3 months later:
“How are you man?” Nick asked, pulling his brother into a bear hug.
Nick had volunteered to pick AJ up from the rehab center. He had agreed to do a 90-day stint to work on all the issues and to help him with his drinking.
“You look good!”
AJ had gained some weight and he looked less worn down. He actually had a smile on his face and had a little bit of a gleam back in his eyes.
“Thanks. I guess stopping all the alcohol and starting eating and sleeping again helped.”
He had to admit that the therapy he went through during rehab had helped him start to deal with losing Kat and losing Ryan. It was extremely painful at first but once he started talking about it, some of the weight seemed to lift off his shoulders.
“Everything go ok in there?”
“Yeah, the therapy helped and I think being back among the living will make it easier!” AJ said with a smile. “I missed you guys.”
Nick really wanted to ask if AJ had missed anyone else while he was gone but he didn’t want to bring up Kat. Everyone had felt badly after hearing what Ray told them and they were kind of hoping that once AJ got back on his feet again, there might be a chance for him and Kat.
“Brian was wondering if you wanted to come over for dinner. We’ll all be there and maybe it can be like a welcome home party.”
AJ laughed. “Sounds good. Can you drop me off at my house and then I’ll head over in a little while.” Seeing Nick’s face, he sighed. “I promise not to drink anything but water ok?”
Nick blushed. “Sorry J, we’re just worried.”
“I know Nicky.” He had put them all through hell and he knew they had a right to be skeptical. “I’m going to work on this and really try to find a better way of dealing with things. I can’t be perfect but I promise I’ll try to be better.”
“Ok. Let’s get out of here so you can relax.”
“Hey man! It’s nice to see you!” Marcus said when AJ arrived at Brian’s house. Everyone was there waiting for him to show up.
“Nice to be back.” AJ said with a smile. “Thanks for keeping everyone in one piece!”
He milled around saying hello to everyone and thanking them for sticking by him. He had crossed the lawn before he saw Ray sitting by himself on one of the lawn benches. As he headed towards him, Ray stood up.
“Hi AJ.” Ray whispered.
Ray waited for a minute before he spoke. “If me being here is uncomfortable for you then I can leave.”
“Why would you think that?”
“Because I called her, brought her out here and lied to you about what happened.”
“All that’s true.” AJ replied with a laugh. “But you’re still my friend. I don’t agree with what you did but I’m starting to understand why you did it. Therapy’s good for that.”
Ray smiled. “It’s nice to hear you laugh J.”
“Thanks.” AJ paused. “Just do me one favor.”
“Don’t lie to me anymore even if someone asks you too. Tell me what’s going on and I’ll figure out how to deal with it.”
“I can do that.”
“Good.” He started to drag Ray back to the group. “Let’s get food before Nick eats it all!”
Denise was happy to see her son out and around everyone again. He was smiling, laughing and fooling around like old times. The only downside was that since she was his mother, she knew that part of AJ was still hurting although he was doing his best to hide it.
“Hey Ma.” AJ said kissing her on the cheek. “Thanks for the party.”
“I had nothing to do with it. It was all Brian and Leighanne. Everyone wanted to welcome you home.”
“I definitely feel welcome so I’d say they succeeded.”
“How are you feeling sweetheart?”
“You can keep up that premise with everyone else but I’m your mother. Really how are you?”
AJ’s smiled dimmed a little. “Tired. It’s been draining to dig through all my feelings and emotions about everything that’s happened. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to handle it.”
“I’m glad you did.”
“Me too but I’m not done yet. I made an appointment with some therapist at the hospital for tomorrow. My counselor thought it was a good idea for me to keep seeing someone outside of rehab.”
“I’d say your counselor’s a smart man.”
“He is. I looked up some AA meetings and I’ll be going back to them and hopefully this will be the last time in for me. I’m tired of screwing it up.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’ve been through a lot.”
“I know but I have to find better ways of coping before I completely destroy myself.”
AJ yawned and stretched his arms. “Sorry Ma but I’m beat. I’m gonna say my goodbyes and head home.”
“Is it ok to be there?”
AJ thought about it for a minute. There were tons of memories in that house of Kat and of Ryan. He was going to have to find some way of dealing with that because he couldn’t just pick up and move the next day.
“It’s gonna have to be for a while. I don’t want to be making tons of changes until I’m 100% back on my feet again.”
“You can always stay with me for a while.”
“Thanks Ma, but I need to deal with this at some point. Might as well be now.” He kissed his mother on the cheek. “Love you Ma. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Ok sweetie. Love you too. Be safe.”
Denise watched as AJ made his rounds to say goodbye to everyone. She hoped that he was right and that this time would be different. There was a nagging feeling though that everything wasn’t quite out in the open yet. She could only hope that when everything was said and done, everyone was still standing.