider curtain had been pulled.

“Hey AJ?”

“Yeah?”

He came around the corner with the last few bags and noticed the look of concern on Kat’s face.

“What’s the matter?”

“Did you close the curtain on the slider?”

AJ looked over and saw that Nick had done what he asked. “Probably.”

“Are you sure? What if someone was in the house?”

“I’m sure no one was in the house Kat.”

“Can you open the curtain and just check the lock?”

“Ok but I’m not doing it myself. What if the boogie man is out there?” AJ answered with a grin.

“Jerk.”

Kat smacked him in the shoulder and slid the curtain back.

“Oh my God AJ!”
The Big Reveal by Kyrie
Kat opened the slider and stepped out onto the deck. She couldn’t believe her eyes as she stared at the sight in front of her.

“Do you like it?” AJ asked as he stepped out next to her.

“It’s incredible AJ.”

Snow was everywhere. There wasn’t one blade of grass on the ground and the snow had blanketed everything in the yard. Piles had been formed in different places and Kat noticed an inflatable igloo off to the side. Paths in the snow mountains had been dug and she could see the sleds set and ready for the boys. She turned to AJ and threw her arms around his neck.

“I love you AJ McLean!”

She pressed her lips to his and kissed him lightly. He picked her up off her feet and swung her around. The intensity of the kiss increased and Kat wrapped her arms around his neck tightly.

“You are the most thoughtful, lovable, amazing man I have ever met.” Kat said when they finally broke their kiss.

AJ blushed. “I think you’re giving me a little too much credit.”

“I’m not AJ. This is the sweetest thing that anyone has ever done for me.”

AJ looked her right in the eyes. “I’d do anything for you Kat. Whatever it takes to make you smile and to be happy, I’ll do it.”

Kat smiled brightly. “I am the luckiest woman on the planet. I couldn’t ask for any man better than you.”

“I don’t know about that but I do know you make me a better man. I’ve seen how tough the last few months have been on you and all I want is to make it easier for you.”

“Well you did.” Kat said with a huge smile. “How did you do all this?”

“Nick, Brenda and the guys helped.”

“So you were up to something that day you left early!”

“I was. I’m sorry that I lied to you and that I made Brenda lie for me. I just really wanted this to be a surprise for you.”

“I guess I can let it slide this time.” Kat put her hand on his cheek and kissed him gently. “I really do love you.”

“I know and I love you more than you will ever know.”

Kat was about to say something when she heard two little voices yelling and turned to find the two boys running around on the deck in the snow. AJ laughed and took them inside to get them dressed for the snow. Kat turned to look at the winter wonderland laid out before her and she knew she would never be able to repay AJ for all he’d done for her.

-------------------------

The guys, their wives, their kids and Brenda all arrived an hour later. They found Kat and Jake sliding down the snow hill while AJ and Ryan were bouncing around in the igloo making snow fly everywhere.

“I see you all started the party before we got here!” Brian yelled as he let Baylee take off towards the igloo. James and Mason raced to the sledding hill and grabbed one of the plastic flyers they had.

“You better go help our son before he goes flying off across the yard.” Leigh told Howie.

He and Kevin headed over to the hill and caught Kat’s sled as it came down.

“How about letting us watch Jake and you go take a rest?” Kevin asked Kat helping her up.

“Normally I would argue with you but he’s wearing me out! I think we’ve been up and down this hill a hundred times.”

“It’s definitely our turn then.” Howie said with a laugh and a hug. “Why don’t you join the girls and we’ll take care of this one.”

Kat nodded and walked over to where the girls were congregating.

“Where are Brian and Nick?” she asked.

Brenda started laughing and pointed to the igloo. Brian, Baylee, Nick, AJ and Ryan were bouncing around and shaking the entire inflatable toy.

“I can’t tell who’s having a better time, the kids or the guys!” Kristen exclaimed.

“I definitely think it’s the guys.” Leighanne answered. “Thanks for having all of us over. I know this was a surprise for you.”

“Anytime.” Kat said with a smile. “I can’t take advantage of all the snow so everyone else might as well be able to enjoy it.”

“Why do we sit down and let you rest?” Brenda whispered dragging Kat over to a chair. “I think you’ve had enough excitement for a while.”

The girls sat at the table for a while watching the guys and the kids play around. All of them wound up in the igloo at one point and were launching themselves around. Kristen decided it was time for dinner and turned around to get their attention.

“Hey guys…..” Kristen started to say as her mouth dropped open. All of the women watched in horror as the igloo sprung a leak and started to deflate.

“Some help here would be nice!” Nick yelled as they slid themselves out. Instead of seeing the girls head towards them, Nick turned around and saw Brenda and Kat in hysterics while Leigh, Kristen and Leighanne were doubled over laughing. Brenda had even managed to grab hold of Kat’s camera to take a few shots as the igloo came down around them.

“Thanks everyone.” Brian shouted making it to the stairs finally. “You guys could have helped us.”

“No way.” Kat cried, trying to catch her breath. “I think that may have been the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Thanks honey.” AJ came over and wrapped his arms around Kat. “I thought you’d save us.”

“Sorry, I was too busy laughing.”

Everyone, with the exception of Kat and AJ, rounded up the kids and headed inside to grab dinner. Kat walked down the stairs and sat down in the snow at the bottom.

“What are you doing?” AJ called.

She leaned backwards and stretched her arms out, moving them up and down. “I’m making a snow angel!”

AJ watched as this peaceful look passed over her face and he grabbed the camera and took a few pictures.

“Well now you’re immortalized as an angel!” he shouted as he watched her lay there.

As happy as she was in that moment, a part of Kat could only hope that she wouldn’t have to know if he was right anytime soon.
Christmas Gifts by Kyrie
“I can’t believe it’s going to be Christmas Eve tomorrow!”

Kat and Brenda were finishing up their Christmas shopping. It had been a few days since AJ’s surprise and Kat was still reveling in the good feelings. He had been able to bring her Christmas spirit back.

“I know. The boys are all set but I have no idea what to get AJ.”

“Are you guys gonna do the one gift thing on Christmas Eve and then the rest on Christmas?”

“Yup. And I want to get him something special.”

“He already has something special.”

“He does?”

Brenda chuckled. “Yes knucklehead, he has you and the two monkeys.”

“Funny Bren. I meant I wanted to buy him something special.”

“I think AJ has everything he needs. What can you possibly buy him?”

“There must be something.”

“I don’t know. The boy has everything you could think of and some things I’m sure no one has thought of. I can’t imagine there being anything on this planet that he wants and doesn’t already…….”

Brenda stopped when she realized Kat was no longer by her side. She turned and saw her friend standing in front of a display.

“Did you find something?”

Kat pointed her finger. “That. That’s almost perfect.”

-----------------

AJ and Nick were watching the boys while Kat and Brenda finished up their shopping. They were helping the boys finish up Kat’s Christmas gift.

“This is really cool J. I think she’s gonna like it.”

“I know she will if we can just get these guys to sit still.”

AJ and Nick were dipping the boys’ hands in watercolor paints and placing them along the edge of a white piece of cardboard. He had blown up a picture of all of them and was planning to frame it with the cardboard in the back. Unfortunately, it was turning out with AJ and Nick wearing most of the paint.

“Done.”

“Finally.” Nick said with a grimace. “Now we need to get this place completely clean before they get back.”

“I’ll take the boys upstairs and give them a bath while you clean up down here.”

“How come I get stuck cleaning up the kitchen?”

“Ok. I’ll do the kitchen. You can take these two wiggly ones upstairs, scrub them clean and change them.”
Nick thought about it for a minute. “Nah, I’ll do the kitchen. It won’t splash me!”

AJ laughed and picked up the two boys, one under each arm. “Have fun Nicky!”

“Whatever J. You owe me!”

“I know! Add it to my IOU list!”

----------------------

They managed to get the house and the boys cleaned up minutes before the girls got back. Ryan and Jake were playing with some of their toys in the living room and the guys were lounging on the sofas.

“Food’s here!” Brenda called down the hallway. “We brought pizza and salad!”

“I’m starving!” Nick said jumping off the couch.

“When are you not?” Kat and AJ asked in unison.

“Jinx.” AJ called, wrapping his arms around Kat’s waist. “Now you can’t say anything until I let you off.”

Kat nodded and mouthed something at him.

“I unjinx you.”

“Thanks.” she replied with a smile. “Now you can kiss me.”

“You play hardball woman.”

“I know.”

He leaned in and kissed her gently. Her face was still cold from being outside and it made him shiver.

“You need to get warmed up.”

“I’m fine. The temperature dropped pretty fast.”

“Where’s your coat?”

“I only took my jacket because the coat’s too bulky. I didn’t want to carry it around with me.”

“What am I gonna do with you?”

“I don’t know. You’re kinda stuck with me now.”

“I’m not stuck, I’m lucky.”

Kat grinned at him and kissed him gently. “Me too.”
Nick cleared his throat. “Hey guys the food’s getting cold. Can you hold off on the touchy feely mushy stuff till after?”

“Oh what a romantic I picked.” Brenda said sarcastically. “You really know how to ruin a mood.”

“Well I’m hungry. What do you want?”

“Never mind Nicky. AJ and I will save it for later. Let’s eat.”
Who Is That? by Kyrie
“What time are Nick and Brenda going to be here?” Kat asked as she finished getting dressed.

“They should be here any minute now.”

“And Nick doesn’t mind them coming here?”

“Nah, he loves the boys and he gets to spend the holiday with people who love him.”

Kat smiled and kissed AJ. “You really are his big brother huh?”

“Absolutely.” he answered with a smile. “I’m looking forward to exchanging some gifts tonight.”

“Me too.” Kat said with a chuckle. “I feel like a little kid again. The boys are going to love their gifts and I hope you like yours.”

AJ wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her into a tight embrace. “I already have my gifts. You and the boys are all I’m ever going to need.”

“That’s good to know. I want to remind you of what I said last night; you’re stuck with us now!”

“And I’ll repeat what I said. I’m not stuck, I’m lucky.”

AJ followed Kat to the boys’ room and helped her get them changed. The foursome had just made it downstairs when the doorbell rang.

“Merry Christmas!” Nick yelled as AJ let them in. “When do we get to open presents?”

“Psents! Psents! Psents!” Jake and Ryan yelled in unison.

“Thanks Nicky.” AJ exclaimed as he smacked his little brother on the back of the head. “Next time can you try spelling it instead of saying it?”

Nick scooted by AJ, grabbed a hug from Kat and took off into the living room with Jake and Ryan under his arms.

“He’s going to be a great dad.” Kat said with a smile.

“Watch it!” Brenda yelped. “That is not coming down the pike anytime soon!”

Kat laughed. “You never know when these things are going to happen. They have a mind of their own!”

“Ours certainly did!” AJ said hugging Brenda. “When are you two finally going to take the next step?”

“Maybe five years from now! I am so not in wife/mommy mode quite yet.”

The three of them headed to the living room where they found Nick lying on the floor covered with wrapping paper.

“Dude! Really?” AJ shouted.

“Not my fault! They must have found some extra over by the tree.” Nick explained as Jake placed a bow on his forehead.

“Awww.” Kat said with a giggle. “Nick gets to be a gift!”

“Very funny!”

Brenda and Kat walked away laughing while AJ tried to help Nick get the bows out of his hair.

“Did you tell Kat yet?” he whispered to AJ.

“No, it’s a surprise.”

“You’re full of them lately.”

“They’ve only just started.” he replied with a grin.

“There’s more than tonight’s?”

“Yup. One more but it’s a big one.”

“Are you gonna tell me or do I have to wait too?”

“I’m not telling you! You already know about the first two so I want to keep something a secret from you.”

“So not fair.”

AJ helped Nick out and they herded Jake and Ryan into the kitchen where Brenda and Kat were waiting.

“What’s for dinner?” Nick asked as he entered the room.

AJ just shook his head. “We’re just gonna do some lasagna and salad.”

“We figured it would be easy……”

The doorbell cut Kat’s sentence off and she turned to AJ.

“Are we expecting more company?”

“No, I have no idea who that is. No one else is coming over.”

AJ started towards the front door and Kat followed him. He pulled open the door and Kat’s jaw dropped.

“Merry Christmas!” someone yelled.
Surprise Visitors by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
Thank you to everyone for reading and reviewing, it means a lot that you like my story!
“Merry Christmas Gracie!” Chris yelled as he jumped in front of her other cousins.

“What are you guys doing here?” Kat asked, completely stunned.

“AJ invited us.” Aunt Gina answered.

Kat turned to find AJ leaning against the front door with an ear to ear grin. “Surprise!”

“You told me no one else was coming over!” Kat cried with tears forming in her eyes.

“Technically they didn’t come over; they came out for a visit.”

“You’re such a wiseass.” Kat pulled AJ close and kissed him deeply. “I really didn’t think it was possible to love you any more than I already do, but I was wrong.”

“So you’re happy?” AJ whispered.

“More than you know.” she answered, kissing him again.

“No offense guys but can we actually come in or do we have to visit from the front porch?” Mike inquired. “It is a little chilly out here and we’re kind of crammed in.”

AJ pulled Kat over to the side and pushed the door so that everyone could come in.

“Welcome to Casa McLean.”

“Damn!” Mark said as he made his way down the hallway. “If Kat ever decides to leave you AJ, I’ll move in!”

“There’s not a chance I will be leaving!” Kat yelled. “And you’re not his type anyway!”

“Definitely not dude.” AJ added.

Kat walked down to the kitchen with AJ’s arm wrapped around her waist. This was the best Christmas gift she could ask for. Her family meant so much to her and to have them here for the holidays after having missed them for so long was wonderful. She couldn’t have been happier nor could she thank AJ enough.

Nick and Brenda were just as excited to see Kat’s family again. Brenda had stayed close to them when Kat left but Nick hadn’t seen them since the Christmas that AJ had proposed.

“The whole family’s back together again.” Brenda said as she hugged Aunt Gina. “This is really a Christmas gift for all of us.”

“It absolutely is.” Aunt Gina replied.

“Um guys?”

Everyone turned to look at Nick who had a very concerned look on his face.

“What’s the matter Nick?” Chris asked.

“We only have enough food for 4 adults and 2 kids.”

“Oh my God Nick!” Brenda shouted with a hard smack to his arm. “Everyone’s all excited to see each other again and you’re worried there isn’t enough food.”

“Don’t worry.” AJ said with a chuckle. “I snuck Aunt Gina in yesterday when everyone was out.”

Aunt Gina put her hand on Nick’s arm. “There’s a ton of food down in the fridge in the basement. All we need to do is heat it up.”

“Oh thank you!” Nick exclaimed. “I was really getting worried.”

The guys headed down to the basement to bring up the food while the women took Jake and Ryan into the living room.

“How are you doing sweetheart?” Aunt Gina asked with a concerned look. “You look really tired.”

“I am but the doctor says it’s ok.”

“How can it be ok? You’re thinner and the circles under your eyes have gotten worse. You can’t tell me that’s ok.”

“The doctor says my symptoms are stable and I scheduled the surgery for the week after New Year’s.”

She could see that her aunt was deeply worried. Aunt Gina had been there when she was a baby and had watched her go through it all; the doctor’s appointments, the treatments, the drugs, the hospital visits.

“Please trust me Aunt Gina. I’m going to be fine. I don’t want you to worry about this right now. It’s Christmas Eve and we need to have some fun and enjoy the time we have together.”

Her aunt was about to protest when she heard the guys heading upstairs. She didn’t want AJ to hear the conversation and get all concerned.

“Please Aunt Gina. I don’t want to talk about this now and I promise I will keep you informed of everything. Let’s just not do tonight.”

“Alright honey but you had better be telling me the truth.”

“I am, I swear.”

“Ok.”

Nick poked his head around the door. “Hey Aunt Gina, what do we have to set these things for?”

“I’m coming Nick.”

“Please help them. Those guys may wind up burning the house down if you don’t handle things.” Brenda said with a laugh.

Aunt Gina got up and hugged both women before she headed into the kitchen.

“Thanks for distracting her.” Kat said as Brenda moved next to her. “She worries too much.”

“She loves you, we all do. We wouldn’t worry if we didn’t care. You need to let her be concerned. I can’t imagine how hard it is for her to see you going through this again.”

“But I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine, Kat, you’re just stable.”

“Same difference.”

“No, it’s…….”

“I don’t wanna talk about it anymore.” Kat said standing up. “Let’s go enjoy dinner and the gifts.”

Brenda didn’t say anything else as she followed her friend and the two little ones into the kitchen.
Christmas Eve by Kyrie
Everyone enjoyed dinner and Aunt Gina’s cooking. They decided that they would keep up the tradition of giving one gift on Christmas Eve and then exchanging the rest on Christmas.

“Are the other guys coming tomorrow?” Chris asked AJ as everyone was settling into the living room.

“They are and they’re bringing their families. And relax Nick; there is plenty of food for everyone!”

“Why do I always get picked on?”
“Cuz we love you little brother.”

Nick smiled at his older brother and pulled Brenda down into his lap.

“Who said I wanted to sit with you?” she said teasing him. “Maybe I wanted to…”

Nick kissed her gently. “Shhh. I wanna open some gifts.”

Everyone kept exchanging gifts until it got to Kat and AJ. She had picked his gift up yesterday and she really hoped that he would like it.

“This one’s to you from me.” Kat whispered.

“You didn’t have to get me anything. I already have what I need.”

“I wanted you to have this.”

AJ repositioned himself so that Kat was sitting between his legs and he held the gift out in front of them.
He opened the box and pulled out a glass bottle. It was filled with sand, shells, gemstones and a long piece of rolled up paper.

“What is it?”

“It’s a message in a bottle. The sand is from the beach behind our house. The shells are from our trip to Cape Cod a few years ago. The stones are your birthstone, mine and the boys and the note is from me.”

AJ was taken aback by how much thought went into her gift. “Can I read the letter?”

“Not unless you break the bottle open.” Kat said with a smile.

“But I wanna read what it says.” AJ said with a frown.

“You can, just not now.”

“When?”

“I don’t know. You can read it whenever the right time is.”

“What if the right time is now?”

“It’s not.” she answered with a playful shove. “Promise me you’ll hold off on reading it for a while. I want it to be a special time when you need it.”

“I love the gift but it bothers me that I can’t read the letter.”

“I’m sorry but those are the rules babe.”

“That’s so wrong.”

“You’re not really mad are you?” Kat asked looking concerned.

Even though not being able to read her letter upset him, he could never really be mad at her. “Maybe a little. You’re going to have to make it up to me.”

“I think that can be arranged.”

“Good.” He reached back and brought out a large box. “This is from me and the boys.”

Kat pulled off the ribbon and unwrapped it. “Oh AJ’s, it’s beautiful!”

“What is it?”

She turned it around so everyone could see. “It’s a picture of the four of us.”

“Where did you find the background AJ? Those handprints are great.”

“That’s me!” Nick piped up.

Brenda turned to him. “Those are your handprints?”

“No but I helped AJ dip Jake and Ryan’s hands in paint to make them.”

“So that’s why your clothes were covered with paint!” Brenda exclaimed. “You told me that James and Baylee had gotten some of their watercolors on you when you visited!”

“I couldn’t tell you the truth. It would have ruined the surprise!”

“I love it Nick.” Kat said.

“Hey, it was my idea!” AJ yelped. “Nick just helped.”

“I love it and I love you.” Kat smiled. “Nick didn’t get an I love you.”

“He’d better not get one.” AJ said kissing her gently. “Want me to put it up for you?”

“Please.”

AJ stepped over everyone and hung the picture right above the fireplace.

“Perfect.” Kat said as he sat back down. “I love the handprints.”

“I didn’t know if they were going to come out or not since the boys were painting Nick and I more than the paper.”

“Well then you must have the magic touch.” Kat lowered her voice and leaned in towards AJ’s ear. “Maybe we can try your touch later?”

AJ groaned. “Really? You’re gonna get me going and I have to wait till everyone goes home?”

Almost as though she heard what he murmured, Aunt Gina stood up and announced that she and Kat’s cousins had to get going. Brenda and Nick echoed the sentiment and walked with them to the door.

“We’ll be back about one ok?” Aunt Gina said as she hugged her niece. “Do you need anything?”

“No but thank you for everything you did.” AJ answered. “We really appreciate it.”

“Anytime. Love you both.”

AJ and Kat watched as everyone left and then brought the boys upstairs and changed them for bed. Once they were settled and nodding off, AJ followed Kat down to their bedroom.

“Time for bed.” Kat said pretending to yawn.

“No way woman! I was counting the seconds till they left. You’re all mine now!”

Kat started giggling when AJ tossed her onto the bed and crawled in next to her. They were going to make the most of the time they had before the boys woke up and everyone came back.
Santa's Surprise by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
Back for an update! I apologize for taking so long and I hope you enjoy it. A big thank you to Sapphire for doing the banners for my stories; they look great!
The boys woke AJ and Kat up early and the foursome made their way downstairs to wait for Denise. They decided to have Jake and Ryan open their gifts from Denise and them in the morning before everyone else got there. Kat knew there would be a ridiculous amount of gifts just from her family and the guys so she didn’t want them to get overwhelmed. She had just gotten the pancakes started when the doorbell rang.

“Why don’t you get the door and I’ll finish this.” she said, turning to AJ.

“Why can’t I finish them?”

“Um because I think we’d all like an edible breakfast.”

“So mean.” AJ replied, kissing her on the cheek. “You sure know how to hurt a guy.”

AJ left and returned a moment later with Denise.

“Merry Christmas sweetheart.” Denise hugged Kat and went to see her grandsons.

“Merry Christmas Denise. I hope you don’t mind pancakes for breakfast.”

“Not at all. Whatever we have is fine.”

The boys were able to control themselves enough to eat a couple of pancakes before they were practically climbing out of their highchairs to get at the presents. It took them an hour or so to open all of them and then AJ put them down for a nap before everyone got there.

------------------------

Nick, Brenda, Aunt Gina, Mark, Michael and Chris came over around one and the boys had just woken up from their nap. They saw the gifts under the tree again and raced for them. Nick barely caught them before they started to tear at all the wrapping paper.

“Uh-uh you little monkeys!” Nick yelled as he scooped them up. “We eat then open presents.”

“Now you’re putting your eating in front of little kids opening presents?” Brenda asked. “Nice to know your priorities.”

“Hey! AJ asked me to grab them!” Nick said wrapping his arm around Brenda’s waist.

“Ooooooooo, Brenda’s got a boyfriend!” Chris shouted as he came into the kitchen with another load of presents.

“Shut up Chris!”

“Yeah shut up Chris!” Mark and Michael echoed in unison, mimicking Brenda.

“You know what? You two can….”

Nick covered her mouth with his hand. “There are kids present.”

Brenda bit his hand and he yelped. “Thanks for the heads up.”

“Ow! That was mean!”

“Well keep your hand off my mouth!”

AJ and Kat started to laugh. Brenda and Nick were so good together and it was a shame that they weren’t smartening up enough to notice.

Everyone sat down for dinner and, by the time they had finished, the guys had arrived with their wives and kids.

“Thanks for having all of us over.” Leigh hugged Kat. “I know it’s a lot of work.”

“Christmas wouldn’t be complete without all of you guys here. You’re family and it’s important for us all to be together.”

“You may regret saying that once these kids start tearing into those presents.” Howie said with a laugh.

AJ and the guys decided this year not to exchange gifts but buy things for all the kids to open together.
“I think Jake and Ryan are going to be on present overload.” Brian told AJ coming down the hallway. “I think I’m already on overload from this morning. Santa went a little crazy this year!”

“Yes he did!” Leighanne teased. “He didn’t have Mrs. Claus to rein him in. That Santa sure is sneaky.”

“It seems that Santa had the same problem at our house!” Kristen said glancing at Kevin. “Someone needs to babysit Santa!”

Kevin just shrugged his shoulders and brought his gifts over to the tree.

All the kids were waiting patiently by the tree but once everyone had said their hellos and settled themselves in, there was a wrapping paper tornado.

“I think we may have lost some kids in there!” Brian shouted. “Everyone still in one piece?”

“We’re good Dad!” Bailey replied. “I counted everyone!”

The adults laughed and waited for the paper to come down. The boys were showing each other their toys and completely lost in kid world. Surprisingly, Jake stood up and toddled his way through the paper towards Kat with something in his hand.

“What’s that sweetheart?”

Jake stuck his hand out and handed her a box. “From Dada.” he said and wandered back to the other kids.

Kat looked across the room and AJ smiled. She noticed that everyone was staring at her all of a sudden and when she opened the box, she felt like the air had gotten sucked out of the room.
Second Chances by Kyrie
Kat was so lost in staring at her gift that she didn’t see AJ slide across the floor and kneel in front of her. When she finally looked up, she saw that everyone was watching her. Turning her attention to AJ, she noticed tears forming in his eyes.

“Do you recognize this?”

Kat nodded and her eyes welled up. AJ took the box from her and pulled out the ring that he first proposed to her with.

“I can’t believe you kept it.” she whispered.

“I think I subconsciously knew that I’d get a second chance to do this.”

He took her hand and held it tightly. “You and I have been through so much over the last two years and it’s taught me a lot of things. The first is that you may be the most stubborn woman I have ever met but you are the only one I want to give in to. The second is that you have always seen in me the man I’ve wanted to be. I’ve done my fair share of stupid things but you still see past that. The third is that I can’t live my life without you. I’ve seen what my world is like when you’re not in it and I can’t imagine ever having to go through that again. I honestly don’t think I would be able to.”

He paused to let what he said sink in. At this point, everyone was crying or had tears in their eyes.

“I made a promise to you two years ago. I promised to make sure that you knew you were loved and to always be there for you through the good and the bad. I remember telling you that I would do whatever it took to make you happy and I truly meant that. Maybe there have been a few things that strained our relationship, but that promise means as much to me now as it did when I first made it. Having you in my life makes me the luckiest man alive and I want it to stay that way forever.”

He took a deep breath. “I’m asking you, Kat Brady, to let me burn your breakfast, lecture you about taking on too much, sweep you off your feet and keep you safe. I’m asking you to let me love you. Please let me love you.”

Kat had tears streaming down her face as AJ slid the ring on to her finger.

“Will you marry me Kat?”

She couldn’t speak as she absorbed everything he just said. After a moment, she was able to get her head to nod and watched as a smile spread across AJ’s face. He pulled her face close to his and kissed her passionately. Everyone in the room started clapping and cheering but the only thing Kat could concentrate on was the look in AJ’s eyes. She saw all the love he had for her and she couldn’t imagine ever losing him again.

AJ pulled her up from the couch and wrapped his arms around her tightly. He pressed his lips to hers again and she knew now what people meant when they say that someone took their breath away. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him closer. Moving her mouth close to his ear, she whispered “I love you AJ McLean and I can’t wait to marry you!”

“Let’s do it tomorrow!” he whispered back with a laugh.

“No way!” Brenda said finally hugging her best friend. “We need to go shopping for dresses and flowers and everything else.”

“I agree!” Denise said with tears coming down her face. “I can’t wait for you to be my daughter-in-law but I want you two to have the most amazing day possible.”

“I’m so happy for the two of you.” Brian added with wet eyes. “I want you two to be together for the rest of your lives.”

Leighanne, Leigh, and Kristen all seconded that feeling and told her how excited they were to have her join the family.

Nick picked her up and swung her around. “It’s official; you’re stuck with all of us now!”

She laughed as he set her down and Howie swept her into a hug.

“You just made us all a lot happier. You two truly belong together.”

She nodded and hugged everyone else. She finally made it back to AJ’s arms and became conscious of the fact that she had never felt as happy as she did in that moment. There was nothing that could take this feeling away and she wanted to remember it for the rest of her life.
Alone TIme by Kyrie
The excitement of the night had finally wound down and AJ was able to get the boys into bed without too much of a fight. He turned the light off, closed the door and made his way down the hall to their bedroom where he found Kat sitting on the bed staring at her ring.

“Are you happy or are you checking to see if it’s the same ring?” AJ asked teasing her.

Kat playfully smacked him on the arm. “I know it’s the same one. I’m staring at it because it brings back so much for me.”

“I hope all of it is good.” AJ said and sat down next to her.

“It is.”

“Well, are you going to tell me or do I have to guess?”

“I remember meeting you and thinking you were not at all what I expected.”

“I bet you didn’t expect to meet a jackass!”

“Stop it AJ. I wasn’t talking about that. I remember all the times you came out to see me and I was amazed at how real you were.”

“Real? I don’t think I’ve been called that before.”

“Yes real. You have your faults and your strengths and you are who you are. You’re so strong and you know what you needed to change in your life. All the sacrifices you’ve made and all the mistakes you’ve fixed make you even more real. I only wish I could be like that.”

“What do you mean?”

“This whole surgery thing. You’ve faced obstacles just as hard and I feel like you survived them and made the most of it. I want to be that sure of everything.”

AJ laughed and pulled Kat back onto the bed as he stretched out. He put his arms around her and stroked her hair when she put her head on his chest.

“Let me tell you that you give me way too much credit. I screwed up, a lot, and I had to dig my way through it. You act like you’ve had an easy path compared to me. Your heart has stopped three times and you came through it every time. I’d say that’s much more powerful than what I’ve done.”

“I don’t think so. You’ve managed to turn a bad boy into a wonderful man and father.”

AJ laughed so hard he start to cough. “A bad boy huh?”

“Yes, a bad boy.” Kat said with a chuckle. “What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing. In fact, I think I might have some of that bad boy left in me. Want to take a chance?”

“I think I can handle you!”

“You’re gonna regret saying that!” AJ said with a wicked grin on his face.

------------------------------

AJ woke up the middle of the night and noticed that Kat’s side of the bed was empty. He checked in the bathroom and the boys’ room but he couldn’t find her. Starting to worry, he raced downstairs to look for her. As he came into the kitchen, he saw her sitting on the floor against the couch. She was staring at the Christmas lights on the tree and he could hear her cry softly.

“Hey.” he called out softly.

Kat quickly wiped the tears from her eyes and was smiling by the time he came around to where she was sitting.

“Hey yourself. I was just down here watching the lights.”

AJ slid himself down next to her and slipped his arm around her shoulder. “You really suck at lying, you know that right?”

“I’m not……”

“Please don’t lie to me Kat. I can see the streaks on your face. What’s going on?”

Kat sighed and sat there for a minute. “I’m just getting nervous. This whole thing is so big and it’s such a risk.”

“It’s a bigger risk if you don’t do it.”

“I know but it doesn’t make any of this easier. I don’t know whether the next two weeks are going to drag out painfully or fly by so fast that it’s gonna be in my face before I know it.”

“I promise to do whatever I can do to make these two weeks as easy as possible for you.”

Kat smiled up at him. “I know you will and that’s why I’m the luckiest woman on the planet.”

“Yeah, you really are.” AJ said with a grin, surprising her.

“Wow! You really do love yourself huh?”

“I don’t love anyone more than I love you.”

He leaned in and kissed her gently. Pulling her close, he put his head down against her and they settled in to watch the lights for a while.
New Year's Eve by Kyrie
Kat was changing the boys when she heard the doorbell ring and listened as she heard Nick and Brenda’s voices. The families decided they would get together and have a big New Year’s celebration at AJ and Kat’s house. Everyone knew how nervous she was getting and they wanted to keep her mind off it before she drove herself crazy.

AJ came into the room a few minutes later to see how she was doing. “You need anything?”

“Actually, the boys are all set but I was just gonna change my clothes before heading down. Can you take them by yourself?”

“Yeah.” He picked the two boys up and kissed her cheek. He noticed the circles under her eyes were getting a little darker. “Are you sure you’re ok?”

“I’m fine, just nervous. I’ll be down in a few minutes ok?”

“Alright.” AJ said reluctantly and headed down to visit with their family.

Kat was grateful that AJ didn’t push it. She had been getting more tired lately and just didn’t really feel like doing much. Having everyone over was more for AJ’s sake than hers. She would have preferred to crawl under the covers with him and the boys and just sleep.

“Hey there chica.” Brenda said entering Kat’s bedroom. “You were taking too long so I offered to come up and rush you.”

Brenda was chuckling until Kat turned around. She could see how tired her friend was and it made her worry.

“How bad is it?”

“It’s not. I’m just really tired. I think it’s the holidays and the stress and the anxiety about the surgery. I haven’t been sleeping well.”

“Tell me something I don’t already know!” Brenda wished she could take it back as soon as she said it. “I’m sorry Kat, that was harsh.”

“You don’t have to apologize Bren.”

“Yes I do. I’m just so worried about you and I can’t do anything. I think AJ’s frustrated by that too.”

“I know he is. I wish I could tell you guys that there was something you could do but you really can’t.”

“Look, everyone is downstairs but I can tell them to go home if you’re not feeling like company. I think they’d understand.”

“No, it’s fine. Let’s go.”

------------------------

The guys finally escaped down to the studio for a little while. The women were outside on the patio watching the kids as they played in the yard. AJ promised to leave the door open so that if anyone needed them, they could just call down.

“How’s Kat doing?” Brian asked as he sat down on one of the couches.

“She says she’s fine but she’s lying through her teeth. I know this is killing her, all the waiting and the worrying. I just don’t know what to do.”

“I think just being there for her is enough J.” Howie said as he made himself comfortable. “Just listen and try to keep her spirits up.”

Kevin nodded. “She’s knows you’d do anything for her.”

“I hope so.” AJ replied. “I would give anything in the world to make it easier for her.

The floor thundered above them.

“I think the girls gave up.” Brian laughed. “I knew they wouldn’t let the kids stay out for very long.”

“It’s cold out there!” Nick said. “I wouldn’t want to stay out there either.”

“It was their idea!” Kevin added. “We didn’t tell them to go out there.”

All of a sudden, Leigh yelled down to them.

“Hey AJ!”

“What’s the matter?” he called up to her.

“Can you tell Nick that he needs to stop making so much noise upstairs? I just heard a thud and it’s probably not good.”

AJ started to yell up that Nick was down with them but he suddenly froze. His eyes got big and he leapt out of his chair. Racing up the stairs three at a time, he barreled into the kitchen, pushing through everyone, and flew up the set of stairs to the second floor.

“What’s the matter with…..” Leighanne stopped short when she saw Nick come flying up the stairs. “But you were…”

“It’s not me!” he yelled and broke into a run for the second floor. The three other men came up right behind him. Everyone was standing around not knowing what to do when they heard AJ scream from upstairs.

-------------------------------

Nick was on the phone by the time Brenda and Brian made it up to AJ and Kat’s room. AJ was kneeling next to Kat, who wasn’t moving. Brenda started to cry and Nick wrapped her in his arms as he gave the 911 operator the address and explained the problem.

AJ had tears running down his face and was trying to get Kat to respond. Brian knelt down next to him and grabbed at his hand.

“We need to do CPR J, right now!”

“But I think she’s breathing.” he said through his tears.

“She’s not. Her lips are starting to turn blue. Her heart is going to start shutting down soon and we need to make sure she keeps breathing.”

A horrified look passed over AJ’s face and he followed Brian’s lead. They were still giving her CPR when the EMTs arrived a few minutes later.

“She has a VSD!” Brenda shouted at the closest EMT. “Please get her there fast!”

He nodded and they carried Kat down to the ambulance. Thankfully, everyone else had taken the kids back outside so they wouldn’t have to see all of this. AJ hopped into the back of the ambulance and Brenda, Nick and Brian followed in Nick’s truck. Howie said they would all be back at his house and to call when they knew something.

“I can’t believe this is happening.” Leigh said choking back tears on the ride home. “They were so happy and now this has to happen.”

“She’ll be fine. I’m not thinking that way. She’s gonna be fine, J’s going to be fine and everything will be fine.” Howie said trying to be strong.

Leigh noticed his voice catch and his hands start to tremble. She took one of his hands in hers and said a pray that this would be over soon and everything would work itself out.
The Painful Truth by Kyrie
“Why hasn’t anyone come out to tell us anything yet?” AJ yelled, pacing back and forth. “What is going on back there?”

“Calm down AJ. They’re doing whatever they can to help her.” Nick said gently. “We need to be strong for Kat right now.”

Looking at AJ pacing, Brenda crying and Brian out in the hall saying some prayers was almost more than Nick could take. It was like watching a scene in a Lifetime movie. He was just about to tell AJ to sit when Denise, Howie and Kevin came into the room.

“How is she?” Denise asked AJ through her tears. “How bad is it?”

“No one will tell me anything!” he shouted again. “I have no idea what’s going on or how she is! If someone doesn’t come out here soon, I’m going in!”

Denise and Brenda tried to get AJ under control while Nick and Brian pulled the other two men out into the hallway and explained what was happening.

“She wasn’t even breathing when we got upstairs. Her lips had started to turn blue.” Brian told his cousin and Howie, whose faces paled. “I have no idea if we even got to her in time. It was so fast.”

“She has to be ok.” Howie said with a tone of urgency in his voice. “There is no way J’s going to survive this if she doesn’t pull through. I honestly don’t think he knows how to live without her.”

“We need to keep those thoughts to ourselves right now. It’s only going to upset Brenda more and make AJ even angrier than he already is.” Kevin added.

“Bren called her regular doctor and he’s on his way in. Hopefully he can help us with J.” Nick said quietly. “Someone needs to help us.”

Brian was about to say something when Denise called them back into the room. The surgeon had finally come out and was trying to deal with AJ.

“What is going on in there? You need to tell me something right now!” AJ demanded angrily.

“I see no point to beat around the bush.” the doctor answered with an attitude. “She’s lucky she’s not dead.”

Brenda started to sob and AJ looked like he was going to slug him.

“Your friend…”

“Fiancée!” AJ yelled.

“Your fiancée’s heart shut down. The blood pumping through the hole reversed direction and her blood wasn’t be oxygenated. We put in a patch but her heart has already stopped three times.”

At this point, Brenda was practically burying her whole body into Nick’s side and AJ had turned a sickly shade of white.

“Is the patch going to work?”

“I honestly don’t know. Her heart has been weakened and it’s getting harder and harder to bring her back after each time her hearts stops. I’m being direct when I say the prognosis is not good and you should consider filling out a DNR order while you’re here.”

Brenda let out a noise and it sounded like a wounded animal. “Please don’t do that AJ. Please don’t.”

“What’s a DNR order?” AJ insisted.

“A do not resuscitate order.” Brian said quietly.

“English Bri!”

“It means you’ll give them permission to let her go next time her heart stops.”

“Let her go?” AJ roared and spun around to face the doctor. “You want me to sign a piece of paper that says you have the ok to let her die? What the hell kind of doctor are you?”

“One who has other patients to see. I will get a nurse to bring you more information.”

The doctor walked away leaving everyone with their mouths open. AJ was just about to let some obscenities loose when Dr. Anderson came around the corner.

“I can see you met the new surgeon.” he said with a frown.

“He’s a jackass!” AJ screamed. “He wants me to let him kill her!”

“He’s a terrific surgeon” Dr. Anderson said steering AJ to a chair, “but his bedside manner leaves something to be desired.”

“He wants me to sign some paper that says they can let her die!”

“A DNR order.”

“Yeah, that thing! Why would he think I would do that?”

“I’m afraid he’s looking at the physical side of everything and not quite the bigger picture.”

“You bet he is! I’m not signing that paper!”

“I’m not going to argue that you should but can I at least explain why he suggested it?”

AJ was about to freak out when Denise laid her hand on his arm. “Please let him talk to us Alex. We need to know everything.”

“Fine but I am not signing that paper!”

“What is a DNR exactly?” Howie asked.

“It’s a do not resuscitate order. It’s basically an order that gives the hospital permission to not shock Kat’s heart back into a rhythm if it stops again.”

“Why would anyone do that?” Nick asked shocked.

“When someone’s heart stops, it affects every part of their body. Depending on how long they go without oxygen, it can affect their brain and leave some people with permanent brain damage.”

“But Kat didn’t stop breathing that long.” AJ told the doctor.

“I know, but every time it stops, her body goes through an enormous amount of strain to start up again.”

“She can handle this!” Brenda shrieked at AJ. “She would not want this.”

“I can’t sign an order that says you can kill her.” AJ said forcefully.

“It’s not an order allowing us to kill her. It’s an order telling us to not use any life saving measures to bring her back if her heart stops again.”

“I can’t do that.”

“I’m not saying you should.” Dr. Anderson said gently. “It’s just a consideration. You should know all your options in case her heart stops again.”

Everyone just sat there while they absorbed everything they had just heard. Eventually a nurse came down with some paperwork for AJ to look at. He handed it back to her without looking at it and told her that he wanted to see Kat right then. Dr. Anderson asked the nurse to take him back to see her and agreed to sit with the family a little longer. Denise took Brenda out to get some air and to clean her face. As soon as they were out of earshot, Nick turned to the doctor.

“I want an honest answer to this question Dr. Anderson.”

They were all shocked. Nick was usually the one being goofy and letting the others make the big decision. To see Nick take charge was a change for all of them.

“What’s your question Nick?”

“If Kat was your family, would you sign it?”

“I would give it some serious consideration.” Dr. Anderson replied. “She’s been through a lot and we need to really ask ourselves how much more should she be put through.”

Nick thanked the doctor for his honesty and they watched him leave to check on Kat.

“Who’s gonna tell AJ that?” Howie asked.

No one volunteered for that job.
The Options by Kyrie
It had been three days since Kat’s surgery and her heart had already stopped again. AJ was going crazy and could barely function. Everyone had stepped up to take care of the boys and to take turns with him at the hospital. No one wanted him to be by himself. It was Brian’s turn the day that Dr. Anderson asked to speak to AJ.

“I know you’re anxious to get back to Kat so I won’t make this very long.”

He waited until AJ and Brian had settled themselves into the chairs in the lounge before he started.

“I know that Kat’s heart stopped the other day. They got it shocked back into rhythm but I spoke to the nurse and the attending physician and they both agreed that it was a struggle.”

“Can’t you on in and check the patch? Maybe they did something wrong.” AJ asked rubbing his hand over his face.

“They put the patch in correctly and I’m afraid that if we go forward with any mores surgeries, it could actually cause more damage than what is already there.”

“Then find another way. I will pay for whoever needs to be here and……”

“It won’t matter who we get AJ.” Dr. Anderson said calmly. “This is a serious issue and can’t just be fixed with surgery. Kat’s body is tired and it’s been through so much…….”

“She’s been through so much! Don’t talk about her like she isn’t here and it’s just some body lying in there!” AJ yelled.

Brian reached out and put his hand on AJ’s arm. “No one is saying she’s not here J. He’s just trying to explain what’s going on.”

“Well he can do that without acting like she doesn’t exist!”

“I’m sorry AJ, I didn’t mean to sound insensitive. I’m just trying to do what’s best for Kat.”

“And exactly what is that?”

Dr. Anderson took a deep breath. He hated having these conversations with families but there was no putting this off any longer.

“I think it’s time that you consider signing a DNR order.”

“No fucking way!” AJ screamed. “I am NOT going to do that!”

“AJ please control yourself. I know that it is going to be hard on you to let go of Kat…”

“I am not letting go of Kat because I’m not signing that goddamn paper!”

Dr. Anderson decided to be hard on him in hopes that he would listen. “I hate to say this AJ but are you not signing the paper for Kat’s sake or yours?”

“What does that mean?”

“I mean that are you refusing to sign because you think she can make it or because you don’t want to lose her?”

The doctor’s question hit AJ hard. It took him a few minutes to think about what he said and he realized that this was not something he had even asked himself.

“I have some rounds to do but I will come by later this afternoon to speak to you again.” Dr. Anderson said rising from his seat. “I’ll respect your wishes but please consider what I said.”

Brian waited for the doctor to leave and then turned to AJ. “What do you want to do?”

“I honestly don’t know Bri.”

“I hate saying this to you but maybe you need to start thinking about all the options.”

AJ looked over at Brian and he expected to get a death stare but was shocked by his friend’s face. AJ looked crushed, sad, tired and countless other things.

“I think maybe we should have a family meeting.”

“Why don’t we go back to my house for just a little while and I’ll tell everyone to come over?” Brian asked.

“Ok.” AJ responded surprising his brother. “Let’s get this over with so I can get back to her.”
The Hardest Decision Ever by Kyrie
Leighanne called everyone after she got Brian’s call and they were all there by the time Brian got AJ home.

“I’m sorry J.” Nick said pulling him into a hug. “I really am.”

“Me too.” AJ said softly.

“Why don’t you tell us everything that happened?” Kevin asked as everyone took a seat.

AJ sat there for a minute trying to figure out how to say it. “You guys know her heart stopped the other day right?”

Everyone nodded and he paused before continuing. “The doctor said it was hard to get Kat back this time. He wants me to sign a DNR.”

“You’re not going to do it right?” Brenda asked.

“I don’t know.”

This answer shocked everyone. Nobody had even thought that AJ would give it a moment’s consideration.

“Don’t do it AJ.” she pleaded. “Don’t give up.”

“I’m not giving up, I would never give up.”

“If you sign that paper, you will be!” Brenda yelled as Nick tried to get her to calm down.

“The doctor says it’s probably the best thing to do.”

“I don’t care what the doctor thinks. I know this isn’t what she would want.”

“I don’t think she’d want this either.”

“Then you don’t know her as well as I thought you did.”

“Stop it Brenda.” Nick said with a harsh tone. “You’re not helping.”

“I’m not helping? I’ve known Kat for years, longer than any of you. I think I would be the one who knows what she wants.”

“Then why did she make me her health care proxy?” AJ asked getting angry. He didn’t like the insinuation that he didn’t care about her as much as Brenda did.

“I have no idea since you’re ignoring her wishes and contemplating signing that damn form!”

“What would you have me do then?” he demanded.

“Not sign it and not give up on her! I can’t even believe you’re thinking about doing this and that you’d be ok with letting her die!”

“And I can’t believe you want to keep her like a vegetable!”

Brenda jumped up. “Screw you AJ!”

She stormed out of the house and Nick stood up.

“I get that she’s making you mad J, but that was out of line.”

He turned and went outside to check on Brenda. AJ hung his head and felt bad that he had put it that way to Brenda. When he looked up, all he saw was everyone looking at him.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize J.” Kevin said. “You were a little hard on her but this isn’t an easy situation. All options have to be considered and Brenda is just having a tough time coming to terms with that.”

“I am too! I don’t wanna to sign this form but I don’t want Kat to be lying there, trapped and in pain, just so that I can keep her around for me.”

“No one said you did J.” Howie added. “We all know you want what’s best for Kat.”

“But I don’t know what that is.”

“I don’t think any of us do.” Brian said. “It’s one of those times that we just have to make a decision. You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Both of these choices have consequences and you need to think about which one is in Kat’s best interest.”

AJ was about to say something when his cell phone rang. Everyone listened to the one sided conversation and knew that it wasn’t good news.

“I understand.” AJ said into the phone. “Tell Dr. Anderson that I’ll come by tonight and sign the paper.”

He hung up the phone and turned around to face his brothers.

“Her heart stopped again. I can’t keep doing this to her.”

“Do you want us to go with you?” Howie asked.

“No. I’m going to go by the house and try to figure stuff out. I’ll go back to the hospital tonight and do it.”

They all watched as he left and were still sitting there when Brenda and Nick came back in.

“Where is J go?” Nick asked.

“Home. Kat’s heart stopped again and he’s going to sign the paper tonight.”

Brenda sank onto the couch and started to cry. Nick sat down next to her and wrapped his arm around her. No one knew what to say so they just sat there in silence.
Grief by Kyrie
AJ let himself into an empty house. Denise had taken the boys to her home so that she could watch them overnight. He was grateful for her doing that because he didn’t want them to see him like this. There was going to come a time where he would have to sit the boys down and tell them but this was not it.

He climbed the stairs and walked into their bedroom. Since Kat had been admitted, he spent the nights in a cot by her bed so this was the first time in their room without her. The pajamas she wore were lying on the bed and her books were stacked on the nightstand. He crawled onto the bed and pulled her pillow over. It smelled just like her and he tucked it under his chin. The thought of her dying was too much for him and he began to sob.

Grief had overtaken him and he continued to cry for the next hour. He didn’t even want to think of having to sleep here without her. Soon, anger began to creep in along with the grief. He was mad at God, the doctors, life and her. She was leaving him again and there was nothing he could do to stop her this time. There was no pleading, begging or discussion. She would be gone soon and he had no part in her decision.

He turned over on the bed and saw his Christmas gift from Kat on his table. That message in a bottle was a promise from her and it lay there, taunting him. He reached over, picked it up and threw it against the wall with all the strength he could come up with. The shells, sand and stones flew in all directions and the letter floated down to the floor.

Instantly regretting his decision, he crawled over and tried to scoop up the sand and shells. He was crying so hard that he could barely see through the tears. His fingers brushed over the letter as he was making piles and he noticed her handwriting. This wasn’t just a note, but a letter. He picked it up, sat among the debris with his back against the wall and stared at it. It took a few minutes for his tears to subside and he began to read.



To the man I love with all my heart,

I know I’ve said it so many times, and you’re probably tired of hearing it, but I truly am the luckiest woman on the planet; I have a man in my life who loves me more than anyone else ever has. Everyone sees that you’re handsome, funny, silly and sweet but I get to see more than that. I get to see a man who loves his family and would move heaven and Earth to make sure they were happy, safe and loved. A man who has struggled through so much and has moved past all of it to be the most amazing father and man.

There are so many things I want to say to you but the man who makes these said I could only have one sheet of paper! I would need a thousand sheets to say everything I want but I’m going to try to tell you the most important ones.

First, I’ve only ever had one regret in my life and that was hurting you. When we were together for the first time, I swore up and down that I would never hurt you and I know I broke that promise when I left. I violated your trust then and again when you found Jake and me. I didn’t tell you the whole truth and I know that hurt you again. There are no words that I can use to say how truly sorry I am for that and I can only hope that deep down inside you can find some way to forgive me.




Tears started to stream down his face. He had no idea that Kat felt like he hadn’t forgiven her.



Second, I need you to know that I have never been so happy in my entire life. Having you, Jake and Ryan in my life is the best gift God or anyone else could ever give me. I wake up every morning to find you sleeping next to me and it fills me with such peace. No matter what challenges we have faced or may face, I know we can get through them together. We are going to spend the rest of our lives going through ups and downs but I know it’s only going to make us stronger and our love deeper.

Lastly, I want you to know that I will fight with every fiber of my being to keep us together and strong. I will never give you reason not to trust me again and I will do whatever I can to make the best life for us and our boys. Please promise me that no matter what happens, you will never lose faith in us. If we are ever apart, for whatever reason, don’t doubt for a minute that I will find my way back to you and I will not let us be apart for long.

I’m running out of room now but I want to say one more thing. I love you more than life itself and I will never leave you again. I know that my surgery will be soon but I have faith that it will turn out ok. Your love and support will be my way through it and I will make it through no matter what. Always believe in me and in us; we can get through anything.

All my love always,
Kat




AJ wiped the tears from his eyes, stood up and took off downstairs, leaving the letter on the floor. He knew he had to do it right now.
Don't Lie by Kyrie
AJ arrived at the hospital to find chaos outside Kat’s room.

“What’s going on?” he demanded.

“Your fiancée’s heart stopped and we’re trying to get it started.”

Two nurses pushed by him and he could hear the doctor barking out orders. It took a few minutes but he heard the heart monitor start up again. His heart started beating stronger at that moment and he knew he had to find Dr. Anderson.

He was heading to look for him when he noticed the doctor talking to one of the nurses in the adjoining hallway.

“Dr. Anderson? Can I speak to you?”

“Hi AJ. Of course. Why don’t we talk in private? I can have the nurse bring the paperwork here.”

AJ followed him into the lounge and was about to tell him why he was here when Brenda came rushing through followed by Nick.

“Don’t do it AJ!” she yelled grabbing AJ’s arm. “I’m sorry for everything I said but please don’t do this.”

AJ held onto her hand. “Her heart stopped again Bren.”

“I know I heard the nurses talking. Please give her a chance. Please don’t sign this paper.”

“I’m not going to sign it.”

His response shocked everyone. They all thought he was there to sign the DNR order and now he was shaking his head.

“AJ, this is the second time it’s stopped in the last few days. Please think about…”

“I’m sorry Dr. Anderson. I need to speak to Kat for a few minutes. If her heart stops again after I talk to her then I’ll sign the order.”

“But AJ….” Brenda started to plead.

“I love Kat more than anything. Please trust me Brenda.”

Brenda knew she wasn’t going to be able to change his mind so she just nodded and watched him walk down to Kat’s room.

Nick wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly. “AJ knows what he’s doing. We have to have faith in him.”

----------------------

AJ pulled a chair over to Kat’s bed and sat down. He took her hand and held on to it as tightly as he could. On the car ride to the hospital, he rehearsed what he was going to say over and over again. Now that he was here, he was having trouble finding the right words.

“Hey you.” he whispered. “You seem to be keeping all the nurses and doctors on their toes tonight.”

He stopped to wipe some tears from his face. What he said next needed to work because he didn’t know what else to do.

“I don’t know if you can hear me or not, but I need to say some things to you. I read your letter tonight. I got so angry that I smashed the bottle and I needed to read it Kat. I can’t stand you not being here and if I couldn’t talk to you, I needed to hear you talk to me. I have a few things to say to you now and you had better listen.”

He took a deep breath and started again.

“I love you more than I have ever loved anyone or anything. I love you more than life and I would trade places with you in an instant. I want to take all your pain away and I only want you to feel that peace that you told me about in your letter. So much has happened and I don’t know how to stop it and bring you back.”

Nick and Brenda walked by Kat’s room and could hear him talking to her.

“I feel horrible that you thought I hadn’t forgiven you. There are things in our relationship that I’ve done and you’ve done but it doesn’t matter anymore. We moved past all of it and all I want to focus on is the here and now. I want us to get married, have twenty more kids and grow old together.”

Brenda started to tear up as she continued to listen.

“One more thing. You promised me that you would fight with everything you had in order to keep us together. Please don’t lie to me and break that promise. I need you to give everything you have and fight to make your heart stronger. I can’t live the rest of my life without you and I can’t function without you here. Don’t lie to me and give up on us. You need to come back right now and fight with me!”

AJ started to cry and Brenda’s heart was breaking for him. She knew he was going through hell and she felt awful for lashing out at him instead of trying to be supportive. Wiping her tears, she walked across the room and put her hand on AJ’s shoulder. He looked up at her and she could see the tears streaming down his face.

“I think she’ll be back soon AJ.”

“How do you know?”

Brenda smiled for the first time in days. “You just challenged her and she would never back down from a challenge.”

AJ looked at her with a sad smile. “I hope you’re right. I would give anything to have her back, even if it meant she kicked my ass.”

------------------------------------

Brenda asked AJ if she could sit with Kat for a little while and he agreed to go down to the cafeteria with Nick. They both got some coffee and sat down at one of the small tables.

“Is there anything I can do for you J?”

AJ shook his head. “Not unless you can make her heart stronger and keep beating.”

“I wish I could. I know I’m Superman and all, but that isn’t one of my abilities.” Nick joked trying to bring some comic relief.

“You’re an idiot.” AJ responded with a sad smile.

“Thanks, I love you too.” Nick paused for minute. “What you and Kat have is strong J. I know she’ll come back to you. She’s a stubborn woman and I agree with Bren, she’d never back down from a challenge.”

“I hope you’re right…..”

He was cut off by Brenda who came flying into the cafeteria to find them. She had tears streaming down her face.

“It’s Kat!”
Sleeping Beauty by Kyrie
AJ raced back to Kat’s room with Brenda and Nick in tow. Dr. Anderson was standing by Kat’s bed making some notations on a clipboard.

“What happened?” AJ asked panicking.

“See for yourself.” Dr. Anderson replied and pointed at the heart monitor.

Kat’s heartbeat was showing signs of strength and the lines were more consistent than they had been since she was admitted.

“Whatever you said to Ms. Brady here must have worked.” Dr. Anderson said with a smile. “I’m going to say something I never get a chance to; I’m very happy that you didn’t listen to me.”

AJ had an ear to ear grin. “Thanks Dr. Anderson. She takes her sweet time doing things and I just needed somebody to remind me of that.”

“Well, tell whoever reminded you that you are very grateful.”

“I plan on it.”

Dr. Anderson shook AJ’s hand and moved towards the door. “I’ll check on her tomorrow when I get in.”

“Thank you again.”

“You’re welcome.”

AJ pulled the chair he had vacated early over to her bed and sat down. Nick and Brenda crowded around the other side.

“Hey you.” AJ said quietly. “Apparently you were listening and just holding out on us all this time.”

“You were always like that.” Brenda added, taking her friend’s hand in hers.

AJ took her other hand and kissed it gently. “You have to come back soon because I don’t know how much more of this I can take. Please do whatever you can to get back. I miss you.”

Nick walked a little closer, surprising Brenda and AJ. “We all miss you Kat and to be honest, if you don’t come back soon, I’m going to go nuts with these two.”

Brenda elbowed Nick and AJ pushed him way from the bed.

“Will you take this one home?” AJ asked Brenda.

“Gladly.” She started to pull Nick towards the door. “If anything changes, will you call me?”

“Absolutely. Go get some rest. Everything will be fine.”

------------------------

Kat awoke around midnight for the first time in days. Her head was swimming and she wasn’t sure where she was or how she got there. She knew she had wires attached all over her body and she began to panic. Looking around the room for someone, she saw AJ sound asleep on a cot a few feet away.

“AJ?”

Her voice came out so softly that she could barely hear herself. It was a struggle to get her voice much higher since she hadn’t used it in such a long time but she tried to get his attention again.

“AJ?”

It was barely audible this time and she knew she had to do something to get his attention. She noticed the remote was on the bed beside her so she pushed it ever so slightly and sent it crashing to the floor.

“What the hell?” AJ asked startled. He rolled over and saw Kat’s eyes wide open and staring at him. Rubbing his hands over his eyes, he opened them convinced that he would wake up from this dream and see Kat lying in bed. Instead, he saw her eyes sparkling with tears and the tiniest of smiles on her face.

AJ leapt out of the cot and dove for her bed. He knelt beside her and reached out to touch her face.

“Oh my god you’re awake!”

Kat nodded. “Where am I?” she squeaked out.

“You’re in the hospital baby.”

“Why?”

AJ paused before answering. He was hesitant to tell her exactly what happened in fear of her heart taking a turn for the worse from stress. “Your heart stopped working for a while and they had to get you patched up.”

Kat nodded again and AJ was relieved to see the heart monitor stay in a steady motion.

“They took care of it and you decided to sleep for a few days.”

“How many?”

“A little over a week.”

A tear ran down her cheek. “Am I ok?”

AJ looked at her and he couldn’t help himself. The tears fell and he couldn’t answer her question. Kat felt sick seeing him like this and tried to stroke his head with one hand. He put his hand over hers and pressed it to his cheek.

“I thought I lost you.” He said before the tears started again.

“You couldn’t lose me.” Kat said gently. “Even if you tried.”

“Good.” AJ said after he was able to control his crying. “You scared the hell out of me. You have no idea what the last few days have been like for all of us. It got so bad that Brenda told me off.”

Kat laughed lightly. “It must have been pretty bad.”
“It was the worst week of my life.” AJ stood up and leaned over to kiss her gently. “I can’t go through that again.”

“You won’t have to, I promise.”

“I’m going to hold you to that woman.”

“Can you just hold me?”

“Absolutely.” AJ walked over to the other side of the bed where there were less wires and somehow managed to squeeze his way through and lay down gently next to her. He draped his arm over her waist and kissed her forehead.

“I love you AJ.”

“I love you too Kat.”
The Rest Of Our Lives by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
Thank you to everyone who has reading and reviewing! I hope you're happy with the ending to the story and if not, let me know! Thank you to Sapphire for helping me get through the last chapter!
One year later:

“So I’m cleared?”

Dr. Anderson smiled. He watched as Kat bounced on the edge of her chair waiting to see if she was ready to continue on with life. AJ wasn’t much better as he was half sitting and half jumping on his chair.

“You are cleared.”

“Woohoo!” AJ yelled and pulled Kat up. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her passionately.

“Mind if I finish?” asked Dr. Anderson with a laugh.

“No, sorry.” Kat said breathlessly. “Go ahead.”

“Your heart has mended well and all of the recovery has been positive. You haven’t had any issues since you woke up and your heart sounds healthy and strong.”

“Thank you so much Dr. Anderson!” Kat said giving him a hug. “I promise to still come to my checkups!”

“You better! Now get out of here before I have to admit AJ with heart problems!”

AJ’s face burst into a grin and, after shaking the doctor’s hand, pulled Kat out into the hallway and picked her up. He pulled her up so that she could wrap her legs around his waist.

“AJ! Can’t this wait?”

“No way! We just got the best news of our lives and I don’t care who sees us.”

He kissed her again and swept her into his arms.

“Can we tell everyone?”

“I will call them right now.”

--------------------------

Within the hour, Denise, all the guys and their wives were gathered in the backyard. They were dying to get a chance to congratulate Kat and AJ about the good news. The problem was that they were upstairs with Brenda and Nick.

“What’s taking them so long?” Brian asked. “I want to hug them!”

“Settle down Bri.” Kevin said with a laugh. “They’ll be down in a minute.”

The doorbell rang and Nick came out back with AJ. A smaller man that no one recognized was following behind them.

“Who’s that?” Howie asked. “He doesn’t look like Kat’s doctor.”

“I don’t think he is.” Leigh responded.

“Hey guys.” AJ said with a grin. “I know you guys came here to celebrate Kat being given the all clear but we were hoping you’d help us celebrate something else.”

“Like what?” Denise asked with a chuckle.

“Us getting married.”

Everyone was so surprised that they missed Kat and Brenda coming outside holding the two boys. Kat looked terrific and was beaming from ear to ear. Her color and the light in her eyes had returned.

“I hope you don’t mind that we decided to move things up a little.” Kat said handing Jake over to Brenda and taking her spot by AJ’s side.

“We love it!” Kristen said. “This is the perfect time!”

AJ and Kat smiled and turned to the justice of the peace. He started the ceremony and went through the routine of things he had to say. Then he asked AJ and Kat to read the vows that they had written to each other. AJ cleared his throat and wiped the tears from his eyes.

“I know that I’ve said some of these things over and over again so I hope you guys can bear with me.”

He took Kat’s hand in his and looked into her eyes.

“You are the most amazing woman I have ever met Kat Brady. You are my best friend and the woman that I want to spend the rest of my life with. You are the warmest, kindest, most genuine person I know and you inspire me every day. I look at you and everything you have been through and I see the amazing strength you have within you and it makes me love you even more. I want to go to bed with you ever night, wake up to see you smiling at me every morning and spend the rest of our lives making memories. With this ring, I promise you that I will protect you, care for you, love you and never give up on us. I love you Kat.”

Kat smiled at him. She was choked up with all the emotions and she did her best to talk through the tears.

“I told you a long time ago that you were stuck with me and now this ring makes it a permanent lock. It’s just like the lock you have on my heart. The best moments of my life have been with you and the boys and I want to spend years making more moments like those. I have always felt safe with you AJ. Your love is strong, peaceful and always just what I need. I want to feel your arms wrapped around me and your heart beating in time with mine. I love you AJ, more than you will ever know.

Everyone around them was in tears by the time Kat finished speaking. They knew that Kat and AJ loved each other but the joy they saw in their eyes was astounding. The couple put the rings on each other’s fingers while the justice of the peace finished the ceremony. He smiled at the two and spoke loudly.

“I now pronounce you husband and wife!”

AJ pulled Kat close to him and kissed her fiercely. “I love you Mrs. McLean.”

“I love you too Mr. McLean. Now and forever.”
End Notes:
I am going to try my hand at a Nick story next and I hope you guys will all read it and help me out with the reviews, advice and comments! I really can't thank all of you enough for all your reading and positive energy! You guys are the best!
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