“Do what?” Max asked innocently and stood up to bring her plate to the sink.
AJ picked up his and met her as she was turning around; he placed his arm out to stop her from going back to the table.
“You put up the Great Wall of China and you make it so I have to break it down every time.”
“No I don’t.” she replied as she ducked under his arm and made her way to the couch. “And besides, you’re here to explain your past to me, not to play twenty questions.”
He watched as she sat down on one side and curled into herself leaving the other half open. Sitting down gently, he crossed his legs and plopped them down on her coffee table. After a few seconds, he turned to face her.
“I know and I will, as soon as you answer my question.”
He obviously was not going to let it go so she tried to give him some kind of answer that would appease him.
“Compliments are great but they’re not true; they just hurt in the long run.”
He was really puzzled by her statement. The compliment he paid her was heartfelt and genuine; he had no idea why it would have hurt her or her feelings. But again, she’d answered his question and for right now, he wouldn’t push.
“So what did you want to tell me?” she asked as she drew her legs underneath herself.
“Can I ask you one more question first?”
She looked like she wanted to decline but after a few moments, she shook her head yes.
“Do you know who the Backstreet Boys are?”
Max blushed. “No, well I mean not really. I know I was a little kid in the eighties but I always liked that genre. I vaguely remember hearing your name but by the time you got popular, it was too late.”
“Too late?” AJ asked with a raised eyebrow. “Too late for what?”
“Sorry,” she stammered, “I meant that it was too late for me to get new favorites, to change my taste in music. I was already set in my ways.”
She was lying and AJ wasn’t sure why. His mother had said she probably knew and maybe she was right. This was her way of back pedaling and he figured if he kept going and got her distracted, she might explain her comment.
“So, why didn’t you tell me about them?”
“For a couple of reasons.” AJ responded quietly. “First was the fact that I never, or almost never, get to meet women that have no idea who I am. The minute most of them see me or hear my name, the shrieking and chaos ensue. I don’t think I’ve had a nice, calm first encounter in years.”
“I’m sorry.” Max replied and leaned her head against the back out of the couch as she searched his face. “That has to be really hard to deal with.”
“It’s worse when I’m trying to get to know someone.”
AJ leaned his head back and closed his eyes. “Because I’m not sure why they’re around. Do they actually like me or do they like what I can do for them? Most of the time I have a hard time distinguishing between the two of them and it’s led to some bad decisions and choices on my part.”
“I can see why that would happen. Just from the short time I’ve know you, I’ve figured out you’re the type who wants to make people happy.”
“Is that a problem?” he asked as he looked over at her.
“No. I used to be the same way.” she answered quietly. “Anyway, you were saying how it made your choices hard?”
She kept deflecting all of his questions and comments and he wasn’t sure how much more she was going to hide about herself.
“I guess that’s the other problem. When most people meet me, they just assume that I’m a bad boy. I mean my image was designed for that when we started the group and then I went and got half my body tattooed and tried out more hairstyles than Ru Paul.”
Max laughed out loud.
“I mean it. Then I had all these other issues I’ve dealt with. The problem is behind all of that…”
“You’re a big teddy bear.” Max smiled as she finished his sentence. “And what’s wrong with that.”
“It makes me a disappointment.”
“What?” she asked with surprise.
“People expect something and I’m not living up to those expectations.”
Max could see how much that bothered him and she reached out to place her hand on his arm.
“Don’t ever think that way. I get that I don’t know you that well but I can tell that you would never disappoint anyone.”
“Except you.” he replied with the saddest eyes she’d ever seen.