“I'd learned that some things are best kept secret.”
Nicholas Sparks, Dear John
The Backstreet Boys have just returned from their In A World Like This tour and AJ is dying to unwind and relax. Unfortunately, life has a different plan for him. Will an encounter with a mysterious stranger keep AJ’s feet firmly planted or cause him to run for the door?
Fanfiction > Backstreet Boys Characters:
Drama, Romance, SuspenseWarnings:
A huge thank you to Sapphire for yet another amazing banner!
Disclaimer: For the sake of this story, AJ has not met Rochelle.
1. In A World Like This by Kyrie
2. Familiar Faces? by Kyrie
3. Just Max by Kyrie
4. Introductions by Kyrie
5. Best Of Intensions by Kyrie
6. Thanks A Lot! by Kyrie
7. Differing Views by Kyrie
8. Let Me Help by Kyrie
9. Too Stubborn by Kyrie
10. A Compromise by Kyrie
11. Cracks by Kyrie
12. Progress! by Kyrie
13. A New Start by Kyrie
14. Heart To Heart by Kyrie
15. Getting To Know You by Kyrie
16. Fireworks by Kyrie
17. I'm Right! by Kyrie
18. Nick vs AJ by Kyrie
19. First Date? by Kyrie
20. Listening to Brian by Kyrie
21. Too Late? by Kyrie
22. Can I Get Another Chance? by Kyrie
23. Starting Over by Kyrie
24. Some Truths by Kyrie
25. You've Got A Deal by Kyrie
26. One Brother Down, Three To Go by Kyrie
27. Camping by Kyrie
28. Honesty by Kyrie
29. Why Do You Have To Be Difficult? by Kyrie
30. Warm Greetings? by Kyrie
31. What Is Going On? by Kyrie
32. Our Own Fault Lines by Kyrie
33. Maybe? by Kyrie
34. Change of Heart by Kyrie
35. A Mistake by Kyrie
36. The Return by Kyrie
37. Three Months Later.... by Kyrie
In A World Like This by Kyrie
I hope you guys enjoy this new one! I love feedback so if you read the story, let me know what you think, good or bad!
She sat there and stared as people passed by her, getting on with their daily plans and routines. Tucked in a corner surrounded by some potted plants, she curled deeper into her metal chair and adjusted her sunglasses. Her eyes were constantly scanning her surroundings as she pretended to read her book and sip the hot tea she had bought mostly for appearances sake.
Her concentration was broken as five men took over the table diagonal to hers. They acted just like brothers but she didn’t think they weren’t really related. The older one was tall, with dark hair and eyebrows as well as a serious expression that made him seem like the “father” of the group. There were two blondes, one tall and lanky and the other one shorter and as energetic as the Ever Ready bunny. Another was a handsome looking Latino that oozed charm and had a captivating smile. The last was the one that caught her eye the most; he was medium build with sunglasses hiding his eyes and tattoos running over what looked like most of his body. She could tell he was the bad boy of the group and the reputation was probably well deserved.
The two blondes were trying to fight for the last two chairs and left the bad boy with no place to sit. She cringed as she saw the older one motion to the tattooed one and then point to her table. Knowing there was no place for her to go, she silently prayed that he would pick a chair from another table; she wasn’t that lucky. As he approached, she curled tighter into that chair and resisted the urge to bolt. He politely asked if anyone was sitting there to which she nodded her head no. She nodded yes when he asked if he could take it and breathed a sigh of relief when he dragged the chair away.
“That was really weird.” AJ said as he returned to the table.
“What was weird?” Nick asked.
“That woman over there didn’t say a word to me when I asked for the chair. She just nodded.”
“Maybe she’s a mute.”
Kevin smacked Nick on the back of the head.
“What? She could be.”
Brian finally looked over. “She looks kind of sad.”
“Well she is sitting by herself in a crowded bus terminal. Maybe she’s waiting for someone.”
The guys had taken their buses back to the terminal and were getting picked up by family. They were tired of flying everywhere and figured this was a change of pace.
AJ considered the idea and looked back over at her. Their eyes, or at least their sunglasses, met and she turned her head away as fast as she could. Her whole demeanor presented as though something was really off and, even though he knew it wasn’t his business, he was surprised at how badly he wanted to know.
Why do they keep staring at me, she thought to herself. She started to panic and looked around for a way out. As quickly as she could, she sprinted towards the nearest exit and headed out into the busy sidewalk. She needed to find somewhere else to go.
“She took off like a bat out of hell.” Nick pointed out as he looked over at the woman’s table. “Maybe you scared her J.”
AJ looked over and saw the empty chair; he hadn’t even said anything to her.
“I don’t understand what I did. All I asked for was the empty chair.”
“Maybe she thought you were an alien. I mean you do where those crazy sunglasses everywhere.” Brian added.
“But they’re my thing.”
“But she doesn’t know that.”
“She’s probably some fan that freaked out when she saw us.” Kevin piped in with the voice of reason. “You do have that affect J. Woman stop being able to talk around you and she might have been embarrassed. I think you guys are making a big deal over nothing.”
“Maybe.” AJ responded.
Kevin was probably right, it was just some fan who got unnerved by meeting them. He really wanted to believe that but he just felt like something wasn’t right.
Two weeks had passed since the boys came home and AJ was thoroughly enjoying his life of doing absolutely nothing. They had such jam packed schedules when they were on tour that he’d learned to appreciate his down time. It was so rare that no one needed anything from him and he wasn’t going to waste these moments.
After sleeping late into the afternoon, he called his mother to see if she wanted to grab dinner. He missed seeing his family, especially his mother, when he was out on the road. They didn’t get to see each other as much as when he was growing up so he tried to see her whenever they were home.
They made plans to go to his favorite diner. It was an out of the way place located near a small beach and was frequented by the locals; most tourists would drive by it without even realizing that it was there. The food was terrific and AJ always flirted with the older waitress who seemed to be the only employee other than the owner and chef. She’d laugh and tease him back but she always knew what his favorites were.
“Hey sweetie.” AJ joked as he sat down. “You didn’t go and get married while I was gone did you?”
Marjorie laughed and got him a soda. “I’m old enough to be your mother young man.”
“Nah, you don’t look a day over twenty.” he replied. “Besides, I’ve always had a thing for older women.”
She swatted him with her towel and made her way back to the kitchen. His mother arrived as Marjorie was setting out menus and they said hello. Denise was used to coming here and she always liked the waitress.
“Hi honey.” Denise said as she leaned over to give him a kiss on the cheek. “How are you?”
“Exhausted. I couldn’t wait for this break.”
“I bet. Sometimes I think you guys work yourselves too hard. You need to relax and be able to enjoy life.”
“I do enjoy life Ma, just at a faster pace!”
Marjorie returned with iced tea for Denise and offered to take their orders. She told them that she was training a new waitress and was going to be bringing her around.
“It’s nice to see you finally got some help.” Denise responded. “How’s she doing so far?”
“Ok. She’s so quiet but she does the job.”
As the older woman vanished into the kitchen area, AJ noticed a young woman filling some of the salt and pepper shakers at the counter. She had jet black hair, cut in a pixie style which made her look similar to Kiera Knightley. Her face had a hard quality to it and AJ guessed that made her look older than she really was. He watched her for a few more minutes before she disappeared into the back.
Denise followed her son’s gaze and was able to catch a glimpse of the girl before she vanished.
“That must be the new girl.”
“Yeah.” AJ answered distracted.
“Uh-huh.” He was completely focused on the door, waiting for the woman to come back out.
“The diner is on fire.”
Denise laughed. “That girl really caught your eye.”
“Huh?” AJ asked, finally snapping out of it.
“The new girl, she seems to have you captivated.”
“No, I just thought I recognized her from somewhere.” AJ deflected the question quickly.
“Well if she’s helping Marjorie, then we’ll get a chance to meet her.” Denise replied.
Although AJ wouldn’t admit it to his mother, he was hoping that she would be bringing the food out to them. He wanted to get a better look at her; a few minutes later, he got his wish.
The younger woman brought the food to their table and AJ was surprised when she looked at him with shock. He stared into her deep chocolate brown eyes and could swear that he’d seen her before. She didn’t say much as she handed them their plates and asked them quickly if they needed anything else; she dashed off when they said no.
“That’s so weird.” AJ said to his mother. “She looked panic stricken when she saw me.”
“I don’t think it was panic sweetie, I just think she recognized you.”
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Denise said as she squeezed ketchup onto her plate. “Eat your burger before it gets cold.”
AJ spent the whole night tossing and turning, trying to remember where he’d seen that girl before. He could see her in his mind and was frustrated by not being able to pinpoint exactly where he’d met her. It was so maddening that he decided to go back the next morning for breakfast and to see what he could get out of Marjorie.
His eyes scanned the diner as he entered, for any sign of the young woman; finding none, he sighed and slid onto one of the stools at the counter. Picking up a menu, he tried to focus on figuring out what he was going to eat since he was already here.
“Hey sweetheart.” Marjorie called out as she poured some coffee. “Couldn’t get enough of the cooking huh?”
“Maybe it’s you.” he teased.
“Highly doubt that.” she replied with a laugh. “But I would bet that it might have a little something to do with the new help.”
“No, I mean, it’s…” AJ stammered to get the words out.
“I just got caught off-guard, it’s no big deal.”
“Keep telling yourself that sweetie.” She went about filling some of the syrup bottles. “And just to give you a tip, she doesn’t come on for another hour.”
AJ grinned. “Which means I have an hour to grill you on everything about her.”
Marjorie chuckled. “That’s a short list honey, I hardly know her.”
“Well what do you know about her?”
“Her name is Max.” The older waitress said as she refilled his coffee cup and leaned on the counter. “That’s it though, just Max.”
Marjorie nodded. “I know she showed up out of the blue about a week ago and came in looking for a job. She seemed like she was fresh off the street and she didn’t have much with her. Bob talked to her for a bit and he told me to show her the ropes.”
“How’s she doing so far?”
“Good except there’s something off about her.”
“What’d you mean?”
“She drives this beat up Chevy Impala and she offers to work for nothing.”
“Yeah, she told Bob that she would just work for tips.”
“How the hell can she afford to live like that?”
“Bob asked the same thing. She insisted it was just for a while and she wouldn’t be in the way. He accepted but he found out the next morning that she was sleeping in her car. He offered that rundown apartment he rents out as a place to stay and told her that he wouldn’t charge her rent since she was just working for the tips.”
“Wow.” AJ whistled and leaned back. “So she shows up here with nothing, offers to basically work for free and Bob just says ok?”
“You know how he is, always wants to save these kids.”
“I know but what if there’s something wrong with her? Maybe she’s wanted.”
Marjorie laughed. “I highly doubt that. She doesn’t seem like the ax murderer type. And she really seemed desperate. I have no idea how long she’s been living like that.”
“That’s so bizarre. And you said she was only going to be here for a while?”
“Her words. I don’t think she has anything in the area to tie her down.”
AJ was about to say something else when he caught the new waitress out of the corner of his eye. He watched as she set her stuff down in the back and put on an apron, and then again as she slowly made her way out front to talk to Marjorie. As her eyes registered AJ’s presence, she stopped dead in her tracks.
Why the hell is he here again, she thought to herself. In the bus terminal, last night at the diner and now he’s back. She could see his eyes now since he wasn’t wearing his sunglasses; they freaked her out because they were so expressive. His stare didn’t feel inappropriate but it was disturbing how she felt like they were searching for something.
Before she read any more into the situation, a new set of diners had come in and she rushed off to sit them down.
AJ watched as she raced off to help the customers. He’d gotten a much better look at her today and he noticed some things he’d missed the night before. Her jet black hair was a dyed black because he could see the dye still settling in at the roots; all his years of crazy hairstyles helped him piece that part together. Deep, chocolate brown eyes were definitely real and when she didn’t think he was watching, he saw the lines in her face relax; she couldn’t be any older than he was.
“So you got enough information to get started with?” Marjorie asked.
“I think so.” AJ replied and drained his coffee cup. “Thanks for the heads up and I’ll see you soon.”
He stood up to leave when the older waitress leaned across the counter and crooked her finger at him. Leaning over the counter, he listened as she spoke.
“She’s here tomorrow morning at ten.”
Smiling, he nodded and strolled out of the diner; he suddenly felt himself humming Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl”.
Hope you guys are liking this one and I really appreciate all the feedback!
Sorry for the shortish chapter, I promise not to let it happen very often!
Max got to the diner early the next morning and quickly started organizing things. Marjorie had called to say she was going to be out that morning and that the younger woman would have to handle things by herself. The thought of being on her own caused some panic and she had to keep reminding herself that she was perfectly capable of taking care of things. She had just finished setting the booths and turned to change the sign when she saw him in the parking lot. Not again, she thought as she unlocked the door.
AJ was sitting in the parking lot playing games on his phone while he waited for the diner to open. Marjorie had told him that she wouldn’t be in until ten but he decided to take a chance and get there early anyway. Fate must have been on his side because he noticed that the only one working seemed to be the new girl. Shutting off his phone, he slid out of his car and headed in to get a seat at the counter.
Perfect she said under her breath; here he comes and there’s no one else in sight. So much for being able to keep a distance from this man who seems hell bent on talking to her. She knew that he was the same bad boy she noticed in the bus terminal and he was acting as though he remembered her, which she was hoping he didn’t. Not planning on sticking around very long, she was completely uninterested in getting to know any person other than Marjorie and Bob.
AJ slid onto one of the booths and turned his coffee cup upside down; he pulled a menu out so that it looked like he was trying to make a decision about what to order.
“Would you like some coffee?”
He looked up and found her pretty eyes staring at him. She wasn’t rude in how she asked but she definitely was putting off vibes that she wasn’t looking to get friendly. AJ, as usual, chose not to go with those vibes and decided to be extra welcoming.
“Please.” he said as she poured. “You’re new here right?”
The woman nodded and asked him if he knew what he wanted to eat.
“What’s your name?” AJ asked, ignoring her request for his order.
The waitress paused for a second. “Max.”
“It’s nice to meet you Max, I’m AJ.”
He stuck his hand out but she just nodded and told him it was nice to meet him too. Her reaction surprised him and not for the refusal to shake his hand; she never even blinked when he told her his name. She asked him again what he wanted and he ordered pancakes with orange juice.
AJ watched her as she put in his order and served other customers as people dawdled in. She finally came back with his breakfast and he thought he’d go for broke and try to talk to her again.
“Are you from around here?” he asked as she placed the pancakes in front of him.
“No.” she replied quickly. “I’m sorry but I’m on my own. Do you need anything else?”
AJ shook his head and quietly ate his breakfast. Nothing he’d tried so far had worked so he wracked his brain to come up with another strategy to get her attention. She came by to check on him again, and when he asked for the check, she happily handed it to him.
He tucked something under his coffee cup for a tip and cashed out his bill at the register. A quick glance around caught her heading towards his table and caused him to move a little faster out the door. By the time Max came through the front door, he was already backing out of the parking spot. Now that he knew how to get her attention, he was determined to keep it.
AJ’s phone rang the minute he stepped out of the car. Hoping it was a call from the diner, he was disappointed to see Nick’s number pop up.
“Yo J! What’s up?”
“You sound funny. Were you hoping I was someone else or something?”
Actually I was, AJ thought to himself.
“No, just got home; it’s been a long day.”
“I hear ya. Anyway, Howie’s out here for a couple of days and I was thinking that we should go golfing together. You in?”
“Sure, what time?”
Best Of Intensions by Kyrie
AJ didn’t make it back to the diner for a few days; work and the guys were keeping him busy. When the week finally wound down, he made a point to get up early and head down there for breakfast. Marjorie greeted him as he entered.
“Hey there stranger, haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Been busy but I’m back.” he replied with a smile. “How are you?”
“Good but I’m pretty sure that’s not the question on your mind. Let me guess, is she here yet? Oh and the answer is no, not yet.”
“I knew it!” the older woman exclaimed. “You’ve been cheatin’ on me.”
AJ laughed. “You caught me.”
“I sure did.”
“When is she coming in?” AJ asked as she poured his coffee.
“Should be any minute now.”
As soon as those words left his mouth, Max entered and went to the back to change. She came back out a few minutes later, tying her apron and scanning to the area to see what needed to be done. Her eyes hardened when she saw him sitting at the counter. Stalking over to where he was, she removed something from her apron pocket and slammed her hand against the counter.
“I don’t need your charity.” she hissed and walked away.
AJ turned red and Marjorie looked back and forth between the two of them.
“What did you do while I was gone?”
AJ unfolded the fifty dollar bill and shrugged.
“You gave her that?” Marjorie whispered.
“You said she was only working for tip and I wanted to get her attention.”
She sighed. “You got it alright.”
“That’s not exactly the attention I wanted.”
“Honey, when you go around leaving big tips like that, waitresses start thinking two things. You’re either looking to get in their pants or you’re showing off how wealthy you are. I’m guessing she gave you the benefit of the doubt and chose the latter.”
“You see it that way?”
“Not me!” she chuckled. “Feel free to leave me a fifty whenever you want.”
AJ smiled. “How come she can’t see it that way?”
“I know you sweetie and she doesn’t.”
“I’m trying to get to know here but she keeps slamming the door in my face.”
She thought about it for a minute. “Why don’t you let me try talking to her? Maybe I can put you in a better light.”
“Would you?” he asked excitedly.
She nodded and AJ leaned over to give her a kiss on the cheek.
“You’re the best!”
Marjorie watched as Max finished up with the last customer and turned the sign on the door. They worked together in silence for a few minutes before she struck up a conversation.
“You got pretty mad at AJ today.” she said quietly.
“He’s a jerk. He acts so important and throws his money around like he’s rich or something. Who does he think he is, a rock star?”
Marjorie had to bit her lip to keep from laughing. She didn’t want to rat him out and tell her that he was a Backstreet Boy so she decided to try a different route.
“He’s always like that. We’re his favorite place and he knows we don’t make much; he tries to help us out.”
“Well I don’t need, or want, his help.”
“Easy honey. I’m just saying that maybe you could cut him a little slack. I know he’s sorry and if you got to know him better…”
“I’m not going to be around long enough to get to know anyone. Thanks for telling me he’s a nice guy but I have no interest at all in getting better acquainted.”
Max tore off her apron, threw it on the counter and grabbed her stuff. Marjorie watched her storm out and went back to cleaning up.
“That went well.” she muttered.
AJ spent another few days away from the diner in the hopes of giving Max a chance to cool down. When he finally decided to go back, he called Nick and begged him to go too.
“Why are you hauling my ass out of bed at seven in the morning to go to some diner? Don’t they serve breakfast all day?”
“Yes, but we’re not going for the breakfast.”
“What the hell are we going for then?”
“There’s a new girl…”
“Whoa, I’m not up for being a wing man this early in the morning dude.”
“Come on Nick, help me out.”
Nick groaned but AJ could hear Lauren murmuring something on the other end. After a few hushed seconds, Nick came back on.
“Fine.” he said grumpily. “She better be worth it.”
Nick and AJ had been at the diner for twenty minutes and Max had done everything in her power to avoid them. Nick was starting to feel like they had the plague or something.
“Give it some time.”
“Some time? She won’t even look in your direction. Did you already piss her?”
“Kind of.” AJ replied and explained what had happened before.
“I’ve heard enough.” Nick finally said.
“Are you kidding dude? She’s living out of her car which means she’s essentially homeless…”
“Bob gave her a place to stay.” AJ said in her defense.
“So as I was saying, she essentially homeless, she’s working for tips and she has the worst home done haircut and dye job I’ve ever seen.”
“I think it’s kind of cute.”
“That’s what you find cute?” Nick asked incredulously. “Man, you need to borrow some taste.”
“From who, you?”
“Hey, I have Lauren.”
“I have two words for you, Paris Hilton. Still want me to borrow your taste?”
Nick turned red. “That’s a low blow.”
“Then don’t criticize what I find attractive.”
“Fine.” he agreed. “She still has the other problems.”
“She’s staying at…”
“Bob’s spare apartment. What’s she gonna do once she leaves here? She’ll be back to sleeping in her car.”
AJ ignored that comment. “What about the other problem?”
“She’s working for tips.”
“So what? You only do that for one of two reasons; you’re hiding from someone or something or you’re just plain crazy. Either way, she looks like a hot mess to me.”
AJ was shocked to hear Nick say that. “But you don’t even know her.”
Nick sighed. “And neither do you J. You think you know her from somewhere; big deal. You know nothing about her and you already said she wasn’t going to stick around very long. It’s not like you guys are dating.”
“I’m not talking about dating her, just getting to know her. Maybe she needs a friend.”
“Admit it J, you just like the challenge.”
“I won’t lie, I do like a challenge, but that’s not what I’m looking for.”
“Look, I’ve know you for a long damn time. You always want to take care of strays. Find a woman to be friends with that doesn’t need saving.”
That comment was like a slap in the face; he was pissed that Nick was referring to her like she wasn’t even a person.
“She’s not a stray.”
“Whatever man.” Nick said as he stood up. “Let me know when you’re over this.”
AJ watched as Nick walked out and, as his eyes turned away, he caught sight of Max across the diner. She looked away as soon as she noticed him and darted into the kitchen. He stood up and left a small tip under his coffee cup; he didn’t care about what Nick thought. Something was gonna give and he was determined to make it happen.
AJ invited his mother to her favorite restaurant for a late dinner a few days after his brief breakfast with Nick. He wanted her opinion on a few things and needed the honest advice that only she could give him.
“Hey Ma.” AJ said as he slid down in the booth across from her.
“Hello my darling son.” she replied. “What’s up with the invitation tonight?”
“Can’t I take my mother out for dinner and spend some quality bonding time with her?”
Denise laughed. “You definitely can but I think you’re interested in a little more than mother son bonding time. Don’t forget, I raised you and I know you like the back of my hand; I can always tell when something’s up.”
He chuckled. “You know me too well sometimes.”
“Yes I do, so what gives?”
“I need some motherly advice.”
“I guess you asked the right person then.”
They placed their orders with the waitress and then AJ launched into his story. He told Denise all he knew about Max, what Marjorie had shared with him and his conversation with Nick. She nodded and asked several questions during his explanation; dinner arrived as he was finishing and his mother was grateful for getting a few minutes to think.
“I know it’s a lot to absorb Ma, but I really need your opinion on it.”
“I know and I just want you to understand what I’m saying to you. I think you and Nick are both right.”
“How can we both be right?”
“You’re right about Max not being a stray. She seemed like a fairly nice person the one time I met her and none of us know what her personal issues are. Calling her a stray is very degrading and I’m disappointed that Nick chose to voice his opinion like that.”
“That’s what I said!” AJ said excitedly. “I knew you would…”
Denise held up her hand. “I’m not done yet.”
AJ sat back quietly and waited for his mother to finish.
“As much as I don’t like how Nick said it, I do agree with some of what he said.”
“Honey, I raised you and more than anyone, I know how you feel about people, especially women in need. You want to be that knight in shining armor and you want to sweep in to save them.”
“What’s wrong with wanting to help people?”
“Absolutely nothing sweetheart. It’s a noble thing and I’m proud of you for it.”
“Than what’s the problem?”
“You hardly know this woman…”
“But I’m trying.”
“I know but maybe she’s not interested in being saved. You have no idea why she’s choosing to live the way she is and you know nothing about her past and how she wound up here.”
“What if I find out?”
“Then we can have this conversation again.”
Denise noticed how discouraged her son looked and she knew that he was feeling ganged up on. He was going to do whatever he wanted and she wanted to make sure he felt like he could talk to her.
“I know I’m not being as supportive as you would like me to be but I’m concerned. If you knew more about her, I’d feel a lot better about you trying to step in and help.”
“I’m going to get to know her.”
Denise sighed. “I get that but I’m asking you to be wary. Don’t walk into the situation with blinders on. Be careful and take this whole thing slowly.”
AJ nodded and they finished dinner in silence. He knew his mother was concerned for him and he appreciated it. However, everyone seemed to think they knew what was best for him and they added their opinions all the time. Why did they think he was completely incapable of making good decisions?
“Thank you for dinner.” Denise said as she stood up.
“You’re welcome anytime.” AJ said with a sad smile and gave his mother a hug. “I’ll call you again soon.”
“Ok. I love you sweetie.”
“Love you too Ma.”
“Goddamn it!” Max swore as she pounded her fist on the hood of her car.
She had been working until close that night and had just finished setting up for the next morning. After locking the door, she headed to her car and looked forward to going back to her apartment. Unfortunately, her car didn’t feel like cooperating and refused to turn over when she had started it. She knew the clicking sound meant that her alternator was the culprit and there was no way that it would get fixed tonight.
Tears were forming in her eyes as she tried to figure out how she would get home. It was pitch black with almost no moonlight to show her the way; the walk would be long and she was at the mercy of whatever she ran into. She wiped the tears off her cheeks and reached inside the car to grab her purse.
As she was turning around, a car pulled into the lot in front of her. The occupant turned off the car and stepped out.
“Can I help?”
As she watched through her tears, the stranger advanced into the parking lot lamp; her heart sank when she saw who it was.
AJ walked over to where Max was standing and repeated his offer.
“Anything I can do to help?”
Max shook her head. “No but thank you. I think the alternator is gone and I can’t get that fixed tonight.”
“Probably not, there’s no one near here to tow it to either.”
Max wiped the tears off her cheek with the back of her hand. AJ felt sorry for her and her tears made him want to help her even more.
“Can I give you a ride somewhere?”
“No thank you, I’m just gonna go and call a cab.”
She walked back to the diner and headed in towards the phone. AJ leaned against the side of her car and waited for her to come back out; it didn’t take long.
“Did they say how long it would be?”
“Apparently forever because there are no drivers on tonight for an area this small. I’m just going to walk back.”
She fished her keys out of her purse and locked her car back up. After putting them back and digging out a mini flashlight, she headed towards the road, stopping only when AJ touched her arm. Jerking it back, she spun around to face him with a look he didn’t understand. He backed up and held his hands up.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Then what do you want?” she asked with an attitude.
AJ sighed; this was going to be a lot harder than he thought.
“I just wanted to offer you a ride home.”
“Thanks but I’m fine.”
She headed back to the sidewalk and AJ got in his car. Refusing to give up so easily, he pulled alongside her as she walked. He followed her for about a hundred feet or so before she stopped and looked through his passenger side window.
“Look, I’m fine, you can head home.”
“I don’t feel comfortable with you walking home alone in the middle of the night.”
“I’m fine and it’s not a long walk.” she lied.
“It’s about two and a half miles Max.”
Of course he’d know how far it is, she thought to herself.
“I’m really fine, it’s a nice night and a quiet area.”
“I know, that’s the problem.”
“I don’t need your help.”
She expected him to back down but she realized that was a mistake when she saw the determination in his eyes.
“Look, I’m not going to let you walk two plus miles home in the dark alone so I figure we can do this a couple of ways. You can let me drive you home, I can follow you like a stalker or I can walk you home personally and come back for my car later.”
Max groaned, he was not about to let this go.
“So what’s it gonna be?”
“Look, you can’t leave your car here in the middle of the street.”
“Then that leaves two options, me acting like a stalker or you letting me drive you home. It’s getting late and you should probably be sleeping soon.”
Max looked at him; it made sense to let him drive her since she had to be up so early. The problem was, she knew nothing about him except that he kept trying to get her attention. What if he was some kind of freak and she got trapped in his car?
As if he was reading her mind, he called out to her again.
“I may look like a freak with all the tattoos but I promise you that I’m completely harmless. I’m not a serial killer and I guarantee I will get you home safe and sound.”
Max blushed and AJ laughed.
“I knew that’s what you were thinking.”
“Fine.” Max finally replied after seriously thinking about it for a few moments. It was getting late and the situation was not going to work out for her so she opened his passenger side door and slid in.
“Make sure you buckle up.” AJ said as he pulled away from the curb. “Do you like a certain type of music? I have one of those XM radio things so I’m sure we can find something.”
Max just shook her head and stared out the window as he drove. It wasn’t very long before they got to her apartment and she was relieved that nothing had happened. She unbuckled her belt as soon as he parked and was shocked when he stepped out.
“What are you doing?”
“Walking you to your door.” he replied as he made his way over to her.
“You drove me home, I can make it up to the apartment just fine.”
“Hey, my mother taught me that you never let a woman walk herself to the door. I can’t have her find out I broke that rule.”
Max shook her head and decided not to argue. They were silent as they made their way to her door and AJ watched as she unlocked it. Once she had it opened, he turned around to head back out.
“I’ll see you.” he called out.
She didn’t say anything and quickly closed the door before he changed his mind about staying. This whole night had been a disaster and she just wanted to go to bed.
“So I heard you had an interesting night.” Marjorie said with a wink as Max made her way into the back of the diner.
She groaned. “My car died.”
“I gathered that since it’s still in the parking lot. I also heard that a fairly nice young man helped you out.”
“Yeah, he showed up as I was starting my walk home.”
“You were gonna walk home?” Marjorie shouted. “Are you crazy? It’s like three miles away!”
“I would have been fine; it’s not a big deal.”
“It absolutely is! It’s a good thing that AJ came by.”
“I guess.” Max answered as she pulled on her apron. “He kind of made me take the ride; he wasn’t going to give up.”
“That’s because his mom raised him right. I told you he was a nice guy and…”
“I appreciate the lecture Marjorie but I said I’m not interested in getting to know anyone and I meant it. He did me a favor and was nice about it; no part of that means I am intent in talking to him nor do I want any more rides.”
“Honey, I get that you have this whole tough girl thing going but it doesn’t do any harm to get help every once in a while.”
“Getting help means involving people in your life; people getting involved just causes more problems.”
Marjorie started to tell her something when the first diner came in. Max dashed off to help and to avoid any mores discussions about AJ or anyone offering help. She wondered what that poor girl had gone through to get so jaded.
AJ swung by later in the day to check and see if Max got to work ok. He found the diner swamped with some tour bus occupants who must have lost their way from the highway. Waiting as the counter, he sipped coffee that Marjorie half threw at him on her way by. The visitors finally made their way and the diner got quiet.
Marjorie leaned against the counter and wiped her brow. “This morning has been nuts!”
“I can tell.” AJ responded with a chuckle.
“I have no idea how they found this place but they tip well so I’m ok with it!”
AJ shook his head. “How’s Max?”
“She’s fine. I heard that you drove her home last night.”
“Yeah but it took some major pleading and begging, also some threatening that I would be like a stalker!”
Marjorie laughed. “Well I’m glad she took it. I told her that she should not be walking home at night by herself. That reminds me, she’s closing tonight and I need to make sure she has a ride.”
“She does.” AJ said quickly. “I can bring her home.”
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea honey. I think one trip is all you’re gonna get.”
“Well she needs to stay till close, Bob lives next door and you have to go home to your husband. I can make sure she gets home safe and sound.”
She thought for a minute. “You finish eating and let me talk to her.”
AJ nodded and she made her way to the back.
“He’s not taking me home again!”
Max stood with her hands on her hips and a look of anger on her face. Marjorie sighed and shook her head.
“Why are you being so stubborn sweetie? He’s just offering a ride not a marriage proposal!”
“I already told you, I don’t want any part in getting to know him.”
The older woman ignored the continuous protests. “How else are you going to get home tonight?”
“I’ll call a cab.”
“There wasn’t one available last night.”
Damn it, Max thought to herself; why did she tell her that detail.
“Then I’ll walk home.”
Marjorie stomped her foot on the floor and it startled Max.
“You are taking a ride from him tonight and I am not taking no for an answer. I will tell him to be here at ten thirty and that’s final.”
She stormed back into the dining area and Max saw her walk up to AJ. He listened to what she was saying and glanced towards the kitchen towards Max. Their eyes connected and she looked away quickly. Maybe Marjorie was right, one more ride would really be all she needed.
AJ showed up at closing time to give Max a ride home and was relieved to find a less chilly reception. Marjorie had told him that the younger woman had made it quite clear that she wanted no part in continuing to allow AJ to drive her anywhere.
“Hey.” he greeted her as she got in.
“How’d today go?”
Ok, AJ thought to himself as he pulled out of the parking lot. He had to find some other way to get her to open up a little.
“I know you’re not thrilled with this arrangement but I’m just trying to help.”
AJ sighed and hit the seek button on the radio. “Do you want to listen to a certain station?”
She shook her head and went back to staring out the window. The song eventually ended and The Eagles “Hotel California” came on. He could see her whole body immediately tense up and he quickly changed the station; she seemed relieved when he didn’t ask about her reaction.
They pulled in and AJ walked Max up to her apartment. She had resigned herself to the fact that he was going to insist so she didn’t bother to argue.
“So do you need a ride in the morning?”
“Look,” she said and turned to face him, “I appreciate all the offers and rides but I’m sure you have better things to do with your time. Consider your good deeds for the year accomplished.”
She started to shut the door but he stuck his foot in the frame before she could get it closed.
“I’m not trying to do any good deeds. You needed help and I’m just trying to be there.”
“Why?” she asked as her eyes filled with tears. “Why do you want to help me?”
“Because you need a friend.”
“I don’t need any friends; I’m not sticking around long enough to make any.”
AJ moved his foot when she started to push the door closed. He leaned his head over and gently tapped it against the wall; after a few seconds, he spoke again.
“I’ll be here at nine.” he called through the closed door.
He got no reply which wasn’t a surprise. All he could do was show up and hope for the best.
Surprisingly, Max was waiting on the front steps when he pulled in.
“Hi.” was all she said as she climbed in.
They rode in silence and the only time she talked was to say thank you when he dropped her off. He told her that he’d be back at closing to pick her up and she nodded. An idea hit him as soon as she entered the diner and he dialed his mother’s phone.
“Hey Ma. Can I come over for a few minutes?”
Max was surprised when AJ showed up at the diner again a few hours later. He walked over to Marjorie and struck up a conversation. The older woman nodded to head in her direction after a few minutes and he made his way over to here.
“Open your hand.”
“Can you open your hand for a minute?”
Max thought he was nuts but finally decided to open it. As soon as she did, he dropped a set of keys in her palm and smiled.
“What’s this?” she asked hesitantly.
“Your new truck.”
“What are you talking about?” she shouted causing some of the diners to look in her direction.
“I got you a truck.”
Max yanked on AJ’s arm and dragged him out to the parking lot.
“What’s wrong with you? I said I don’t need, or want, your charity and I sure as hell don’t need you to buy me a truck! You can’t buy my attention!”
AJ was taken aback by her anger and could feel her stare burning a hole in him.
“Would it help if I said I didn’t buy it?”
“How’d you get it then?” she demanded.
AJ figured a little white lie as this point wouldn’t do any more damage; he didn’t want to tell her that he’d basically gotten it from his mother. He had purchased two new cars for his mother and stepfather last year but Tony had insisted on hanging on to his old beat up truck. His mother hated the truck and was always trying to get rid of it; she was more than happy to hand it over to him when he said he needed it for a friend.
“I don’t need your friend’s charity either.” Max answered breaking him out of his thoughts.
“Can you at least look at it first? You might not consider it charity once you see it.”
AJ spun her around and her eyes opened wide. The truck was two shades of green with a black hood and it was missing two hubcaps. The bed of the truck had rusted holes dotting the base and the tailgate apparently ran away from embarrassment.
“It runs.” AJ said as though he was reading her mind. “He took really good care of the inside and the engine. It has a hundred thousand miles on it but he thinks you can get another fifty thousand out of it.”
“I can’t afford this.” she said after a few seconds.
“I didn’t buy it so there’s no need to pay for it.”
“I can’t just take it.”
“Yes you can.”
She shook her head. “It’s too much, and I don’t want to owe anyone. I’ll find some other way.”
“Wait a minute, you complained earlier about me giving you rides and me having better things to do with my time. With this, you can come and go whenever you want. You don’t owe me anything.”
“I should at least give you something.”
“Let’s make a deal then. Whenever I come to the diner and you wait on me, I won’t leave you a tip. Does that sound ok?”
She thought about it for a moment and then nodded. AJ stuck out his hand and smiled; he was shocked when she reached out hers and shook it.
AJ had to go out of town for a few days to take care of the final taping and editing of their movie. The guys were eager for it to come out and they were proud of the finished product. When he made it back home, he went to the diner and was glad to see that Max was on that morning.
“Hi sweetie.” Marjorie said as she poured him some coffee. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”
“I had some business to take care of but now I’m back for the foreseeable future.”
Marjorie nodded. “Good. I wanted to tell you that you did a real nice thing by getting Max that truck. I know she may not show it but I know she really appreciates it.”
“I’m glad; all I wanted to do was help.”
“I think she knows that but I’m not sure she’s used to getting any help. It seems like she hasn’t had much support in the past and is very nervous asking for help, almost as though she has to depend solely on herself.”
AJ glanced over in her direction and saw her kneeling down next to a little boy who had Down ’s syndrome. She was helping him color the balloons on his place mat and after a few moments, she looked at the finished product and smiled. It was the first time he’d ever seen her smile and it totally changed her appearance.
She stood up a few seconds later and glanced around the diner to see if anyone needed anything. Her gaze finally fell on AJ and she averted her eyes quickly; she dashed into the back before he could call out to her.
“I’ve never seen her smile before.” Marjorie commented. “That little boy must be someone special.”
AJ was about to say something when Bob came out from the kitchen.
“What happened in here?”
“Nothing, why?” the older woman asked.
“Max walked right through the kitchen and it looks like she’s crying.”
“What?” AJ said as he jumped up. “Where is she?”
“On the beach out…”
Before Bob could finish his sentence, AJ was out the door and halfway around the building. He spotted her sitting on one of the dunes and wiping tears off her cheeks. Not wanting to intrude, he thought twice about going down there. His conscious finally won; he was starting to feel protective of her and wanted to make sure she was ok.
“Hey.” he called out quietly.
Max jumped up, hastily wiped her eyes and started back up the beach. As she was about to pass him, he gently put his hand on her arm. He could tell she was uncomfortable so he quickly removed it.
“Are you ok?”
“I’m fine.” she whispered.
“Why don’t you take a break or something? I’m sure Bob will give you a bit.”
Bracing for an argument, he was shocked when she turned back around and walked back to the dune. She sat down and he waited a moment before he took a seat next to her. They sat in silence for a little while but AJ wound up breaking it because it made him so uncomfortable.
“Want to talk about it?” he asked gently.
“Ok.” he replied and lay down on his back. “The clouds are pretty huh?”
Max looked up. “They kind of look like kids’ toys.”
AJ laughed. “They really do. I like coming out to this beach, they have the best clouds.”
“The best clouds? I didn’t think that the clouds segregated themselves on different beaches.”
“Of course they do! These clouds are the nicer ones and they love hanging out here.”
Max chuckled. “It’s good to know that we’re attracting the nice ones.”
They sat there a little longer before Max stood up.
“I should get back in.”
“Are you sure you’re ok?” AJ asked as he stood up.
Before she could stop herself, she replied that she was just missing someone.
“I knew it!” he shouted. “You missed me!”
Max’s jaw dropped.
“All those rides home spent in complete silence, I knew you had feelings for me. Then I went and got you a truck and it limited our interaction. People always miss things when they’re gone and it was bound to happen.” he said with a straight face. “You don’t have to admit it but you missed my annoying questions, stalking ways and crappy driving!”
Max burst out into laughter and AJ’s face lit up.
“There it is!” he yelled. “The laugh I’ve been waiting for. You actually make noises!”
Max kept laughing and tears formed in her eyes. She had to try and take deep breaths to calm down.
“See? This is what friends do Max.” AJ told her. “They hang out, one of them cries and the other one makes them laugh.”
She shook her head. “Thanks for the laugh but I really should be heading back in.”
They started the walk back to the diner and as they hit the parking lot, he stopped her.
“Think if I bring some lunch by tomorrow you’d be up for some cloud watching?”
Max thought about it for a minute. “Maybe?”
AJ grinned. “I’ll take that. See you tomorrow around two.”
She nodded and went back into the diner; he waited to leave until he was sure she got in fine. Plans were already forming in his mind as to how he could make this goes well.
AJ showed up the next day at two and was pleasantly surprised to find Max waiting out back for him.
“Hey.” she replied and he noticed it was the first time she smiled at him. “I decided to take you up on your offer.”
“I’m glad you did.”
AJ set the basket he brought down and spread a blanket out for them to sit down on. He pulled out container after container of food, plastic plates, napkins, silverware and bottles of water.
“Are you feeding an army?” she asked him.
“No,” he chuckled, “just the two of us but I like to eat and I wasn’t sure what you liked.”
“You don’t have to go out of your way for me. I can eat whatever you brought.”
“I’m not going out of my way. I wanted to make sure I had enough to choose from so you could enjoy your lunch.”
“Thanks for doing this.” Max said quietly. “I appreciate it.”
“No problem.” he said as he took a seat next to her. “What would you like?”
He served up the food and they chatted about her day and the diners inside while they ate. Bob happily gave her an hour for lunch and silently thanked AJ for putting a smile on her face. She was a terrific girl and a hard worker; he was glad she was opening up to someone.
She started to clean everything up but AJ reached out to stop her.
“I can do that once you go back in. I want you to just sit back and enjoy yourself.”
“I don’t mind.”
“I know but you have to clean everything up in the diner; I got this.”
AJ scooted further down the blanket and lay down, motioning for Max to do the same. Once they were both looking up, AJ pointed out the different clouds and what they looked like to him. She argued that some looked nothing like he said and by the end of the picnic, she found herself less anxious about their interactions.
As her lunch hour was winding down, Max stood up, brushed off her uniform and helped him fold up the blanket. AJ noticed some sand on her face but when he reached out to brush it off, she pulled back a little. He was disappointed because he thought they’d made some headway but he decided not to push her.
“Sorry.” she told him quietly.
“Thank you for the lunch.”
He started cleaning up as he watched her walk back towards the diner. Before she managed to get out of his line of sight completely, he called out to her.
“Think you might be up for a movie?”
She turned around. “I didn’t see a TV on the beach.”
“Wise guy.” he teased and she smiled again. “I meant that there’s a drive-in not far from here and I wanted to see one of the movies playing there. It’s cheap and I hate going by myself.”
“Can I think about it?”
“Sure. I’m going two nights from now so let me know if you want to come.”
AJ had been home for a few hours when his cell phone rang. Normally, if he didn’t recognize the number, he didn’t answer but something was telling him to do it just this once.
“AJ?” a woman’s voice asked.
“Yeah, who’s this?”
His face lit up. “Hey, where are you calling from?”
“The diner. I hope you don’t mind but Marjorie gave me your cell number.”
“I don’t mind at all. What’s up?”
“Is the invite still open for the movie?”
AJ pumped his arm up and down. “Of course.”
“Good. I’ll see you then?”
“You definitely will!”
Max was waiting for AJ when he pulled up in front of her apartment and he was surprised by what he saw. The only times he ever got to be around her were at the diner and she was always in her uniform. Tonight, though, she was dressed in a pair of jeans with a pretty tank and cardigan set; the shirts were aquamarine and she had a small locket hanging around her neck. Her sandals made her seem a little taller and he tried to help her down the stairs after he parked the car.
She took his hand until she was on the pavement and then slowly pulled it back. It was more contact than he’d ever gotten before so he had hopes that this situation was getting better. AJ told her all about the history of the drive in they were headed to and about the movie he wanted to see during the drive.
They pulled into the parking lot and AJ drove into one of the stalls after purchasing the tickets; he told Max to close her eyes and wait in the truck for a minute. After a few moments had passed, he opened the door and took her hands, reminding her to keep her eyes shut. Once they reached the back tailgate, he told her to open them.
“Oh my God.” she quietly exclaimed. “How did you do all this?”
The back of the truck was covered in blankets and throws with several large pillows to rest on. There was a cooler of food, just like the picnic on the beach, and some bottles of water laid out next to it. On top of all the food in the cooler, AJ had purchased every movie theater kind of candy and had it stacked in a heap in the middle of the truck. She turned to look at him and he was smirking from ear to ear.
She smiled; he looked like such a little kid standing there with his hands in the pockets of his jeans just grinning at her.
“Good. I didn’t know what kind of candy you liked so I kind of picked one of everything.”
“I see that. You took care of every dentist’s nightmare.”
AJ chuckled. “Glad I covered all my bases.”
Max slipped off her sandals and he helped her climb into the bed of the truck. He pulled himself up afterwards and starting digging through the cooler to find their dinner. Marjorie had packed them some sandwiches and potato salad as well as some chips and pickles. The movie wasn’t starting for a little while so they had some time to talk before settling down.
“Must have been nice having the day off today.” he remarked.
“I like to keep busy; you think too much when you’re not busy.”
“Don’t like to think?”
“Even about me?” he asked with a wink.
“Even about you.” she said with a smile.
“Wow, you know how to hurt a guy.”
Max grinned and took a bite of her sandwich.
“You’re pretty honest aren’t you?”
Her grin faded. “Yes.”
“Any reason why?”
“It took me a long time to find ways to be honest and I guess it kind of stuck.”
“Hey, I’m not gonna push. I did before and it didn’t get me very far. I’m open to talking about stuff but I want you to be comfortable with me first. I promise not to make that mistake twice.”
“People break promises.” she muttered.
“I don’t.” he replied. “When I make a promise, I keep it come hell or high water. You can trust me Max.”
The announcement came on that the movie was starting and Max was grateful to be saved by the bell. They packed up the remains of their dinner and AJ put everything back in the cab of his truck so they’d have more room. He stretched his arm across the pillows and started to make himself comfortable. Unfortunately, she didn’t take him up on his silent offer and instead curled up on one of the other pillows; he slowly brought his arm back and tucked it under his head.
Max watched him as the movie started; she felt badly about the way she had treated him and the fact that she was still keeping him at a distance. She felt that if she got too close, she’d get wrapped up in him and wouldn’t be able to make an exit when she planned on it. He was a terrific guy and still tried to be her friend no matter how many times she pushed him away; she really wanted to trust him but didn’t want to open up enough where she’d get hurt.
She looked back at the screen, sighed quietly and then curled tightly into herself. Not realizing how tired she was, she fell asleep halfway into the first movie. AJ looked over when he heard the quiet snoring and thought about the road that led them to this point. He wasn’t about to give up no matter how hard, or far, she pushed him. Assuming she’d wake up before they left, he finished watching the first movies.
He snuck a peek at her while the credits rolled on the second movie. She hadn’t moved and he felt awful about waking her up. As he shook her gently, her eyes snapped open and she scooted further into the truck. Her eyes were searching everything around her and he reached out a hand.
“It’s just me Max.”
“Was I sleeping?”
“You were out like a light by the time the first one was done.” he replied with a chuckle.
“I’m so sorry AJ, I didn’t mean for that to happen.”
“No need to apologize for being tired.”
“I know but you spent all this time on tonight and I ruined it.”
“No you didn’t. I still got to see the movie even if it was hard to hear with all the snoring!”
Max blushed and he laughed.
“I really am sorry.”
“Stop apologizing. I get that you were tired. However, you will need to make it up to me with another night out.”
Max thought about it for a few minutes before she agreed.
“Good. I just have to figure out what we can do where you can’t fall asleep on me!”
She punched him in the arm and slipped of the bed of the truck. They finished packing everything up and climbed into the cab to head home. The ride was pretty quiet and before he knew it, she had fallen asleep again in the passenger side. By the time they hit her apartment, she was snoring and he decided against waking her up this time.
He grabbed her keys from his dashboard and opened the front and apartment doors. Gently picking her up from the front seat, he carried her into her living room and laid her down on the couch. He covered her with a quilt that was folded up on one of her chairs and left her keys on the coffee table. Being as quiet as he could, he slipped out, making sure the door locked behind him.
“Ma?” AJ called as he entered his mother’s house. “Where are you?”
“Out by the pool!”
AJ made his way through the living room and out onto the patio. His mother and stepfather were having coffee and reading the newspaper in the lounge chairs positioned by the small in-ground pool.
He leaned down to kiss his mother on the cheek and then gave Tony a hug.
“Hi sweetie. How are you?”
“Good.” he replied and stretched out on another chair.
Denise stared at him for a few seconds. “Is that a good or a very good?”
He laughed. “Very good.”
“And why is that?”
Tony saw Denise’s eyes cloud over with concern and decided that he would leave mother and son alone to talk. He offered to make some breakfast for everyone and slipped back into the house quietly.
AJ noticed it too and called her on it. “Why the look?”
“There was no look honey.”
“Yes there was. Something flashed in your eyes just now.”
Denise sighed. “It’s a look of concern. I’m your mother and it’s my place to be concerned about you.”
“But you haven’t even given me a chance to say something. You’re already to give me a whole list of reasons why I shouldn’t do something. No offense Ma, but you and the guys have a tendency to do that to me.”
“Sorry.” Denise said quietly. “I don’t mean to make you feel like that. Tell me what you wanted to.”
“Why bother? You’re not going to listen.”
“I promise I will.”
AJ cocked his eyebrow. “No looks?”
“No looks I swear.”
“I got to spend some time with Max the last few days.”
“Yeah, we went on two dates and I got a chance to actually sit down with her.”
“Where did you take her?”
“I saw her crying on the beach one day so I came the next day with a picnic to cheer her up.”
“That was very sweet of you. What did she say?”
“She really seemed to like it. I got her to smile and open up about why she was crying.”
“Why was she upset?”
“She said she was missing someone. And before you ask, she didn’t say who.”
Denise stayed quiet and waited for him to continue.
“I also took her to the drive in the other night.”
“How did it go?”
“We got along well but she was so tired that she fell asleep halfway through the double feature. I told her next time I take her out, it’ll be somewhere she can’t fall asleep!”
AJ gave a chuckle but it was short lived when he noticed how quiet his mother was. She looked away from him for a minute before she spoke.
“So these were dates?”
“Yes.” AJ snapped. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Because I’m confused. Usually when people go on dates, they learn something about the other person. Other than her missing someone, is there anything else you know about her now that you didn’t before talking to her?”
“Why does that matter so much to everyone?” he shouted and jumped up. “I met someone who I’m interested in getting to know and instead of supporting and encouraging me, everyone’s telling me what a bad decision it is!”
Denise stood up slowly and put her hand on his arm.
“I’m not telling you it’s a bad decision. All I’m saying is please get to know her a little better before you get too invested.”
“Who said I was really invested?”
“I know you and I know you wouldn’t be fighting me about this if you hadn’t already become interested in more than helping her out. I want to support you honey, I really do.”
“Then why aren’t you?”
She waited for a few moments before she answered.
“I’ll make you a deal.”
“What kind of deal?”
“You find out at least five things about her and I promise to be more open about the whole thing.”
AJ thought about it. “Fine, you’ve got a deal.”
Getting To Know You by Kyrie
Max had started taking her lunch breaks out by the water ever since AJ had brought her out for the picnic. He was right about the clouds being beautiful and the area being peaceful. The beach was hardly ever used which was a blessing to Max since she had an aversion to being around more than a few people. She happened to be at the water’s edge when AJ showed up at the diner the next day.
“Hey you.” he called out as he made his way to her.
“Slacking off at work by hanging out by the beach huh?”
“Totally.” she replied. “I figured everyone else could handle it. What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to stop by and say hi.”
“Not completely. I was thinking that maybe we could go to a small carnival a few towns over and hang out for the fireworks.”
“Fireworks? It’s only the being of June.”
“This carnival only stays a couple of weeks and they do fireworks every night. Kind of like getting geared up for the fourth of July.”
She thought about it for a minute. “I don’t know AJ. I’m not much of a fan of crowds.”
“It doesn’t get overly crowded. It’s just a local thing and most people are families with kids. Nothing scary about them.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well then you leave me no choice.”
Max stared at him wondering what on earth he was thinking.
“I’m calling in my marker.”
“You told me you’d go out with me again to somewhere that you wouldn’t fall asleep. I’m picking this carnival.”
Damn it, she thought. She knew she had promised to do it but she somehow thought he would forget.
“Does it have to be there?”
“Yes and I know your lunch break is up. I’ll pick you up Friday at two and head out there.”
“But...” she started to call out.
“No buts!” he yelled as he raced to the parking lot. “Dress comfortable!”
She shook her head; there was no going back on this one.
AJ showed up at Max’s apartment and found her waiting on the front steps just like she was when he picked her up for the movies.
“Are you afraid to have me come up and get you?” he teased as she slid into the passenger side.
“No.” she answered. “I just figured I’d save you the trip.”
AJ chuckled and pulled out onto the street. He looked over at her out of the corner of his eye and took in her outfit. She was wearing capris, slip on sneakers and a three quarter sleeve, sapphire blue t-shirt. Her hair was up in a ponytail and the same locket as before was hanging around her neck.
“I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark but is blue your favorite color?”
She laughed. “I don’t know how you figured that out.”
“I’m psychic.” he replied with a smile. “I think this is actually the first thing you’ve ever told me about yourself. Care to share anymore?”
“I was thinking of making you work for it.”
“Oh really? And what do I have to do?”
“Tell me something about you. You think I don’t tell you anything but the same could be said about you.”
“Touché.” he responded and then thought for a minute. “My favorite color is yellow, my favorite foreign city is Paris, favorite movie is Pulp Fiction and my favorite TV show is Seinfeld. How’s that for a start?”
“Ok, I did what you asked so it’s your turn.”
Max took a deep breath. “Well, I’ve never been out of the country so I don’t have a favorite foreign city. My favorite movie is The Shining…”
“The Shining?” he asked with surprise. “I figured you for more of a romantic kind.”
She paused. “I don’t really like romance.”
“Because most of them have happy endings and real life isn’t like that. There are no fairy tale.”
AJ didn’t say anything; he knew there were parts of her life she was keeping away from him. All he did was nod and let her finish.
“My favorite TV show is NCIS.”
“I like Gibbs. He reminds me of…” Max cut herself off. “I just think he’s a genuinely nice guy who looks out for his family.”
Again AJ didn’t want to push too much. “Ok.”
She leaned back in the seat and they drove for a while in silence. He was trying to think of something to say and was having trouble finding a topic he thought wouldn’t upset her. Finally, he just gave in and tried to start another conversation.
“What’s your favorite possession?”
“Favorite possession. Mine is this ring that my grandparents gave me when I graduated.”
She went quiet for a few seconds.
“This locket.” she finally answered as they pulled into the parking lot of the carnival. “Well the pictures in it I mean.”
AJ put the car in park and turned towards her.
“Can I see?”
She nodded and slowly opened the necklace. On one side was a smiling couple locked in an embrace. The other side showed a young boy smiling. AJ noticed he looked as though he had Down’s syndrome and it made him think back to that day at the diner.
“Who are they?”
“My parents and my brother.”
For once in his life, AJ was speechless; he knew that Max had just opened up with some important information about her life and he wanted to ask more questions but wasn’t sure how far to push. Deciding to just go for it, he asked what their names were.
“Patrick and Fiona are my parents and my little brother is Sean.”
“Their names all sound kind of Irish.”
“They are.” she responded.
“I don’t mean to be nosy but Max doesn’t sound very Irish.”
She didn’t say anything but slid out of the car and slammed the door. Climbing out, he closed his door quickly and had to walk fast to catch up with her. He saw how she was starting to shut down again and he decided to change the subject quickly.
“So what’s your favorite carnival ride?” he asked as he fell into stride with her.
Max looked at him out of the corner of her eye and noticed that he genuinely seemed interested in making conversation. It eased some of the tension that was building and she decided to follow his lead.
“I like the Ferris Wheel.”
“What’s weird about that?”
“I hate heights.” she answered with a laugh.
AJ chuckled and paid for their tickets as they reached the entrance. “I guess that’s a little like a catch twenty-two huh?”
“I suppose.” she said with a smile.
“Would you be up for riding it?”
“Maybe, we’ll see.”
They wandered around the fair for a little while, looking at the exhibits and making a mental list of rides they wanted to try out. The two finally came around to the side where all the games were located and AJ watched as Max wandered towards one of them. He followed her over and saw her staring at this little blue unicorn with rainbow colored fairy wings.
“You like unicorns?’
She nodded. “I have since I was little. My room was covered in posters of different magical settings and I even had unicorn nightlights.”
“Unicorn nightlights huh? I didn’t know they made those.” he teased.
“Shut up.” she said as she elbowed him. “I was a little kid.”
“Okay, okay.” He watched her stare back at the prize. “Did you have one of those?”
She nodded again. “Sean won me one at a carnival when I was little. He knew how much I loved them and he spent all of his allowance trying to win it for me. It was huge and my parents had a tough time fitting all of us in the car with it.”
“That was really sweet of him, wanting to make his big sister happy.”
“He always made me happy; he was the one person who could make me smile no matter how much of a bad mood I was in.”
Max shook her head and started back towards the rides. They went on a few of the wilder ones before AJ finally tried talking her into going on the Ferris Wheel with him.
“Come on Max. You know you love it and it’s the perfect time.”
“Yeah, the sun is starting to set and the horizon’s going to look beautiful. We’ll have the perfect view up there.”
“I don’t know.”
“Come on.” he said and dragged her over to the line.
He helped her into the chair as it came around for them and slid in next to her. The wheel started to move and their seat swayed a little in the wind. Max was getting antsy and AJ could tell she was nervous; he put his hand over hers and gave it a squeeze.
“You’re gonna be fine. I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
She took a deep breath and tried to settle down. As their chair got closer to the top, the wheel came to a stop and she let out a little sigh. He was right; the view up here was beautiful. The horizon was turning shades of reds and oranges; it was the prettiest sight she had ever seen.
“I told you.” AJ whispered quietly. “It’s perfect.”
The wheel started back up and after they went around again, they headed over to the big field in the middle of the fair to watch the fireworks.
“Oh crap.” AJ said and smacked his head. “I forgot to grab the blanket.”
“It’s not a big deal. We can sit on the ground.”
“No way.” he replied. “Give me a couple of minutes to grab it.”
“Don’t take too long.” she called after him. “You don’t want to miss anything!”
Max wrapped her arms around herself and stood there waiting for AJ to come back. They started to set up all the equipment and she found herself getting nervous. He was taking forever and she hated standing around doing nothing. After five more minutes passed, she turned around to leave and instead, ran right into him.
“Whoa.” AJ said as he steadied her with his hand. “Where are you going? Did you get a better offer while I was gone?”
“No, I…” she paused. “Where’s the blanket?”
AJ blushed. “Um, I kind of lied.”
AJ pulled his other arm out from behind his back; in his hand was the unicorn that Max had seen when she was looking at the games. She took a step back and her eyes started to well up a little. He watched as she stood there and started to think this whole move over again.
“Maybe this was a bad idea. I can get rid of it…”
Max held out her hand and AJ gave her the prize. She stared at it and turned it over and over in her hands.
“Thank you AJ.”
“You’re welcome.” he replied. “I just wanted to do something to make you smile.”
The corners of her lips turned upward and her eyes lit up.
“That’s the one I’m looking for!”
He tugged her down to the ground as they made the announcement that the fireworks were starting in two minutes. She began to take a seat next to him but he shook his head. Stretching his legs out, he pulled her down so that her back was to him and he wrapped his arms around her.
Max nodded and slowly started to ease back into him. The fireworks got underway and, as they continued, she felt herself relax even more. Without realizing it, her head had found its way between his neck and shoulder; she let out a sigh and finally completely lost herself in the warm confines of AJ’s arms.
Thank you for all the feedback! I hope everyone keeps reviewing and enjoying this one!
AJ wasn’t able to get back to the diner to see Max since the night he dropped her off after the carnival. The guys had been talking about coming out with a new album and they were getting together to go over some new material that each had written. It made the experience of recording so much more enjoyable now that they had complete creative control.
He was running late for the meeting and he knew the guys wouldn’t be thrilled to be kept waiting. It wasn’t that he intended to be late; he had been staying up late at night for a few days working on a new song. This wasn’t one that he planned on showing the guys; it was a special song just for Max. Dialing Nick’s number, he explained that he would be late and hoped to be there within an hour. His brother didn’t seem very happy and told him to hurry up.
“He’s gonna be late.” Nick told them, irritation creeping into his voice.
“Did he say why?” Brian asked.
“No but I can guess.” Nick muttered.
“Care to share?” Kevin inquired with one eyebrow raised.
“This new woman.”
Howie chuckled. “Well it’s nice to know that he’s back in the dating game again. I wonder who she…”
“She’s a messy situation waiting to happen.”
“That’s not very nice Nick.”
“I don’t care about being nice. She’s a walking disaster that J doesn’t need. Hell, he barely knows her!”
“It takes time to get to know someone.”
“I know that.” Nick snapped. “I’m not stupid! I’m talking about him really not knowing anything about her at all.”
”How did he meet her then?”
“She’s a waitress at that diner he goes to.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“She showed up out of the blue, doesn’t tell anyone anything except her first name, and doesn’t talk to anyone.”
“Well she obviously talks to J.” Howie stated.
“There’s no reason to get nasty Nick.” Kevin said finally stepping in. “Howie was just…”
“Cutting me off, I wasn’t done. This chick shows up and has been living in her car!”
“She’s homeless?” Brian asked surprised.
“Basically. I guess the owner of the diner offered her some cheap, vacant apartment he rents out.”
“Maybe she moved from…”
“That’s not the worst!” Nick yelled, carrying on with his tirade. “She’s working for tips only, doesn’t want a paycheck.”
The rest of the guys stared at him.
“Yup, you heard what I said. Who shows up out of the blue, lives in their car and won’t work for a paycheck?”
“Maybe there’s a good reason…” Brian started to say.
“Bullshit!” Nick bellowed. “The only two reasons someone does that are if they’re in witness protection or they did something and they’re running away from it.”
“You make her sound like an ax murderer.”
“She might be! How do you know that she didn’t kill someone and now she’s hiding out?”
“I still think we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions.” Brian said, always trying to find the best in everyone.
Nick’s voice rose even more as he recited all of the reasons he had for not trusting her. He didn’t realize that AJ was there until Howie cleared his throat and pointed over his shoulder. Whipping around, he came face to face with his brother whose eyes were already flashing with anger.
“You said you’d be an hour.”
“Well sorry to ruin your plans, you did tell me to hurry.” AJ replied. “And exactly what do you think you’re doing?”
“I was explaining why you were late!”
“How the hell do you know why I was late? I don’t recall telling you and when did you become my fucking mother?”
“I’m your family and I’m tired of you picking up stray people…”
AJ got in Nick’s face and stuck his finger in his chest. “Don’t you ever call Max a stray again! So help me God…”
Howie and Brian took it upon themselves to separate the two guys. Howie grabbed Nick and dragged him out to the patio of the studio they were in and Brian did the same to AJ as they headed to the parking lot. Kevin watched the scene and, when they were all gone, he sank into the chair and started to massage his temples.
“I thought we outgrew all this shit.” he mumbled.
“Why did you do that?” Nick demanded as Howie deposited him into a chair on the patio.
“Because I’m not gonna stand there and watch the two of you tear each other apart over some girl.”
“She’s not just some girl!”
“Yeah, I heard you inside.” Howie responded as he sank down into the other chair. “She’s probably an ax murderer or some informant to the cops, maybe even the FBI.”
“Don’t make fun of me!”
“I’m not, that’s exactly what you sounded like.” Howie sighed. “I can absolutely see your point about…”
Nick leapt out of his chair. “Thank you!”
“But I can also see J’s.”
He plopped back down and started to pout.
“I’m sorry Nicky but every time AJ goes on dates, we always assume there’s something wrong with her.”
“Yes we do. Either she wants money or fame or she’s some psycho stalker who found a way in.”
“Most of them are.” Nick pointed out.
“I know but we need to stop doing it. Each girl we go after and criticize pushes J away a little more every time. We don’t have to trust…”
“Her,” Howie continued, “or even like her but we do have to suck it up and meet this one.”
“Why? Why can’t he just listen to us and not get involved with her.”
“Because he’s an adult and doesn’t have too.”
“But he’s making a humongous mistake.”
“Then it’s his mistake to make. We’ll be here as his brothers and help him clean up the mess after he makes it.”
“He fucking pisses me off!” AJ shouted and lit a cigarette as he started to pace.
“I thought you were quitting.” Brian asked quietly.
“I was!” AJ snapped.
Even though he had just started it, he threw the butt down and stomped on it with his shoe. Brian waited for him to calm down a little and then suggested they have this conversation in his truck. AJ reluctantly agreed and they sat there quietly until Brian figured out what to start with.
“So, who’s this girl?”
“Why do you care? It’s obvious you all think I’m screwing up again.”
“No, Nick is being obvious. I’m trying to give her the benefit of the doubt.”
“Because you’re an adult, we’re all adults, and really need to start acting like it. We can’t keep telling each other what to do; not being there for each other has caused enough damage already.” Brian explained. “I also know how you feel.”
“How the hell do you know how I feel?”
“Because you all gave me the same lecture when I met Leighanne. Well minus the ax murderer part.”
AJ chuckled in spite of the situation and had to admit to himself that they really had gone to town on Brian about it.
“But I did it anyway and I couldn’t be happier. I love her and Baylee with all my heart and I wouldn’t have either one if I listened to you guys back then. I’m not saying that you two are gonna get married but getting to know someone shouldn’t cause all this fuss.”
AJ let that sink in for a minute. “Can I tell you something without you repeating it to the other guys?”
“Absolutely.” Brian reassured him. “Whatever you want.”
“I’ve had a tough time getting to know her and I understand that what everyone else knows doesn’t look very good for her.”
“Let me guess, could it be the homeless and only working for tips parts?”
AJ nodded solemnly. “I know how it sounds but I don’t think she’s doing it for the reasons Nick thinks.”
“Then why do you think she’s doing it?”
“She’s hurting and running away from the pain.”
“She showed me her locket the other day and it had pictures of her parents and her younger brother in it. The way she talked about them makes me think that they died somehow.”
Brian was quiet for a few seconds. “I can see why she’d run from that. The pain must be incredible.”
“It has to be and I think that Nick is completely off base with his ideas. I plan on getting to know her better, with or without your support, and being able to shove the truth in Nick’s face!”
“How about letting us meet her?” Brian asked choosing to ignore his brother’s angry comment.
“I don’t think I can do that.”
“Why? Are you that afraid we won’t be receptive?”
“That and she doesn’t know about you guys.”
“She doesn’t know the whole truth.” AJ quietly confessed. “She has no idea that I’m one of the Backstreet Boys; I’m not even sure she knows who we are.”
“When were you planning to spring that surprise on her?”
AJ shrugged his shoulders and Brian let out a whistle.
“Can I give you some brotherly advice?”
“Tell her before it goes too much further. The longer you wait, the more trust she’ll lose in you and you may get to the point where you’re not be able to get it back.”
AJ had thought long and hard about what Brian had said to him and he knew that at some point he would have to tell Max about the group. There was no way to tell how she’d take it and he wasn’t sure what the best moment was so he kept putting it off. A few days after the conversation with Brian, AJ headed over to the diner to see with Max.
Max smiled when she saw him and he was grateful to see that their friendship was still heading in the right direction.
“Hey you back.”
“Sorry, I haven’t been around lately, I’ve had some work stuff to do.”
“I figured you just gave up on me.”
AJ’s jaw dropped and he started to get flustered.
“I didn’t…I mean… I swear…”
Max laughed loudly. “I’m just kidding. You don’t have to tell me what you’re doing every second of the day and I know you can’t spend every waking minute at the diner.”
AJ let out a grateful sigh. “Thank you for understanding.”
“That’s what friends do.”
“I was kind of hoping to take my friend out for dinner tomorrow night.”
“I think I have to work.”
“Nope, I talked to Bob and he’s giving you the night off. No excuse now.”
She laughed again. “Ok then. What time do you want me to be ready?’
“Is four ok?”
“Good. Dress up but keep it kind of casual and I’ll see you then.”
Max smiled and gave him a wave as he was leaving. Suddenly, he couldn’t wait for the next night.
AJ showed up at four and was surprised to see that Max wasn’t out there waiting for him like usual. After he parked, he headed up to her apartment and waited for a few minutes for her to open the door. When she did, he was shocked; her usual attire was nowhere in sight. Standing on three inch black pumps, Max was wearing a short, chiffon black dress with a matching short sleeve, chiffon wrap. She had on eye shadow, mascara and lipstick which enhanced the beauty of her face; her locket lay against her chest.
“Is this ok?” she asked.
“It’s more than ok Max, you look absolutely beautiful.”
A blush crept across her face and she lowered her eyes to avoid his stare. He got closer and pushed her chin up with his hand.
“Why are you looking away?”
She finally looked up and saw him staring at her.
“I’m just not used to hearing that.”
“Well you need to get used to it especially if you keep dressing like this. I’m gonna be saying it over and over again.”
She chuckled. “Once is enough AJ.”
He grinned and helped her down the stairs and out to the car. Once he got her settled, he started the drive to the small restaurant he was taking her too. It was located on another small beach area and had a beautiful outside deck where they could dine and dance to the live band they were featuring that night. When they finally got there, Max could tell that he had given her a simplified version of this amazing place.
The restaurant looked like a large cottage that was painted a faint shade of green and had a wraparound porch with various plants in hanging pots dotting the upper railings. A small shingle with the name hung over the side of the lower railings and there were about twenty LED candle settings scattered about the veranda. There were also several wooden stand-alone porch swings where people could wait for their table.
Once inside, Max noticed that they had taken the same simple, but pretty, approach in the interior as well. There were two small dining rooms on either side of the entryway and a large staircase in the middle led the way to a balcony dining area. The bar was straight ahead and she could see that the entire back wall was a combination of windows and glass French doors.
AJ led her out back to a huge wooden deck that could easily seat fifty people. Attached to that, was a beautiful dance floor that was lined with twinkling white lights and it was already crowded with couples enjoying the night and the music. She could see the sand stretching out behind the band and noticed that the waves were crashing a little further out.
“Wow.” she whispered. “This place is incredible.”
AJ beamed. “I thought you’d like it.”
“I love it.”
He steered her towards the table with the best view of the ocean. The waitress came right away to take their drink orders and Max waited until she left to say anything.
“You really didn’t have to do all this.”
“Yes I did. You’re special to me and I wanted to show you this place.”
“I don’t deserve it.” she replied quietly.
Listening to Brian by Kyrie
“Why would you say something like that?”
“Because I haven’t always been that nice to you; you shouldn’t have to do something for me.”
“So what? We’ve moved past all that and we’re in a good place.”
“You think so?”
“I know it. I mean you’re actually speaking to me now.”
Max laughed and AJ was happy to see her smiling again.
“Trust me, you and I both deserve this.”
The couple ordered dinner when the waitress returned. AJ asked for the steak and Max decided to try the chicken and pear salad. They talked about the diner and all the places AJ wanted to take her to see while she was here. He knew that at any point she could leave and was hoping that, if he could distract her, she would agree to stay longer.
After finishing, AJ stood up and reached out his hand. Max looked back and forth between him and the dance floor then shook her head no.
“No isn’t an option.” he told her.
He reached down again and Max stood up. Noticing that her sweater was slipping off one of her shoulders, he reached out to slide it off. He was surprised when she pulled back and wrapped it around her tighter.
“Sorry, I just thought you might be cooler without it.”
“It’s ok.” Max responded as she reluctantly followed him to the dance floor. “I get cold easily.”
“I’m really sorry, I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”
AJ gently slipped one arm around her waist and took her left hand in his right one. She looked a little anxious but slowly started to relax. He waited for a few minutes and then cautiously pulled her closer; he was surprised when she let him. They danced like that for a few songs and he had to consciously fight back the urge to kiss her. As the latest song came to an end, he felt someone tap him on the shoulder. He turned around and came face to face with a tall blonde woman who he assumed was a fan. Saying a silent prayer, he hoped to God that she didn’t put him in a bad spot.
“Can I have your autograph?” she asked bluntly, not really interested in the fact that he was busy with someone.
“Autograph?” Max whispered. “Why does she want that?”
“Are you kidding?” the blonde responded as she looked at her friend and rolled her eyes. “Who wouldn’t want his autograph?”
Max still looked confused and the woman laughed at her, shaking her head.
“Figures, he always dates women who don’t appreciate him.” she hissed to her friend and then turned back to Max. “I hate to break it to you but you’re dancing with AJ McLean, one of the Backstreet Boys.”
Her jaw dropped and AJ knew there was no longer a way to avoid the inevitable. She wriggled out of his arms and made a dash towards the table. He hastily signed the woman’s paper and took off after her; he caught sight of her heading for the front door and raced to catch up with her. Hoping to stop her, he put his hand on her shoulder but she shrugged it off and started to walk faster.
Knowing it was pointless to try that again, he made a quick pass and blocked her path. She was forced to stop and when she looked up at him, AJ felt his heart break. There were rivers of black tears coming down her face that she kept trying to wipe away.
“I’m sorry Max…”
“Please take me home.” she said and quietly cut him off.
“Just give me a minute to explain…”
“I don’t want an explanation, I want you to take me home.”
“There are no buts. Take me home now or I’ll call a cab.”
AJ knew at this point that there was nothing he could say to make her see it his way so he brought the car around for her. There was no way he was going to stand there and let her find her own way home. They rode in silence as she continued to wipe the tears off her face. He handed her a tissue, which she accepted, and went back to focusing on the road. As soon as he pulled into the apartment lot, she jumped out and flew into the building. Hitting his head against the steering wheel, he sat there and tried to figure out how the perfect night could go so wrong.
Denise was surprised when her son showed up on her doorstep early the next morning. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days and she was concerned.
“What’s wrong honey?”
He didn’t reply but headed straight for her couch and flopped down in it. She sat down next to him and put her hand on his knee.
“You need to tell me what’s going on.”
“I screwed up Ma.”
“I took Max out last night and something happened.”
I knew it, Denise thought to herself. Her son was putting all this effort into this girl and she was just going to break his heart.
“Maybe Nick was right.”
AJ’s head snapped up. “What the hell was he right about?”
“Max being someone…”
“Max is someone who is important to me! I wanted her to open up to me and instead of doing the same, I didn’t tell her who I was. I didn’t tell her the truth.”
Denise paused for a minute. “Do you really think she didn’t know?”
AJ looked at her with a horrified expression. He thought that the one person he could rely on to help him was his mother and apparently he was dead wrong. Jumping up from the couch, he stormed down the hallway and slammed the door as he left. Why did he think anyone would listen to him?
AJ pulled into the diner twenty minutes before Max was supposed to start her shift. However, he didn’t just come to see her; he wanted a chance to talk to Marjorie because she may be the only supportive person he had when it came to this situation.
“Hey sweetie.” she greeted him as he took a seat at the counter. “Our special someone hasn’t come in yet.”
“I know.” he said glumly. “I wanted to talk to you.”
“Well between the look on your face and the tone of your voice, I’d say something not so wonderful happened.”
“It definitely didn’t.”
“Let me have it then.” she responded and propped herself against the counter.
AJ told her every detail about the date, good and bad. He explained the situation with the fan and she cringed. Moving on, he told her about Max’s reaction as well as Denise’s when he went to see her that morning. Marjorie was getting red faced and he wasn’t sure who she was mad at. It took her a few seconds to respond to what he told her but when she did, it was a tirade.
“First off, that fan was just plain rude. She has no business sticking her nose in where it don’t belong. Who you choose to date and what you choose to tell them is your decision. These people need to start showing you, and the woman you’re with, some damn respect!”
She took a deep breath and AJ braced himself for the second round. Thankfully, there wasn’t anyone else in the diner to hear it.
“And as far as your mama and brothers are concerned, they need to mind their own business too. I’m fit to be tied about their behavior, especially since your mama seems like such a nice lady. You’re a grown man who I believe has struggled but turned out just fine. They need to stop treating you like a child and let you make your choices whether they like them or not!”
Marjorie took another breath and AJ was afraid she’d pass out if she kept going.
“And with all that said, you need to ignore them and talk to that girl if she’s who you want to spend your time with.”
AJ leaned over the counter and gave her a peck on the cheek. “This is why you’re my favorite person.”
“Behind Max I’m assuming.” she replied with a chuckle.
“Everyone’s kinda behind Max right now.” he admitted as a blush crossed his cheeks.
They glance up at the clock at the same time and it read ten thirty.
“It’s odd that she’s not here yet, she’s never late.”
Anxiety started to creep in. “You don’t think she left do you?”
“Honestly honey I don’t know. She used to talk about it all the time and she made a point of saying that she could leave in the middle of the night and no one would miss her.”
AJ bolted out of the diner and jumped into his car. With Marjorie’s words playing over and over again in his head, he prayed he wasn’t too late to fix this.
He let out a huge sigh of relief when he pulled into the parking lot of her apartment building and saw the truck still in its parking spot. There was an older couple heading out of the building and when he saw them, he called out and asked them to hold the door for him. Once inside, he raced up to her apartment and knocked on the door.
There was no answer so he knocked again. After she didn’t open the door that time, he started banging louder and didn’t stop. The door finally swung open and Max appeared in her uniform and her hair wrapped in a towel.
“Hi.” was all he could say.
“What are you doing here?” she replied quietly.
“I was at the diner and you didn’t show up for your shift.”
“Why did you go there?”
“I was looking for you.”
“To apologize and try to explain.”
“There’s nothing to explain.” Max said flatly and began to close the door. “I need to get to work, I’m already late.”
“Please let me…”
Max shook her head and shut the door. AJ leaned his head against the door frame; there had to be some way to fix this whole mess.
AJ was surprised when he received a call from Marjorie around three that afternoon.
“Max told Bob she’s leaving at the end of the week. I tried to convince her to stay but she’s dead set on going. If you want to change her mind and keep her here, you’d better find a way and soon.”
She hung up and AJ started to panic; where was he going to start?
Can I Get Another Chance? by Kyrie
Thank you to everybody reading and reviewing. I'm happy that people are enjoying the story and all the feedback definitely helps me push through moments where I get stuck!
Max wasn’t surprised to find AJ waiting in the parking lot when she was closing up that night. She’d seen Marjorie make a quick phone call earlier in the day and she correctly assumed it was to him.
“What are you doing here?” she called out as she locked the door.
“I’m here to talk to you.” he responded as he quickly met her at the bottom of the steps.
“I told you earlier that there was nothing more to talk about.”
“Well that’s your opinion because I can think of plenty of things to clear up.”
“Look, I’m leaving on Saturday and this will all be over. No need to clarify thing now.”
“Yes there is.” AJ said with frustration and took a step towards her.
Max’s face turned worried and she backed up, her back hitting the railing on the stairs. AJ was startled and realized how angry he must have sounded.
“I’m sorry Max, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
All she did was nod and he sighed. He meant to block her so he could talk without her being able to leave but it backfired; he was being too aggressive. Sinking onto the diner steps, he hoped it would be a sign of peace for her and he asked her to sit down with him. She thought about it for a few moments and then finally relented, taking a seat next to him.
“Thank you.” he whispered and she nodded again.
They sat on the steps for a while and didn’t even try to talk. AJ keep fiddling with a string on his sneakers as he kept running through everything he could say in his head. Max waited for him to speak but started to get tired of staring out at the trees. She finally got fed up and started to stand up.
“Please don’t go.” AJ said, stopping her.
“No offense but I’m tired of waiting for you to say something.”
“I’m sorry for everything.” he spit out quickly to prevent her from walking away.
“You don’t need to apologize. What’s done is done.”
“I wish I could undo it.”
“Well you can’t.” Max said flatly. “I’ve stayed here much longer than I expected and I really need to go.”
“Why? Why are you holding to some rigid time plan?”
“Because the shorter amount of time I stay, the less attachments I make. The fewer attachments I make, the better.”
“So are you afraid of making an attachment?”
“No.” Max lied and AJ’s heart sank. “There’s nothing here to tie me down.”
“What about us?”
“There is no us AJ.” Max answered and stood up. “Whatever happened, happened, and now we all need to move on.”
AJ watched her head over to her truck and climb in. For some reason, he couldn’t move to stop her. He would have to find some way to make her see things from his point of view.
The next night, AJ was waiting for Max again; instead of waiting on the front steps, he decided to make a home in the bed of her truck. He had brought a dozen pink roses laced with baby’s breath and he was determined not to leave until she heard him out.
He watched as Max turned off the lights and locked everything up. She was just about to her door when he called out to her.
“What the hell AJ?” she yelped and dropped her purse. “What are you doing here?”
Normally he would have helped her pick everything up but there was no way he was moving from the bed.
“Sorry.” he responded. “I was hoping we could talk.”
She sighed and finished picking up the contents of her purse. “We already talked.”
“No we didn’t really. I beat around the bush and you sat there.”
“Ok but we still talked enough for me. Now get out of the truck and let me go home.”
She unlocked the door and started to climb in. When he didn’t budge, she slid out and came around to the back. With her hands on her hips, she narrowed her eyes at him.
“You know I’ll drive home with you in there. I don’t care.”
“Go ahead.” he responded defiantly and laid down in the back.
She climbed in again and started the engine.
“Last warning!” she called.
“Ok!” he shouted back.
That pushed her over the edge. Max slammed the truck in reverse and peeled out onto the street. She thought he would budge but after driving around the block five times, she gave up and pulled back into the diner lot. Jumping out, she made her way to the back again and watched with surprise at he sat there whistling.
“You ready to listen yet?”
“Talk fast and then get out!” replied an irritated Max.
“I was thinking about what you said last night and I don’t want to move on.”
She groaned. “Please don’t start this again.”
“Because it doesn’t matter.”
“I think it does and I want a chance to explain everything to you. I want to tell you exactly who I am and why I didn’t tell you.” he paused. “Will you at least give me a chance and have dinner with me?”
“Then you’re gonna be disappointed because I’m not taking no for an answer.” AJ stated with a determined look in his eye.
“Well you’re not getting a yes anytime soon so you’ll have to take it.”
AJ finally climbed down from the truck and handed Max the roses. He moved closer to her so that they were only a few inches apart. Surprisingly, Max stayed rooted to the spot she was in and stared up at him with sad eyes. She was trying to keep up her angry façade but it was a tough thing to do when she was gazing in those soft brown eyes.
“Please Max, just one dinner to let me explain some stuff to you.”
She thought about it as she looked at the roses. “One dinner and then you’ll leave it, and me, alone?”
Max gave him a look and he shrugged.
“I’m trying to be honest with you.”
Knowing that she would regret it later, she accepted and they decided on her apartment so she could kick him out at any time. Both finally left the diner with decisions they would have to make weighing on their minds.
Max had the early shift the next day and was able to clean up before AJ came over. Not wanting to dress up or appear interested, she pulled on an old pair of black yoga pants and a baby blue t-shirt. She ran a comb through her hair and then slipped her locket around her neck.
The front doorbell rang as she was slipping on a pair of sneakers and she buzzed AJ in. She decided to wait at the door and be ready as he made his way up. As he hit the landing, she could see he was carrying a pizza box as well as another dozen pink roses. He handed her the flowers, followed her into the apartment and set the pizza down on the table.
“You know that roses aren’t going to make a difference right?”
“I can try.” he replied with a smile.
AJ took advantage of her putting the flowers in a vase to survey the place which, to be honest, wasn’t all that hard to do because it was so tiny. It was a small studio apartment on the third floor of a complex and there were only three rooms. The living area was decent sized but the galley kitchen and bathroom were so diminutive that he probably could have fit both of them in one of his own bathrooms. He assumed that the couch was a pullout since there was no bed in sight. Not coming as a surprise, there were no personal touches anywhere in the apartment except for a framed picture on top of the old TV set. Wandering over, he picked it up and saw that it was a picture of Max and her family.
The Max in the picture was a stark contrast to the woman who was fixing flowers in the kitchen. Her smile lit up the scenery around her, although he couldn’t see her eyes because she was wearing a cute pair of pink Barbie sunglasses. She was dressed in a white sundress, which showed off her tan, and her long brown hair was in a French braid that hung over her right shoulder. It made him think back to the comment Nick had made about her hair being overly dyed and it being a lousy haircut.
Everyone was standing behind a sandcastle that looked like it had just been finished. Her parents’ arms were wrapped around each other and their free hands were on their children’s shoulders. Max’s left hand was wrapped around her brother’s right one and he was looking up at his older sister with so much love. AJ was starting to understand how much her family meant to her and he could only hope that at some point, she would let him in.
He didn’t realize that Max had come behind him until she reached out and plucked the picture out of his hand. Once she had placed it gently back on the set, she steered him towards the small dinette table she had set with plates and silverware. After serving up the pizza and soda, Max joined him at the table.
“So, what did you want to say?”
“Jump right in why don’t ya?” AJ responded with a chuckle.
“Look, I said we could have dinner so you could explain your reasoning for hiding your past.”
“When you say it like that, it starts to sound like someone else. Maybe the pot calling the kettle black?”
“I’m here to tell you all about my past and I don’t even know your last name. I don’t think I’m the only one hiding my past.”
Max sat there stunned that he had called her out. She had to admit that he had a point, they were both hiding things with lies of omission. Her anger at him for burying things from her was justified except for the fact that he could say the same thing about her.
“It’s Carmody.” she finally muttered.
“What?” AJ asked not understanding her comment.
“My last name is Carmody.”
AJ laughed. “Well it’s nice to finally meet you Max Carmody.”
“We’ve already met you nut.”
“I know but since we’re starting over, I figured we should start right back at the very beginning.”
“Oh.” Max replied with a small smile. “And you are?”
“AJ McLean, the most handsome boy band member ever.” he told her with a long, sweeping bow. “I belong to everyone’s favorite, the world renowned Backstreet Boys.”
She had to laugh at how overly dramatic he was being.
“There it is.” he teased as he sat back down. “I knew eventually I could make you laugh.”
“You seem to have that effect on me.”
“Good, you’re so much more beautiful when you smile.”
She instantly started to clam up again and he was getting good at reading the signs. This was not going the way he planned and he wanted an explanation.
I want to thank everyone for reading and reviewing this story. I also want to say a very heartfelt thank you to those of you who nominated me for two Double Rainbow Fan Fiction awards! It means a lot to me that people are really enjoying what I post and I appreciate the support!
“Why do you do that whenever I compliment you?”
“Do what?” Max asked innocently and stood up to bring her plate to the sink.
AJ picked up his and met her as she was turning around; he placed his arm out to stop her from going back to the table.
“You put up the Great Wall of China and you make it so I have to break it down every time.”
“No I don’t.” she replied as she ducked under his arm and made her way to the couch. “And besides, you’re here to explain your past to me, not to play twenty questions.”
He watched as she sat down on one side and curled into herself leaving the other half open. Sitting down gently, he crossed his legs and plopped them down on her coffee table. After a few seconds, he turned to face her.
“I know and I will, as soon as you answer my question.”
He obviously was not going to let it go so she tried to give him some kind of answer that would appease him.
“Compliments are great but they’re not true; they just hurt in the long run.”
He was really puzzled by her statement. The compliment he paid her was heartfelt and genuine; he had no idea why it would have hurt her or her feelings. But again, she’d answered his question and for right now, he wouldn’t push.
“So what did you want to tell me?” she asked as she drew her legs underneath herself.
“Can I ask you one more question first?”
She looked like she wanted to decline but after a few moments, she shook her head yes.
“Do you know who the Backstreet Boys are?”
Max blushed. “No, well I mean not really. I know I was a little kid in the eighties but I always liked that genre. I vaguely remember hearing your name but by the time you got popular, it was too late.”
“Too late?” AJ asked with a raised eyebrow. “Too late for what?”
“Sorry,” she stammered, “I meant that it was too late for me to get new favorites, to change my taste in music. I was already set in my ways.”
She was lying and AJ wasn’t sure why. His mother had said she probably knew and maybe she was right. This was her way of back pedaling and he figured if he kept going and got her distracted, she might explain her comment.
“So, why didn’t you tell me about them?”
“For a couple of reasons.” AJ responded quietly. “First was the fact that I never, or almost never, get to meet women that have no idea who I am. The minute most of them see me or hear my name, the shrieking and chaos ensue. I don’t think I’ve had a nice, calm first encounter in years.”
“I’m sorry.” Max replied and leaned her head against the back out of the couch as she searched his face. “That has to be really hard to deal with.”
“It’s worse when I’m trying to get to know someone.”
AJ leaned his head back and closed his eyes. “Because I’m not sure why they’re around. Do they actually like me or do they like what I can do for them? Most of the time I have a hard time distinguishing between the two of them and it’s led to some bad decisions and choices on my part.”
“I can see why that would happen. Just from the short time I’ve know you, I’ve figured out you’re the type who wants to make people happy.”
“Is that a problem?” he asked as he looked over at her.
“No. I used to be the same way.” she answered quietly. “Anyway, you were saying how it made your choices hard?”
She kept deflecting all of his questions and comments and he wasn’t sure how much more she was going to hide about herself.
“I guess that’s the other problem. When most people meet me, they just assume that I’m a bad boy. I mean my image was designed for that when we started the group and then I went and got half my body tattooed and tried out more hairstyles than Ru Paul.”
Max laughed out loud.
“I mean it. Then I had all these other issues I’ve dealt with. The problem is behind all of that…”
“You’re a big teddy bear.” Max smiled as she finished his sentence. “And what’s wrong with that.”
“It makes me a disappointment.”
“What?” she asked with surprise.
“People expect something and I’m not living up to those expectations.”
Max could see how much that bothered him and she reached out to place her hand on his arm.
“Don’t ever think that way. I get that I don’t know you that well but I can tell that you would never disappoint anyone.”
“Except you.” he replied with the saddest eyes she’d ever seen.
You've Got A Deal by Kyrie
Max was deeply troubled by the pain she could see in his eyes as he tried to avoid hers. Yes, it had upset her to find out that he was hiding part of himself but, in reality, she was doing the exact same thing. He started to stand up but she grabbed at his arm and pulled him back down.
“You didn’t disappoint me AJ.”
“I was mad because I wanted to trust you and at that moment, I couldn’t.”
“Do you feel differently now?” he asked as he looked down at her.
She nodded and released his arm. He leaned down, pulled her up and drew her into a bear hug. Pulling her close, he whispered in her ear.
“Does this mean you aren’t leaving?”
She shivered and was quiet in her response.
“No, I still think I should go.”
Pushing back slightly from him, Max could see how upset he was. He really thought if he shared everything with her, she would want to stay.
“I should have left a while ago. I need to…”
“Can we make a deal?”
“What?” she asked as she cocked an eyebrow. “A deal?”
“Yeah. I know Bob gives everyone next week off for the 4th of July holiday.”
“So? I’m leaving on Saturday so that won’t matter.”
“I was hoping that you could stay one more week. We could hang out, enjoy some time off and do a few things I think you’d enjoy.”
“If you promise to spend the week with me, I promise to let you leave if you still want too.”
Max thought about it. “No more trying to convince me or making any new deals?”
“Cross my heart.” he answered and drew his finger across his chest.
How could one more week hurt, she thought as she watched his hopeful eyes. She could play along and then leave just as she’d planned. This was actually a better option because there wouldn’t be any more pleading.
“Ok?” he asked with surprise; he figured it would take more convincing.
“I said ok.”
“Yes!” he yelled and planted a huge kiss on her cheek. “You won’t regret this and I guarantee that you won’t want to leave after this week.”
Max just smiled. She hated to disappoint him but there was no way she was planning on staying any longer than one week.
Friday finally came and Bob wished everyone a safe and enjoyable week off. Max had already been told by AJ that he had also taken that week off and that each day he planned a different activity. The first happened to be karaoke the next night and he had warned her that two of his friends would be joining them. She didn’t want to meet his friends but she knew she had to keep her side of the bargain or she’d have to deal with AJ pleading his case again.
“So you’re ok with coming out with us right?”
“Yes.” Brian assured his brother for the tenth time. “Leighanne has some things to take care of today but we’re free all day tomorrow.”
“Did you tell her we were coming?”
“I told her two of my friends were joining us but I didn’t say who.”
“Don’t you think you should?”
“I don’t know, a head’s up maybe.”
“It’ll be fine.”
“I hope for your sake that’s true.”
Max finished her shower and stepped out to check her reflection in the mirror. She had noticed earlier that her roots were starting to show and there was no way she could let her natural color come back out. Her hair itself was starting to grow out, there wasn’t much she could do about that, but the new dye seemed to be working well.
She finished fixing her hair the best she could and gave her meager wardrobe a pained glance. Having worn some of her better clothes already, she finally decided on a nice pair of dark jean capris and a black, short sleeve, light weight sweater set. Her locket looked beautiful resting on the black camisole and she added some lip gloss as a finishing touch. The last time she really dressed up around AJ, she came home crying and she wasn’t about to have a repeat performance.
Knowing that AJ would be arriving any minute, she checked her hair one more time, grabbed her purse and made it to the front steps just as he was pulling in. She watched as he climbed out of his truck and she had to admit that he looked very handsome. He was wearing a light pair of jeans, a white button up over a white wife-beater and had a black and white plaid fedora strategically placed on his head. Giving her a big smile, he opened the passenger side door and shut if gently after she had made herself comfortable. It was a sweet gesture but it made her question how long those sweet gestures would last if she had actually planned on sticking around.
One Brother Down, Three To Go by Kyrie
They drove on in silence, not because they were angry or didn’t want to talk, but because they were both so nervous about how the night would turn out. AJ was hoping that she would like Brian and Leighanne and that they would make her feel as comfortable as possible. He had screwed up enough on his own and he didn’t any help in pushing her farther away. She, on the other hand, was worried that she would have to share too much about herself and give the impression that this thing with AJ could turn into something more.
Once they arrived at the small bar, they found Brian and Leighanne waiting at a table in the back for them. As Brian’s wife stood up to greet them, Max felt herself take a nose dive in the confidence department. Here was this tall, blonde beauty dressed in a short skirt and tight white tank top. If the rest of the guys had wives that looked like that, she didn’t have a chance in hell of competing with them; she surprised herself with that odd thought since she wasn’t planning on staying long enough to have to compete with them.
“Hi Max.” Brian greeted her with his Southern drawl. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you too.” she responded quietly and turned towards Leighanne. “Hi.”
“Hi Max.” Leighanne replied with a smile. “AJ didn’t tell us how pretty you were.”
Max’s heart sank. Maybe Leighanne was being genuine with the flattering remark but she really felt like the plain girl who gets complimented by the cheerleading squad. She looked over at AJ and he gave her a wide grin.
“See? I’m not the only one who thinks you’re beautiful.”
Brian was the first to sense Max’s discomfort and stepped in right away.
“So Max, can you sing?”
“Definitely not.” she replied with a laugh as she sat down. “I don’t think I could carry a tune in a bucket.”
Brian chuckled. “That’s ok, neither can AJ!”
“Hey!” his brother replied, throwing a napkin at him.
“Don’t let him fool you; he uses us to make him sound good!”
“I beg to differ! You guys need me to make you sound, and look, good!”
Max was grateful to be watching the banter between the two of them because it meant she wouldn’t have to talk about herself much. She got nervous when Leighanne leaned in towards her but she didn’t have to worry.
“They’re always like this and they enjoy it more when we’re watching. You’d better get used to it.”
I won’t have to, she thought; she wouldn’t be sticking around long enough to worry about it.
“Oh ok.” was all she said to Leighanne.
Their waitress came by and took their orders for drinks and appetizers. Max noticed that everyone had just ordered sodas. She didn’t know why she would assume that because they were celebrities that they had to drink but the thought popped into her head.
“Thanks.” AJ told the table. “I appreciate the sodas.”
“No sweat.” Brian replied.
“Why are you thanking everyone?” Max asked with confusion.
“I’m a recovering alcoholic.” he stated bluntly.
Max got quieter and turned her head towards him. “Um, aren’t you afraid that someone else will hear you? Someone could try to spin it…”
AJ stopped her by planting a kiss on her cheek. “Thank you for being concerned but I think the whole world already knows.”
“Oh.” she murmured. “Sorry.”
“There’s no need to be sorry, I’m used to it.”
Leighanne and Brian took the conversation on a new path as their food arrived and told Max about their son, Baylee, and how he opened up for the guys on their last tour. She made sure to ask a ton of questions about him to keep any and all attention off of herself. Leighanne was explaining how Baylee had been diagnosed with Atypical Kawasaki Disease and how it affected him when Max made a huge mistake.
“He must have needed an IVIG to get it under control.”
The comment left her mouth before she could stop it and she watched as all three heads turned towards her.
“How did you know that?”
Think of something you idiot, she thought as she tried to come up with some plausible reason for knowing that.
“Um, I did a project for a health and wellness class when I was in high school.”
She knew that none of them were buying that but they at least played along, not wanting to call her out on it.
“Well you picked an interesting topic.” Brian commented, finally breaking the silence.
“Thanks.” Max said and couldn’t thank the waitress enough for bringing their dinner over before any more conversation could happen.
The two couples chatted about simple topics like the weather and their families as well as their favorite places that they’d been through on tour. Max watched as AJ’s face lit up as he talked about his music; it was obvious to anyone how passionate he was about it.
“Do you have any favorite places Max?” Leighanne inquired.
“Not really. I’ve never been anywhere outside of the country.”
“Where’d you grow up?”
“Michigan.” Max answered quickly.
“Cold up there huh?” Brian asked.
“Freezing, especially in the winter.”
“I bet.” AJ chuckled.
The noise level rose as the karaoke began and she was thankful that it made any chance of more conversation difficult. AJ had put his name in earlier and he was one of the first to be called.
“Hope you like it.” he whispered in her ear as he proceeded to the stage.
AJ made himself comfortable in front of the mike and watched as his song began on the video.
“This song is for my favorite brown eyed girl!”
Max blushed deeply and listened as he began to belt out Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed-Girl”. AJ made a point of keeping eye contact with her throughout the entire song and the only time she looked away was when Leighanne touched her arm.
“He really likes you, you know.” she told her. “AJ’s a terrific guy and I really hope you’ll give him a chance.”
Max felt awful, she didn’t want to lead anyone on and have them believe that she was planning on staying.
“AJ told you I was leaving right?”
Leighanne nodded. “But he said you’d think about it.”
“I did but my mind is pretty made up.”
“I don’t really know you Max but I think you’re the type of person who’ll follow through on what you told him. I believe you’ll give him the full week and that your mind isn’t completely made up.” she paused. “Even if you won’t admit it to yourself.”
AJ had just returned to the table and found her talking with Leighanne.
“Are you guys talking about me?”
“Of course honey.” Leighanne replied with a chuckle. “Aren’t we always?”
AJ laughed and they watched as a few more people sang. At about ten-thirty, Brian yawned and told them that he and Leighanne were going back to the hotel. She had an early flight out the next morning and wanted to get some sleep. The two couples said their goodbyes and headed in opposite directions.
“Did you have fun tonight?” AJ asked her as they were on their way back to her apartment.
“I did. They were both very nice.”
“Brian always is.” he paused. “So have I changed your mind yet?”
They were silent for the rest of the ride back. As they arrived back at her apartment, he told her what the plan was for the next night.
“Camping?” she asked stunned as he walked her to her door.
“Yup. On the beach behind the diner.”
“I don’t have a tent.”
“No worries. I’ll take care of everything; all you need to do is show up.”
AJ saw the doubt in her eyes.
“You promised you’d give me a week.”
Max wasn’t thrilled but she would never break a promise. “Ok.”
“Great! I’ll see you at five.”
Thank you to everyone who's been reading. If you like the story, let me know. If you don't, let me know that too! LOL
AJ dragged Brian around an outdoorsman’s complex early the next morning. He had already piled the cart high with air mattresses, coolers, lanterns and other small camping gear by the time they got to the tents.
“Really AJ?” Brian asked as his friend started pulling options off the shelves. “I don’t think you need a six person tent.”
“But she might want space.”
“Why don’t you get a gigantic camper then?”
AJ stared at him.
“Seriously J, I really think a four person tent will be more than enough space.”
“Ok.” AJ relented and moved onto the sleeping bags.
He started to pull several off of the display and place them in the carriage. After a few moments of just wondering what his brother was doing, Brian stopped him.
“Are you even reading these?”
“You have to read them?”
“Um, yeah. Duh. This one says intense winter weather.”
“Dude, you’re camping in California not Antarctica!”
Brian grabbed all the ones in the cart and shoved them back where they came from. He carefully selected two different ones and handed them to AJ. The two men finally made it through the store and headed to the nearest coffee shop they could find.
“I forgot how exhausting it was to go shopping with you.” Brian groaned as he slid into the booth.
“Hey, it’s one of my favorite pastimes!”
“No! I never would have known!”
AJ ignored Brian’s sarcasm. “Do you honestly think that she’ll enjoy this?”
“I don’t know. Other than what I saw last night, I couldn’t really tell what she likes to do.”
“I just want her to like it.” AJ sighed. “I don’t want her to leave and I know that the promise she made only bought me an extra week. I want to change her mind about it…”
“And you.” Brian said, finishing his sentence. “You really like her don’t you?”
“Have you told her?”
“Not in so many words. I tried to get the point across the night that the fan cornered us but you know that didn’t end well.”
“Look, you want to be honest with her right?”
“Then I think at some point, before this week is over, that you need to sit her down and have a discussion about how you feel.”
“What if she leaves anyway?”
Brian sighed. “Then she leaves J. You can’t force someone to do something that they don’t want to do or something they’re not comfortable with. Sometimes you have to take the chance and hope it works out.”
“I hope you’re right Bri, I really do.”
Max pulled in the diner parking lot and made her way to the beach out back. She was trying to get her keys in her bag so she wasn’t paying much attention to the area around her and she stopped short when she finally looked up. There was a gigantic tent standing on the part of the beach closest to the diner’s rear walls and she could see sleeping bags and air mattresses already set up inside. There were a couple of beach chairs, cooler and citronella candles strategically placed around a small campfire.
“Oh my God AJ! Where did all of this come from?” she asked as she walked around the whole setup for a better view.
“My basement.” AJ lied as he watched her take it all in.
She stopped by one of the chairs and bent down, picking at something.
“Then why is there still a sales tag on this one?”
AJ chuckled. “I might have had to buy some stuff.”
Max smiled and shook her head. He came over to give her a hug and she had to admit that whatever cologne he was wearing was intoxicating; she felt as though she could have stayed in his arms just like that and been perfectly happy. Unfortunately, he drew back so he could talk to her.
“I hope the candles aren’t too strong for you. Brian said some people don’t like the citronella smell.”
“No.” she replied. “I actually love the smell, it brings back good memories.”
AJ sat down on one of the chairs and motioned for her to do the same. She punched the fabric down and took a seat; she was really stalling for time as she tried to decide whether or not to open up any more. Finally, she decided to offer a little more information; what could it hurt if she was only spending the rest of the week here.
“Of summers at home. My parents had an in ground pool put in when they bought the house and my brother and I spend pretty much our every summer swimming and playing around outside. I would always pester my parents about letting Sean and I swim during the night time and they finally relented, buying some outdoor lights and candles so that they could sit outside with us and not get bitten.”
“That sounds like fun.”
“And it was great that your parents didn’t mind.”
“No they didn’t.” she replied softly. “They never minded doing anything that made the two of us happy.”
AJ decided to wait until after dinner to ask anything else. He wanted her to open up more but he was afraid, if he pushed instead of letting it happen naturally, that she would shut down again. Instead of talking about anything important, he dished out the food and told Max about the fun that he and the guys had out on tour. Just from what he said, she could tell how close they all were and how much of a family they had created.
The sun was finally starting to set and they had exhausted all the topics about the guys and their families for the moment. AJ suggested that they make some s’mores and stretch out on a blanket and watch the stars when they made their appearance. At first, he spread out two blankets but Max stopped him.
“Do we really need two of them?”
“Max Carmody, are you trying to put the moves on me?”
She turned beet red and threw a marshmallow at him. “No, I was just thinking that the more fabric around the fire, the better chance that some of your facial hair is going to curl up.”
“Well that’s a bummer.” AJ teased her with a smile.
“Sorry to dash your hopes.” she replied back with a smile.
She wrapped her two s’mores in a napkin, sat down on the blanket and waited for AJ to finish his. They talked about his entertaining shopping trip with Brian and she laughed as he told her about all the stuff he had to put back.
“I’m glad he was there to rein you in.”
“So’s my credit card!”
Max giggled as she bit into her dessert and wound up getting marshmallow all over her chin. She was startled when AJ leaned forward; she wasn’t sure what to expect but relaxed when he just wiped it off with his finger. They finished eating without any issues and decided to lie on their backs to watch the stars he’d been telling her about. AJ waited till they had been settled for a few minutes before asking her about her family.
“What happened to your family?”
He immediately felt her tense up next to him and was instantly sorry he asked.
“Never mind, you don’t need to…”
“They were killed in a car accident.” she finally answered quietly.
“I’m so sorry Max.” He rolled onto his side to look at her and he could see the tears glistening in her eyes. “I shouldn’t have asked and you don’t need to say anything else.”
She shook her head slightly and wiped the tears that were slipping out.
“Sean was born with Down’s syndrome and one of his major health concerns was some heart problems that they found when he was still a baby. He had to have regular check-ups with a physician at the children’s hospital.”
“That sounds like it was tough on everyone.”
“It was but Sean was the sweetest little boy ever. My parents and I would usually go with him to the appointments but I was sick that day. It was winter time and I caught one of those nasty colds so my parents told me that I would have to stay with my grandmother.”
AJ could hear the hitch in her voice and he could tell that this was a really painful conversation for her to have. He hated himself for bringing it up but he wanted her to be able to get it out.
“My mother knew how much I hated to be sick and that I always wanted her to be around when I was. Snow had begun to pile up as they started the three hour trip back, but my dad thought he would be fine to drive and promised my grandmother they would be home soon to pick me up.”
“Some kids were fooling around and racing down the highway much faster than they should have been. They hit some black ice and skidded right through the barrier into my father’s lane. He tried to avoid it but by then it was too late; they ran head first into each other.”
At this point, Max was quietly sobbing and AJ gently pulled her into his arms. She rested her head against his chest and balled his shirt in her hand as she continued to cry. Pulling his arms tighter, he smoothed her hair down and tried to comfort her the best he could. Her sobs eventually faded and he could hear her breathing slow down. She had cried herself to sleep and he hated to wake her up in order to move her to the tent.
Instead, he picked her up carefully and placed her on one of the air mattresses. He had just started to pull away to grab a sleeping bag when her hand reached out for his arm. Her eyes were closed so he knew that this was just a reflex but he didn’t care. He slid down next to her and pulled a sleeping bag over both of them. She shifted in her sleep and put her head down on his chest; her quiet breathing lulled him to sleep a few minutes later.
Max woke up the next morning, startled, trying to figure out where she was. She finally realized where she was and relaxed a little. Looking around the tent, she didn’t see AJ and was grateful to have a few minutes to herself. Their talk last night and all the tears had worn her out and figured she probably fell asleep from all of it. She had never planned on telling him any of that but for the first time in months, she was relieved that she didn’t have to hide everything about herself from him anymore.
She ran her fingers through her hair and climbed out of the tent, searching for AJ’s whereabouts. He was sitting out by the water on a towel and staring off into space. Quietly making her way over, she slipped down next to him and was surprised that she didn’t frighten him.
“Hey yourself.” he replied with a smile. “Did you sleep ok?”
“I did. I’m sorry about all the tears and everything. I feel bad about ruining the night.”
He slipped an arm over her shoulder and, for once, she actually leaned into him.
“You didn’t ruin anything. I kept asking questions and all you did was answer them. I’m glad that you felt secure enough to tell me.”
“I guess you have the habit of making me comfortable.” she whispered.
“Well I’m glad I can do that.”
“So what’s the plan for today?”
He laughed. “Does that question mean you’re actually looking forward to spending some more quality time with me?”
“Don’t get a big head.” she warned with a playful elbow to his side. “I’m still on the fence about leaving.”
“Then I plan on doing whatever I can to get you on my side of the fence.”
“And exactly what does that entail?”
“I have to do some work this afternoon but I wanted to have you over for a cookout tomorrow.”
“At your house?” she asked with surprise.
“No, I was planning on taking you to Chuck E. Cheese for the barbecue.”
“That’s me. Will you come?”
“Is it just you and I?”
He was quiet for a minute. “I kind of wanted to invite the guys and their families over. They’re all out here so we can finish some stuff up this afternoon.”
“I really want you to meet them. They’re very important to me.” he paused. “And so are you.”
She thought about it for a few moments. There was a part of her that was absolutely terrified to get any more involved with AJ and his life but there was also a part of her that was curious about them. She wondered if they would be as cordial to her as Brian and Leighanne were.
“Ok?” he asked. “Are you sure?”
“What the heck.” she responded. “I mean after all, I did promise you I would try.”
AJ planted a kiss on her head. “You won’t regret it!”
Why Do You Have To Be Difficult? by Kyrie
I apologize for the delay in updating and I hope this chapter is worth waiting for!
“No fucking way!”
Brian sighed and massaged the bridge of his nose with his index finger and thumb. He had decided to call each of the guys to let them know that Max would be attending the cook out and was, at the moment, questioning why he had made such a stupid decision.
“Don’t Nick me!” his brother yelled into the phone. “I am not coming if that woman is going to be there! He doesn’t even know her! She’s just some homeless waitress who looks like she just left a women’s correctional facility!”
“Nicholas Gene Carter!” Brian said loudly. “You need to knock it off. AJ is your brother and he needs…”
“A good, swift kick in the ass and a mental health checkup!”
“No.” Brian replied, trying to be calm. “He needs our support. Obviously this woman means something to him…”
“She’s a challenge he wants to win!”
“Damn it Nick!” Brian roared, losing his patience. “Will you shut up for a minute and let me talk?”
The tone of his brother’s voice startled Nick. Brian was always the last one to resort to yelling or to lose his cool with them. Not wanting to push his luck, he quieted down and let Brian continue.
“Thank you.” Brian responded to the silence. “As I was saying, AJ needs us to back him up on this. I think he knows more about her than we think and it’s pretty clear he has his heart set on her. No matter how we feel, we need to give her the benefit of the doubt.”
“Till she screws it up.” Nick retorted.
Brian groaned quietly. “If you want to look at it that way, then it’s up to you.”
“Are Kevin and Howie onboard with this whole thing?”
“Howie doesn’t really care either way.”
“What about Kevin?”
Brian paused for a minute. His conversation with Kevin had gone south pretty much like his current conversation. His cousin had point blank stated that Max was probably some woman who pretending not to know who AJ was just to be able to con him. Kevin felt like she was setting AJ up to take a huge fall as soon as she got whatever she wanted from him.
“He’s not thrilled.”
“See!” Nick shouted. “Big brother agrees with me which must mean I’m right!”
Brian sighed again; there was no way to have a conversation with Nick or Kevin once they decided that they were correct about whatever the situation was. He knew that all of them loved AJ and were just looking out for his best interests even if it didn’t come across that way. J had made mistakes in the past, some bigger than others, and sometimes the guys treated him as a child to prevent him from making any more.
“I don’t think either one of you is right. I met Max and actually got to speak to her, unlike the two of you. I thought she was very nice and Leighanne liked her.”
The minute those words left his mouth, he knew it was a mistake.
“Oh yeah, that’s really going to change my view. Now I know for a fact that I have to be right.”
Nick proceeded to rant and Brian just held the phone away from his ear as he shook his head. He couldn’t say or do anything else to convince him to give her a chance. All he could do at this point was hope he would be mature enough to at least give her a chance. Nick’s voice continued to rise but then, abruptly, he got quiet; Brian heard someone else on Nick’s end and suddenly the line went silent. He gave it a few minutes before he said anything.
“Hello?” he asked. “Nick? Anyone there?”
“Hi Lauren.” he replied with a smile. “Did you get him on a leash?”
“Good.” he chuckled. “The conversation was going nowhere.”
“Don’t worry about it. Nick and I will both be there if I have to handcuff him to me and duct tape his mouth closed.”
“That would be an interesting introduction.”
Lauren giggled. “It would be. You let AJ know we’re coming and I’ll take care of the rest.”
“You’re welcome. See you guys tomorrow.”
Brian hung up and leaned back in his chair; this was going to be one heck of a party.
Max debated all morning about whether or not to call AJ and tell him she wasn’t going to make it to the party. Brian and Leighanne had been nice but she had no idea how the others were going to feel about her. What if they all hated her or resented her being there? The whole situation was overwhelming and as much as she wanted to follow through on her promise to AJ, her anxiety was making it difficult for her to go.
She looked in the bathroom mirror to check her reflection again. AJ had already seen her entire wardrobe so she had gone out that morning to pick up a few things. The bag sitting on her bed held a new bathing suit and towel, as well as a t-shirt to wear over it if she decided to go swimming. The other purchases she made were now staring back at her in the glass. There were the pair of pale denim capris and a pale emerald green, baby doll t-shirt. She skipped the blue this time since that was pretty much the only color she ever wore around AJ. Her hair was combed neatly and she was wearing her locket again. She had put on a little eye shadow and mascara as well as a light shimmering lip gloss.
Sighing and debating whether or not to make the phone call, she headed into the kitchen and saw the stack of cookies and brownies waiting on the table for her. She loved to bake and it wasn’t something she got to do very often; she also didn’t want to go to his house empty handed.
After running through all the scenarios of what could go wrong, she finally decided to go and give the whole thing a try. She could always leave if she felt uncomfortable and, if she chose to leave town, she would never have to see any of them again anyway. After packing everything into her car, she followed AJ’s directions to his house.
When she pulled up to the address he gave her, her jaw almost hit the ground; his house was enormous! The driveway was more like a giant entry way and she parked her car off to the side in case of the need for an escape. As she walked up to the door, she tried to take in the height of the house and the number of windows that seem to pop out from the walls. If the inside was anything like the outside, it was going to be an impressive house tour.
She rang the bell and looked around at the shrubs and flowers covering the small lawn out front. They were so distracting that she didn’t realize the door had even opened. Someone cleared their throat and her head whipped around to face them. As she looked into Nick’s face she realized that the warm welcome she was hoping for was clearly not going to happen.
“I know exactly who you are.” Nick muttered. “And it’s not nice to meet you.”
Nick flung the door open a little wider, turned his back on her and walked further into the house as Max was left standing on the porch. Tears started to well in her eyes as she watched his retreating back and every concern that was running through her mind since the morning came up front and center. She knew this was a mistake; it was obvious that no one wanted her here. Noticing a small table in the entryway, she slid her plate of cookies onto it and spun around to leave. Unfortunately, she smacked right into someone’s chest; she looked up to see AJ standing there.
“Hey there…” AJ stopped the minute he saw the tears in her eyes. He dropped the bags of ice he was carrying and wrapped his arms around her. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” she answered as she wiped tears away. “I’m just not feeling good. I came over to drop off the cookies since I promised them…”
AJ cupped her chin in his hand. “Not buying it. If you’re so sick, why do you have a towel and bathing suit in your bag?”
“I started feeling sick on the car ride over.”
Max tried to wiggle her way out of his grasp but it wasn’t any use. He had her wrapped pretty tight and didn’t look as though he would let her loose.
“I’m serious AJ. I just don’t feel good.”
“No, you’re lying to me.” AJ replied and looked up to see Nick’s figure in the hallway. “Did you suddenly get sick when you met a big, blonde dumbass?”
AJ made sure he said it loud enough for Nick to hear him and he knew he hit the mark when he saw him shake his head and walk back into the house. Max stopped squirming and it was all he needed to know he was right.
“Can you wait here for one second?” AJ asked as he let her go. “I’ll be right back.”
Max nodded but the minute AJ was out of her sight, she bolted towards her car. The fates seemed to be working against her though as she watched Brian pull his car in right behind hers. She groaned quietly as she watched as he, Leighanne, and a young boy she assumed was Baylee, climb out of the vehicle.
“Hey!” Leighanne called out with a smile. “I thought we were going to be late but I see you just got here too.”
Max nodded and Brian could see the wet streaks on her face. He cursed Nick and Kevin for ruining this and he took a salad out of his wife’s arms and raced into the house. Leighanne was surprised but as she got closer to Max, she understood.
“Bay, why don’t you go on inside and find the boys?”
Her son nodded and Leighanne slipped her arm around Max’s shoulder.
“I see you met Nick.” she whispered just in case Baylee was still in earshot.
Max nodded and another tear slipped down her face. Leighanne sighed and pulled her into a hug.
“Don’t let them get to you. Nick hated me when I got together with Brian and I’m pretty sure he still does.”
“See?” Leighanne said with a smile. “You need to remember that you’re not here at Nick’s request, you’re here at AJ’s. It’s really important to him that you came and he truly cares about you Max. In fact, he’s probably got Nick up against a wall, chewing him out for whatever he did or said.”
“But I didn’t mean to start anything…”
“Don’t worry about it. Nick started it and I’m sure AJ’s ending it.” She looped her arm in with Max’s and picked up the ice bags in her other hand. “Let them handle it and we’ll grab some drinks.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” AJ roared as Nick stood in front of him
AJ had grabbed Nick as soon as he got into the house and pushed him down to the studio. Kevin and Howie saw the exchange and headed down behind them.
“Nothing.” Nick mumbled.
“I invite Max here to MY house to enjoy MY party and she winds up in tears, trying to leave. Thank God I got her to listen to me…”
“Not really.” Brian said as the others turned to look at him. “I had to pull my car in behind her so she wouldn’t leave.”
AJ turned back towards Nick with an angry expression on his face. “What did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“Then what did you say?”
“I said I knew who she was.”
“And?” AJ asked, growing impatient.
“And that it wasn’t nice to meet her.”
“Nick!” Howie yelled. “Seriously?”
Brian stepped in between AJ and Nick because he was pretty sure that the conversation was over and the shoving was about to begin.
“Why the fuck would you do that?” AJ bellowed as he tried to skirt around Brian.
“Calm down.” Kevin pleaded. “All the kids are up there and they don’t need to be hearing this.”
“I don’t care!” AJ said, getting louder. “This jackass thinks it’s ok to come to my house and insult my guests?”
Brian pulled AJ away and told him to go back upstairs and check on Max; he was afraid she’d try and leave again. It took a few shoves to get him to leave, but once he did, Brian turned to Nick and the others.
“Listen to me carefully.” he said quietly. “We are in AJ’s house as his family and Max is his guest. Everyone needs to keep their opinions to themselves and behave yourselves. None of you have to like the situation, or Max, but you do need to put your feelings aside and suck it up. Understood?”
The other three men were silent. Usually it was Kevin who was reading them all the riot act and telling them to behave. Seeing Brian do it would have been funny in any other situation but they could tell from his face that he wasn’t kidding. Howie was the first to nod his agreement, followed by Kevin and Nick.
“Good.” Brian said and pointed his finger towards the stairs. “Now get up there!”
Thank you to everyone who has been reading and reviewing. I hope you're still enjoying it and I'd love to know what you think!
What Is Going On? by Kyrie
AJ fumed as he stomped up the stairs; why were the guys giving him such a hard time? No one except for Brian had met her so he couldn’t understand why they had a problem with Max already. He finally made it to his slider and, when he looked out on the deck, he saw every girl except for Max. Shit, he thought to himself, and started towards the front door; he was walking so fast that he collided with Max as she was coming out of the bathroom.
“You didn’t leave!” he exclaimed as he wrapped her in a hug.
“No.” she whispered in response. “Leighanne convinced me to stay. I just wanted to clean my face off.”
AJ pulled back and saw the faint tear stains on her face. He felt awful that he invited her over here and it turned out that it was like a lamb walking into a lion’s den. This wasn’t his intention when he originally asked her to come and he hoped it would get better from here.
“I’m sorry about Nick. I didn’t realize he was going to be an asshole.”
“It’s not your fault. I should have expected it.”
“Why would you expect someone to treat you like that?”
“I don’t know. They’re your family and they probably don’t trust me.
“Well I do and they’re just gonna have to deal with it. Either that or I’ll kick them out.”
“Don’t do that!” Max shouted. “If anyone should leave, it should be me.”
“You’re not going anywhere.” AJ said with fierce determination.
“This is not up for discussion.” he replied. “In fact, I’m taking you on a tour.”
“The house.” he said with a laugh. “How much have you already seen?”
“Um…the hallway and the bathroom?”
He chuckled, grabbed her hand and led her into the kitchen. She didn’t know what to expect and was shocked at the size of it.
“This could fit two of my apartments!”
The kitchen was beautiful with its hard wood floors, granite countertops and cherry wood cabinets with glass doors. She could see the stove had a professional chef’s hood and there was a gigantic stainless steel refrigerator next to it. There was an island attached to a small bar area in the middle of the kitchen and a small table set on the other side. It had been well designed with an open air plan and she could see the sunken living room off to the left hand side.
An enormous TV and entertainment center took up one of the solid walls with bookcases lining the other. The third wall was all glass and looked out over the patio and swimming pool. She could see how his property stretched all the way to where the beach began and how well maintained the flowers and shrubbery was; the view of a sunset must be amazing, she thought to herself.
Bringing her attention back to the living area, she noticed his plush tan sectional and matching recliners. There were two small end tables with a few CDs lying on top of them; she was surprised when she turned and saw that there were stacks of CDs and DVDs all over the bookcases.
“Bookcases are supposed to be used for books.” she teased.
“Hey! Just cuz book is in the title doesn’t mean they have to be everywhere.” He pointed to the bottom shelf. “See I have books there.”
“Those are magazines AJ.”
“Whatever, same difference.”
Max laughed and followed him towards the stairs. Just as they were starting up, the boys came up from downstairs and she came face to face with Nick again; AJ glared at him, almost daring him to say something. To Nick’s credit, he just mumbled a hello and proceeded out to the deck.
“Hi Max.” Howie said and stuck out his hand. “I’m Howie.”
Kevin gave her a small nod and a quick hello before following Howie out to the back. AJ let out a sigh and turned back towards the kitchen.
“How about we postpone the rest of the tour for later?”
Max shook her head in agreement and walked behind AJ all the way to the slider. As he opened it, Leighanne squeezed by and grabbed her hand.
“It’s freaking hot out there. I’m changing and heading to that beautiful pool of yours J.” she said tugging on Max’s arm. “You should come too.”
As much as she hated wearing a swimsuit in front of people, Max thought that this might be the perfect way to put some distance between her and the guys and let things calm down some. She turned towards AJ and shrugged her shoulders.
“Go ahead.” he said with a smile. “The water’s perfect. You can change in the bathroom in my room; it’ll give you some more privacy.”
Max grabbed her bag from the foyer and let Leighanne lead her upstairs and down the hall to AJ’s room. She was surprised by what she saw when she opened the door. The walls were done in a dark slate blue and the bed took up most of the room. There was a sliding door on the right, leading to a small balcony and the bathroom he mentioned was off to the left.
“Are you going to be ok?” Leighanne asked.
She nodded and watched as the older woman made her way back down the hall into what she assumed was a guest bedroom. Turning back around, she entered the bathroom and flipped the switch for the light. She began pulling her suit and towel out and closed the door before taking off her clothes. As she was finishing adjusting the straps on the suit, there was a quick knock on the door and, before she could grab a towel, AJ came barging in.
“I’m sorry.” he said quickly. “I just wanted to…”
AJ stopped mid-sentence and stared at her for a minute. She turned her back to him and his jaw dropped.
“What are those?”
Our Own Fault Lines by Kyrie
Max yanked her towel up over her shoulders and turned her eyes away from him; unfortunately, AJ had already seen what she’d been hiding. There were more than a dozen faint, thin scars crisscrossing her back in different places and it almost looked like a spider web to him. They all looked old and fully healed but he had no idea what would cause those types of scares and the number that she had.
“What are those?” he repeated.
“Nothing.” she replied and tried to scoot around him.
There was no way AJ was going to take that for an answer. He wanted to know exactly what happened so he stuck out his arm to prevent her from leaving.
“You’re not going anywhere until you tell me what is going on.” he said as he took a step towards her.
The minute he made that advance, he saw a completely different side of Max emerge. She became skittish as she backed herself up against the wall in an almost cowering stance. Her eyes darted quickly back and forth between him and the door as if she was trying to find the easiest escape route. He was so absorbed in trying to get her to open up that nothing clicked in his brain until he stood there a little longer and watched her demeanor change again.
Her eyes got wider and wider and she started to make jumpy motions. She looked as though she was going to crawl out of her skin and he immediately moved out of the way. Bolting from the room like an animal released from their cage, she headed straight for the sliding door, threw it open and rushed onto the balcony. He saw her sucking in air and wanted to comfort her but stopped when he realized that if he went out there, the situation could become more disastrous. Slowly making his way into the room, he took a seat on the bed instead and waited for her to regain her composure.
Max took a few more deep breaths and turned around; she saw AJ sitting there with a mixture of concern and hurt on his face. She felt awful for reacting that way but she didn’t know how to stop it; not knowing what else to do, she made her way halfway towards him and stood there. He motioned for her to sit next to him but she shook her head no and wrapped the towel tightly around her.
“I’m sorry Max, I truly am. I didn’t realize what I was doing and the last thing I ever want is for you to be afraid of me.”
She didn’t reply.
“Seeing you with…” AJ cut himself off because he really didn’t know how to describe what he had seen.
“My scars.” she said after a few moments, quietly finishing his sentence. “You can say it. I look like a monster, some kind of freak.”
AJ started to rise but Max quickly took a step back and he sighed as he sat back down.
“You do not look like a monster Max. You are one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met.”
Her eyes filled with tears as she shook her head.
“Yes you are Max. No matter what, you’re beautiful to me.”
“How can you say that?”
“Because it’s true. Everyone has scars, whether they’re on the outside or the inside, and they make us who we are. They’re like our own personal set of fault lines.”
Max laughed quietly. “Well that’s a term I hadn’t heard before.”
AJ stood up slowly and this time, she didn’t back away. He made his way over to her and reached up to slip the towel off her shoulders. After dropping it to the floor, he placed both his hands on either side of her face and leaned in.
“Our fault lines remind us what we’ve been through and how far we’ve come. You should never be ashamed of them.”
“But they’re awful and ugly and…”
She looked up at him with tears threating to fall, unable to finish her sentence. He had to fight back the urge to kiss her because he didn’t want to make her feel any more uncomfortable. To distract himself, he dropped his hands and interlaced them with hers.
“Max Carmody, I don’t care if you’re ten feet tall with orange hair and purple polka dots. I will always think you are gorgeous and no matter what, I’ll want to be the lucky guy that gets your attention.”
She bit her lip and smiled. Raising one of her hands up, he kissed it gently.
“I’ll wait for you downstairs.”
Max finally made her way downstairs and joined the others out back. She had pulled on the new t-shirt she bought to hide her scars and cleaned off the tears from her face. Leighanne and Bailey were already in the pool and AJ was sitting down, talking business with the guys. He smiled when he saw her and nodded towards the pool. Grateful for the escape, she headed over and slipped in quietly.
“Why’s she wearing a t-shirt in the pool?” Nick asked bluntly when he finally noticed her.
“She’s Irish.” AJ replied. “She’ll burn if she doesn’t wear anything.”
“Hasn’t she ever heard of sunscreen?”
“Shut up Nick.” Brian said, speaking up. “She can wear a ball gown to go swimming if she wants to. It’s none of your business.
AJ smiled at Brian. There was no way AJ would break Max’s trust and tell anyone about her fault lines. They really weren’t any of his business either and he had realized after seeing how the situation played out upstairs that he wasn’t going to push her to tell him how she got them. If she wanted him to know, she’d tell him when she was good and ready.
Sorry for the delay in updating, school has just begun and it's been crazy! I hope I'm not losing anyone so please let me know what you think!
The rest of the cookout went by without any more glaring issues. Lauren had eventually taken Nick inside and when they came out, he didn’t say anything for the remainder of dinner. Max still felt uncomfortable with everyone and tried to be pretty quiet herself. There wasn’t a need to try and make friends with people who obviously didn’t want her to be there. Thankfully, everyone left as soon as the sun went down and she offered to help AJ with the dishes.
“Did you have a good time today?” AJ asked as he loaded the dishwasher. “I mean besides Nick being a complete ass.”
“I think he hates me. I think most of them hate me.”
“No one hates you.”
“I’m pretty sure Nick, Kevin and Kristen strongly dislike me then.”
“They’ll warm up to you. Just give them some time.”
“They might not AJ, they’re trying to protect you and I’m just some random woman you know.”
AJ shook his head. “They just need to get to know you. And just because they want to protect me doesn’t mean they should be rude to you.”
Max shook her head and wandered out onto the deck to pick up some more plates and cups that were on the table. AJ watched as she walked around grabbing anything that needed to be thrown out and shoved into a plastic bag. He was so aggravated with his family for treating her the way they did. It was ridiculous and he didn’t want to lose her over such stupid behavior on their part.
He finished with the dishes and put the washer around. Max was still cleaning up when he came out and took the bag out of her hands and tossed it onto the table. Grabbing her hand, he pulled her down to the pool and kicked off his shoes.
“What are you doing?”
“I was thinking about going for a night swim and I think you should join me.”
Max pulled her t-shirt tight. “I don’t know.”
“Come on, it was something you loved as a kid and when was the last time you got to do it?”
“It’s been awhile.”
“Then this is the perfect opportunity.”
“I have to head out soon, I probably shouldn’t.”
“Just a short one I promise.”
Without waiting for her answer, he quickly stripped down to his shorts and jumped in. She was still standing there when he resurfaced so he gave her a gentle splash.
“Stop it!” she cried and jumped back.
“Make me!” he replied and splashed her again.
“Cut it out you brat!”
AJ laughed and splashed her a third time. She did a cannonball and laughed as he tried to swim away when he realized what she planned to do.
“Ha!” she said as she came up.
“Ha yourself.” AJ laughed and without thinking, pulled her close.
They came face to face in close proximity and he was surprised she didn’t pull away. Noticing that she was still wearing her shirt, he slid his hands down to grab the hem and began to lift it up. Her hands shot downward to stop him.
“I’ve already seen them Max. You don’t have to hide from me anymore.”
She started to protest but he cut her off.
“Please trust me Max. I’m not going to hurt you.”
After a moment, she stopped resisting and let him pull it up. He tossed it onto the patio and wrapped his arms around her waist.
“See? That wasn’t so bad.”
Max smiled and nodded. For the first time in a while, she felt safe in someone’s arms. She slowly draped her arms around his neck and scooted a little closer; AJ moaned and she was startled by how that made her feel. They stayed like that for a moment and then AJ couldn’t fight the urge anymore. He held her against him tightly and leaned in, pressing his lips against hers lightly.
He drew away to gauge her reaction and was thrilled when he saw the look on her face. Pulling them towards the wall of the pool, he braced himself for balance and kissed her with such force that it surprised the both of them. It took Max a few seconds to move past the shock but when she did, she didn’t hold anything back. She had been bottling up her feelings for such a long time that they just spilled out. Wrapping her legs around his waist, she kissed him with as much passion as she could.
I hope everyone is still enjoying the story. Let me know what you think!
When they finally came up for air, AJ couldn’t focus. All he wanted to do was get her upstairs as fast as he could. He started pulling her towards the stairs but she stopped before they got there.
“I can’t AJ. I’m sorry.”
She looked crestfallen and braced herself for how angry he was going to be. The kiss had been a mistake and she felt awful about letting this get as far as she did. Turning away from him, a few tears slid down her face; there was no way he was going to want her after this, she thought, but what happened next shocked her.
“I understand.” he said as he turned her to face him. “We’ll move at whatever pace you’re comfortable with. I will never rush you or make you do something that you’re not sure about.”
AJ hid his disappoint from her because it didn’t want to make it worse for her. He respected her and he knew that if he waited this long, he could wait a little longer for her. The only thing he needed tonight was one promise.
“I want one thing from you tonight.”
“I need to know that you’re going to stay. I wanna be with you and it’s going to crush me if, after all this, you leave.”
She was planning on leaving in a few days and hadn’t been able to tell him. The look on AJ’s face told her that he was already invested and she knew instantly what she had to do.
Max lay in her bed, completely unable to sleep with everything that happened at AJ’s house swimming through her mind. Her finger traced the curly design in her comforter hoping that if she could distract herself, there would be a chance she could sleep. Unfortunately, it didn’t and the choice she made early was coming back to haunt her.
AJ truly believed that he wanted to be with her and she could see in his face that he was sincere about caring for her and respecting how she felt. The problem was the simple fact that she didn’t have much experience with relationships and had lost herself in the couple that she’d had; it wasn’t a mistake she wanted to repeat. Even though he’d never given her any reason to question his intentions, all it would take was one little slip on her part and it would be right back to where she didn’t want to be.
Max didn’t realize she’d finally fallen asleep until the shrill ringing of her cell phone woke her up. Sun was shining through the curtains and she looked over to see what time it was. Surprised by what she saw, she rubbed her eyes with her hands and stared back at the clock; it was two thirty in the afternoon!
Grabbing her phone, she silenced it and turned it over; AJ’s number flashed across the screen. She groaned, set the phone on her nightstand and let it go to voicemail. There was no easy way to deal with what happened the night before and, even though she made him that promise, following through with it would be too hard. She didn’t want to open herself up again, especially to AJ, and was upset with herself for making that agreement in the heat of the moment. Her voicemail alert went off and she pulled her phone back over to check it.
“Hi Max, it’s AJ. I was just calling to see how you were and what you were doing tonight. I was hoping that you hadn’t made other plans and could come by for the fireworks tonight. The sky’s going to be clear and we’ll be able to see everything from the backyard. Call me back and let me know if you can make it.”
She wanted to text him that she just couldn’t come and then just leave before she had to deal with anything else coming up. A quick exit would probably be the best thing for both of them and it would have to happen soon in order to spare any more feelings from being hurt. Crawling out of bed, she showered and brushed her teeth in record time and was just pulling on her jeans and a t-shirt when the doorbell rang.
Creeping towards the peephole, she looked through the small hole and silently cursed herself for sleeping so late. AJ was standing on the other side of the door with something in his hand and a smile on his face. There was no way to avoid him any more so she’d have to think fast and come up with some reason for him not to stay. She could pack her things up as soon as he left and be out of there by dinnertime.
The bell continued to sound and she hoped that if she stayed completely silent, he’s just go away. Unfortunately, she still didn’t seem to understand that AJ was the most persistent person on the planet. After he rang the fifth time, she sighed and opened the door.
“Hi Max.” AJ sang as the door opened. He’d come by to see her, spurred on by the progress they’d made the night before; after seeing the look on her face though, he realized something had changed. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Max replied and refused to look at him. “I’m just tired.”
AJ knew immediately what was going to happen and he was not going to let her do this.
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“You’re leaving aren’t you?”
Max tried to turn away but AJ scooted through the door and stopped her in her tracks. She had planned on avoiding him and this conversation; why did she open that door?
“I want an answer.” he demanded angrily. “I think you owe me that much.”
For the first time since she’d met him, he appeared furious and she knew it was directed towards her. Afraid that he might do something, she backed up as far as she could and put the kitchen table in between them. AJ noticed what she was doing and sighed; dropping the bag on the table, he took a seat at the table and waited for her to do the same.
“I’m not going to hurt you Max, I would never do that.”
Deep down, Max knew that but his anger was still unexpected and uncomfortable for her.
She waited for a few moments before she took a seat in the other chair. It took another minute to meet his gaze and the look on his face broke her heart.
“You’re leaving aren’t you?” he asked again and all she could do was nod. “Were you planning on leaving the whole time?”
Max nodded again.
“Why did you agree to stay then?”
“I don’t know AJ. Maybe it was in the heat of the moment.”
“I don’t buy that. If you were thinking of leaving, you shouldn’t have made me a promise that you weren’t going to keep.”
“I know and I’m sorry.”
He looked away from her and focused on running his finger across the pattern on her tablecloth. There was so much he wanted to say but he didn’t know how to get it out. He thought he’d been clear the night before when he told her how much he cared and how invested he was in this. Apparently, she’d just been stringing him along and the realization hit him like a truck. He finally stood up and headed towards the door.
“Don’t Max. Obviously this whole thing was a mistake. Forget what I said and what I made you promise. It was stupid of me to think you were serious.”
“There’s nothing else to say. Good luck with whatever you’re planning.”
He crossed the room and was out the door before she could mutter anything else. Nick and everyone else were right; he didn’t know what he was thinking when he thought this whole mess was going to work. At least she was leaving before he could make any more mistakes.
AJ hesitantly arrived at the diner a few days later; his mother had asked him to join her for brunch and he didn’t want to disappoint her. He hadn’t shared what happened with anyone, including Brian, because he didn’t want to admit that everyone was right and he’d made yet another poor decision. Nick would jump all over it and him and that’s something he didn’t want to deal with.
He debated whether to go in or not since his mother’s car wasn’t in the lot. He finally decided to brave the potential issues and walked in apprehensively. The dining area was pretty much deserted except for Marjorie talking to an older gentleman at the counter. AJ nodded at her when she waved and he slid into the nearest booth to wait for Denise.
“Hi honey.” the older woman greeted him as she came by to drop off menus. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“I’ve been busy.”
Marjorie noticed that his eyes kept roaming back and forth between the kitchen entrance and the front door. She knew what he was looking for and she hated to hurt him.
“She isn’t here sugar.” she said as she answered his silent question. “And she’s not going to show up. She called Bob three days ago and quit.”
She shook her head. “He went over to the apartment to try and talk to her but when he got there, it was completely empty. Everything was gone and the whole place was scrubbed down.”
“Like she never existed.” he added quietly.
“I’m sorry hon. I know she was important to you.”
He nodded and a tear slipped down his face; he knew at that moment that she was gone and there was no chance she was coming back. It didn’t matter how he felt or what he did, nothing was going to change and he needed to accept it. AJ slid out of the booth quickly and tried to hold back the tears that were threatening to fall.
“Can you tell my mother I wasn’t feeling good?”
Marjorie nodded. “Sure sweetheart. Anything I can do for you?”
AJ shook his head no and he made a beeline for his car. The tears fell the minute he closed the door; he had been so in love with Max and now she was gone. Everything was falling apart and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.
He spent the drive home alternating between feeling lost to feeling angry. All the time he’d put into making something work between them had been a waste of time and, as usual, he was the one who got hurt. Parking the car in the drive way, he leapt out and stomped up to the house; the anger boiling just below the surface. He grabbed the first thing he could when he entered and slammed the vase against the wall. Slamming his fist against his head, he slid down the wall in the entryway and dropped his head into his hands. He sat there for a bit before he heard a car pull into the drive.
His mother had surely got the message that he wasn’t feeling good but she’d probably come to check on him anyway. He hoisted himself up and tried to pull himself together; the doorbell rang and he tried not to fling open the door.
“Ma, I know…”
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“What are you doing here?”
“Can I come in?”
AJ really wanted to say no and close the door but something stopped him. He stepped back and let Max in; he led her down to the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge to distract himself from her.
“What do you want?” he asked and finally turned to face her.
“I wanted to talk to you.”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
“You and I both know there is.”
AJ leaned up against the counter and took a long sip from the bottle. He watched her fidget in front of him and although she deserved it, he felt bad for her. She looked tired and he could sense that she was hesitant about having come there. Her hands kept tugging at her shirt and she was starting to sway back and forth a little. Deciding that he couldn’t watch her squirm like that anymore, he motioned to one of the high stools by the counter; she set her purse down and took a seat.
“Thank you for letting me in.”
“Don’t waste any more of my time Max. Tell me what you want to say and then get back out on the road.”
His words were like a slap to the face and, although they stung, she knew she deserved it.
“You didn’t waste your time…”
“Yes I did.” he said and slammed the bottle down on the counter, causing water to spurt out. “I opened myself up to you, practically begged you to stay and believed that you would when you made that promise. Turns out, I was just a sucker buying into something that you had no chance in continuing.”
“You lied Max, plain and simple. You never had any intention of staying but you pretended really well. I never even saw it coming; next time I’ll know better.”
“Can I please…”
“Please what? Tell me another bogus story and promise me something else? Or did the truck break down and you figured you’d get another one out of me?”
“I never asked for the first one!” Max shouted and started to tear up.
“Don’t pull the waterworks act with me!” AJ yelled back.
“This was a mistake.” Max jumped off the stool, slipped something off her hand and onto the counter then headed for the door. “I shouldn’t have come here.”
AJ looked down and picked up the item she left behind. It was the ring he’d brought to her apartment the day she left. It was a Celtic Claddagh ring with her brother’s birthstone as the heart. He’d seen it in a store a few weeks earlier and asked the owner if they could make the same type with Sean’s birthstone. Realizing that she’d been wearing it when she got here, he raced out to the driveway to see if she was still there.
Max saw AJ come out and cursed the old truck for picking this moment in time to refuse to start. There had never been a problem before but just as she needed to leave, it betrayed her. She kept trying to turn the engine over, avoiding AJ’s gaze with every ounce of control as she could. After trying four more times, she covered her eyes to hide the tears that were slowly making their way out. Crossing her arms over the steering wheel, she dropped her head down and the tears started to flow
Even from where he was standing, AJ could tell she was crying and, as mad as he was at her, it hurt him to see her so upset. He closed the distance between the porch and her quickly and gently tapped his knuckle against the window. She ignored the motion and her shoulders keep rising up and down. He knocked on the window again and leaned in.
“Roll down the window Max.” he said quietly.
“Yes you can.” he replied and leaned against the door.
“No I can’t.”
“C’mon Max, I’m not going to yell at you.”
“No, I really can’t.”
“This really isn’t the time to be stubborn. I can wait here all day.”
“That’s the problem.”
“There’s no power AJ. I can’t roll down the window and you’re blocking the door.”
AJ realized what was happening and burst out laughing. Watching him crack up made Max loosen up a little and she joined in on the laughter. He pushed himself away from the door and grabbed the handle; as soon as it was open, she slid out and followed him over to the porch stairs. They sat next to each other, AJ still chuckling, and seeing him this way reminded her about why she came.
He noticed the tone of her voice and he got serious quickly. “What is it Max?”
“I miss you.”
AJ was surprised to hear her admit to that and was shocked when she leaned her head on her shoulder.
“What brought all this about?”
“When you came to the apartment the other day, you were right, I was planning to leave.” she said, ignoring his question.
“Ok.” he responded in confusion.
“And I did. I cleaned out all my stuff and I headed out.”
“Where were you going?”
“Honestly?” she replied and raised her head to look him in the eye. “I had no idea, I just had to leave.”
AJ didn’t say much but he did slip his hand over hers and waited for her to continue.
“I came back because I realized that nowhere was going to be as good as here.”
“Because you weren’t there.” she answered and then went quiet for a few seconds. “I’ve spent so much time by myself and I figured that it was the best way for me to live. I didn’t want to depend on, or care about, anyone else and until I met you, that was what worked best for me.”
AJ smiled. “Then you met me.”
“Yes I did.” Max said returning the smile. “And you scared me.”
“Because you made me rethink my whole plan. I made it a few hours from here and pulled over. All the times I’ve been with you were running through my head and I knew that I couldn’t just walk away from this.” she replied quietly. “I couldn’t walk away from you.”
AJ felt the Claddagh ring roll around in his hand and he looked down. He knew she was being sincere but he was concerned that if he opened up again, she’d change her mind at some point and leave.
“I won’t do it again.”
Max’s statement broke through his thoughts and he knew that she figured out what he was thinking about. He paused for a minute before looking up.
“I swear.” she said and reached out for his hand. “I won’t hurt you again.”
“You better not.”
AJ stood up and helped her get to her feet. When she was steady, he reached out and grabbed her hand; he slipped the ring onto her finger and started tugging her up the steps.
“Let’s go before you change your mind again!”
Three Months Later.... by Kyrie
Three months later:
Max drummed her fingers on the wheel of her truck while she waited for the light to change. She couldn’t remember a time when she’d been happier. Being with AJ and finally being somewhat accepted into his extended family, the guys, was so important to her. It had been a rocky road to get there but she decided it was better late than never.
The guys were over at AJ’s watching one of the college sports games and Max was joining them. She had promised to bring some chips and dip, as the wives were bringing some other food. Determined to try as hard as she could to prove how much she cared for AJ, she headed down a side street to get to his house.
Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” came on the radio and she turned it up as loud as she could stand. The song always put her in a good mood and it brought her back to the time when AJ had dedicated the song to her when they had gone out with karaoke with Brian and Leighanne. She sang along at the top of her lungs and thought the day couldn’t possibly get any better; she was wrong about that.
Just as she was turning onto his street, a newscaster broke into the song. She listened to what he was saying and her face turned white. Her hand flew to her mouth and tears formed in her eyes. As soon as she could focus, she pulled a U-turn and headed the other way. There was no way she could go back to AJ after the news broke; hell, she didn’t know where she could go.
“Yo J!” Nick hollered from the living room. “Are you getting beers from the fridge or China?”
“Simmer down Blondie or I’ll put ‘em back and make you come out here!”
“Will you both be quiet?” Kevin interrupted. “The rest of us are trying to watch the game.”
“Sorry dad.” Nick replied. “I forgot you can’t have any interference with your Miracle Ear.”
“Idiot.” Kevin muttered and finished off his beer.
Just as the team they were rooting for was about to score the game winning basket, a newscaster interrupted the game.
“What the fuck?” Nick yelled. “I swear to God if they interrupt this game to tell us Kim and Kanye got divorced, I will break your TV J!”
“It’s not my fault.” AJ said walking into the room. “It looks important.”
They had a picture on the screen of a young woman with long brown hair and beautiful blue eyes. AJ thought something about her looked familiar and was wracking his brain while the reporter explained why they cut in.
“An arrest warrant has been issued for Samantha Murray who is charged with the murder of her husband, Boston Assistant District Attorney Ryan Murray. Mr. Murray was found gunned down in his Haverhill home last July and authorities have been looking for his wife who is person of interest. She is believed to be in the Malibu area and is considered armed and dangerous. Mrs. Murray has a long history of split personality disorder and has several documented stays in some of the area’s psychiatric hospitals. She is charged with killing her husband during one of her breaks with reality.”
“I can’t believe that she would gun down her husband like that. It’s awful.” Brian said.
“Some people never get the help they need.” Howie stated. “Maybe if they arrest her, she can get some help.”
“Yeah,” Nick added, “in the psych ward of some prison!”
“Be quiet.” Kevin said again. “They’re saying something else.”
“Mrs. Murray may have changed her appearance while on the run. Several witnesses have described her to the local police and this computer generated image shows what she may look like now.”
The room went silent as the woman’s picture flashed across the screen. The only sounds were the beer bottles AJ was holding shattering as they hit the ground. The room started to spin and AJ couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
“Oh my God, that’s Max!”
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