“What are those?” he repeated.
“Nothing.” she replied and tried to scoot around him.
There was no way AJ was going to take that for an answer. He wanted to know exactly what happened so he stuck out his arm to prevent her from leaving.
“You’re not going anywhere until you tell me what is going on.” he said as he took a step towards her.
The minute he made that advance, he saw a completely different side of Max emerge. She became skittish as she backed herself up against the wall in an almost cowering stance. Her eyes darted quickly back and forth between him and the door as if she was trying to find the easiest escape route. He was so absorbed in trying to get her to open up that nothing clicked in his brain until he stood there a little longer and watched her demeanor change again.
Her eyes got wider and wider and she started to make jumpy motions. She looked as though she was going to crawl out of her skin and he immediately moved out of the way. Bolting from the room like an animal released from their cage, she headed straight for the sliding door, threw it open and rushed onto the balcony. He saw her sucking in air and wanted to comfort her but stopped when he realized that if he went out there, the situation could become more disastrous. Slowly making his way into the room, he took a seat on the bed instead and waited for her to regain her composure.
Max took a few more deep breaths and turned around; she saw AJ sitting there with a mixture of concern and hurt on his face. She felt awful for reacting that way but she didn’t know how to stop it; not knowing what else to do, she made her way halfway towards him and stood there. He motioned for her to sit next to him but she shook her head no and wrapped the towel tightly around her.
“I’m sorry Max, I truly am. I didn’t realize what I was doing and the last thing I ever want is for you to be afraid of me.”
She didn’t reply.
“Seeing you with…” AJ cut himself off because he really didn’t know how to describe what he had seen.
“My scars.” she said after a few moments, quietly finishing his sentence. “You can say it. I look like a monster, some kind of freak.”
AJ started to rise but Max quickly took a step back and he sighed as he sat back down.
“You do not look like a monster Max. You are one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met.”
Her eyes filled with tears as she shook her head.
“Yes you are Max. No matter what, you’re beautiful to me.”
“How can you say that?”
“Because it’s true. Everyone has scars, whether they’re on the outside or the inside, and they make us who we are. They’re like our own personal set of fault lines.”
Max laughed quietly. “Well that’s a term I hadn’t heard before.”
AJ stood up slowly and this time, she didn’t back away. He made his way over to her and reached up to slip the towel off her shoulders. After dropping it to the floor, he placed both his hands on either side of her face and leaned in.
“Our fault lines remind us what we’ve been through and how far we’ve come. You should never be ashamed of them.”
“But they’re awful and ugly and…”
She looked up at him with tears threating to fall, unable to finish her sentence. He had to fight back the urge to kiss her because he didn’t want to make her feel any more uncomfortable. To distract himself, he dropped his hands and interlaced them with hers.
“Max Carmody, I don’t care if you’re ten feet tall with orange hair and purple polka dots. I will always think you are gorgeous and no matter what, I’ll want to be the lucky guy that gets your attention.”
She bit her lip and smiled. Raising one of her hands up, he kissed it gently.
“I’ll wait for you downstairs.”
Max finally made her way downstairs and joined the others out back. She had pulled on the new t-shirt she bought to hide her scars and cleaned off the tears from her face. Leighanne and Bailey were already in the pool and AJ was sitting down, talking business with the guys. He smiled when he saw her and nodded towards the pool. Grateful for the escape, she headed over and slipped in quietly.
“Why’s she wearing a t-shirt in the pool?” Nick asked bluntly when he finally noticed her.
“She’s Irish.” AJ replied. “She’ll burn if she doesn’t wear anything.”
“Hasn’t she ever heard of sunscreen?”
“Shut up Nick.” Brian said, speaking up. “She can wear a ball gown to go swimming if she wants to. It’s none of your business.
AJ smiled at Brian. There was no way AJ would break Max’s trust and tell anyone about her fault lines. They really weren’t any of his business either and he had realized after seeing how the situation played out upstairs that he wasn’t going to push her to tell him how she got them. If she wanted him to know, she’d tell him when she was good and ready.