Brian sighed and massaged the bridge of his nose with his index finger and thumb. He had decided to call each of the guys to let them know that Max would be attending the cook out and was, at the moment, questioning why he had made such a stupid decision.
“Don’t Nick me!” his brother yelled into the phone. “I am not coming if that woman is going to be there! He doesn’t even know her! She’s just some homeless waitress who looks like she just left a women’s correctional facility!”
“Nicholas Gene Carter!” Brian said loudly. “You need to knock it off. AJ is your brother and he needs…”
“A good, swift kick in the ass and a mental health checkup!”
“No.” Brian replied, trying to be calm. “He needs our support. Obviously this woman means something to him…”
“She’s a challenge he wants to win!”
“Damn it Nick!” Brian roared, losing his patience. “Will you shut up for a minute and let me talk?”
The tone of his brother’s voice startled Nick. Brian was always the last one to resort to yelling or to lose his cool with them. Not wanting to push his luck, he quieted down and let Brian continue.
“Thank you.” Brian responded to the silence. “As I was saying, AJ needs us to back him up on this. I think he knows more about her than we think and it’s pretty clear he has his heart set on her. No matter how we feel, we need to give her the benefit of the doubt.”
“Till she screws it up.” Nick retorted.
Brian groaned quietly. “If you want to look at it that way, then it’s up to you.”
“Are Kevin and Howie onboard with this whole thing?”
“Howie doesn’t really care either way.”
“What about Kevin?”
Brian paused for a minute. His conversation with Kevin had gone south pretty much like his current conversation. His cousin had point blank stated that Max was probably some woman who pretending not to know who AJ was just to be able to con him. Kevin felt like she was setting AJ up to take a huge fall as soon as she got whatever she wanted from him.
“He’s not thrilled.”
“See!” Nick shouted. “Big brother agrees with me which must mean I’m right!”
Brian sighed again; there was no way to have a conversation with Nick or Kevin once they decided that they were correct about whatever the situation was. He knew that all of them loved AJ and were just looking out for his best interests even if it didn’t come across that way. J had made mistakes in the past, some bigger than others, and sometimes the guys treated him as a child to prevent him from making any more.
“I don’t think either one of you is right. I met Max and actually got to speak to her, unlike the two of you. I thought she was very nice and Leighanne liked her.”
The minute those words left his mouth, he knew it was a mistake.
“Oh yeah, that’s really going to change my view. Now I know for a fact that I have to be right.”
Nick proceeded to rant and Brian just held the phone away from his ear as he shook his head. He couldn’t say or do anything else to convince him to give her a chance. All he could do at this point was hope he would be mature enough to at least give her a chance. Nick’s voice continued to rise but then, abruptly, he got quiet; Brian heard someone else on Nick’s end and suddenly the line went silent. He gave it a few minutes before he said anything.
“Hello?” he asked. “Nick? Anyone there?”
“Hi Lauren.” he replied with a smile. “Did you get him on a leash?”
“Good.” he chuckled. “The conversation was going nowhere.”
“Don’t worry about it. Nick and I will both be there if I have to handcuff him to me and duct tape his mouth closed.”
“That would be an interesting introduction.”
Lauren giggled. “It would be. You let AJ know we’re coming and I’ll take care of the rest.”
“You’re welcome. See you guys tomorrow.”
Brian hung up and leaned back in his chair; this was going to be one heck of a party.
Max debated all morning about whether or not to call AJ and tell him she wasn’t going to make it to the party. Brian and Leighanne had been nice but she had no idea how the others were going to feel about her. What if they all hated her or resented her being there? The whole situation was overwhelming and as much as she wanted to follow through on her promise to AJ, her anxiety was making it difficult for her to go.
She looked in the bathroom mirror to check her reflection again. AJ had already seen her entire wardrobe so she had gone out that morning to pick up a few things. The bag sitting on her bed held a new bathing suit and towel, as well as a t-shirt to wear over it if she decided to go swimming. The other purchases she made were now staring back at her in the glass. There were the pair of pale denim capris and a pale emerald green, baby doll t-shirt. She skipped the blue this time since that was pretty much the only color she ever wore around AJ. Her hair was combed neatly and she was wearing her locket again. She had put on a little eye shadow and mascara as well as a light shimmering lip gloss.
Sighing and debating whether or not to make the phone call, she headed into the kitchen and saw the stack of cookies and brownies waiting on the table for her. She loved to bake and it wasn’t something she got to do very often; she also didn’t want to go to his house empty handed.
After running through all the scenarios of what could go wrong, she finally decided to go and give the whole thing a try. She could always leave if she felt uncomfortable and, if she chose to leave town, she would never have to see any of them again anyway. After packing everything into her car, she followed AJ’s directions to his house.
When she pulled up to the address he gave her, her jaw almost hit the ground; his house was enormous! The driveway was more like a giant entry way and she parked her car off to the side in case of the need for an escape. As she walked up to the door, she tried to take in the height of the house and the number of windows that seem to pop out from the walls. If the inside was anything like the outside, it was going to be an impressive house tour.
She rang the bell and looked around at the shrubs and flowers covering the small lawn out front. They were so distracting that she didn’t realize the door had even opened. Someone cleared their throat and her head whipped around to face them. As she looked into Nick’s face she realized that the warm welcome she was hoping for was clearly not going to happen.