It was late Friday night when she heard knocking on the door. Assuming it was Addie again, she ignored it at first but it just continued to get louder and louder. She crept to the door and peeked out the peephole. Oh God, she groaned, this is so not happening. She leaned against the wall and pretended not to be there.
“Let me in.” the voice came through loud and clear. “Don’t make me keep knocking.”
She silently wished him away but the knocking just continued.
“Ok, have it your way. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
The knocking finally stopped and she convinced herself that he’d left. She was halfway back to her couch before she heard the first verse of “Dancing Queen” coming from the hall. The voice kept rising and she heard a few of her neighbors yell into the hallway. Ripping open the door, she yanked him inside and slammed it shut.
“Dammit AJ! It’s almost midnight! Are you trying to get me evicted?”
“No Feisty.” he answered, pulling her into a hug. “I was trying to get in here.”
“Did you have to go that far?”
“Apparently. You weren’t gonna let me in otherwise.”
AJ finally let her go and followed her into the living room. She slumped down on the couch and put her feet up hoping to keep her distance from him. But in AJ like form, he pushed her feet down and took a seat next to her, propping his feet up on her coffee table.
“Make yourself comfortable.” Emma muttered.
“Thanks, I think I will.”
They sat there in silence for a few minutes before Emma asked him what he was doing there.
“I came to see you. I guess other people came too but you pulled the same “pretend you’re not here” crap with them.”
“It worked. Why didn’t you leave?”
“Because I’m stubborn. You may think you’ve cornered the market on being pigheaded but I win that award every year and I’m not about to give my title up.”
Emma just shook her head.
“Look, I get that you don’t want people around but I’m not about to sit by and let you close yourself away. Everyone else can do whatever they want but I am not going to tolerate that.”
“What do you mean you’re not gonna tolerate it?” Emma asked getting defensive. “It’s my choice, my decision.”
“Well your decision making sucks.”
Emma sat there stunned.
“I’m not pulling any punches here. I’ve always been honest, sometimes too much, and I tell everyone what I think whether they wanna hear it or not. So you can sit there and be pissed that I’m here but it’s not gonna change the fact that I am. And I am not going anywhere till we sort some of this shit out.”
“There’s nothing to sort out.”
“Yes there is. What happened to you is wrong and if I had that ass in front of me right now, I’d pummel him.”
“No, let me finish. He may be gone but what happened doesn’t go away. You need to do something about it and you need to start relying on your friends and family for some help.”
“I don’t want anyone’s help; I don’t need it.”
“Bullshit. I’m not sure why you’re pushing everyone away but we’re tired of it and it has to stop.”
“Save it for someone who’s gonna buy it. I’m gonna make you talk if I have to stay here all night long. Hell, I’ll stay for the week.”
“You need to go home…”
“No I don’t. In fact, someone told me that if I come home without any luck, I’m gonna have a permanent bed in the garage!”
Emma laughed in spite of herself.
“Hallelujah! It still exists!” AJ yelled with a grin.
“Keep your voice down.” she said through her laughs.
“Ok, ok.” AJ said and raised his hands. “I promise to be quiet if you swear to talk to me.”
Emma got serious quickly but to his surprise, she nodded.
“Good, we’re getting somewhere. Here’s my first question. Why didn’t you tell anyone what was going?”
Emma thought about his question for a few moments and then answered him as honestly as she could.
“Addie is really the only person I have to talk to. She was planning her wedding and I didn’t think it was the best time to tell her about all the fighting.”
“Why didn’t you tell Howie or one of us?”
“Howie would have told Addie and none of you were around.”
“We weren’t around because you were keeping us away. You know you could have called me anytime and I would have listened.”
“I know.” Emma admitted. “I just couldn’t bear talking to you guys.”
AJ nodded. “I kind of understand why but that’s a discussion for a later time. I want to get back to why I came. How come you’re shutting everyone out now?”
“Because of the way everyone will see me.”
“How do you think we see you?”
“Weak, stupid, desperate.”
“Why in the hell would you think that?”
“Everyone knows how bad my breakup with Nick was and after losing Della, I jumped into the first relationship that came along. I knew he was bad for me but I continued to stay with him. I didn’t stand up for myself and I didn’t do anything to make the situation better.”
“Yes you did. You left him when it got physical. Then you told Addie what happened.”
“Not by choice.”
“Maybe not but you still did it.” AJ took a deep breath. “No one sees you as weak Emma. You had the strength and courage to get out and you were brave enough to admit to Addie what was going on. I don’t know why you can’t see that.”
“But the look in everyone’s eyes…”
“They’re not looking at you in a bad way Emma.” AJ paused. “How do you think they feel right now?”
“You’re worried about how they’re looking at you but do you realize how they feel? Addie and Howie are so upset; they feel like they missed something and should have been more on top of things. And the rest of us, including a certain blond, are hurting for you. No one wants to see you go through this; we all want to help in any way we can. You just need to let us in.”
Emma couldn’t hold back any longer; the tears flooded her eyes and she started sobbing. AJ pulled her into a tight hug and let her cry on his shoulder. Enough was enough for tonight; they’d deal with everything else later.