- Text Size +
Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I do” He said and I smiled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m lost…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks” He said with a quiet smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I thought you’d never ask”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kat-” Aj started and I caught myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m ok” I whispered “Molls. I’m ok.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Grayed out?”

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

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

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

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

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