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Chapter 35

The first few weeks were a bit of a blur. We celebrated a quiet birthday for Aj and I continued to work on healing. As we got closer to the rehearsal week for the new year of the tour Aj became busier and busier with tour planning which left me to fend for myself more and more often. At first it was a little distressing for the both of us but over time we adapted to a new schedule that allowed us to spend time with each other when we could, and stay busy when we couldn’t.

The main thing I found to do with my time when Aj was at meetings or on seemingly endless phone calls was to work towards my new year’s resolution. It was obvious that Aj became very distressed whenever talk of my dancing on tour came up so I decided to work on my dance recovery in secret. I hated hiding things from him but I figured that watching me struggle with dancing, something I’d always excelled at in our time knowing each other was becoming too much for Aj. I was unwilling to stop working on my dance recovery all together, but I was certainly capable of keeping my struggles a secret if it helped Aj stay calm and happy.

And thus my schedule was born of cooking breakfast in the morning with Aj, wishing him luck at his day, sneaking down to the dance studio, meeting Aj for lunch, heading to the dance specialist my physical therapist had recommended in the afternoons, and then spending quiet and romantic evenings with a calm and happy Aj. Other than the slight guilt I felt when I fed him fake stories about my days, my plan was pretty flawless. Even Dr. Lisa was impressed by my recovery, quickly deciding that I didn’t need my wheelchair anymore and then consulting with my physical therapist and dance specialist to give me the ok to try pretty much any type of dance I desired.

Finally the week before the rehearsal week of the tour arrived and I had hatched a plan to show Aj that I was not only completely healed, but more than ready to participate in the rehearsals for the upcoming leg of the tour. I had cooked him some of our favorite food for dinner but as I sat at the table across from him I was too excited to eat.

“Babe, this is amazing” Aj said through a mouthful of food. I had slaved over a gourmet burger for him with all of the fixings, including homemade sweet potato fries and a special spicy honey mustard sauce “How is the veggie version?”

“Good” I said taking a nervous bite of my similar dish with a black bean veggie burger patty

“It’s hard to tell because you’re hardly eating it” Aj teased and I gave him a small smile back

“I’m just excited. I have a surprise for you” I said as my smile grew

“You’ve got a surprise, huh? Does it involve the bed?” Aj asked with a smoldering look that turned my knees to jelly

“No but I think you’ll like it just as much” I said as my heart rate sped up

“Something I’ll like as much as private time in a bedroom with you. Hmm. I don’t think such a thing exists” Aj joked finishing off his burger

“Are you done?” I asked excitedly standing to clear our plates

“I guess I have to be!” Aj said with a laugh as I cleared his plate without waiting for his answer “You’re really excited about this, huh?”

“I think it’s going to make you really happy. And I love making you really happy” I said pulling him from his chair and grabbing a bandanna I had placed on the counter earlier in the day. I presented it to him and he smirked

“You’re sure this doesn’t have to do with the bedroom?” He asked as I started to blindfold him

“Alexander James you have a one track mind” I scolded playfully “Can you see?”

“Nope. I’m completely at your mercy”

“Good” I said happily leading him slowly down the stairs and into the dance studio. I cued up my music and dimmed the lights to create a cool mood.

“Where did you go?” Aj pouted while I ran to the corner of the room and changed into a flowing dance dress

“I’m here. Ok. I think I’m ready. Take off the blindfold” I said getting into my starting position in the middle of the floor facing away from him. The music to “Lucky” by Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat began and with the soft guitar beat I began a series of isolations expressing the words in the first section of the first verse to Jason Mraz’s voice.

Do you hear me? I’m talking to you
Across the water across the deep blue ocean
Under the open sky, oh my, baby I’m trying

As Colbie Caillat’s voice came in I softened the movements to something more lyrical, focusing on Aj and taking in the unreadable expression on his face. I glided across the floor, feeling the music pulse through me like it was a part of me and loving every second of it.

Boy I hear you in my dreams
I feel your whisper across the sea
I keep you with me in my heart
You make it easier when life gets hard

As the chorus came in I ran into a leap segment similar to the “shape of my heart” version Fly had worked for me. I had choreographed this section specifically to show that I was just as physically able to dance on tour as I had ever been. I stretched through every step and flew across the floor and in the air. I heard Aj catch his breath and knew I must have impressed him with how advanced my dancing had become since my injury. I was killing it and I wasn’t feeling any pain at all

I’m lucky I’m in love with my best friend
Lucky to have been where I have been
Lucky to be coming home again

I looked up from my spin on the “ooh” section of the chorus, unable to stop myself from seeing Aj’s face, only to realize he was no longer in the studio. I stopped my dance and felt all the air leave the room in a rush as my surprise caught up with my happy dance state. I pressed pause on the music and called Aj’s name. There was no answer so I started searching for him. As I moved from room to room with still no sign of him panic began to build in my chest. What happened? What did I do wrong?

“Aj!” I called again with real anxiety as I raced up the main staircase to his room. I threw open the door and found him pacing in his room “Aj, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I just can’t believe that I was so stupid” Aj said angrily. I went to touch him but he pulled quickly away. As his arm flew out of my grasp it felt as if a knife had wedged itself into my heart and I had to stop a minute to catch my breath

“Aj, what did I do?” I asked trying to keep my voice steady

“How long have you been dancing like that?” Aj asked and it was with real shock that I saw he was trembling. Then I couldn’t keep my tears from falling

“I-I don’t know” I stuttered helplessly, trying with all I had to read Aj’s expression and figure out what was going on

“What do you mean you don’t know!?” Aj yelled and I took a step back “You’ve clearly been practicing”

“Aj don’t yell at me” I said quietly starting to tremble myself

“I’m not yelling!” He yelled louder causing a sob to break forth from my mouth

“You’re scaring me” I squeaked out sinking to the floor to stop my head from spinning. A look of understanding crossed Aj’s eyes and in an instant he was on the floor with me

“My love I’m so sorry. I’m not mad at you, I promise” He said pulling me to his chest. Nuzzled safely against his heart I began to cry in earnest

“What is going on?” I whimpered and Aj sighed heavily

“You’re going to hate me” Aj said quietly and I sniffed a little

“I could never hate you” I said meeting his eyes. For the first time in our entire relationship I saw real terror in their depths and something ran cold inside me “Please just tell me what is going on?”

“I can’t. Not alone” He said standing up “I promised everyone that we would all talk to you together”

“Everyone?” I asked quietly as anxiety blossomed in a deep, dark pit in my belly

“Yeah. Come on” Aj said taking my hand and leading me down the stairs to our dining room. He grabbed his phone and dialed my sister

“Yo” I heard her voice from the other line. I was completely stunned and speechless. Something big was going on and I was at a completely in the dark about it

“Get over here, bring Nick” Aj said curtly into the phone

“What’s wrong?” Mollee asked and my heart sank. I’d like to know that too

“We’re telling her tonight. She needs to know now” Aj said hanging up the phone before Mollee could say anything more. I sat in silence as Aj made two more cryptic calls like that one and before I knew it Mollee and Nick were sitting across from me while Aj’s phone rested ominously in the middle of the table. Brian and Howie’s anxious voices drifted from the speaker on the phone making my blood run cold

“Is everyone here?” Aj asked and I looked around the room trying for the 100th time to read anyone’s expression. The only feeling I kept getting was that someone had died… or was about to.

“Aj I still don’t think this is all necessary” Mollee said stubbornly and I tried to catch her eye so she could give me some hint as to what was going on

“Everyone, Kat surprised me with a beautiful dance tonight, I assume to show me how much she had healed in such a short time, right Kat?” Aj asked looking me in the eye for the first time since he had picked up the phone to call Mollee. I nodded and then realized that Howie and Brian couldn’t see me over the phone so I cleared my throat

“Yeah. I didn’t mean to hide that I was working on my recovery from you Aj. I’m really sorry. Please don’t be mad at me” Spilled from my mouth on one big breath

“Shh sweetheart, I’m not mad, just relax” Aj said reading my stress in my eyes

“I just wanted to do something nice for you. I know that every time I’ve mentioned dancing on tour since I got hurt you’ve gotten really stressed out so I thought I’d just work on it myself. I know I should have told you but I didn’t want you worrying about me hurting myself. I figured if you just saw the end product that you’d be relieved and not have to watch me suffer as I worked to get myself back into peak condition” I said quickly as my nerves began to fray

“Kat, are you in peak condition?” Howie asked over the phone and I nodded

“I mean yeah” I said quickly catching my mistake again. This whole talking on the phone with Brian and Howie thing was weird “I’ve been working with my physical therapist and a dance specialist who deals in recovery for injured dancers almost every day for the past three weeks”

“Why didn’t you say something?” Mollee asked with real worry in her eyes

“You all got so weird whenever I mentioned dancing! I thought it was because you were having a hard time seeing me struggle at what I love. I figured I’d save your feelings by working through the tough stuff on my own but now I’m thinking there may be more to this. I’m not answering any more questions until someone explains what is going on!” I said in a huff as my anxiety morphed into anger. I looked around at everyone as silence filled the room. Nick was staring intently at his hands, Aj was looking at Mollee with anger etched in every line of his face and Mollee was looking at me like she was getting ready to break my heart. And then she did.

“Kat, you’re not dancing on the tour”

“What?” I asked as my world began to crumble around me. I looked to Aj and he had tears in his eyes

“Please don’t be mad” He said reaching out for my hand but I pulled it away

“What do you mean?” I asked slowly scanning the room’s faces again. Silence crept in like a bad smell as my heart willed for anything but this to be true

“Kat when the ambulance first brought you in to the hospital that night you were in really bad shape” Came Howie’s voice from the phone on the table. I looked at it trying to picture Howie sitting in his house, maybe with his baby in his arms, but all I saw was a stupid little plastic box with the voice of one of my best friends crackling through it

“When they took you into surgery we didn’t know if you were going to live through it, let alone what shape you’d be in if you did” Brian followed as my brain tried to connect these seemingly unrelated stories to the pain I was experiencing

“So we had to make a decision” Nick said slowly “And it wasn’t an easy one”

“Booger” Mollee said using our childhood nickname to reach in through the haze that floated into my consciousness “We decided that it would be best for your recovery if you didn’t have to worry about trying to get back in shape to dance on tour. The guys made some calls when you got out of surgery and cancelled the dancers for this leg of the tour. That way you could focus on healing instead of pushing yourself to do something that, let’s be honest, I made you do in the first place. We didn’t want you to feel like you were letting us down by not being in dancing shape by the time tour rolled around. We just… we were trying to help”

“Kat” Aj said after a few moments more of silence while my brain reeled “Say something”

“You fired Camie and Sophie for me?” I asked slowly

“They agreed that under the circumstances they would happily break their contracts if it would help you” Howie said over the phone

“And you Mollee? You gave up everything you’d dreamed for yourself because you thought it would help me?” I asked meeting her eyes

“I’d give up anything for you. You gave up living in New York for my dream of touring, of course I’d let it go for your physical well being” Mollee said trying to meet my eyes but I kept them focused on my hands as I worked this out

“And not one of you thought to ask my opinion in this?” I asked revealing the elephant in the room. I looked up from my hands and watched as guilt and shame in various stages spread across Aj, Nick and Mollee’s faces

“Honestly, we didn’t think it would matter” Mollee said quietly “We never imagined you would recover so quickly”

“But we are so happy that you have” Nick added quickly. I looked around at all the anguish on all of the faces around me and felt a million emotions run through my body. I tried to sift through them, hoping to identify which ones were the most helpful in the situation but I couldn’t focus with everyone staring at me waiting to see what I would do or say. I opened my mouth and closed it a few times as I tried to formulate my thoughts but every time I would meet someone’s gaze I would change my mind and retreat back into my head

“I need to take a walk” I said finally standing up

“Kat, please don’t leave me” Aj said and his voice broke. I looked at him and saw that same terror in his eyes and it totally confused me

“I’m just going to walk on the beach for a little. I need to think things through” I explained taking his hand and squeezing it. Unfortunately that seemed to do little in the way of comforting him but I couldn’t stay and see it through. I slipped out the back door acutely aware of all of the eyes following my every move. Only when I had taken a few steps into the cold night air did I feel like I was able to breathe again.

“Oh what the HELL!?” I yelled at no one while kicking some sand and watching it scatter into the blackness. Conflicted emotions raged inside me and I took off at a sprint down the beach. Each step brought with it a new thought. Thump! They didn’t have faith in my ability to heal myself. Thump! Thump! They were confused and scared and made a dumb decision. Thump! Thump! Thump! I’ll never be able to dance with Aj again. Thump! Thump! Why didn’t they believe in me? I stopped short and bent over my knees to catch my breath. It had been a long time since I’d had some intense running in my life and I was a bit out of shape. I slumped down onto the sand and watched the waves as my breathing became even again.

“Ok” I said out loud to quiet my thoughts “What the hell am I supposed to do now?

“I’ve spent the past three weeks focused on getting better so I could dance in the tour but now I don’t even have that option. So what? I’m supposed to just go on tour and follow Aj around like a puppy dog?” I asked the waves. They crashed and rolled back at me. Very helpful.

“And why on Earth won’t anyone believe that I can make a decision in my own best interest!” I said angrily standing and beginning towards the house

“Oh, probably because your last few decisions have led to serious trouble, dumbass” I reminded myself changing directions and pacing away from the house again “Remember not telling anyone that Rich was leaving you threatening voice messages? Or what about going out to a club in a foreign country and needing to be bodily removed from a bar fight? And then there was how you thought pushing away the people who loved you in favor of a completely out of control girl was a good idea. Oh and how about sleeping with someone without protection? That was a BRILLIANT move. I mean, no wonder everyone thinks you’re weak!”

“I don’t think you’re weak” I heard from behind me but because it was a voice that I loved, a voice I longed for and a voice that I trusted as much as my own, I just took it in stride with my conversation

“Then what am I?” I asked changing the direction of my pacing to create a new path in the sand “What is it about me that turns the people I love into people who feel they have to save me?”

“You don’t use your head” Aj said simply and I stopped on the spot and gave him a look

“So you’re saying I’m dumb?”

“No you lovely and infuriating girl. I said you don’t use your head” Aj said standing to meet me head on

“Explain” I challenged

“Kat, have you ever seen yourself upset?” Aj asked quietly reaching his hands out to take mine

“No. I guess I’m usually too busy being upset to get a good look at it”

“Well I have. And when your eyes get stormy grey or pale silver, it’s like the world begins to fall apart. When someone looks at you they can tell that you feel sorrow on a level not experienced by most of us. What about when you get nervous? You don’t just get a pit in your stomach or get sweaty palms you literally take the world down with you. The anxiety takes you over completely” He gave my hands a squeeze on the last statement and I looked down at my feet

“So I’m a mess” I said sadly but Aj took my chin in his hand and, in a move so familiar to us it might as well be breathing, he brought my eyes up to meet his

“What about when you love? You love with your full heart, with everything that you are. And when you’re happy? The whole world laughs along with you and the air seems somehow sweeter. And when you dance? It’s like nothing any of us have ever seen.

“So the people around you do everything in their power to keep your heart and your truth safe and pure so it will never change. We bend over backwards and make stupid decisions just so we can live another day in the world of your bright blues and greens and keep the grey and silver at bay.

“But we don’t do a great job. You have been through more than most people ever will. And yet, through the miracle that is you Katrina Rose, you stay sweet and pure and your heart just grows and grows. And that, precious, is how you are strong and vulnerable, capable and fragile, the hero and the damsel all at once. That is why we all spend our time protecting you. So you can turn around and save us” Tears clouded my vision as Aj pulled me to him in a tight hug. His words echoed in my head and grew, slowly replacing the negative thoughts that had been plaguing me. How could someone as wonderful as Aj see me like that? Could the girl he sees resemble the person I really am? I let out a big sigh and was suddenly so exhausted I felt I couldn’t possibly stay standing

“How are you always so perfect?”

“I’m hardly perfect” Aj mumbled into my hair before planting a kiss there

“You’re perfect for me” I said meeting his eyes again. The look on his face was filled with relief as the terror I had seen earlier faded away

“This is not how I thought this was going to turn out” Aj said taking my hand and easing me down with him so we were sitting on the sand together looking out over the waves

“What do you mean?”

“Honestly? I expected you to run and never look back” Aj said squeezing my hand. Part of me reacted quickly with anger but I swallowed it as I thought it through. Every time something had come between us I had run. I would just go with my first, most destructive feeling and let it trump everything else. Why didn’t I do that this time? In the room I had wanted to run away forever. But something had stopped me

“I’m working hard to be a better person, especially to you” I said finally

“Well I wish I would have known a month ago. It would have saved me some sleepless nights” Aj said with a small laugh as he began to rub soothing circles into my shoulders

“So THAT is what you’ve been so anxious about?” I said, realization bringing with it serious relief

“I thought you were going to leave me just when we were finally giving ourselves the chance to be together” Aj admitted and a wave of shame hit me

“I’m sorry you had to feel that way. I can understand why you would, what with our rocky past, but next time you should talk to me sooner. I’m trying to be better but it’ll go a lot smoother if we can keep the cryptic phone meetings to a minimum” I said nudging him a little

“Alright. You keep working on using your head along with that wonderful heart of yours and I’ll work on telling you things when they come up instead of trying to save you from things that will hurt”

“When did we get so mature?” I asked leaning into his shoulder

“We’ve been through more than most. We were bound to start learning from our mistakes sooner or later” Aj said with a grin “Shall we head inside and talk like two adults about how we can fix this problem?”

“In a minute. I just want to sit here with you. With just the two of us together, on the same page, completely open and honest” I said happily. Aj wrapped his arms around me and kissed me softly before meeting my eyes

“That sounds perfect” He answered as I let the pulsing of the waves and Aj’s heart replace the last bits of negativity floating in my mind. After almost an hour sitting in comfortable silence I had to admit that the cold January air floating off of the water was starting to chill me to the bone. Aj noticed and in one silent movement he helped me up and took my hand. We walked together towards the house and when we got there it was empty. I pulled Aj over to one of his many couches and he pulled a blanket over the both of us as we settled into each other’s embrace

“Is it mature for us to deal with all of this tomorrow?” Aj whispered through a yawn. I smiled a little at the adorable sleepy eyes he was giving me and felt warmth spread through my chilled body that had nothing to do with our blanket or embrace

“I think we’ve been pretty good about breaking habits tonight. Let’s take a break and get some sleep” I said wrapping my arms around him so he could rest his head against my chest. I held him tightly, squeezing him as close as I could wanting to feel him as a part of me physically like I was feeling emotionally

“Are you ok?” Aj asked tiredly reacting to my tight grip

“I’m more than ok. I’m loved by someone who sees me for everything I am, the good and the bad. And furthermore that man is kind, good, patient and understanding. If the most impressive human I’ve ever met thinks highly of me then even a heart as bruised as mine can’t help but begin to believe that I’m worth it” I said with a smile

“I love you Katrina Rose” Aj mumbled sleepily

“I love you Alexander James”