“I know exactly who you are.” Nick muttered. “And it’s not nice to meet you.”
Nick flung the door open a little wider, turned his back on her and walked further into the house as Max was left standing on the porch. Tears started to well in her eyes as she watched his retreating back and every concern that was running through her mind since the morning came up front and center. She knew this was a mistake; it was obvious that no one wanted her here. Noticing a small table in the entryway, she slid her plate of cookies onto it and spun around to leave. Unfortunately, she smacked right into someone’s chest; she looked up to see AJ standing there.
“Hey there…” AJ stopped the minute he saw the tears in her eyes. He dropped the bags of ice he was carrying and wrapped his arms around her. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” she answered as she wiped tears away. “I’m just not feeling good. I came over to drop off the cookies since I promised them…”
AJ cupped her chin in his hand. “Not buying it. If you’re so sick, why do you have a towel and bathing suit in your bag?”
“I started feeling sick on the car ride over.”
Max tried to wiggle her way out of his grasp but it wasn’t any use. He had her wrapped pretty tight and didn’t look as though he would let her loose.
“I’m serious AJ. I just don’t feel good.”
“No, you’re lying to me.” AJ replied and looked up to see Nick’s figure in the hallway. “Did you suddenly get sick when you met a big, blonde dumbass?”
AJ made sure he said it loud enough for Nick to hear him and he knew he hit the mark when he saw him shake his head and walk back into the house. Max stopped squirming and it was all he needed to know he was right.
“Can you wait here for one second?” AJ asked as he let her go. “I’ll be right back.”
Max nodded but the minute AJ was out of her sight, she bolted towards her car. The fates seemed to be working against her though as she watched Brian pull his car in right behind hers. She groaned quietly as she watched as he, Leighanne, and a young boy she assumed was Baylee, climb out of the vehicle.
“Hey!” Leighanne called out with a smile. “I thought we were going to be late but I see you just got here too.”
Max nodded and Brian could see the wet streaks on her face. He cursed Nick and Kevin for ruining this and he took a salad out of his wife’s arms and raced into the house. Leighanne was surprised but as she got closer to Max, she understood.
“Bay, why don’t you go on inside and find the boys?”
Her son nodded and Leighanne slipped her arm around Max’s shoulder.
“I see you met Nick.” she whispered just in case Baylee was still in earshot.
Max nodded and another tear slipped down her face. Leighanne sighed and pulled her into a hug.
“Don’t let them get to you. Nick hated me when I got together with Brian and I’m pretty sure he still does.”
“See?” Leighanne said with a smile. “You need to remember that you’re not here at Nick’s request, you’re here at AJ’s. It’s really important to him that you came and he truly cares about you Max. In fact, he’s probably got Nick up against a wall, chewing him out for whatever he did or said.”
“But I didn’t mean to start anything…”
“Don’t worry about it. Nick started it and I’m sure AJ’s ending it.” She looped her arm in with Max’s and picked up the ice bags in her other hand. “Let them handle it and we’ll grab some drinks.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” AJ roared as Nick stood in front of him
AJ had grabbed Nick as soon as he got into the house and pushed him down to the studio. Kevin and Howie saw the exchange and headed down behind them.
“Nothing.” Nick mumbled.
“I invite Max here to MY house to enjoy MY party and she winds up in tears, trying to leave. Thank God I got her to listen to me…”
“Not really.” Brian said as the others turned to look at him. “I had to pull my car in behind her so she wouldn’t leave.”
AJ turned back towards Nick with an angry expression on his face. “What did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“Then what did you say?”
“I said I knew who she was.”
“And?” AJ asked, growing impatient.
“And that it wasn’t nice to meet her.”
“Nick!” Howie yelled. “Seriously?”
Brian stepped in between AJ and Nick because he was pretty sure that the conversation was over and the shoving was about to begin.
“Why the fuck would you do that?” AJ bellowed as he tried to skirt around Brian.
“Calm down.” Kevin pleaded. “All the kids are up there and they don’t need to be hearing this.”
“I don’t care!” AJ said, getting louder. “This jackass thinks it’s ok to come to my house and insult my guests?”
Brian pulled AJ away and told him to go back upstairs and check on Max; he was afraid she’d try and leave again. It took a few shoves to get him to leave, but once he did, Brian turned to Nick and the others.
“Listen to me carefully.” he said quietly. “We are in AJ’s house as his family and Max is his guest. Everyone needs to keep their opinions to themselves and behave yourselves. None of you have to like the situation, or Max, but you do need to put your feelings aside and suck it up. Understood?”
The other three men were silent. Usually it was Kevin who was reading them all the riot act and telling them to behave. Seeing Brian do it would have been funny in any other situation but they could tell from his face that he wasn’t kidding. Howie was the first to nod his agreement, followed by Kevin and Nick.
“Good.” Brian said and pointed his finger towards the stairs. “Now get up there!”