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Chapter 11

“What happened? Am I late?” I asked groggily

“You were shouting in your sleep. I figured I would get you out of that dream” Mollee said as I calmed down and my breathing slowed.

“I’m going to go dance” I said swinging out of the bunk to the clothes room

“Want company?” She asked poking her head out of the curtain I’d left open

“It’s ok. I’ll see you at rehearsal” I said

“No rehearsal today. The guys have a promotional event” She said

“Oh. Well I’ll see you when I’m done” I said as she rolled back into my bunk to sleep. I changed quickly into dance clothes and grabbed my ipod before heading out to the studio. It was very quiet and still this early on the lot and I took a deep breath of morning air. The dream I had just escaped was fresh in my mind and I knew I just needed to dance to bring myself back to reality. I crept into the dark studio, only lit dimly by the rising sun in the high windows, and decided against turning on the harsh florescent lights. I took a deep breath and did a quick check that I was really alone in the studio before playing my ipod.

“So empty, can't feel no more as I'm left with my tears on the floor. I wait for my heart to mend but you keep tearing a hole.” Played through my speakers and I took another deep breath to gather my courage. Dancing to this song was going to be a whole different experience than it had been at the audition. As Aj’s voice came at me with words I could truly hear him saying I had to fight off the tears. There was no feeling of fear or panic attached to the song anymore. It was all pain. I let Aj’s voice wash over me and then started in on a lyrical piece as Brian’s voice took over.

“Inside I'm so lost in the middle of my heart. It's a battlefield of love I've been fighting for too long.” Played as I extended each movement to its breaking point. I stretched my muscles as far as they could go in an attempt to relate the turmoil I felt inside to my dance. Then the music began to ramp up into the chorus and I ran full out into a huge star leap that landed in a roll on the floor.

“And now I'm shattered (From the chip in my heart, kept taking it till it broke). Oh how it hurts (fell and slipped from your hands, hit the ground and now it’s shattered). I'm so shattered (Can't believe it was me, I'm so shattered). So shattered (Can't believe you hurt me I’m) so shattered (Can't believe you left me shattered). I'm shattered cut from within inside” I really let loose and left my feelings right out on the dance floor. It was wonderful because I could get the relief from crying with my eyes remaining dry. Once I had hit the emotional peak of the chorus I started to really try out some new technical dance elements and was focusing more on that until the key change when Aj’s voice returned and hit me like a ton of bricks. I faltered in the leap I had been attempting and landed hard on the ground. I lay there looking at the door, unable to move for the shock of finding myself on the floor and then I heard footsteps.

“You ok?” I heard a familiar voice and sent a little thank you to the heavens for it not being Aj

“I think so” I said trying to sit up to meet Nick’s blue eyes. He sat down next to me and watched helplessly as I attempted to stretch out my limbs. “Still have ten fingers and ten toes”

“That’s a start” He joked

“It’s something Mollee and I used to say to each other every morning, especially after we lost our parents. Inevitably one day you’d wake up with more sadness and hurt than another and we’d always try to put it in perspective by listing the little things we were thankful for like having ten fingers. Ten toes. Each other” I said attempting to stand “Where did you come from anyway?”

“Promise you won’t get mad?” He asked as I gave him a look

“Can’t promise that”

“I was in here writing before you came in and when you got in you were so in the zone that I just decided to watch you dance…” He trailed off as I rolled my eyes

“Why didn’t I see you?” I asked only a little annoyed but not enough to hold it against him

“The old closet trick” Nick said leading me over to a small door on the far end of the room next to edge of the mirror. You’d go past it if you didn’t know it was there but inside Nick had clearly made a small space with a bunch of pillows and a small lamp. From the door, even with the lamp on, it was virtually invisible

“This is cute” I said as he shrugged

“Life gets crazy sometimes. We all need a little private space” He explained

“Like a dance studio” I said with a pointed glare at him. He pouted and I punched him in the arm “It’s fine, I still like you”

“So how are you doing? I mean that was an interesting choice for a song to dance to” Nick said shyly as I sighed

“I guess every day gets a little easier. I had a dream that pointed out some hard truths and I just wanted to dance to something that reminded me why I’m sticking with the new plan” I said sliding down the mirror so I could lean against it and folding my knees into my chest.

“There’s a new plan?” Nick asked joining me

“Aj and I aren’t speaking anymore. We had a bit of a tiff in the parking lot and came to the conclusion that we just shouldn’t interact” I said sadly. Saying it out loud was like admitting it and I didn’t like how much it hurt to think of never sharing anything with Aj again.

“You really think that’s the best idea?” He asked as I sighed


“I see” He said sagely before looking at his toes “I wish I could do something to help”

“Me too but I think it just needs time. And I’m glad that you are here for both me and him. I love Mollee and I appreciate her trying to get everyone on my side but it hurts to think that no one is on his” I said with a frown

“Well you weren’t here when he was doing this stuff on a regular basis. Getting drunk I mean, not hurting the girl he loves” Nick corrected and my heart gave a small throb

“The drunk Aj is not someone I enjoy” I said as I picked up a small pebble from the floor and chucked it at the wall with all my might. It bounced off the opposite wall and rolled to a stop right at my foot again.

“What helped me and still does is differentiating between the drunken Aj and our Aj. Our Aj is the sweetest guy you’ll ever know. He’s a big goofball and he’s always there for you. That’s the guy that makes it worth suffering through the few times you have encounters with drunken Aj and he really gets to you. And believe me drunken Aj will soon be completely gone if we can keep supporting him” Nick said “But none of that helps when you’ve been hurt so badly by the one person you truly love, huh?”

“I won’t say it doesn’t help” I allowed “But it certainly doesn’t let me hate him like I want to”

“I see how that might be annoying” Nick said with a grin.

“Don’t you have a press thing today?” I asked as Nick groaned

“You had to remind me! I hate these things. I’d kidnap you just so I’d have something to entertain me but I think you’ve been through enough lately” He said slowly getting to his feet

“Yeah I don’t want to see Aj, not at all. But I’ll be here when you get back. Hopefully even in one piece!” I said trying to ignore the pain and anxiety that shot through me at the idea of having nothing to do today except dwell on my current life situation.

“You’ll make it through. You’re an Amazon” He said as I smirked.

“An Amazon?” I asked with a raised eyebrow

“Yeah. And nobody messes with an Amazon” He said like it was the most obvious thing in the world. He was such a dork. He gave me his hand so I could stand as well and a book dropped open on the floor.

“So what was so secret that you got up early to write?” I asked with an evil grin, snatching the book before Nick had a chance to. He tried to get it back from me and we ended up in quite the wrestling match. He had me pinned against the floor but I had the book under me so we were both stuck in a stalemate.

“Come on, Kat!” He said impatiently

“If you get to watch me secretly dance the least you can do is let me see what you were writing” I reasoned

“That’s not the same. When I write it’s about stuff that I can’t talk about. It’s personal” He whined

“Yeah, that’s NOTHING like when I want to dance privately” I said sarcastically as he sighed and rolled off of me. I stretched my limbs and took a deep breath to make sure he hadn’t crushed my lungs so much that they were unable to function.

“It’s stupid. I was just messing around. I’ll probably just throw it away anyway” He said as I rolled my eyes

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m sure it’s great” I said opening the book to its freshest page. The title “Special” leapt up at me and I grinned.

She makes me wanna fly
Both feet on the ground
Takes me to this place
I don’t want to come down

Gives me something fresh
Someone that is real
separate from the rest
Makes me wanna feel

I got the perfect imitation
Of a world that is full with smiles
With our spirits free and wild
But it’s a bittersweet sensation
‘Cause I’ll never have her heart

No matter how I try she’s always on my mind
At night, everyday and with every breath I take
On the way she’ll make a grown man cry
With one look deep into her eyes
outrageous, make you crazy, it’s amazing
She’s special

Footprints on the sand
Hear the ocean crash
Underneath the moon
Walking hand in hand

Shadow by my side
Wishing you were mine
Keep you in my dreams
Locked deep inside


Oh, I swore to you girl I will follow
I know some day you’ll want me
When you’re not so cold and lonely
I’ll be the whisper in your ear
If ever you should call me
I’ll be here


“Are you happy now?” Nick asked anxiously

“It’s powerful” I said as I read through it quickly again

“Can I ask a question?”

“You might as well” He said nervously taking the book back from me

“Why would you never have her heart?” I asked cautiously meeting his eyes

“I’ve asked her to be my girlfriend about 60 times and she keeps saying that she needs more time. I’m starting to get the feeling that she just doesn’t want me” He said quietly as I sighed

“It’s not you” I said taking his hand “I swear it’s not. Mollee is carefree about everything in the world except her heart. She’s never had a serious relationship but she’s watched the few I’ve had crumble before her eyes. I think the fact that she won’t say yes shows just how much she feels for you. I think it terrifies her”

“You really think that’s it?” He asked quietly as I nodded

“Give me some time, I’ll work on her. She really likes you Nick and you’re amazing together…” I started but had to stop to inwardly curse the tear falling from my cheek. Nick’s love for my sister was bringing all my pain to the surface

“Hey. You’re ok. Amazon, remember?” He said quickly putting his hands on my shoulders and staring intensely into my eyes

“I’m sorry. This has nothing to do with me and I’m a complete mess” I said as I wiped the tears falling silently down my cheek away as fast as I could

“You’ve been through a lot” Nick said pulling me into a hug. I took a few deep breaths from the safety of his embrace and then eased myself away from him to grab my dance bag. I had wanted to dance more but suddenly I didn’t have the energy

“It’s still an amazing song. Is it for the guys?” I asked trying to pretend I hadn’t just broken down

“I’m thinking about recording another solo album. It would be for that” He explained as I nodded

“It’s got my vote” I said as he put his arm around me and led me out of the studio

“There you are. Nick! We’re going to be late! Let’s go!” Howie yelled from across the parking lot as Nick rolled his eyes and I had to laugh at him

“Sorry I got you in trouble” I said as he turned to hug me goodbye

“It’s cool. Keep your head up today. I’ll be back and Mollee and I will keep you company” He said sweetly kissing the top of my head

“And I’ll talk to her, I promise” I said and a small smile twitched at the corner of his mouth.

“Thanks” He mouthed before turning and jogging over to where the guys were standing. I tried not to look over at them but inevitably I caught Aj’s eyes from where I was. I turned quickly as he started to open his mouth to say something in my direction and all but ran directly into Josh. I tried to stop myself before colliding with him but my haste at getting away from Aj left me off balance and I fell on my ass.

“Oh God, I’m sorry, are you ok?” Josh asked as I blushed

“I’m fine, it’s my fault I don’t walk well” I explained as Josh smirked

“I won’t argue with that” He said and instead of helping me up, he sat next to me on the pavement. I arched an eyebrow at him.

“What are you doing?” I asked as he sat across from me

“Hanging out with you” He said simply as if it were the most normal thing in the world to sit in the middle of a parking lot

“You are so weird” I said as he reached into his back pocket and pulled out some paper and something black

“Stay right there” Josh said and I froze, basking in the randomness that was this guy. He quickly put the black thing to his paper and sketched in silence for about five minutes before turning, sighing and putting the book down

“Can I move?” I asked out of the corner of my mouth exaggerating the fact that I was freezing per his request

“Yeah” He said as I stretched and glanced behind me. I saw the back of Aj and knew he had been watching me, but he got in the waiting van without so much as a backward glance and it drove off.

“Can I see what you drew?” I asked as Josh smiled

“It’s nothing you don’t see every day in the mirror” He joked as he turned the paper to face me. What I saw took my breath away. It was my face, sure, but it was so much more. The look on my face was so complex and Josh had captured my feelings easily. In my eyes was hurt and pain but also determination. There was some surprise and some anxiety. And then there was excitement. In the picture my hair was blowing lightly in some unseen wind and behind a strand was a shadowy figure was fixated on me. My heart clenched as I realized the moment he had captured was not just of me. It was of Aj, of us. Of the relationship we now had. It made my heart ache but I focused back on my own eyes looking up at me filled with hope and excitement. It was what I saw when I looked at Josh.

“My God you’re talented” I said once I found my voice again.

“Eh” He shrugged taking the book with the picture inside and closing it before stuffing it back in his pocket “What are your plans for the day? Looks like the guys are gone does that mean you have the day off?”

“I do in fact” I said as he grinned

“Want to spend a day in my shoes?” He asked eagerly and I had to smile. The strangest things happened to me when I was with Josh. My heart did not become full. The holes that had been ripped in it did not magically mend. Instead, my heart warmed. The whole thing, holes and all, swelled and I felt like the sun had moved from behind a cloud to shine just on me.

“Promise I won’t get hurt?” I asked. The full meaning of my statement hit me a second later. I wanted to open up my heart to him but I was scared

“I can’t promise that. But you’ll have fun” He said with the lopsided grin that I was beginning to adore.

“Let me change. I’ll meet you out in front of my bus in 15 minutes” I said eagerly as I jumped up and raced towards the dancer’s bus

“Don’t wear anything you don’t want to get ruined!” He yelled to my back and I threw a hand in the air so he knew I’d received the message. Mollee was inside eating with Camie and Sophie on the couch as I bolted past them.

“Kat” She asked as I stalled in the clothes room. What to wear?

“I’m fine. Spending the day with Josh” I yelled to her as I settled on some ripped jeans and a simple black wife beater. I threw my hair up in a messy bun and slipped on my converse

“I support that decision” She said as I ran back out and attempted to rush past her again. She stopped me and took my hair quickly down from its bun. She whipped it into two smaller messy buns down by my ears and put her baseball hat on my head, slightly off center. “Perfect. Go get him”

“Thanks Molls!” I said excitedly before kissing her on the cheek and starting to race out the door again. Suddenly Nick’s song hit me with enough to force to stop me in my tracks right at the doorframe

“We need to talk later” I said turning abruptly back to a stunned Mollee

“Ok. Should I be worried?” She asked as I smirked

“Nope, I just need to run some things by you” I said vaguely as she nodded and I opened the door, confident that I was at least going to be able to help Nick out, to find Josh leaning against the bus.

“That was fast. You ready to hang some lights?” He asked and I nodded with a huge grin. My day had become instantly better. Not only would I be completely distracted from the pain I was now living with daily, but I’d get to spend some quality time with Josh. “Not afraid of heights, are you?”

“I’m not afraid of anything” I said with foe bravado as he took my hand and my heart thudded. We walked out past the rehearsal studio to a section of the lot I’d never been. Ahead of us loomed a huge warehouse. It looked like it could have been an airplane hangar at some point. Josh waved at the security guy near the entrance and he looked me up and down.

“Scott, Kat, Kat, Scott” Josh introduced simply as I waved

“Hey Kat, we don’t get many pretty girls like you around here. Where’d Josh find you?” He asked as I smirked. How lame.

“I’m a dancer” I said as he nodded and gave Josh a wink

“Usually the artists scoop up the dancers. Go Josh” He said as Josh rolled his eyes at me and led me inside

“Don’t mind Scott. He’s always like that” Josh explained as I nodded. It was actually kind of flattering. I stopped short as I took in the sight in front of me. It seemed that we had entered a huge puzzle of what the Backstreet stage would be but all the giant pieces were scattered everywhere. Guys were wiring up different screens and sections of stage were upside down as different people attempted to run wires around them. As I gawked, Josh led me to the tall pieces of scaffolding that loomed high above everything else. About a hundred lights littered the floor surrounding the many pieces of scaffolding and though it looked like complete chaos to me, Josh smiled. “Looks like someone sectioned these out for us so all we have to do is hang them. Awesome”

“Yeah” I said feeling completely lost. Josh gave me a look and then squeezed my hand

“Don’t worry, you don’t have to know anything about this to do it right. All we have to do is recreate this plot up there. We don’t even have to focus them or anything. Just use these clamps to attach the lights to the bars” He explained as I nodded, still a little nervous.

“Come on, let’s harness you” He said leading me to the left where a bunch of safety equipment lay. He picked up a harness and we spent a few confused minutes trying to get the thing on and tightened the right way. Finally I was in and then Josh whipped his harness on in a matter of seconds so I rolled my eyes at him. He threw me a helmet and fastened one to his head before walking back to the scaffolding.

“Helmets, that’s comforting” I said with a grin

“If you’re too scared we could always go and play some chess or something” Josh teased as I scowled and put on the helmet

“How do we get up there?” I asked with new determination

“I’ll hook you in here” He said sliding a carabineer into place on my harness “And then you climb”

“Climb what?” I asked as he slid his carabineer into place as well

“This” He said simply swinging one foot onto the scaffolding nearest us and beginning to scale it. I shook my head, unable to believe that I was about to do this, and then swung my foot up to the first bar as well. I pulled myself up and then looked up to see Josh smiling down at me.

“You’re lucky I’m a good climber” I said as I quickly caught up so we were eye to eye

“You’re certainly no average girl” He said with a grin as I blushed. He swung down and grabbed one of the lights before leading me higher and higher until we could touch the ceiling of the warehouse

“This is awesome” I said looking down at the people who now looked like ants as they worked away

“It’s a good view, I have to say” He said with a smile, surveying the floor as I did “Ok, so now we just clip this into place. The angle isn’t important yet, we’ll have another day just for focusing once we get closer to getting you all on the stage. For now, we’re just getting the lights up here. Once they are clipped, plug them into these wires I ran yesterday and we should be good to go”

“Easy” I said starting to climb down to grab another light. Josh and I had a good time hanging lights. We got to talk, joke and get a good workout from all the climbing. Josh was really grateful for the help as he insisted it would take him eight times as long to hang them all alone and I was happy to be working. We took a lunch break and I got to talk to all of the other tech guys who seemed impressed that a dancer would spend her day off working on lights and I enjoyed hanging out with people who knew me as some badass chick who was a good climber as opposed to someone who had been shattered by her boyfriend’s infidelity. After lunch we did some more hanging and we were nearing the end of the pile of lights as it got dark and people started to leave.

“Come on Kat, it’s supposed to be a three day project, we don’t have to finish” Josh said taking a sip of water once we had descended again. He threw me the water and I took a swig and stood with my hand on my hip, breathing a little hard.

“I know but we only have a few more to go. Don’t you want to finish?” I asked

“You are crazy but I’ll stay if you will. I just don’t want you to be completely exhausted for your rehearsal tomorrow” Josh said as I smiled

“Believe me, exhausted will be the best feeling I’ll have had at rehearsal in a few days” I said as I snapped four heavy lights onto my harness and began to climb up

“Four? You are crazy” Josh said matching my efforts and climbing up behind me. One of my favorite parts of today was that Josh had found me exceptionally capable. He never felt the need to protect me or make sure that I was being safe. He just trusted that I could do the work I said I could do. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but as a youngest child I had gotten used to thinking that I had to be cautious and always be looked after in life. Having a friendship where I was seen as capable was something I loved. It was an empowering feeling in a week that had been so demeaning. We hooked up the last of the lights and sat on top of the scaffolding, looking over the now empty warehouse.

“When did everyone else leave?” I asked as Josh sat next to me and laid on his back

“Somewhere between light 150 and light 200” He sighed as I gave him a look

“Did I tire you out?” I joked as he swatted me playfully

“You’re a lot to keep up with. You’re kind of amazing that way” He said as I smiled and swung my feet “The last girl I took to work was too concerned about breaking nails to actually help at all. You I would hire as an assistant”

“Are your assistants usually better than you at your job?” I joked

“Keep it up, I’ll throw you off this thing” Josh said as I smirked

“I’d like to see you try” I challenged. My improved mood had made me a little punchy

“Yeah I’m too tired to fight you” Josh said as I laughed and we descended the scaffolding for the last time. I took off the harness and stretched my arms out only now realizing what hell I would be in tomorrow for over working them today

“Ok, I have to admit that you were right about one thing. I am going to be SORE tomorrow” I said as Josh joined me and we left the building. It was dark and I had to take Josh’s hand so I knew where I was going. Not that I minded holding his hand.

“Don’t tell your people it was my fault. They won’t let me near you again and I don’t think I’d like that” He said squeezing my hand a little. My heart thudded recklessly and I scolded it. How could I be feeling anything for anyone in the state I was in? Josh was wonderful but I was so hurt over Aj. I was not one to fall in and out of these things so easily. What was I doing?

“Whoa” I said as I almost ran into the bus, not realizing in my mental berating that we had reached our destination

“You are a little busy up there tonight” Josh said pointing to my temple and standing in front of me “Want to share with the class”

“Not really” I said looking down at my shoes. Josh moved his free hand slowly to mine and rubbed the back of it with his thumb. I watched that for a little and then looked up, startled to see that his face was mere inches from me.

“I’m sorry he hurt you” Josh whispered as I reluctantly met his eyes

“I’m Ok.” I said trying to convince myself as I said it

“You’re more than Ok” He said with that lopsided grin. I giggled a little at it and he took that moment to lean in and kiss me. His lips were so soft and warm; it was like falling into a huge pile of pillows and being embraced by a long lost friend all at once. It didn’t have the urgency and ferocity Aj and I had but it was really nice. He moved his hand slowly to the back of my neck and my mind reacted before I had a chance to stop it. Flashbacks of that hotel room where I had been trapped by Rich. My scalp screaming as he dragged me by my hair to the bathroom and the sound of the slap as he knocked me to the ground. I was screaming and I couldn’t hear anything and my breath was coming too fast for me to get any oxygen from it and then suddenly I was warm and felt surrounded on all sides in a safe and comforting way and I heard above me the intonation of words I couldn’t understand but there was a rhythm in them and I focused on that to bring me out. My breathing slowed and the scene gradually came into focus. Josh was kneeling next to me looking like he was at a complete loss. His eyes shone bright with panic and helplessness as he gripped my hand. Slowly I registered that grip and the feeling began to return to the rest of my body. I was on the ground but not alone. I glanced up to see the chocolate brown eyes I adored. In those eyes was the all too familiar pain that had lingered there for the last few days but also a strange confidence. As I tried to interpret that I noticed I was still speaking and I smashed my lips together when I realized that I had been repeating Aj's name.

"I'm right here" He whispered quietly "You are here and I am here. Come back to us"

"Oh God" I said quietly as the pain from the flashback radiated through my muscles. I took a deep breath and tried to rid them of the tension that racked my body.

“Kat, I’m so sorry” I heard Josh from my left and I met his eyes slowly

“Stop I’m fine” I said breathlessly still using the majority of my energy to stay grounded in this world and not retreat back into the memories that lay freshly open in my mind "It's my fault. You didn't do anything wrong"

"What happened?" He asked and instinctually I looked up at Aj. I couldn't explain this to Josh now. Not so early in our friendship or whatever we had and definitely not so soon after a flashback. It might trigger another one. A look of understanding came over Aj's face

"It's just something that happens when she gets nervous" Aj explained tentatively, not wanting to reveal more than I was ready to "She's got some crazy past that haunts her"

"I don't know what to do" Josh said quietly as I looked him full on in the face

"Why don't you leave me here. Aj will make sure I get in safely. He's dealt with this before" I said softly as conflict spread across Josh's features. Clearly he didn't want to leave me here alone with Aj but he didn’t know how else to help me.

"If you tell me what to do I could help-" Josh started

"It's cool dude, I got her" Aj interrupted with more smugness in his tone than I liked. Josh looked at him and then back to me and, looking like he felt like he was making the wrong decision, slowly nodded

"I'll explain everything tomorrow, I promise" I said quietly as he stood up

"I'll see you at lunch" He said reminding Aj with whom I now chose to keep my company. I watched him walk away and then groaned. The pain from the flashback had nearly faded and now the embarrassment of the situation rolled in. I became acutely aware that I was still in Aj's arms and I attempted to move but my body betrayed me in its exhaustion and I fell back into his lap. He sighed and helped me sit next to him so I was leaning against the bus but he didn't leave my side.

“This is the most embarrassing situation I have ever been in” I mumbled burying my head in my hands

“I found it kind of charming when it happened to me” Aj said as I glared at him

“What happened?” I asked quietly. I shivered a little and realized suddenly that I was wrapped in Aj's hoodie. Why was he everywhere right now?

“I was walking back from the van to my bus after our press event and I was detouring, as usual, to see if I could catch a glimpse of you before bed” Aj said unabashedly as I groaned “And I saw you with him and then I saw you flashback and Techie was standing there like an idiot-"

"Hey" I interrupted him "He has a name. And if you're going to badmouth my friend then you can just leave"

"Friend huh? I wasn't under the impression that you spent that much time kissing your friends" Aj said bitterly. I glared at him and he relented "Fine. Josh. Josh was standing there like a deer caught in headlights - don't yell at me it's true - so I came over and used all the tricks I learned to help you out of your flashback. You were shaking so I wrapped you up, you weren't breathing well so I tried to verbalize a rhythm you could hold on to, and then when I heard you saying my name-"

"I was not" I interrupted as Aj glanced at me

"Not what?"

"Saying your name?" I asked cautiously as Aj tried to hide his grin and nodded. This really couldn't get any worse.

"Well I figured if you were calling to me then that was as much permission as I was going to get to touch you so I held you until you came back to us" Aj finished still radiating that smugness that made me want to punch him. That rhythm I had heard that had brought me out. That was Aj. He had pulled me out of that place. That place I had gone to when Josh kissed me. Oh God.

“He is never going to speak to me again” I said quietly. Aj sighed

"Calm down. You've just made sure he'll be thinking about you all night. Which sucks" Aj pouted as I glared at him, my cheeks still red with embarrassment "I thought you didn't like him like that anyway"

"Things change" I said quietly as Aj's eyes immediately shifted to the ground. Sure, Josh didn't make me feel like the world was ending every time he left. His touch didn't send electric shocks through me like I'd been struck by lightning. Talking to him, while fun, held only a small portion of the connection that talking to Aj had. But I couldn't pretend that I didn't feel for Josh. It scared me and I hated myself a little for it, but in my state of extreme pain Josh had become some clear and pure facet of my life and more than anything I needed something easy, something normal.

“Come on, what does he have that I don’t have?” Aj asked incredulously. It was like he couldn’t believe I could feel for anyone but him.

“He treats me like I’m capable. He doesn’t treat me like I’m broken. Like some girl who lost her mind when the guy she loved broke her heart” I snapped back. I saw hurt register on his face and I instantly scolded myself for causing him pain.

“No one thinks of you like that” Aj whispered as I sighed

“You don’t see the way they look at me. He makes me feel human. Like I’m not dying every second…” I stopped as tears clouded my vision. Aj tried to take my hand but I moved it away from his touch.

“I feel it too you know” He whispered and I nodded

“I know”

“I don’t think he’s right for you” He continued

“I know” I said with a little more force. He opened his mouth to say something and then stopped. We sat in silence for a few minutes and I shifted uneasily.

“Are you going to be ok?” He asked breaking the silence as I nodded and slowly got to my feet

“I’ve got a bit of a bruised ego but other than that I’m fine” I said as Aj brushed the dirt off of his pants

“Better than a broken heart I guess” Aj said. We stood in silence and then Aj gave me a look of longing. More than anything I wanted to lean in and kiss him. I wanted to not feel so hurt and conflicted. But most of all I wanted to erase the pain so prominent on Aj’s face. Whatever bravado he had drummed up for the benefit of Josh was an act and we both knew it. He was in real pain at the idea of me being with someone else.

“Aj-” I started trying to find the words to express how sorry I was that he was hurting. I opened my mouth several times but nothing came out. Why was it so hard to talk to him all of the sudden?

“You should lie down. You’re still grayed out” Aj said and I watched his protective walls slide back in place. I hated when he did that because suddenly he wasn’t my Aj anymore. It was closer to the Aj that had been in bed with Camie. I shivered from the memory.

“Your sweater” I said attempting to hand him back the hoodie that I just realized I was griping to myself with all my might. I realized that it was holding me together and Aj seemed to realize that as well

“Keep it. I’ve got a ton” He said slowly turning to go. As he turned away from me I felt the hole in my heart burn and I almost choked as I tried to cope with it.

“Wait!” I called more to dull the pain in my chest than anything else. He stopped but didn’t turn back to look at me. “Thank you for being there for me. I don’t know what I would have done”

“I promised I’d always be here for you. No matter what happens I’ll keep that promise” Aj said with his back still facing me. I watched his shoulders slump from behind as he walked away and I leaned back against the bus and slid to the ground. What a day.