The sun was finally starting to set and they had exhausted all the topics about the guys and their families for the moment. AJ suggested that they make some s’mores and stretch out on a blanket and watch the stars when they made their appearance. At first, he spread out two blankets but Max stopped him.
“Do we really need two of them?”
“Max Carmody, are you trying to put the moves on me?”
She turned beet red and threw a marshmallow at him. “No, I was just thinking that the more fabric around the fire, the better chance that some of your facial hair is going to curl up.”
“Well that’s a bummer.” AJ teased her with a smile.
“Sorry to dash your hopes.” she replied back with a smile.
She wrapped her two s’mores in a napkin, sat down on the blanket and waited for AJ to finish his. They talked about his entertaining shopping trip with Brian and she laughed as he told her about all the stuff he had to put back.
“I’m glad he was there to rein you in.”
“So’s my credit card!”
Max giggled as she bit into her dessert and wound up getting marshmallow all over her chin. She was startled when AJ leaned forward; she wasn’t sure what to expect but relaxed when he just wiped it off with his finger. They finished eating without any issues and decided to lie on their backs to watch the stars he’d been telling her about. AJ waited till they had been settled for a few minutes before asking her about her family.
“What happened to your family?”
He immediately felt her tense up next to him and was instantly sorry he asked.
“Never mind, you don’t need to…”
“They were killed in a car accident.” she finally answered quietly.
“I’m so sorry Max.” He rolled onto his side to look at her and he could see the tears glistening in her eyes. “I shouldn’t have asked and you don’t need to say anything else.”
She shook her head slightly and wiped the tears that were slipping out.
“Sean was born with Down’s syndrome and one of his major health concerns was some heart problems that they found when he was still a baby. He had to have regular check-ups with a physician at the children’s hospital.”
“That sounds like it was tough on everyone.”
“It was but Sean was the sweetest little boy ever. My parents and I would usually go with him to the appointments but I was sick that day. It was winter time and I caught one of those nasty colds so my parents told me that I would have to stay with my grandmother.”
AJ could hear the hitch in her voice and he could tell that this was a really painful conversation for her to have. He hated himself for bringing it up but he wanted her to be able to get it out.
“My mother knew how much I hated to be sick and that I always wanted her to be around when I was. Snow had begun to pile up as they started the three hour trip back, but my dad thought he would be fine to drive and promised my grandmother they would be home soon to pick me up.”
“Some kids were fooling around and racing down the highway much faster than they should have been. They hit some black ice and skidded right through the barrier into my father’s lane. He tried to avoid it but by then it was too late; they ran head first into each other.”
At this point, Max was quietly sobbing and AJ gently pulled her into his arms. She rested her head against his chest and balled his shirt in her hand as she continued to cry. Pulling his arms tighter, he smoothed her hair down and tried to comfort her the best he could. Her sobs eventually faded and he could hear her breathing slow down. She had cried herself to sleep and he hated to wake her up in order to move her to the tent.
Instead, he picked her up carefully and placed her on one of the air mattresses. He had just started to pull away to grab a sleeping bag when her hand reached out for his arm. Her eyes were closed so he knew that this was just a reflex but he didn’t care. He slid down next to her and pulled a sleeping bag over both of them. She shifted in her sleep and put her head down on his chest; her quiet breathing lulled him to sleep a few minutes later.
Max woke up the next morning, startled, trying to figure out where she was. She finally realized where she was and relaxed a little. Looking around the tent, she didn’t see AJ and was grateful to have a few minutes to herself. Their talk last night and all the tears had worn her out and figured she probably fell asleep from all of it. She had never planned on telling him any of that but for the first time in months, she was relieved that she didn’t have to hide everything about herself from him anymore.
She ran her fingers through her hair and climbed out of the tent, searching for AJ’s whereabouts. He was sitting out by the water on a towel and staring off into space. Quietly making her way over, she slipped down next to him and was surprised that she didn’t frighten him.
“Hey yourself.” he replied with a smile. “Did you sleep ok?”
“I did. I’m sorry about all the tears and everything. I feel bad about ruining the night.”
He slipped an arm over her shoulder and, for once, she actually leaned into him.
“You didn’t ruin anything. I kept asking questions and all you did was answer them. I’m glad that you felt secure enough to tell me.”
“I guess you have the habit of making me comfortable.” she whispered.
“Well I’m glad I can do that.”
“So what’s the plan for today?”
He laughed. “Does that question mean you’re actually looking forward to spending some more quality time with me?”
“Don’t get a big head.” she warned with a playful elbow to his side. “I’m still on the fence about leaving.”
“Then I plan on doing whatever I can to get you on my side of the fence.”
“And exactly what does that entail?”
“I have to do some work this afternoon but I wanted to have you over for a cookout tomorrow.”
“At your house?” she asked with surprise.
“No, I was planning on taking you to Chuck E. Cheese for the barbecue.”
“That’s me. Will you come?”
“Is it just you and I?”
He was quiet for a minute. “I kind of wanted to invite the guys and their families over. They’re all out here so we can finish some stuff up this afternoon.”
“I really want you to meet them. They’re very important to me.” he paused. “And so are you.”
She thought about it for a few moments. There was a part of her that was absolutely terrified to get any more involved with AJ and his life but there was also a part of her that was curious about them. She wondered if they would be as cordial to her as Brian and Leighanne were.
“Ok?” he asked. “Are you sure?”
“What the heck.” she responded. “I mean after all, I did promise you I would try.”
AJ planted a kiss on her head. “You won’t regret it!”